Combining Parts to Make a New Whole: Synthesis and Scholarly Writing -->

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Combining Parts to Make a New Whole: Synthesis and Scholarly Writing

On a warm, clear morning, I sat on my living room floor observing my toddler son as he played with his toys. I watched him furrow his brow, and I thought about how I furrow my brow in the same way. I also thought about how much he reminds me of his father when he tips his head back and laughs. But most of all, I marveled at how much he is his own little person, even with all the characteristics that he has “borrowed” from his parents. As I watched him stack colorful foam blocks, I suddenly realized how much my son illustrates the concept of synthesis in writing.

Combining Parts to Make a New Whole

If you’ve ever had an instructor comment on synthesis within an assignment, you may have noticed that it can be muddy. While an instructor may be able to provide very specific suggestions for eliminating errors in APA formatting or grammar within a paper, comments about synthesis may be general: “Needs more synthesis” or “missing synthesis” are common variations of feedback that a student might receive. As an instructor, I have often had students ask how they are supposed to synthesize information when they view themselves as students rather than scholars. I have also had students mention how difficult it is to create new information when every topic seems to have been thoroughly discussed. To this, I would reply that developing the skill of synthesizing information transforms a student into a scholar with a new perspective on research. 

Synthesis in writing involves combining parts to form a new whole—in other words, scholars create new ideas based on their interpretations of the ideas in sources. Just as my son has traits of both his father and mother but is still a brand-new person, so is each scholar’s interpretation of a source completely new. Although my son will hear his mother’s and father’s ideas about a variety of social issues and about music, entertainment, and a host of other topics, he will form his own opinions based on his experiences in school with teachers and peers and based on the distinctive lens through which he views the world. In much the same way, you have a wealth of information and experiences as a scholar practitioner that you can bring to your interpretation of a scholarly article or to an issue worth tackling. Walden’s mission is one of social change, and you are uniquely suited to enter the conversation—or even begin a conversation—about the issues that you’ve observed in your field.

Though your unique experiences may not be included in every piece of scholarly writing, they form the backbone of your career as a scholar practitioner. Based on the problems you have experienced in your work and the lives you have touched within your time working in your career field, you bring a fresh perspective to each scholarly article that you read and to each assignment that you complete.

Consequently, improving synthesis in writing is not as much about gaining experience and perspective as it is about learning how to appropriately include this experience and perspective in scholarly writing. While scholars often use third-person viewpoint in writing and refrain from using personal experience as evidence, they still use their experiences and perspectives to create arguments and reveal new topics of discussion. These new topics and arguments, which are based on current research but created through individual perspective, are at the heart of synthesis in writing. To return to the analogy of my son, his experiences will teach him how to navigate the world over time. Similarly, the experiences of scholar practitioners at Walden University create new opportunities to enact social change beyond the walls of higher education.

How are you using your experiences to enact social change outside of Walden University? We’d love for you to share your story below!

This post is the first in a two-part series. If you're ready to learn a few methods for synthesizing information in writing, check out next week's post on Monday.

Katherine McKinney author image

Katherine McKinney
 is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She received an M.A. in English from Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Education at Walden. Katherine's goal as an instructor is to show students that the best writing results from practice, and she aims to provide feedback and resources that will guide students through the invention, composition, and revision process.

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  1. Thanks Katherine for the post.The illustration with your son added much clarity to the discussion.

    1. You're welcome, Nnamdi! We're glad the post was helpful for you.