Navigating the Jungle of Summary and Synthesis

By Madison Bosque

In the rough terrain of college, many types of writing can feel like a herd of buffalo stampeding towards you. However, it doesn’t all have to be so scary! Let’s make summary and synthesis part of your survival kit to navigate college.

Summary can be thought of as describing a particular source in your own words by pulling out the most important aspects. Normally, this type of writing doesn’t require your opinion; you are simply restating what someone else has said. This type of writing can happen in any kind of assignment, whether it be for your Introduction to Biology course or your psychology class about behavioral analysis.

A summary is like going to a zoo and only looking at the tiger exhibit. While there are many other animals at this zoo, you’re only looking at this one tiger. You take note of the coloration of the tiger and the white dot on the back of its ears. You view the habitat of the enclosure, what the tiger has to eat, and what sounds it makes.

The writing process, then, would be like describing this tiger exhibit to a friend. Although your friend didn’t go to the exhibit, they should get a good idea of what the tiger looked like, what was in the exhibit, and if they want to maybe to go the exhibit themselves someday! Similarly, a summary of an article should provide your reader with enough information to get a good understanding of the content without having to actually read the entire source.
Synthesis can be described as combining certain elements and aspects of multiple sources into one single paragraph or paper. The main idea for synthesis is to take the best, most interesting, most noteworthy pieces of a bunch of work and weave them into the best paper ever! Synthesis can be used in almost any class, but it’s mainly used when writing things like research papers where you take multiple sources covering the same subject and combine them to get a specific conclusion. It could also be used in a comparison essay when you need to show similarities and differences between multiple texts.

Think of synthesis like creating a “Big Cats” exhibit at a zoo. You do your research on what actually makes a cat a “Big Cat,” and then you include or exclude certain species from the exhibit based on that definition.  The exhibit would include information on what sets these species apart from other species of cats, as well as what sets them apart from each other.

Synthesis requires looking at more than one source, just like you’d have to look at more than one species to come up with a list of “Big Cats.” The writing process would involve looking at what the articles are saying and how those conclusions match or counter other researcher’s findings in relation to the argument you are trying to make in your paper.

Don’t let synthesis and summary add to the jungle of assignments and papers you stress about; navigating the terrain is easy if you stick to the assignment description and don’t let the amount of research intimidate you. Just use your toolkit of the Writing Center blog, resources, and consultants so you don’t get lost in the jungle!


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