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Draft synthesis

Help your readers understand the debate



The goal of this technique is to create a written synthesis of the debate.


In creating the synthesis tree, you created a map of the debate around an issue.  The written synthesis helps your readers survey the territory of an issue.


Using your synthesis tree, you will create an outline of a written synthesis that converts the elements of a tree into a linear order, then convert this outline to prose.



In this technique, you have to convert your graphical synthesis tree into linear, written prose.  This means you will have to choose an ordering of points in the tree and help your readers move between them.

Ordering branches

In narrating your synthesis tree, you usually start at the top and work your way down.  But when you get to a split in the tree, you have to decide which branches to present first.  There are several ways you can order the branches:

  • chronological -- in this ordering, you describe early publications first and later publications after.  This can be a natural ordering because issues build up over time and change as new circumstances emerge.
  • idiosyncratic -- in this ordering, you present minority or tangential positions first (to get them out of the way) and then return to the more central controversies later. 
  • meritorious -- in this ordering, you discuss weaker positions first (to get them out of the way) and then return to stronger positions later.  You haven't formally analyzed the author's positions yet, but you probably have enough opinions at this point to decide which positions are stronger.


After you've decide how to order your points, you'll have to add transitions to help your reader follow them.  Here are some common transitions that are often useful.

To distinguish majority from minority positions:

  • Almost all authors believe that ... Yet X thinks...
  • Most authors agree that ... One notable exception is Y, who argues that...

To distinguish major camps:

  • Even those who agree that ... disagree that ...
  • Basically, most X think ... while most Y think ...

To add minor disagreements:

  • On X, two positions seem possible.  First ... Second ....

In addition, you can also use the common transitions you looked for when reading and marking the authors' texts:

  • contrast: on the other hand, but, even though, yet, despite, though, nevertheless, however, counter to, in contrast
  • addition: also, in addition, and, as well, furthermore
  • example: for instance, for example, illustrated by, one of
  • equivalence: in other words, the same, once again
  • emphasis or unexpectedness: even, still
  • cause or result: thus, then, hence, because, as a result
  • comparative quality or quantity: most, least
  • part-whole: in part, largely, mainly
  • time order: then, now, after, along with, at the same time as
  • dependency: only after, since
  • reason: naturally, at bottom, because
  • representativeness: most notably, tellingly, indicative
  • truth content: it may seem, it may appear, actually, really, ultimately
  • replacement: instead, rather than, not simply

 (Kaufer, Geisler, & Neuwirth 1989, p. 33).



1. Outline the body

Start at the top of the synthesis tree and work down.  At each branch, decide whether to order the points by:

  • chronological
  • idiosyncratic
  • meritorious

2. Draft the introduction

Draft the introduction by either:

  • providing a history of the controversy surrounding the issue
  • describe one or more problem cases associated with the issue

3. Draft the body

Using the body outline you created earlier, characterize each author's position by:

  • locating author with respect to the immediately preceding central quesiton and alternative responses
  • explaining the reasoning behind the author's overall position
  • explaining any conclusions the author draws as a result of this reasoning

4. Draft the conclusion

Conclude with a general reflection about the controversy by telling your readers where the community is and what remains to be done.  Consider:

  • How do you see the issue now?
  • Is there any general agreement in the community?
  • Is the issue still stuck at the same place it was 10 years ago?
  • What seem to be major unresolved points?

5. Revise for your readers

Make the synthesis easier for readers to follow by:

  • adding transitions
  • defining terminology