How to Write a Synthesis Essay
Length: 1666 words (4.8 double-spaced pages)
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A synthesis is not a summary. A synthesis is an opportunity to create new knowledge out of
already existing knowledge, i.e., other sources. You combine, “synthesize,” the information in your sources to develop an argument or a unique perspective on a topic. Your thesis statement becomes a one-sentence claim that presents your perspective and identifies the new knowledge that you will create.
Before writing your synthesis
1. Narrow a broad or general topic to a specific topic:
In a short essay, completely covering a large topic is impossible, so picking a specific, focused topic is important. For example, the broad topic of global warming would need to be narrowed down to something more specific, like the effects of automobile exhaust on an ecosystem.
2. Develop a working thesis statement:
A working thesis statement should include a rough idea of your topic and the important point you want to make about that topic. Writing this statement at the top of a rough draft or outline and looking at it often can help you remain focused throughout the essay. However, the thesis statement that you begin with is not set in stone. If you find that your essay shifts topic slightly, you can change your thesis in later drafts so that it matches your new focus.
3. Decide how you will use your sources:
After completing your research and gathering sources, you may have a large or overwhelming
amount of information. However, the purpose of a synthesis essay is to use only the most important parts of your research, the information that will best support your claim. At this point, you must decide which sources, and/or which parts of those sources, you will use.
4. Organize your research:
Now, decide the order in which you will present your evidence, the various arguments you will employ, and how you will convince your readers.
Writing your synthesis
In the following synthesis essay the author found various sources on the same topic and used certain parts of those sources to support the thesis statement.
Wal-Mart versus Main Street
I am ashamed. I never realized that I was such a bad person. I have sinned against my community and my fellow townspeople. What is my crime? I shop at Wal-Mart. According to one train of thought, I'm helping destroy Main Street U.S.A. by shopping at a predatory national chain. But am I really?
As of 1994, Wal-Mart had 2,504 stores across the U.S. and was expected to open 125 more that year (Ortega 205). Wal-Mart stores do over $67 billion dollars in annual sales (Norman 207). A Wal-Mart store in Iowa, after being open for two years and building its base, can generate $10 million a year in sales. A Wal-Mart store planned for Greenfield, Mass. would have employed 274 people (Anderson 218) or 240 people (Johnston 222), depending on which source you read. Discount stores like Wal-Mart allow small to medium towns with little population growth to hold customers to the local shopping area by cutting down on trips by locals to bigger urban areas with lower prices (Stone 210). With all of these benefits, why would anyone be upset about a Wal-Mart store opening in their town?
The concerns against Wal-Mart all seem to focus around one main concern: Wal-Mart and similar stores have changed American retailing, and the protestors don't like the change. Albert Norman, the best known anti-Wal-Mart advocate, claims that Wal-mart represents "... an unwanted shove into urbanization, with all the negatives that threaten small town folks" (209). This urbanization appears to be connected, in the minds of the anti-Wal-Mart brigade, to "mindless consumerism, paved landscapes and homogenization of community identity" (Ortega 204). In other words, instead of a centrally located downtown shopping area with 30 different stores all locally owned, there are now only a handful of bigger stores located on the edge of town in malls and giant concrete shoeboxes, all of them owned by or franchised from huge out-of-town corporations.
The $10 million dollars an average store generates annually comes at the expense of $8.3 million that would have been spent at local stores anyway (Norman 207). That extra $1.7 million sounds positive until it's pointed out that every dollar spent at a local business stays in town and circulates 4 or 5 times, while a dollar spent at Wal-Mart goes straight to corporate headquarters (Anderson 218). Thus fewer dollars are in local banks for mortgage or other local loans. The 274 jobs created by a new store would actually only be 8 new jobs when the jobs lost from closed competition is factored in (Anderson 218). In addition, many of these jobs are not equivalent. People who were owners are now managers who must answer to corporate headquarters for their hiring, stocking and other decisions. From this perspective, it would indeed seem that big stores like Wal-Mart are "...organizations from one place going into distant places and strip-mining them culturally and economically" (qtd. in Ortega 206).
The major problem with opposition to Wal-Mart is that it's too late. American culture has changed, and people no longer shop the way they used to. People are more mobile and are no longer limited to shopping at the stores available in a local small town Main Street, regardless of price. Price now matters. People feel it's a matter of principle to drive 40 miles to save seventeen cents on a routine purchase (Anderson 220). If a town does stop Wal-mart from coming in to town, Wal-Mart, or a similar store, will simply locate in another small town in the area, and then instead of being a "Wal-Mart town," the town will become one of the towns suffering a 16 to 46 percent loss of retail sales (Stone 210).
Instead of stonewalling the opening of new Wal-Marts, local businesses and home-town advocates need to adapt to the new retail landscape and figure out how to fit in around the big store, not compete with it (Johnston 222). Since many of the anti-Wal-Mart advocates are aging hippies and counter-culture advocates (Ortega 203), they should be very comfortable with the notion that alternative ways of doing business are the most effective way of surviving after Wal-Mart moves in. James F. Moore, a management consultant, talks about business as being an ecosystem that is undergoing a natural evolution from locally owned businesses to large nationally based businesses. Those who adapt and change will survive; those who cling to the outdated system will become extinct (229-230). Instead of trying to preserve Main Street U.S.A., a system that has become an evolutionary dead-end, anti-Wal-Mart and small town advocates need to determine what areas of consumer demand aren't serviced, or aren't adequately serviced, by the big stores and focus on filling that market niche (Stone 211-212). In this way, downtown can remain a viable source of community identity and offer goods, services or conveniences that the big stores can't or won't offer. Survival in the face of apparent extinction is actually a more effective means of protest against corporate giants than simply being "blindly obstructionist" (qtd. in Norman 209). One way simply complains, while the other actually builds and adds a value to the community.
People who shop at stores like Wal-mart aren't evil or wrong. They aren't contributing to the death of their small-town life. They are simply rewarding Wal-Mart for being the most efficient and effective retailer of certain merchandise. That's called capitalism, and it's supposedly the American way. Basically, the fight against Wal-Mart is a fight which cannot be won because it is a fight against a fundamental shift in how Americans shop and view their responsibilities as consumers and citizens. We don't eat at Joe's Corner Diner or the local Italian eatery anymore; we eat at McDonald's or Pizza Hut. We want conformity. We want to know that the food we eat will taste the same no matter where we eat it. Similarly, there is a feeling of comfort when you walk into a "different" Wal-Mart and it has the same products in the same location as your own local Wal-Mart. Big merchandisers, with large advertising budgets and distribution centers, can make sure that we all have access to the same products at the same time and the same price. Thus, since they can't meet this need as efficiently as the big retailers, the future of small town or local merchants will be entirely dependent on understanding what the big chains can't or won't supply. The future for small stores lies in becoming an alternative to the big stores, not in trying to compete.
Anderson, Sarah. "Wal-Mart's War on Main Street." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, 6th ed. Eds. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 1997. 216-222.
Johnston, Jo-Ann. "Who's Really the Villain?" Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, 6th ed. Eds. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 1997. 222-225.
Moore, James F. "Savvy Expansion and Leadership." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, 6th ed. Eds. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 1997. 225-231.
Norman, Albert. "Eight Ways to Stop the Store." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, 6th ed. Eds. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 1997. 207-209.
Ortega, Bob. "Ban the Bargains." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, 6th ed. Eds. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 1997. 203-207.
Stone, Kenneth E. "Competing with the Discount Mass Merchandisers." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, 6th ed. Eds. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 1997. 209-216.