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6. Making an Argument: Where are you among the elements?

Professors want to see evidence of your own thinking in your essays and papers. Even so, it will be your thoughts in reaction to your resources. What parts of them do you agree with? Do you disagree with? How could they have been better?

It's wise to not only analyze - take apart for study--the resources. Also try to combine your own ideas with ideas you found in class and in the resources. Professors frequently expect you to interpret, make inferences, and otherwise synthesize - bring ideas together to make something new or to find a new way of looking at something old. (It might help to think of synthesis as the opposite of analysis.) To get an A on essays and papers in many courses such as literature and history, what you write in reaction to others' work should use synthesis to create new meaning or show a deeper understanding of what you learned.


To do so, it helps to look for connections and patterns. Here's an example.

Synthesis can seem difficult, particularly if you are used to analyzing others' points but not used to making your own. Like most things, however, it gets easier as you get more experienced at it. So don't be hard on yourself if it seems difficult at first. You're not dumb, just inexperienced at this task.



Synthesis is a creative act. Sometimes even simple things can help us be more creative. Are there places, things, activities, or situations that you already use to spark your creativity? Please share them - Double click to add a sticky note with your idea:

Created with Padlet
Created with Padlet

Take a look at 5 Ways to Spark Your Creativity for some tips.





One way to synthesize when writing an argument essay, paper, or other project is to look for themes among your resources. So try categorizing ideas by topic rather than by resource - making associations across resources.

The book Thinker Toys, by Michael Michalko, can help you expand your ability to think creatively. The author's web page contains fun but challenging thinking exercises, including this one that lets you practice making associations between seemingly disparate concepts:

Remote Association Test





Here's a technique to quickly assess whether there is enough you in your essay or paper, as opposed to information from your sources: Highlight what you have included as quotes, paraphrases, and summaries from your sources. Next, highlight in another color what you have written yourself. Then take a look at the pages and decide whether there is enough you on them.

For the mocked-up pages below, assume that the yellow-highlighted lines were written by the writer and the pink-highlighted lines are quotes, paraphrases, and summaries she pulled from her sources. Which page most demonstrates the writer's own ideas?

Source: Joy McGregor. “A Visual Approach: Teaching Synthesis," School Library Monthly, Volume XXVII, Number 8/May-June 2011.

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