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Taking a more thoughtful approach to reading during your research phase is usually the first step toward creating a successful synthesis, as MIT professor Ed Boyden explains in a Technology Review blog post titled “How to Think”:
“Synthesize new ideas constantly. Never read passively. Annotate, model, think, and synthesize while you read, even when you're reading what you conceive to be introductory stuff. That way, you will always aim towards understanding things at a resolution fine enough for you to be creative.”
By reading actively, students will be better able to recognize the crucial connections between ideas that form the basis for synthesizing.
Students must learn to approach their research with synthesis in mind. Arizona State University offers step-by-step instructions for conducting research in a way that’s conducive to synthesizing information. Not surprisingly, one of the first steps involves highlighting key facts and ideas while reading, to aid in the cross-reference of sources later on.
ASU provides additional instruction for educators interested in using this particular model for synthesis.
One of the most straightforward and comprehensive guides to writing syntheses comes from Michigan State University. Its “Introduction to Syntheses” article covers the purpose of syntheses, types of syntheses, and techniques for writing synthesis essays. This article is a must-read for older students, particularly the section “How to Write Synthesis Essays.”
According to the College Board, one exercise used in AP English courses to emphasize synthesis is the researched argument paper. “Researched argument papers remind students that they must sort through disparate interpretations to analyze, reflect upon, and write about a topic. When students are asked to bring the experience and opinions of others into their essays in this way, they enter into conversations with other writers and thinkers.” Download the course description for more extensive information on researched argument papers, and other exercises that can be used to teach advanced aspects of synthesis.
Synthesis for Young Students
Into the Book, a site that aims to help teachers educate students on reading comprehension strategies, has aggregated links to help students learn synthesis skills. The “Teacher Background” links provide teachers with ways of thinking about synthesis that could aid them in their classroom instruction. Note that the “Key Concept: Synthesis” link has moved to a new address. The site has an interesting graphic organizer that students can fill out while reading, to make identifying connections in the text a less abstract activity.