How to Write a Synthesis Paper About Literature

Synthesis papers combine different source materials to support a new position. In the study of literature, such papers rely on primary source material -- the novel, story, poem or play itself -- as well as secondary source material -- critics' and scholars' interpretations and positions on that original material. Combining these sources requires you to articulate a distinct position with or about the source material.

Define your position. In synthesis papers about literature, your position will typically concern some primary source material, while simultaneously responding to a secondary interpretation of that primary source material. For example, your position could be a new interpretation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Confessions," which is a direct response to Jacques Derrida's interpretation of "Confessions" in his work "Of Grammatology."

Identify the points that support your position. These points are what you noticed in the synthesized source material that brought you to your position. For example, Chinua Achebe famously articulated his position that Josef Conrad was a "bloody racist" because Achebe had noticed that many of Conrad's works depicted Africans as subhuman. The points that supported Achebe's position were examples of racism in Conrad's work.

Outline your synthesis paper. Your main position should be the first section of the outline. Create a new section in the outline for each supporting point.

Compose a paragraph around each of your points, identifying and explaining textual support of each point. This will include both your reading of the primary source material, as well as your incorporation of secondary source material. For example, in supporting your position that a poem argues for the legitimacy of existentialism, one of the points might be that the poet uses language common to many existential philosophers. In this paragraph, you first would state your point, then identify language common to many existential philosophers. You then would provide a close reading of the poem, pointing out the instances in which the poet repeated this common, existential language.

Compose your introduction. Indicate that the purpose of the paper is to develop a position through the examination of primary and secondary source material. Conclude the introduction with your position statement.

Finish your paper with the conclusion, which should be an inverse reiteration of your introduction. The conclusion inverts the introduction by repeating information in reverse order. Repeat your main point in the first line of the conclusion. Each subsequent sentence should reference the points that support your main point. End your conclusion by revisiting the creative tool you used to open your introduction (quote, story, startling fact).

About the Author

Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.

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