Answered By: Paul Lai Last Updated: Aug 03, 2021 Views: 11
- Transitioning into Better Writing blog post
- Podcast Episode 33: Tackling Transitions
- Transitions webpage
- Podcast Episode 38: The Literature Review Matrix: What It Is, How to Use It, and How to Make It Work for You
- Literature Review Matrix
- Synthesis and Thesis Development webinar
© Walden University Writing Center 2021
CLAIRE: Welcome to Write Cast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers, a monthly podcast by the Walden University Writing Center. I’m Claire Helakoski,
KACY: and I’m Kacy Walz.
TEASER: You’re ultimately forming a new thing that is yours alone…
CLAIRE: Hi, everyone! This month Kacy and I are going to talk a bit about the concept of synthesis—what is it? How do you achieve synthesis in your writing?
KACY: Right, and before we get into that let’s touch for a moment on paraphrasing, as that’s a building block to synthesis. Paraphrasing is when you read something from a source and re-write it in your own words and your own sentence structure, and of course you’re still going to add a citation even though you’ve put it into your own words and sentence structure.
CLAIRE: We won’t dig too much into paraphrasing nuances because that might be tricky in an audio format for our listeners since it involves reviewing sections of text, or even whole studies! And then rephrasing those on your own and citing them. We have loads of great interactive resources on paraphrasing, though, and we will link to those at the end of the episode.
KACY: So, now after that very brief talk about paraphrasing, let’s talk about synthesis. Synthesis is when you take the ideas from multiple sources—so you use the paraphrasing you’ve created from more than one source—and place them in conversation. This can look different depending on how you are using the information, but it should involve at least a sentence or probably a couple of sentences, and sometimes even whole paragraphs, where you are comparing, contrasting, adding to, or even refuting the ideas between sources.
CLAIRE: And that seems complicated from the outside, but I will bet that it is something you are mentally doing already. So you’re doing the brain work. And you might be wondering, “well how do I know what pieces of evidence to compare or use for synthesis?” The answer is one of those frustrating non-answers where I tell you that it depends—it depends. It depends on your thesis, it depends what you’ve read or been assigned to read, it depends on the type of assignment—lots of factors here. But there are some ways you can keep up and prepare for synthesis in your writing, and the first big one is to take notes as you read! Highlight themes and ideas that are similar or familiar. Make notes that connect and question and remind you of something you read recently or in a past course or on your own. Pull quotes, page numbers, or anything else that seems relevant into a separate document so that you can visually look over ideas and see themes and connections more easily.
KACY: We actually have a resource that will help you do exactly that. If you’re not familiar with our Literature Review Matrix, you can listen to Episode 38: The Literature Review Matrix: What It Is, How to Use It, and How to Make It Work for You. The literature review matrix is a great tool you can use at any stage in your program and, really, the earlier the better!
CLAIRE: And we talked about this in our last episode because its such a great resource. It was about how to start writing rather than synthesis but taking notes while you read has so many uses. And the literature review matrix can be used in many different ways because it is a flexible, customizable tool.
So once you have organized your information or put it aside, then you are prepared to start synthesizing because you will understand how the different pieces of evidence touch on similar topics and how they are similar or different. That’s how you can then use that information to forward your argument and provide the reader information. For example if I have some evidence that had opposing findings, I might say that’s a good reason to fill this research gap and continue more research because clearly both of these high-quality studies had findings are opposites. And that means there was a flaw somewhere, because both things can’t be true. If most research has findings that agree, then I can put that together and strengthen my claim. So I could say, “this is a fact, moving on…” To kind of group those findings together. And you could even cite multiple sources in the same sentences when you’re using synthesis if they had the same findings, so you’re kind of paraphrasing multiple sources’ findings at once when they align.
KACY: And what Claire was talking about, in terms of using research and how multiple agreements really help to strengthen an idea you’ve had, that’s another key part of synthesis: you have to make some kind of claim or point that is yours alone. You’re using information from multiple sources, but by comparing/contrasting/building upon them, you’re ultimately forming a new ‘thing’ that is yours alone. And since it is unique, you’ll need to make sure you’re using clear connection words like “however”, “alternatively”,” comparatively” to make a contrast, “additionally”, “in agreement”, “and” for when two sources agree, “consequently”, “as a result” for when one thing leads to another, etc. (We’ve got pages dedicated to these words on our website because these are obviously not your only choices and they can be extremely helpful for building synthesis!)
CLAIRE: Having those words in your pocket is so helpful. We talk about it in our Synthesis and Thesis Development webinar, and we also talk about it in our Engaging sentence structure webinar—which is one of our hidden webinars. It’s in the “grammar” category. It’s one of my favorite webinars because it really gets into the higher level, more nuanced thinking about the way you phrase thing, what it implies, and how to engage your reader with the sentence structure you’re using. And synthesis is really engaging; it’s interesting. People who are “nerdy” about whatever topic you’re reading are going to be excited. Kacy and I worked on an article that was published this past year, and I really enjoyed the research aspect of it. When I was researching, seeing the synthesis in what we were reading, and then being able to find the sources that the person was citing or that talked about the topics I was interested in so I could learn more…It’s a really valuable addition to your field of research when you use synthesis effectively. And again, I know this is on audio, but some of the resources we’ll link to have nice visuals of these types of phrasing that you can use! In that webinar I mentioned there’s a cool chart of the words that Kacy went over and we have a webpage on it, too.
Another note I wanted to provide on synthesis is we’ve talked about local synthesis or synthesis in bringing sources together, but most of you are probably more familiar with the idea of synthesis as a term or idea of meshing information or ideas that fit together in a larger picture, so we’ll talk for a moment about what we’ll call global synthesis. In addition to making sure your evidence all fits together effectively for the reader and they can understand its relationship to each other, you also want to be sure the ideas in your draft all connect to your thesis and to each other so it makes a cohesive whole.
KACY: Absolutely. All of your synthesis should really be working to support that thesis statement. We love metaphors here at the Writing Center and one of my favorites for synthesis, or your role as a writer in creating synthesis, is the idea that you are a lawyer presenting a case before a jury. Whether you’re on the prosecution side or the defense, you have the same general story and the same facts to work with, but you’re trying to convince your audience of very different points. While you won’t always be oppositional the way you would in an actual courtroom, as a presenting attorney it is your job to connect all the pieces of evidence into a cohesive narrative that makes sense to the jury (in this case your reader). And you definitely don’t want them connecting the dots on their own. They might have thoughts of their own about the issue at hand, but they should not have any questions about your position and the points you want them to understand.
CLAIRE: I think that’s a really important clarification, Kacy. You definitely want the reader to not walk away with a bunch of questions. They should have thoughts, they could take note, but they shouldn’t be wondering, “wait, what were they saying?” or “how does that fit with their thesis?”
Another metaphor that I’ve always liked is a recipe. So the evidence and your points and your work are the ingredients in a recipe and they should all go together. Even though they’re different things, when they’re all mixed together they should “taste” good, be savory or sweet or whatever you were going for. And if you add in something that doesn’t belong, it can throw the whole thing off for your reader, listener…or taster…in this metaphor. So you want to make sure everything is meshing together. You take the idea of synthesis, those pieces of evidence meshing together, and you put it into more of a global overview as you’re doing maybe a longer-form revision to make sure all your points and ideas are meshing together as well.
KACY: I really like that metaphor, too. I like the fact that we chose those two different metaphors. Maybe our listeners can tell which one of us can actually cook…but I like that metaphor because really I think about baking a cake: you’re putting in all these different ingredients. You put your eggs, your sugar, your butter, I’m not sure what all goes into a cake…but they’re different ingredients, you put them in the oven, and if you’ve done everything correctly, you should not take eggs and sugar and butter and milk out of the oven: it should be this brand new thing. And that’s what we want you to do with your synthesis.
CLAIRE: Exactly, that’s a good sub-explanation of that metaphor. You don’t want to taste the individual ingredients because they’re synthesized into something new. So, remember, synthesis is something you can accomplish with note-taking, effective paraphrasing, and using clear connective language! …And strong lawyer or cooking skills… Check out some other resources in our show notes.
KACY: Until next time, keep writing,
CLAIRE: Keep inspiring.
CY: WriteCast is a monthly podcast produced by the Walden University Writing Center. Visit our online Writing Center at academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter. Find more WriteCast episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your favorite podcast app. We would love to hear from you! Connect with us on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter, and at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening!
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