Can you be a great synthesist?

March 03, 2011|Lisa Prejean

"The putting together of parts or elements so as to form a whole."

"A whole made up of parts or elements put together."

"The unified whole in which opposites (thesis and antithesis) are reconciled."

In Advanced Placement English, we have been reviewing these dictionary definitions for the word synthesis. As part of the AP English Composition exam, students are asked to write a synthesis essay.

Doesn't that sound ominous? As if it might be something a doctoral candidate should have to do?

But ask this task of a 17-year-old? Nah. That's too much.

Actually, most advanced students are capable of more than what is currently required of them. They just need someone to encourage them and build their confidence.

They also need someone to explain the technicalities.

For instance, most teen writers are able to read selections from five sources and then write an essay including information from at least three of the sources.

In a nutshell, that's a synthesis essay.  

The writer takes information from various sources, forms an opinion (or thesis) and writes a synthesis of the information. When explained this way, the work seems within reach.

Why would the average person want to know about this? Because synthesis writing is an important skill in any job.

Let's face it. We all process information. We are expected to use that information in making the best decision, giving a memorable report, taking the right action.

If we can synthesize the information that comes our way, we become the thinkers of our generation and can influence change in a positive way.

Try this the next time important documents come your way: Skim them quickly for main ideas, key words and interesting anecdotes. Jot these things in the margin or on scrap paper. Think about how these ideas fit with what you already know. Consider any questions that are raised by this information.

If you can summarize those thoughts, you can write a synthesis essay.

You could be a synthesist: A person or thing that synthesizes.

If you use a computer to put the pieces together, you could claim the alternate definition of synthesist: A person who plays an electronic synthesizer.

Um, maybe I ought to stick to the writing side and let the musicians handle that area.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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