The Synthesis Assignment
A synthesis can be thought of as a kind of academic conversation, one in which the student writer joins a debate already in progress. Of course, the debate is not “live” and in person; it is being carried out in print. Various authors (from here on out, I may refer to them as “sources”) will have already weighed in on a particular topic, and the student gathers this information, digests it, presents the relevant points of various sides, and ultimately responds in a thoughtful way. This response may be relatively neutral or it may be an argument, but either way the student demonstrates mastery of the material. In other words, the synthesis demonstrates an understanding of the sources and of the issues they raise.
When writing my dissertation, I attempted a comprehensive review of all the ways in which John Steinbeck had been influenced by the work of Sir Thomas Malory. As of the writing of my dissertation, several Steinbeck scholars had already weighed in on this topic, joined on occasion by medieval scholars. For example Tortilla Flat, one of Steinbeck’s first novels, makes use of an explicit Arthurian theme–with Danny as Arthur–and many scholars had written about this in peer-reviewed journals. What I had to do in my synthesis was to quote, paraphrase, or summarize the views of each source and weave them together into the same paragraph. Gradually as the paragraph developed I began to join in on the conversation, showing my wholesale agreement with one source, my qualified agreement with another, and my skepticism regarding a third view. When the conversation became too long for one paragraph, I made a transition to a new one. And so on. The goal was to help my reader come away with a full and fair understanding of the range of views regarding the influence Malory exerted on Steinbeck’s imagination. Anyway, this is just a personal example of synthesis writing. What I’ll be asking you to do is similar but smaller in scale.
I want you to work with all of the following in creating your synthesis: “Misplacing the Blame four Our Troubles on ‘Flat, Not Tall’ Spaces,” by Virginia Postrel, “So What Can We Do—Really Do—About Sprawl,” by Donella Meadows, “Enough Snickering. Suburbia is More Complicated and Varied Than We Think,” by Robert Wilson, and “The City Solution,” by Robert Kunzig. All articles but the last are from Chapter Ten of our textbook (the last article comes from the December 2011 edition of National Geographic; it can be found on the National Geographic website). Also see the following website: https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/135/Synthesis.html (Links to an external site.) . It provides a wonderful description of synthesizing and helpful advice for how to do it.
As per the advice on the web page, you can write either an argumentative or neutral synthesis, but whichever one you choose, you must email the finished product to me as an attachment in Word or Rich Text Format. Please keep the synthesis between 500 and 1,500 words and see me if you have any problems or questions about this assignment.