SYNTHESIS: A SKILL FOR COLLEGE On the synthesis question the successful writer is going to be able to show readers how he or she has thought through the topic at hand by considering the sources critically and creating a composition that draws conversations with the sources into his or her own thinking. It is a task that the college-bound student should willingly take up. THE ART OF ARGUMENTATION Accomplished academic writers don't simply draw material from published sources as if the sources were maples being tapped for their sap. On the contrary, savvy writers converse with sources and incorporate (literally: em-body) them in their argument. THE ART OF ARGUMENTATION The synthesis question provides students with a number of relatively brief sources on a topic or an issue -- texts of no longer than one page, plus at least one source that is a graphic, a visual, a picture, or a cartoon. The prompt calls upon students to write a composition that develops a position on the issue and that synthesizes and incorporates perspectives from at least three of the provided sources. Students may, of course, draw upon whatever they know about the issue as well, but they must make use of at least three of the provided sources to earn an upper -half score. GETTING A 9! What moves should a writer make to accomplish this task? Essentially, there are six: Read Analyze Generalize Converse Finesse Argue READ CLOSELY, THEN ANALYZE Read the sources carefully. There will be 15 minutes allotted to the free-response. The student will be permitted to read and write on the cover sheet to the synthesis question, which will contain some introductory material, the prompt itself, and a list of the sources. The students will also be permitted to read and annotate the sources. The student will not be permitted to open his or her test booklet and actually begin writing the composition until after the 15 minutes has elapsed-but you can write on the cover sheet! Second, the writer must analyze the argument each source is making: What claim is the source making about the issue? What data or evidence does the source offer in support of that claim? What are the assumptions or beliefs (explicit or unspoken) that warrant using this evidence or data to support the claim? Note that students will need to learn how to perform such analyses of nontextual sources: graphs, charts, pictures, cartoons, and so on . In other words-write a summary of each source with evidence. TELEVISION/PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS T h i s q u e s t i o n r e q u i r e s yo u to i n te g r a te a v a r i et y o f s o u r c e s i n to a c o h e r e n t , w e l l w r i t te n e s s ay. Re f e r to t h e s o u r c e s to s u p p o r t yo u r p o s i t io n ; av o i d m e r e p a r a p h r a s e o r s u m m a r y. Yo u r a r g u m e n t s h o u l d b e c e n t r al ; t h e s o u r c e s s h o u l d s u p p o r t t h i s a r g u m en t . Re m e m b e r to a t t r i b ute b o t h d i r ec t a n d i n d i r e c t c i t a t io n s . I n t r o d uct i o n : Te l ev i s i o n h a s b e e n i n f l ue n t ia l i n U n i te d S t a te s p r e s i d e n t i a l e l e c t i o n s s i n c e t h e 1 9 6 0 ’ s . B u t j u s t w h a t i s t h i s i n f l ue nc e , a n d h o w h a s i t a f f e c te d w h o i s e l e c ted ? H a s i t m a d e e l e c t i o n s f a i r e r a n d m o r e a c c e s s i b l e , o r h a s i t m o v e d c a n d i d a te s f r o m p u r s uin g i s s u e s to p u r s ui n g i m a g e ? A s s i g nm e n t : Re a d t h e f o l l ow i ng s o u r c e s ( i n c l ud i n g a ny i n t r o d uc to r y i n f o r m a t i o n ) c a r e f ull y. T h e n , i n a n e s s ay t h a t s y n t h e s i z e s a t l e a s t t h r e e o f t h e s o u rc e s f o r s u p p o r t , t a ke a p o s i t i o n t h a t d e f e n d s , c h a l l e n g e s , o r q u a l i fie s t h e c l a i m t h a t te l ev i s i o n h a s h a d a p o s i t iv e i m p ac t o n p r e s i d e n t i al e l e c t i o n s . Re f e r to t h e s o u r c e s a s S o u rc e A , S o u rc e B , et c . ; t i t l e s a r e i n c l ud e d f o r yo ur c o nv e ni e n c e . S o u rc e A ( C a m pbe l l) S o u rc e B ( H a r t a n d Tr i ec e ) S o u rc e C ( M e n a n d ) S o u rc e D ( C h a r t ) S o u rc e E ( R a n n ey ) S o u rc e F ( Ko p p e l ) WHAT IS THE QUESTION ASKING? On your cover page: Paraphrase the assignment/ task being asked of you. TAKE A POSITION/READ WITH INTENT • Once you paraphrase the task decide whether you are going to defend, or challenge it. • You will defend, or challenge the following task: Has television had a positive impact on presidential elections? SOURC E A CAMPBELL, ANGUS. “HAS TELEVISION RESHAPED POLITICS? ” IN ENCYCLOPEDIA O F T E L E V I S I O N / M U S E U M O F B R O A D C A S T C O M M U N I C AT I O N S , V O L . 1 , E D . H O R A C E NEWCOMB. N E W YO R K : F I T Z ROY D E A R BO R N , 2 0 0 5 . The following passage is excerpted from an article about television’s impact on politics. The advent of television in the late 1940’s gave rise to the belief that a new era was opening in public communication. As Frank Stanton, president of the Columbia Broadcasting System, put it: “Not even the sky is the limit.” One of the great contributions expected of television lay in its presumed capacity to inform and stimulate the political interests of the American electorate. “Television, with its penetration, its wide geographic distribution and impact, provides a new, direct, and sensitive link between Washington and the people,” said Dr. Stanton. “The people have once more become the nation, as they have not been since the days when we were small enough each to know his elected representative. As we grew, we lost this feeling of direct contact—television has now restored it.” As time has passed, events have seemed to give substance to this expectation. The televising of important congressional hearings, the national nominating conventions, and most recently the Nixon-Kennedy and other debates have appeared to make a novel contribution to the political life of the nation. Large segments of the public have been given a new, immediate contact with political events. Television has appeared to be fulfilling its early promise. NOTES ON SOURCE A AFTER ANALYSIS: FINDING AND ESTABLISHING A POSITION • Third, the writer needs to generalize about his or her own potential stands on the issue. The writer should ask, "What are two or three (or more) possible positions on this issue that I could take? Which of those positions do I really want to take? Why?" Generalize-think of the different stances you can take. • It's vital at this point, I think, for the writer to keep an open mind. A stronger, more mature, more persuasive essay will result if the writer resists the temptation to oversimplify the issue, to hone in immediately on an obvious thesis. Keep an Open Mind-look for the nuances! • All of the synthesis essay prompts will be based on issues that invite careful, critical thinking. The best student responses will be those in which the thesis and development suggest clearly that the writer has given some thought to the nuances, the complexities of the assigned topic. AFTER ANALYSIS: FINDING AND ESTABLISHING A POSITION Fourth -- and this is the most challenging move -- the writer needs to imagine presenting each of his or her best positions on the issue to each of the authors of the provided sources. Role-playing the author or creator of each source, the student needs to create an imaginary conversation between himself or herself and the author/creator of the source. Would the author/creator agree with the writer's position? Why? Disagree? Why? Want to qualify it in some way? Why and how? AFTER ANALYSIS: FINDING AND ESTABLISHING A POSITION Fifth, on the basis of this imagined conversation, the student needs to finesse, to refine, the point that he or she would like to make about the issue so that it can serve as a central proposition, a thesis -- as complicated and robust as the topic demands -- for his or her composition. This proposition or thesis should probably appear relatively quickly in the composition, after a sentence or two that contextualizes the topic or issue for the reader. AFTER ANALYSIS: FINDING AND ESTABLISHING A POSITION Sixth, the student needs to argue his or her position. The writer must develop the case for the position by incorporating within his or her own thinking the conversations he or she has had with the authors/creators of the primary sources. The student should feel free to say things like, "Source A takes a position similar to mine," or "Source C would oppose my position, but here's why I still maintain its validity," or "Source E offers a slightly different perspective, one that I would alter a bit." T YPES OF SYNTHESIS • explanatory and argumentative • The explanatory synthesis aims to inform, to make sure that readers understand the parts of a topic. In writing the explanatory synthesis, writers bring together information from various sources to illustrate a subject. • They offer the following as an example of a thesis statement for an explanatory synthesis on the subject of computer-mediated communication (CMC): 15 • While many praise CMC’s potential to bridge barriers and promote meaningful dialogue, others caution that CMC is fraught with dangers . • This example shows that in the explanatory synthesis, the writer still develops a position, but it is a position regarding what the sources as a whole say about the topic, not a position about which side the readers should believe. T YPES OF SYNTHESIS • An argumentative synthesis, on the other hand, aims to persuade, to convince readers to adhere to a particular claim. In writing the argumentative synthesis, writers also bring together information from various sources, but in this type of synthesis some of the information is provided as evidence to support the claim, while other sources may be included to represent views that the writer rejects. • Here is an example of a thesis for an argumentative synthesis on the same subject of computer-mediated communication: • CMC threatens to undermine human intimacy, connection, and ultimately community. . This example shows that the writer is trying to persuade readers to adopt a particular belief about the harmful effects of computer-mediated communication. But this particular thesis would lead to a pretty one-sided argument. T YPES OF SYNTHESIS Here is a revision of that thesis that shows how opposing views can still be synthesized within an argument: Although many praise the potential of CMC to bridge barriers and promote meaningful dialogue, in practice CMC threatens to undermine human intimacy, connection, and ultimately community. This particular thesis would naturally lead to an essay in which the author explains the views some hold about the possible benefits of CMC but then challenges these views by demonstrating how the potential harms outweigh the benefits.