So you need to write a synthesis essay! Don’t worry—it sounds a lot tougher than it actually is. To synthesize merely means to take a few pieces and make something new out of them. You may have heard of the “thesis—antithesis—synthesis” relationship, also known as the dialectical method. If you haven’t—no big deal: it’s just a way of saying that for every point there is a counterpoint and that by combining the two, you achieve a synthesis—a new concept wherein the two opposing points are reconciled in what amounts to a new proposition. In a synthesis essay, you are given a handful of texts, charts, images, or databanks and asked to synthesize a new perspective by using the info you’re given.
Now how does it work? The easy part about a synthesis essay is that, unlike with an argumentative essay in which you have to research your subject and come up with sources to support your argument, all the information you will need to use is already given you. The challenge in a synthesis essay is to take that information and make a new point with it.
For instance, let’s say you are given half a dozen sources that offer varying and even conflicting view points on the cause of the Civil War. Your job is to take at least a few (if not all) of those sources and synthesize them into a paper. Your paper will have a thesis—a point that you are trying to make—and the thesis will be based on information that you collect from the sources. The key here is to avoid summarizing the sources and instead focus on making your own point. It is assumed that everyone is already familiar with what the sources say, so there is no need to repeat them. Instead, use them to support the argument that you will make. This in effect is your synthesis of the sources given you: you are merging them together in your mind and letting that merger create something new.
The best way to understand how to write a synthesis essay is to take an example. Let’s say you are given ten sources. Four of the sources are brief essays on Adam West’s Batman, Michael Keaton’s Batman, Christian Bale’s Batman, and Ben Affleck’s Batman, respectively. Each essay is about why that actor’s turn as Batman is the best. Four other sources are photos of each of the actors in character as their respective Batman. The final two sources contain graphs: one shows the box office returns of four films with each of the actors starring as Batman, the other shows the films’ Rotten Tomato ratings. The prompt you are given is the following: Imagine you are the head of a major film studio in charge of rebooting the Batman franchise. Synthesize the sources provided you in an essay on how the studio should approach the Batman character in its latest reboot.
What is the first thing you will do? Look over each of the sources, one by one, and let the information stir inside you for a moment. Think about the prompt. Consider what you have been given—and only that—and then make a decision: The studio must take the character in this direction—because…because why? Answer that and you have your thesis.
Once you have your thesis, you can begin to construct your outline. Outlines are easy if you think of them in this way: they all have an introduction and a conclusion. Sandwiched in between are the points you will make to support your argument, which will be stated in the introduction and re-stated in the conclusion. The points should be supported by the sources you are given. So just make sure that you use those when you make a point. Simple, right?
Now let’s look at an example essay using the prompt described above.
a. Batman has had a lot of manifestations over the decades.
b. Each manifestation has represented something popular at the time.
i. Adam West’s Batman reflected the campy fun of the 1960s.
ii. Keaton’s Batman reflected the darkening worldview of the 1990s.
iii. Bale’s Batman reflected the realism underpinning the 21st century’s need for a true hero.
iv. Affleck’s Batman reflected the rise in popularity of the comic book genre’s merger with filmmaking, while retaining some of the grim realities exposed by Bale’s Batman.
c. Re-booting the character should consider the current environment and what audiences are wanting. The new Batman should be fun but also dark—a blend of wit, sophistication, and angst.
II. Getting the Right Tone
a. Each manifestation of Batman has done something new
b. A re-boot should be original but true to some aspect of the character that has not yet been done
c. As the essay on West’s Batman indicates, Batman is a detective—and this aspect of the Caped Crusader has not much been seen on screen.
III. Have Fun
a. All the manifestations of Batman have thrilled audiences
b. As the Rotten Tomatoes reviews show, the best manifestations are those that are fun
c. The re-boot should be fun
IV. Be Real
a. West’s Batman set the tone for a fun time
b. Keaton’s Batman re-imagined that time as more of a nightmarish, gothic experience.
c. Bale and Affleck sought to bring realism, heroism, and style to the character.
d. The box office has shown that Bale’s and Affleck’s were the biggest winners.
e. A re-boot should be real.
a. Batman has been depicted various ways on screen.
b. While there are a lot of opinions about which Batman was the best, the evidence indicates that a re-boot of the character should be fun, real and focused on an aspect of the character that has not yet been fully developed on screen.
Most synthesis essay topics center on real-world issues such as:
Typically, the topic or prompt is provided you along with the sources you will need to use, so coming up with a subject is really not the biggest concern you will have when it comes to writing a synthesis essay. Instead, you’ll want to focus on developing a new thesis that none of the sources given you have put forward. Read and re-read your sources, consider the prompt and what it is asking of you, and then develop a thesis that addresses the prompt and that is based on the material meant for your usage.
Now let’s look at two synthesis essay examples. The first makes use of the outline and the sources described above. For the second essay, you can pretend that it is based on three different sources—an article by Jones, a book by Garrard, and a presentation by Schultz. Let’s say that these sources each discuss an aspect of Hamlet’s character—and, as you can see, the essay synthesizes their three unique points of view into a new argument. Read on!
Batman: The Re-Boot
Batman has had a lot of manifestations over the decades. Each manifestation has represented something popular at the time of its creation. Adam West’s Batman reflected the campy fun of the 1960s. Keaton’s Batman reflected the darkening worldview of the 1990s. Bale’s Batman reflected the realism underpinning the 21st century’s need for a true hero. Affleck’s Batman reflected the rise in popularity of the comic book genre’s merger with filmmaking, while retaining some of the grim realities exhibited by Bale’s Batman. When re-booting the character, our studio should consider the current climate and what audiences are wanting. The new Batman should be fun but also dark—a blend of wit, sophistication, and angst. The evidence also shows that the new Batman should show a side of the character that is different from that which has already come before. This paper will discuss how the new Batman should be portrayed on screen, based on the sources provided.
Getting the right tone is the first step to re-booting Batman. Each manifestation of Batman has done something new and affected its own tone. Yet each manifestation also stayed true to some aspect of the original comic book character. A re-boot should be original but true to some aspect of the character that has not yet been seen on film. As the essay on West’s Batman indicates, Batman is a detective in the comic books—and this aspect of the Caped Crusader has not much been seen on screen. Therefore, depicting Batman in the re-boot as primarily a detective could be something that audiences find intriguing.
It is important to remember, however, that—as Rotten Tomatoes points out—audiences like to have fun at the cinema. This is the main reason so many critics dislike Affleck’s Batman: they said it was too grim and self-important. Our re-boot should be light-hearted in ways—but that does not mean it has to be campy like West’s Batman. Keaton’s Batman was able to strike a balance between comedy and tragedy and the actor we choose to play Batman should have a similar appeal about him. In this way, we will be sure to thrill audiences and give them a fun time at the movies.
With that said, it is also necessary to note that the biggest Batman at the box office was Bale’s, which brought realism to the character for the first time ever. Audiences really responded to this concept because in our own troubled times, as the review on Bale’s Batman notes, audiences desire to see a realistic hero address our problems and needs. So while West’s Batman set the tone for a fun time and Keaton’s Batman re-imagined that time as more of a nightmarish, gothic experience; the Batman portrayed by Bale (and Affleck to some degree) brought realism, heroism and style to the character—and for this they were rewarded at the box office. Therefore, our re-boot should also try to present a realistic character, too.
In conclusion, Batman has been depicted various ways on screen and while there are a lot of opinions about which Batman was the best, the evidence indicates that a re-boot of the character should be fun, real and focused on an aspect of the character that has not yet been fully developed on screen. For this reason, our studio should focus on Batman as a detective while keeping the character fun and realistic at the same time. This will likely prove a hit with audiences and a winner at the box office.
Is Hamlet Insane?
There are many different takes on whether or not Shakespeare’s Hamlet is mad or just acting mad. After all, there are plenty of scenes in the play itself that show that the prince is just pretending. At the same time, if he is pretending, he does seem to take it too far (he slays Polonius, after all, in a fit of frenzy and admits immediately thereafter that he does not know what he has done). This paper will argue a new take on Hamlet—namely that he does start off only pretending to be crazy (so as to mislead those spying on him) but that over the course of the play he gradually loses his mind for a short time, only to recover it for the final act.
As Jones points out, Hamlet is fully committed to putting on a pretense of madness in order to fool his father-in-law. He confides as much to those nearest him and his trick does work: those not in his inner circle cannot make heads or tails of Hamlet’s actions and therefore resist making a decisive act towards him. Hamlet at the same time shows himself to be quite reasonable, especially as the long soliloquies prove: his is an active mind at work and there is no semblance of insanity about him.
On the other hand, Garrard shows that when Hamlet slays Polonius and “lugs the guts away” he is demonstrably crazy. His reason is not apparent and his soliloquies are absent: in their place are impassioned outbursts towards his mother that suggest that the prince is falling over the brink.
Then, in the final scenes of the play, after Hamlet has returned to Denmark by escaping from the ship that is sailing him to his doom, he once again brings out his soliloquies and re-asserts his rationality, as Schultz points out. He makes peace with those he intended to harm—and though he does harm them finally, his actions at that point are based on a faultless vengeance that is inspired more by a sense of justice than by madness.
Instead of asserting that Hamlet is crazy or only pretending to be crazy, it is quite possible to say that Hamlet is sane, then crazy, then sane again. Indeed, to say that Hamlet is temporarily insane is the best explanation of all—for it allows that there is a good argument on all sides and combines all the points together into a new perspective that allows the audience to see Hamlet’s character as a journey—a voyage from reason to madness and back to reason. Examining Hamlet in this light helps us to see how it is that he falls and how it is that he is able to climb back up again.
In conclusion, there is no need to think of Hamlet as wholly sane or as wholly insane. Instead, it is better to view Hamlet as a character who changes and develops over the course of the play. From the brooding but rational young man at the beginning, he transforms to a frenzied, maddened young man in the middle, and then restores himself to sense and reason by the end.
The synthesis essay is something that can easily be written. All you have to do is take the sources that have been given you, use some of the points from each one, and connect a new perspective that synthesizes various points of view into a new argument. Support this argument with the sources you’re provided and show how the unique conclusion that you draw is well-reasoned, and you’ll have completed a solid synthesis essay that is sure to be a hit!