Source Synthesis

As you read in previous chapters, it is important that you hone your reading and writing abilities so you can effectively participate in scholarly conversations in the academy. This assignment asks that you do just that as you synthesize, or bring together, sources that are on the same subject in order to orchestrate a scholarly conversation, of which you are also a part.

In order to enter this conversation, you will need to understand what each participant is saying individually. In other words, you should be able to summarize—restate and condense—it. You have likely written a summary in other academic contexts, and you should feel free to draw on those experiences as you complete the summary assignments throughout this textbook. A summary can be a useful step in understanding what you read as summaries compel you to restate and condense the most important elements of a text. In certain instances you will be asked not to summarize a text in its entirety, but to focus your summary on specific elements. Summaries are particularly useful when texts are dense and include multiple perspectives on a subject. They are also a first step toward more complex academic moves such as those you are expected to make in source syntheses and other assignments.

Once you are sure you can summarize the ideas belonging to each participant in the “conversation,” you will need to synthesize their ideas to help you see how they relate to each other. Source syntheses are usually shorter versions of the typical source-driven, longer essays you will be assigned in many of your classes. Their compact nature helps you really focus on refining your abilities to mindfully read and respond to other scholars.

Although sometimes the term “response” is associated with emotions, you want to be sure that you are responding in what we might call an intellectual manner. An intellectual response is one that depends upon ideas rather than emotions (e.g. I feel X or Y or about the subject). You want to participate in a scholarly conversation by contributing your ideas. In other words, what would you say to those who have already written on the subject, participated in the conversation? Some intellectual ways to respond—that go beyond the more simplistic modes of agreeing and disagreeing—include the following:

  1. Taking a point further
  2. Redefining the context of the discussion
  3. Exploring different implications for the findings
  4. Complicating an argument
  5. Locating a fault (an unfounded assumption, for example) and remedying it
  6. Exploring why a particular approach is limiting and applying an alternative approach
  7. Redefining some of the terms or ideas offered
  8. Raising unexplored questions and their significance

As you develop your source synthesis, look back at your annotations for insights into how you are already interacting with the ideas presented in the texts, how you are already participating in the conversation. For example, perhaps one of the questions you pose in the margins can serve as your focus. Here are some additional guidelines:

  • Be sure to focus the conversation on a specific issue or idea that you can explore in depth by offering the writers’ different perspectives rather than very quickly and superficially touching upon a bunch of different issues or ideas in your piece.

You will need to quote your sources throughout since you cannot orchestrate and then participate in a conversation unless you give each source a voice. As you quote your sources, make sure that at the level of form the piece reads like a conversation. This means that, on the whole, each paragraph should contain more than one voice. One page devoted to one voice and a second page devoted to another voice does not represent the give-and-take of a conversation.

Attribution: Adapted from A Writer’s Guide to Mindful Reading. Practice & Pedagogy (pp. 30-32), by Ellen C. Carillo, WAC Clearinghouse and University Press of Colorado (2017). License: CC BY-NC-ND.