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Home » How to Write a Synthesis Essay: Structure, Format, Examples

How to Write a Synthesis Essay: Structure, Format, Examples

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In the article, you’ll reveal the purpose of a synthesis essay and learn how to create this paper.

It’s a detailed guide with actionable tips and PDF samples. So, you’ll master writing this essay to get high grades for your endeavors.

Ready? Let’s go!

What Is a Synthesis Essay?

A synthesis essay is a paper gathering info from a few sources to compose a new statement and then prove it.

The idea is to develop a new thesis based on analyzed sources. You don’t repeat their arguments. Instead, you use them to build and support your view on the discussed issue.

  •  No: Summarizing statements from the sources.
  •  Yes: Using the info from the resources to craft a new thesis and support/argue it.
Formulating a thesis for your synthesis paper


When choosing the sources to analyze, don’t focus only on those supporting your thesis. Take one against it for readers to see the opposite side of the issue and your thoughts on it.

A synthesis essay can be explanatory or argumentative. Also, it’s one of three papers a student should write to pass the AP Lang exam.

Explanatory vs. Argumentative

This paper describes and explains the points from chosen sources. You don’t choose a side or try to persuade anyone here. Use data to inform readers; compare and contrast ideas with no bias or evaluation of who is right or wrong.This essay aims to convince the reader. You analyze sources, build a thesis, and address the resources to persuade the reader. Follow the structure of argumentative writing to support claims.

AP Lang Synthesis Essay

AP lang synthesis essay refers to another type of academic paper. It’s part of the AP Language and Composition exam that high school students pass to earn college scores. The purpose:

  • To test rhetorical and critical thinking skills
  • To check the ability to analyze others’ works and compose original messages

What does this task look like? 

Examiners give you 6-7 sources related to a topic. At least two are visual, one – quantitative (a graph, a chart, etc.), and others – text-based (500 words each). Also, you get a prompt explaining what to do: respond, argue, defend, etc. You read everything and synthesize at least three resources in your paper.

A student has 45 minutes to complete an AP lang synthesis essay. Fifteen go for analyzing the sources, and 30 minutes are for writing.

Here’s the prompt example:

AP lang essay prompt sample

Synthesis Essay Structure to Follow

The paper has a standard structure: an introductory paragraph, a body, and a conclusion. Each has some specifics to consider:


How to start a synthesis essay? Ensure you mention all these three elements in an introductory paragraph:

  1. Hook: Make it engaging to grab the reader’s attention. 
  2. Context: Introduce the topic and the sources you’ll synthesize.
  3. Thesis: Write a statement outlining your argument.

Your thesis statement is the most critical part, guiding the whole essay. It’s 1-2 sentences at the end of your essay intro representing the central idea of your work. To craft a good thesis, examine the sources, decide on your thoughts on the topic, and then make a claim.

Here are two synthesis essay thesis examples for you to understand the logic:

  1.  “Through a comparative analysis of the works of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, this work explores the evolving portrayal of love and societal norms in English literature, highlighting the transformation of romantic ideals from the Elizabethan era to the Regency period.”
  1.  “This essay examines the influence of British colonialism on the representation of identity and cultural conflict in English literature, drawing connections between the works of colonial-era authors such as Joseph Conrad and contemporary writers like Salman Rushdie to illustrate the enduring impact of colonialism on literary themes.”

Body Paragraphs

Synthesis essays require at least three sources to examine. Given that, your paper body will have at least three paragraphs. One should be about a resource with an opposing view (a counterargument to your thesis).

Each body paragraph should have this structure:

  1. Topic sentence relating to your thesis.
  2. Introducing the source that supports this topic sentence.
  3. Evidence from that source.
  4. Explanation/Elaboration of the evidence.
  5. Smooth transition to the next paragraph.

When writing a body paragraph on the counterarguments, structure it like this:

  1. Introduce what others say against your claim.
  2. Use a transitional phrase + insist you’re right.
  3. Explain why the other side is wrong; consider the source to support why you’re right.

You have three options to structure your synthesis essay body:

Point by point– introduction
– point 1 that supports a thesis in all synthesized sources
– point 2 that supports a thesis in all synthesized sources
– point 3 that supports or contradicts a thesis
– conclusion
Source by source– introduction
– summary of source 1, with evidence to support a thesis
– summary of source 2, with evidence to support a thesis
– introducing a source representing the opposing view
– conclusion
Blended– introduction
– point 1 supporting a thesis in all synthesized sources
– another point discussed in all synthesized sources
– one point supported by one source
– another point supported by one source
– conclusion

Conclusion + Bibliography

It’s the final paragraph of your synthesis paper. Use it to restate a thesis and emphasize how each point proved it throughout the essay.

Here’s how to structure it:

  1. Refer to the hook.
  2. Thesis restatement: Summarize your arguments.
  3. Closing statement: results, call to action, or advice to readers. 

You’ll also need to provide the sources used in the essay. Known as a bibliography, it’s a list of references after your paper’s conclusion. The formatting rules for this list will differ depending on the citation style.

Download your free PDF template of the synthesis essay structure:

Check or save to use later

How to Write a Synthesis Essay: 5 Steps

1. Choose a Topic

As a rule, teachers assign synthesis essay topics. They are often about social behavior or interaction, which is debatable enough to cover when planning a paper (1).

With no specific topic assigned, you’ll need to choose one. Remember you’ll analyze several sources to prove a statement throughout the paper. Think as appropriate.

Below are tips on how to choose a topic for a synthesis essay:

  1. Check the assignment. Does it provide instructions for source count, type, or topic scope?
  2. Think of themes that would be interesting for you to cover.
  3. Opt for those debatable and contemporary to show relevance. 
  4. Check if you can find enough credible sources to synthesize.
  5. Consult your teacher (editor, instructor). They can guide you on the topic’s alignment.

2) Do Research and Analyze Sources

When teachers assign a topic, they often provide sources to synthesize in an essay. If not, it’s a student’s job to decide on at least 3 solid sources to cover.

  • Examine 7-9 books, journals, articles, and other materials.
  • Identify their central concepts and supporting points.
  • Consider unbiased resources; ensure they relate to your topic. (You’ll need to synthesize them, remember?)

Once you’ve picked 3-4 resources for an essay, analyze them to develop your thesis.

For that:

  1. Read to understand the position behind every source.
  2. Note similarities and differences.
  3. Reveal the arguments and opposing views for your thesis.
  4. Choose passages you’ll cite as evidence.
  5. Write a thesis statement based on the central claim you want to address in your paper.

3) Outline

A synthesis essay outline is a detailed plan of your paper. Follow the structure and prescribe an aspect you’ll cover in each paragraph.

Do your best to distribute all points, sources, and evidence throughout the paper. With the outline at hand, you’ll write an essay faster. Plus, you won’t miss anything critical, organizing all the information logically and cohesively.

Craft info for each paragraph so you remember all arguments and evidence while writing.

4) Write a Draft

Now, write your essay. Follow the structure and outline you’ve got, and craft a draft.

To make it easier for you to broaden the body paragraphs, try the ICED strategy:

The ICED strategy for building essay paragraphs

Follow these writing rules for a synthesis essay:

  • Write in active voice
  • Don’t begin a paragraph with a citation
  • Use the third person (Write “they,” “he,” “she,” “it;” avoid “I,” “we,” or “you.”)
  • Use transitional words between sections
  • Watch your tone; stay unbiased
  • Do not sum up sources, but analyze and integrate them in your work to support your thesis

5) Proofread and Edit Your Essay

Once the draft is ready, take time to proofread it. Check for typos and grammatical mistakes. Re-read it 2-3 times to ensure all the information flows logically.

You may ask AI tools to help with proofreading. Also, it’s worth checking the draft for plagiarism and paraphrasing if necessary. When editing an essay, consider readability:

Use synonyms, avoid overcomplicated sentences, and follow the assigned citation style.

Synthesis Paper Format, Depending on Citation Style

MLA (Modern Language Association)APA (American Psychological Association)Chicago Style
– In-text: author’s last name + page number
– A “References” page: List authors in alphabetical order; emphasize authorship and publication date
– In-text: author’s last name + publication date
– A “References” page: List sources in alphabetical order; emphasize publication date and scientific precision
– Notes-Biography Style: Use footnotes and endnotes for citations
– Author-Date Style: Use in-text citations and references
– Allows for flexibility

Synthesis Essay Sample: Your PDF to Save

Prompts and samples for synthesis essays are many online. More often, students look for AP lang essay samples. Below I’ll share the prompt from the AP Central College Board portal. That’s what they asked to write last year:

And that’s the sample of a synthesis essay a student could write on that prompt:

Synthesis essay example: pdf


  •  Is synthesis a summary? 

No, synthesis is not a summary (2). It’s an analysis of 3-4 sources to craft an original statement based on the given knowledge. You blend (“synthesize”) the information from the academic materials to support your point.

  •  What is the main point of a synthesis essay? 

The main point of a synthesis essay is to create a new thesis based on analyzed resources. You prove it’s true, using the supporting concepts from those resources. Do not repeat but integrate the arguments into your essay.

  •  How to write an AP lang synthesis essay? 

First, examine the prompt to understand what you need to do. Analyze the sources, choose three, and use them to generate a strong thesis statement. After that, take time to craft an outline and complete your paper.

AP lang synthesis essay rubric is a part of the  AP Language and Composition exam. High school students take it to earn scores for college. You have around 45 minutes to complete this task.

  •  Do synthesis essays need a counterargument? 

Yes, synthesis essays have one counterargument (rebuttal) paragraph in the body. Use it to share opposing views and evidence to refute them, thus reinforcing your thesis.

  •  How long should a synthesis essay be? 

Make it as long as necessary to synthesize all the resources and cover the topic. As a rule, synthesis essays are standard 5-paragraph papers of around 450-650 words. The length depends on the requirements, the theme, and the number of resources you’ll synthesize.


Long story short, here’s how to write a synthesis essay:

  1. Read the prompt.
  2. Analyze the resources and choose those most credible to synthesize.
  3. Come up with a strong thesis statement.
  4. Follow the structure and formatting rules.
  5. Finish your essay with a compelling conclusion. You’ll need to sum up the points, restate the main idea, and leave readers with the final thoughts.

Questions left? I’m all ears in the comments!



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