3a. Synthesizing Multiple Perspectives

Synthesis: Putting Together Different Perspectives

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Image: Different perspectives; rawpixel, CC0


In college writing and in any situation where you have to sift through a lot of information, you will need to critically evaluate what is useful and relevant to you, as well as separate what is true from what is not true. When you have done extensive reading or research on a topic, you’ll need to present your research clearly and concisely to your readers so that they understand all sides or aspects of an issue. Synthesizing your sources into your writing allows you to:

  • demonstrate your knowledge of a topic or issue;
  • make sense of different perspectives and claims on a topic or issue;
  • present the most important claims or points from your sources;
  • put your sources into conversation with one another to give context for your point of view and come to new insights and questions;
  • and support your claim fully.


“The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him life; it went out from him truth. It came to him short-lived actions; it went out from him immortal thoughts. It came to him business; it went from him poetry.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar


What is synthesis?

When you synthesize in your writing, you are building a relationship between different ideas or sources. Synthesis means that you:

  • bring together lots of information in a meaningful way
  • show connections between different things
  • come to new insights
  • draw intriguing conclusions
  • take in the world around you, and give back truth

You synthesize multiple perspectives (including your own) in an essay, and you often synthesize two or more perspectives in a paragraph. Thus, synthesis is a creative and interpretive act. How you put together different perspectives and sources will not be the same as how another writer puts them together.


“Make it work!”

Any Project Runway fans? The show has an “unconventional challenge” segment, where the designers put together a dress from different and unusual sets of materials. For example, for one challenge, they had to put together a dress with materials from a hardware store and a flower shop. In the example below, the designers use different candies to create a dress:

Synthesis in writing is like winning the unconventional challenge, and your essay is the beautifully finished piece you create by synthesizing various sources to support your overall goal. When facing any writing challenge in college, you can use the skills of critical inquiry and synthesis to meet any deadline and remember Tim Gunn’s motto – “Make it work!”



How do I synthesize?


Synthesizing sources into your writing is a juggling act. First, you want to figure out what your paragraph is doing: Is it providing information to the reader about a topic? Is it developing support and evidence for a particular claim you are making? Is it presenting a counterargument? Is it helping you to respond to a counterargument?

  • If you are providing information to your reader, then multiple sources will help you to present a complete picture of the topic/issue to your reader by offering different perspectives on this topic/issue or by offering several expert sources that support a single perspective.
  • If you are developing support and evidence for a particular claim or point you are making, then your sources should build upon each other. Each one should further the point of the one previously made.
  • If you are using multiple sources to develop a counterargument, you can pit your sources against each other. Use one to help acknowledge an opposing viewpoint and use another to help develop your response to that viewpoint.

It is important when you are writing several different voices into a single paragraph that your voice does not get lost in the mix. Remember, an essay is about presenting and supporting your claims and ideas. Each paragraph should always make clear where you fit into the conversation.

See the next two pages for examples of synthesis paragraphs and a synthesis table.


Synthesis: Example Paragraphs

From: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Obesity” by Catherine Womack for The Conversation

Does reframing the debate help fight obesity? Yes – in fact it’s necessary, says series lead author Christina Roberto in “Patchy progress on obesity prevention: emerging examples, entrenched barriers, and new thinking.” They suggest a variety of new or retooled strategies ranging from educating health care providers about the dangers of weight stigmatization to mobilizing citizens to demand policy changes to address obesity. Their key insights are locating problems of obesity in the interactions between individuals and their environments, and breaking the vicious cycle of unhealthy food environments that reinforce preferences for those foods. But reframing is just the first step in the process of reversing the trend of obesity. Researchers also have to ask the questions that health policy makers want to hear and act on, says food and health policy expert Kelly Brownell in a commentary, co-authored with Roberto. Historian of science Naomi Oreskes says that scientists tend to follow a supply-side model of information, assuming their results will somehow naturally reach those who need it. Brownell and Roberto underscore this error, and strongly advise obesity researchers to frame questions and convey results in ways that understandable and relevant to policy makers’ and the public. Otherwise their work will remain unheard and unused.


From: “The Persistent Myth of the Narcissistic Millennial” by Brooke Lea Foster for The Atlantic

            Whether it’s Time’s 2013 cover story “The Me, Me, Me Generation” or Jeffrey Kluger’s book The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed—in Your World, the same statistics are cited as proof of Millennial narcissism. In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Personality, San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge found that narcissistic behaviors among college students studied over a 27-year period had increased significantly from the 1970s. A second study published in 2008 by the National Institutes of Health showed that 9.4 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds exhibit extreme narcissism, compared with 3.2 percent of those older than 65. But there’s a problem with all of this evidence: The data is unreliable. “It’s incredibly unfair to call Millennials narcissistic, or to say they’re more so than previous generations,” says Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a professor of psychology at Clark University and author of Getting to 30: A Parent’s Guide to the Twentysomething YearsArnett has devoted a significant amount of time and research to disproving the statistics that San Diego State’s Twenge has built a career on. He says that her assertion that narcissistic behaviors among young people have risen 30 percent is flimsy, since she’s basing it around data collected from the 40-question Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), the results of which leave quite a bit up for interpretation. For example, does agreement with statements like “I am assertive” or “I wish I were more assertive” measure narcissism, self-esteem, or leadership?


From: “Working Out the Meaning of ‘Meaningful’ Work” by Katherine Moos for Vitae

Adam Smith believed that work forces the worker to sacrifice “his tranquility, his freedom, and his happiness.” Karl Marx criticized Smith’s view and believed that labor in the form of creative problem solving could indeed provide “self-realization.” (To Marx, the problem lay not in labor itself, but in the system of wage labor that exploited workers and alienated them from the creation of the final product.) A history of economic thought shows us that the progressive scorn nowadays of the do-what-you-love motto, is actually switching sides on a very old debate. Arguing that work is inherently unpleasant reinforces one of the more insidious assumptions in mainstream economics and one of the more cynical claims in our culture: that people are merely consumers trying to maximize their pleasure and minimize their pain. That sort of thinking leads managers to assume that workers are bound to shirk responsibility whenever possible, and are only motivated by money. It breeds extremely dysfunctional work environments with high surveillance and competition among co-workers. The polymath Herbert Simon has written about how workers’ sense of identification with the mission of an organization explains why employees actually perform the duties necessary to promote the institution’s goals, and not just pursue their self-interest as economic theory would expect.

Worksheet – Synthesis Table

Worksheet – Synthesis Table (download here)


Author 1: Author 2:
What is the topic of conversation or question they are answering?

*Keep in mind that your authors may directly or indirectly address a shared topic/question

What would the authors agree on?

*Summarize key points and note passages from the text that provide evidence to support these points

What would they disagree about?

*Summarize key points and note passages from the text that provide evidence to support these points

What aspect of the larger question do they focus on? (i.e. what more specific question do they pose?)

* How does each author develop the topic through sub-questions or different approaches to the shared question?

What do they say? (i.e. their main claim or a point they make)

*Summarize the overall main point and note the sentence you would call the thesis.

What do they conclude or what do they want? (i.e. what is their purpose for writing?)

*Consider how each author’s final paragraphs drive home their main ideas or answers “So what? Who cares?”

Discourse Community:

Who are the authors and who (if you can tell) do you think is the primary audience (intended readers) for these texts?




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Writing as Inquiry Copyright © 2021 by Kara Clevinger and Stephen Rust is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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