Synthesis Essay

Writing a Synthesis Analysis

Part I

Objectives: Students will understand the essential elements such as argument, counter argument, collapsing argument, etc. in a synthesis essay through analyzing an exemplary essay provided by the College Board.

Materials: copies of AP Lang 2009 exam part I synthesis essay sources and sample essays

Do Now: Write down a few ideas or strategies that you know about writing a successful synthesis essay. Pair share.

Mini Lesson with Guided Practice

Share tips in the article “Preparing for the Synthesis Question: Six Moves Toward Success”

 In most college courses that require substantial writing, students are called upon to write researched arguments in which they take a stand on a topic or an issue and then enter into conversation with what has already been written on it.

The synthesis question provides students with a number of relatively brief sources on a topic or an issue — texts of no longer than one page, plus at least one source that is a graphic, a visual, a picture, or a cartoon. The prompt calls upon students to write a composition that develops a position on the issue and that synthesizes and incorporates perspectives from at least three of the provided sources. Students may, of course, draw upon whatever they know about the issue as well, but they must make use of at least three of the provided sources to earn an upper-half score.

What moves should a writer make to accomplish this task? Essentially, there are six: read, analyze, generalize, converse, finesse, and argue.

Read Closely, Then Analyze

First, the writer must read the sources carefully. There will be an extra 15 minutes of time allotted to the free-response section to do so. The student will be permitted to read and write on the cover sheet to the synthesis question, which will contain some introductory material, the prompt itself, and a list of the sources. The students will also be permitted to read and annotate the sources themselves. The student will not be permitted to open his or her test booklet and actually begin writing the composition until after the 15 minutes has elapsed.

Second, the writer must analyze the argument each source is making: What claim is the source making about the issue? What data or evidence does the source offer in support of that claim? What are the assumptions or beliefs (explicit or unspoken) that warrant using this evidence or data to support the claim? Note that students will need to learn how to perform such analyses of nontextual sources: graphs, charts, pictures, cartoons, and so on.

After Analysis: Finding and Establishing a Position
Third, the writer needs to generalize about his or her own potential stands on the issue. The writer should ask, “What are two or three (or more) possible positions on this issue that I could take? Which of those positions do I really want to take? Why?” It’s vital at this point, I think, for the writer to keep an open mind. A stronger, more mature, more persuasive essay will result if the writer resists the temptation to oversimplify the issue, to hone in immediately on an obvious thesis. All of the synthesis essay prompts will be based on issues that invite careful, critical thinking. The best student responses, I predict, will be those in which the thesis and development suggest clearly that the writer has given some thought to the nuances, the complexities of the assigned topic.

Fourth — and this is the most challenging move — the writer needs to imagine presenting eachof his or her best positions on the issue to each of the authors of the provided sources. Role-playing the author or creator of each source, the student needs to create an imaginary conversation between himself or herself and the author/creator of the source. Would the author/creator agree with the writer’s position? Why? Disagree? Why? Want to qualify it in some way? Why and how?

Fifth, on the basis of this imagined conversation, the student needs to finesse, to refine, the point that he or she would like to make about the issue so that it can serve as a central proposition, a thesis — as complicated and robust as the topic demands — for his or her composition. This proposition or thesis should probably appear relatively quickly in the composition, after a sentence or two that contextualizes the topic or issue for the reader.

Sixth, the student needs to argue his or her position. The writer must develop the case for the position by incorporating within his or her own thinking the conversations he or she has had with the authors/creators of the primary sources. The student should feel free to say things like, “Source A takes a position similar to mine,” or “Source C would oppose my position, but here’s why I still maintain its validity,” or “Source E offers a slightly different perspective, one that I would alter a bit.”

Student Independent Practice

Group discuss and present in a small group( poster papers):

Each group will read an assigned article and put together a presentation of their understating of the assigned article ( share points).

Groups 1 & 3: ” Something to Say and a Source or Two to Shape it”

Group 2 &4: The Morgan Horse Revisited: Using AP samples for revisions”

Group 1 & 3 share; groups 2 & 4 share.

Group  1 & 2 share; groups 3 & 4 share.

Exit Slip: What new strategies did you learn to write effective synthesis essay?

Homework: Read and annotate ” Using the Toulmin Model of Argument in the Classroom”.


 Part II
Objectives: Students will be able to extend their use of visual sources beyond an affirmation of what other sources already say or beyond what we already
Do Now: What’s a rhetorical triangle ( Aristotelian triangle)?

A. What does the visual (or nonverbal) text provide that the traditional text cannot?

  1. determining the point of view of a visual text; visual media broaden the perspective and can provide multiple viewpoints, consistent with much of our postmodern fiction. For example, a Faulkner novel, for example, has many characters’ views, but the multiplicity of these perspectives allows readers to synthesize these views into the author’s overall position.
  2. Tied directly to point of view are the choices that the sender (creator, photographer, statistician, film editor, advertiser, etc.) makes in the presentation of text, not unlike what authors will determine in their own choices
  3. Verbal Text: Stylistic Devices
    Diction or Syntax ; Juxtaposition; Structure ; Motifs ;Emphasis Exaggeration, repetition;Incongruity or Irony ; Tone
  4. Nonverbal Text: Stylistic Devices: Numbers, captions, headings; Placement, Organization (of images, data), Recurring elements, Exaggeration, repetition, Contrast, tone

How to determine the rhetorical context of a visual piece?

a. What are the messages?
b. What choices in composition has the creator made? What has been omitted?
c. What is the creator’s intention?
d. In what way(s) does the visual medium present the message that a written text message could not?
e. In what ways(s) does the visual medium present a message that would enhance the written text message?

For example, take a look at Alfred Stieglitz’s famous photograph, The Steerage.

  1. What are the messages? Stieglitz communicates the paradoxical nature of immigration. The crowds on board exhibit the masses’ exodus to the New World; the living conditions are rife with squalor. We can note the multiple tones present within this one photograph: the optimism exuded by the sheer energy of the movement towards a new world; the pessimism presented by the subjects on board who gaze downward; Stieglitz’s own cynicism toward what arriving
    in the New World really proffers.
  2. Choices in Composition: The photographer’s use of contrast establishes a type of heaven and hell, celebrated by geometric, harsh lines of a ladder or platform. Yet within each side of “Elysium” are elements that suggest otherwise; those in heaven gaze downward, while the white linen below presents optimism and commitment to a better life. Omitted: What are the people on the upper deck thinking? Are they more optimistic than those on the lower deck, who are gazing upwards? Is there already a hint of classism on board?
  3. Creator’s intention: To presume to know the intention of a piece of art is an act of hubris, especially if we are not familiar with the subject or artist. In light of the rhetorical context, however, “intent” asks us to determine the relationship between sender, receiver, and subject; thus, intent becomes a matter of inference. Perhaps the photographer’s intent was only to capture a day in the life of a ship; but when we synthesize this data with other knowledge, we may use this data to note Stieglitz’s ability to demystify some of the glamour of the New World, and to reveal the irony of the sacrifices those immigrants made to pursue a better life.
  4. Enhancements to Verbal Text: Anzia Yaziersken’s Th e Breadgivers, or even the final paragraphs of Th e Great Gatsby (published in the same year), both present the misgivings and sacrifices of émigrés, yet they do so in the context of the pursuit of something greater than what they knew in the old country. The fictional texts present a greater bias, given our dispositions about characters up until this point; the photograph, by contrast, is Everyman.
  5. What the Visual Provides that Regular Text Cannot: Th e major addition here is multiple points of view. Th e visual synthesizes these various viewpoints—whether biased or neutral— at the same time. With Th e Steerage, especially aft er reading an account of immigration to this country, we have lost neutrality in exchange for knowing a character’s life. Stieglitz’s photograph juxtaposes multiple perspectives, including the photographer’s.

How to integrate the analysis into the overall argument?

  • use visual texts as part of developing arguments: expand the argument, rather
    than merely affirming it.
  • Synthesis, by contrast, asks students to consider related issues in an effort to fully understand an issue.

Capturing Authorial Intent  and “Introducing Something Implied or Assumed

  •  *In discussions of X, one controversial issue has been________ . On the one hand,______ argues_______ . On the other hand, _______contends__________
    . Others even maintain_______________ . My own view is _________________.
  • *When it comes to the topic of_____________ , most of us will agree that__________ .
    Where the agreement usually ends, however, is on the question of________ . Whereas some are convinced that___________ , others maintain that______________ .
  • *In conclusion, then, as I suggested earlier, defenders of_______________ can’t have it both ways. Their assertion that _____________ is contradicted by their claim that________ .

How can visual rhetoric be successfully synthesized with verbal text? The prompt asks for students to agree, disagree, or qualify the assertion that television has had a positive impact on presidential elections.

Given the creative dissonance between a qualitative (oft en verbal) account of an issue, versus a quantitative (oft en statistical) account, we can consider these questions in determining the multiple perspectives that a chart provides:
1. What are the boundaries, indices, or variables selected? What has been excluded in this process?
2. Do the trends, assertions, or claims presented by the chart remain consistent? Does the chart account for variations in the data?
3. In addition to the more logical evidence of numbers, what other information, especially written text, may be considered to obtain a fuller picture of what the evidence means?

A Sample Response that Expands

To say that television has had a positive impact on presidential elections begs the question of what we mean by a “positive impact.” If we mean that more people are watching candidates and gaining an understanding of who they are voting for, then we fail to take into account that the voting public has become a more informed one. Indeed, given the image-based approach that televised debates present, at stake is not just a question of image versus issue, but also one of
access. Indeed, television provides the access, which for many people may be enough; further, television has never purported itself to be an agent of education, for it is by nature a more passive method of engagement. Yes, TV has done what it has set out to do, but the failure of television to impact elections positively has less to do with who watches or even how many are watching, but rather what happens to the electorate in between the act of viewing and the act of voting.

The lack of attention span in the American electorate promotes image over issues. Ted Koppel clearly understands this in his declaration of television as a “joke” in monitoring public debate, given the reduced amount of time viewers even have to watch candidates (Source F). Such sentiment is also supported by Sources B and D, respectively, where those who do watch television, note Roderick and Hart, combine the “serious and sophomoric” and convolute a
President’s underwear with the impression that they understand the candidate; similarly, such fatigue with candidates themselves who cater to this superficiality is manifested by the reduced number of viewers who watch the elections on television, noted in Source D.

Decreased viewership, however, fails to acknowledge the related issue of access to presidential candidates. Louis Menand articulates the power of the Kennedy–Nixon debates as commensurate with the highest peak in television debate ratings (Sources C, D). But frankly, the novelty had worn off by the 1980s, with the advent of cable television and now the Internet. Candidates are scrutinized more closely than ever; to decry Clinton’s wardrobe as a reflection of his presidential potential is as absurd as believing that Kennedy’s virtue was intact; Source D also fails to reflect how many Americans actually voted in Presidential elections.

Sample 2: Memoir As Truth Prompt, Authored by John Brassil

Unlike the television prompt, this piece features a cartoon, which invokes key terms associated with traditional studies of satire. Most of these terms fall under the general heading of distortion: exaggeration, caricature, hyperbole, mockery, and overstatement. In writing and in graphics, we explore the following questions:
1. What is being distorted and why?
2. What is the implicit thesis of the graphic?
3. What are the targets (emphasis on plural) of this distortion?
4. What effect does the juxtaposition or placement of imagery and/or text have on the overall purpose?

An initial reading of the cartoon affirms Frey’s notion that memoir is as much about story as it is about truth, and the text itself, coupled with the coffee-cupped characters seriousness, suggests that the more horrific the story, the better the sales. Yet, the buffoonish demeanor and appearance of the characters suggests that the cartoon is, indeed, satirizing not just the authors of memoir, nor just the public who consumes such memoir, but also the casual process of inventing truth.

A Sample Response That Affirms

Without question, it is appropriate, even necessary, for a memoirist to be able to distort the truth. America is as much about story as it is about facts; further, fi ction can and should be about the truth. Sometimes, the truth itself is too hard to swallow, and the memoirist can provide an important message through a well-told story.

Numerous sources support this assertion as well. Th e “Foxtrot” magazine presents characters who fully support this method (Source D). James Frey concurs with this notion as he writes: “I believe, and I understand others strongly disagree, that memoir allows the writer to work from memory instead of from a strict journalistic or historical standard” (Source B). And William Zinsser himself also believes fully in the necessity of having memoir be raised to an “art” form
(Source C).

Making Concessions While Still Standing Your Ground
*Although I grant that__________ , I still maintain that_______________ .
*Proponents of X are right to argue that_____________ . But they exaggerate when they claim that_____________ .
*While it is true that____________ , it does not necessarily follow that_____________ .
*On the one hand, I agree with X that__________ . But, on the other hand, I still insist that_______________ .

Student Independent Practice

Women and Sports  ( Use to search for the images of Gertrude Ederle, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Michelle Wie)

questions you may use to synthesize the pictures-

a. What do these photographs have in common?
b. What choices have the artists made in terms of how to present a superior female athlete?
c. Of the three, which seems to be the most/least eff ective in its presentation?
d. Rank the pictures in order of importance.

Conclusion: at the heart of successful synthesis is an interdisciplinary approach toward learning—not in the curricular sense, as in the coupling of content—but in the pedagogic sense, where we can look at the types of literacy that students employ from one discipline to another.

Reflection: What did you learn that was most important in helping you understand the visuals?

Homework: Write a synthesis essay using year 2010 prompt.