Composition Research Paper Assignment on Synthesizing Information

Synthesizing information

  • Surpass a simple summary

When you summarize, you state the original author’s point in your words. A summary is a neutral rendering of another’s opinion; it gives no indication of whether you agree or not.  The focus, balance, order, and tone imitate those of the original author.

 

In a synthesis, you should not opt to summarize the author’s entire position, but rather use some of the information and/or analysis provided by him/her for your own purposes.  That means that entire sections of the original article, sections that may be extremely important to the original author, may be omitted from your document.  You want to make connections and exploit them for your purpose.  Be sure, however, not to distort the author’s view to force them to fit yours.

  • Avoid a sequential listing

Try not to list different authors’ opinions sequentially; instead, pull their views apart and reassemble them in a way that makes sense for your project.  As the following student example illustrates, a chain of summaries is not the same as a synthesis.  What is lacking is a digesting of the material and a blending of ideas.  When writing a synthesis, focus on connections.  Pretend, if you will, that the authors are having a conversation.

 

When creating a synthesis, sometimes it is helpful to create a grid.  If you have a limited number of articles about a general topic and need to find connections among the articles, you might want to create a chart so that you can easily see which authors have discussed which sub-areas. 

NOT:

Fredelle Maynard, a child psychologist, claims that her daughters developed into the responsible and competent women they are now because of the motherly influence she laid upon them.

In their book Daughters and Mothers, psychotherapists Julie and Dorothy Firman acknowledge the strong maternal influence on daughters.  A daughter carries “the fears, doubts, images and ideas that were created at her [mother’s] side; we react to life just as she did. . .”  Despite the agreement, the Firmans also argue that each individual is unique and has her own thoughts and feelings.

In a recent study that examined the role of parental influence on leadership qualities, Sandra J. Hartman from the University of New Orleans, concluded that a student’s leadership style is that of his parents.  Hartman further states, “the students learned at least some aspects of leadership from their parents early in life.”

NOT:

  1. Author A’s opinion
  2. opinion on X
  3. opinion on Y
  4. Author B’s opinion
  5. opinion on Y
  6. opinion on Z

Author C’s opinion

  1. opinion on X
  2. opinion on Z

BUT  RATHER:

  1. re: X
  2. Author A’s opinion
  3. Author C’s opinion
  4. re: Y
  5. Author A’s opinion

B  Author B’s opinion

III. re: Z

  1. Author B’s opinion
  2. Author C’s opinio
  • Make connections

 

An example of a good synthesis is one in which information from disparate sources is brought together to form a coherent whole.  When that occurs, the student is credited for locating relevant data, culling it from disparate sources, making connections among the pieces, and combining them to form a well-written unit.

Challenge:  Look at the following excerpts and make connections among the articles. Underline the related parts and draw arrows connecting them to each other.

Excerpts:

Mark R. Schwehn

“The Academic Vocation:

‘ Specialists without Spirit,

Sensualists without Heart’?”

“Teaching history or chemistry or mathematics or literature has little or nothing to do with forming students’ characters.  Faculty members must therefore be exhorted, cajoled, or otherwise maneuvered to undertake this latter endeavor in addition to teaching their chosen disciplines” (185).

 

Most faculty members at research universities, including Harvard “believe that their calling primarily involves making or advancing knowledge, not transmitting it.  How else could we explain the familiar academic lament, ‘Because this is a terribly busy semester for me, I do not have any time to do my own work’?” (186).

 

 

Fred Stickle

“Faculty and Student Perception of Faculty Advising Effectiveness”

“Second, the faculty conduct their advising in addition to their regular fulltime responsibilities of teaching and committee assignments.  Viewing advising as an added burden where one is not compensated may account for some of the poor functioning of advising” (262).

Gerald V. Teague & Thomas J. Grites “Faculty Contracts and Academic Advising””

“If academic advising is considered a valid faculty activity, then it should be so specified in collective bargaining agreements and faculty contracts.  Unfortunately, this function seems to fall into a ‘gray area’ of faculty responsibilities” (41).

Wilson “Undergraduates at Big Universities Found Increasingly Dissatisfied”

“Judy  Piper, a sophomore at the University of Iowa, remembers being brushed off when she visited her astronomy professor in his office after a class. ‘He was sitting there and I walked in and asked for help and he said, ‘The T.A.’s are in now if you’d like to speak with them,’ says Ms. Piper. ‘Well, they weren’t in’” (38).

Challenge:  Examine the following synthesis (sentence by sentence) and determine the strengths and weaknesses of the resulting paragraph.

 

Student Synthesis

1There is a serious lack of effective academic counseling at research universities.  2According to Mark Schwehn, this problem lies mainly in the general attitude of the professors, who are the ones the students predominantly turn to for advice (185).  3Unfortunately, the professors are not responding to this problem as appropriately as they should.  4Judy Piper recalls her short-lived visit to her astronomy professor’s office after class; she remembers how rudely, without wasting any time, the professor had said, ‘The T.A.’s are in now if you’d like to speak with them,’” (Wilson 38).  5This negative faculty attitude seems to be omnipresent.  6Although conceding this as part of the problem, Fred Stickle believes that school administrations are mainly to blame for the problem, especially for their lack of support and encouragement of the faculty to provide meaningful academic advising (262).  7Going a step beyond, Teague and Grites have suggested that faculty advising be included in collective bargaining agreements and faculty contracts (41).

 

The student has effectively culled useful information from a variety of sources.  Moreover, he has established relationships among the authors.  Bravo.

 

Now look at how he has put that information together. Ask yourself has he represented the information accurately and utilized that information for maximum affect. Let’s examine the paragraph line by line.

 

Is the topic sentence an effective one or is it too broad?  The examples all seem to point to a more specific point – not only that there is a lack of academic counseling, but also that the faculty is partially to blame.  Therefore a narrower topic sentence would be advisable.

 

The second sentence seems to credit Schwehn for noting that students seek out professors. Wouldn’t the focus be better placed on the first part of the sentence, that is, on the attitude of the faculty?  Looking back at the Schwehn excerpt, we can see come very powerful language that would be effective if quoted.

 

The third sentence seems vague.  In the fourth sentence, a very effective illustration is given; it deserves a better introduction.  Because no statistical support is offered for sentence number five, it seems weak and perhaps unnecessary.  Taken together, sentences six and seven work, but do shift the focus a bit.  And one wonders why the authors have been given such prominence in the sentences.  Are they well known in the field?  If not, a parenthetical citation might be neater.

 

Look at the following revision of the paragraph. Notice the improved coherence and effectiveness.

 

The faculty at research universities is, at least partially, responsible for the serious lack of effective academic counseling there.  Professors, who, according to Mark Schwehn, give priority to their own projects, “lament” the time that being with students takes away from their own research (186). Because professors do not consider “forming students’ characters” to be their responsibility, they often must “be exhorted, cajoled, or otherwise maneuvered” to counsel students (Schwehn 185).  This is exacerbated by the fact that advisement “seems to fall into a ‘gray area’ of faculty responsibilities,” an area not expressly stated in faculty contracts (Teague and Grites 41). Thus, faculty perceive counseling students as “an added burden” for which they are not compensated.  Their reluctance to engage in helping students is demonstrated by the ease with which they pass that responsibility onto their teaching assistants. Remembering a short-lived visit to her astronomy professor’s office after class, a sophomore recalls how rudely, without wasting any time, the professor had brushed her off saying, “The T.A.’s are in now if you’d like to speak with them” (Wilson 38).