Synthesis Essay Prompt Spring 2010 ~ spurs

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Synthesis Essay Prompt

Spring 2010 ~ SPURS


The synthesis essay asks you to incorporate a variety of sources, such as speeches, articles, and blogs, into a logical, well-written essay articulating your own position on the issue in relation to other people’s positions. In effect what you are doing is taking the time to listen to and understand a conversation that was already started before you arrived, then entering that conversation yourself to contribute your own position that keeps the conversation going. And since you took the time and effort required to understand the issue from other positions beforehand, when finally you do enter this already-begun conversation, you are able to do so knowledgeably, confidently, and, perhaps, persuasively. You’re having your say after you are clear what other people are saying.

The word ‘synthesis,’ then, refers to combining these various positions from various sources with your own position to form a cohesive, supported argument. Because you are trying to deal fairly with other writers’ words and ideas, ‘synthesis’ also requires that you accurately cite your sources, giving credit where credit is due for words and ideas that you borrow from other people. (For more on citing, please see the handout entitled “Citing Sources Accurately and Effectively.”)

But please remember that this is your essay, so your argument should be central. In the synthesis essay, your argument is your position on the issue and the reasons why you hold that position, and you will use the arguments and reasons from other sources as evidence supporting your own. Be careful to avoid merely summarizing these sources. Instead, after analyzing and evaluating all five sources, use them in your essay as material for supporting your claim and supporting reasons. And remember to attribute both direct and indirect citations. The prompt beginning on the next page is based on the accompanying five sources. In addition to the five sources, please also refer to the following introduction as an overview of the topic on which you will be writing: illegal immigration.


In 2003, President Bush called for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, the first since the mid-1980’s. His proposal focused on creating a guest worker program that would allow immigrants to legally enter the country temporarily to fill jobs that employers say would otherwise go unfilled. The plan was overshadowed by the opening of the Iraq war in March 2003, and was set aside during the campaign season of 2004.

Read More...By the time legislation had worked its way through to the floor of the House of Representatives in late 2005, it was clear that the mood had shifted on immigration, particularly among Republicans. In December 2005 the Republican-controlled House passed a bill that rejected Bush’s plan for a guest worker program, and instead called for the deportation of all illegal immigrants and proposed making it a felony to offer them any assistance.

Church groups and organizations representing immigrants and Hispanics reacted angrily, organizing large demonstrations through the spring of 2006.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators reached an agreement on a bill that would create a guest worker program and give many illegal immigrants a path toward citizenship. President Bush gave his support, but the effort collapsed after many conservative Republicans denounced it as an “amnesty” plan that pardoned wholesale millions of people who had committed the crime of illegally entering the United States.

Negotiations resumed in the spring of 2007, with members of the Senate, now controlled by Democrats by the slimmest of margins, discussing a plan that would focus on the national security concerns and law-enforcement concerns raised by conservatives first, before moving on to elements addressing guest workers and creating a route for illegal immigrants to gain legal status.

The plan, the product of a bipartisan group, collapsed under the weight of conservative objections. It was revived after an agreement was reached among Republicans to limit the number of amendments, then collapsed again on June 28, when a proposal to end debate and move toward final passage was defeated. Senators on both sides of the issue said at the time that it was unlikely a bill could be passed before the 2008 elections. Since President Barack Obama’s inauguration, immigration debates have continued to pop up, but as of early 2010 persistent troubles with overseas wars and systemic financial instability have largely kept immigration out of the forefront of the public’s attention, though a new “comprehensive immigration reform” bill was introduced by Representative Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) in late 2009.


Read the accompanying five sources, and the introductory information above, carefully. ‘Carefully’ here means to read and then re-read the sources, taking notes in complete sentences on questions you have about the arguments presented, commenting on moments in the arguments when you agree and disagree, and mentioning why. What you are doing is becoming familiar with these arguments, so that when you begin writing your own argument, you can access these others efficiently and accurately.

Next, write an essay in which you develop your position on whether illegal immigrants should be granted a path to citizenship. Please synthesize all five sources for support. Your essays should aim for three to five (3 – 5) pages in length, which will be between 900 to 1500 words. (That’s not as much as you think: this assignment sheet has over 1500 words.)

That’s the assignment. It’s short, and certainly manageable, but maybe not as simple as it seems. The challenge lies in remembering that you’re synthesizing your own position with the positions of other people. You’re making a claim about whether or not you think illegal immigrants should be giving opportunities to become United States citizens, but just giving your opinion would be too easy because it does not offer any justification for why it’s a valuable opinion. Anyone can have an opinion without offering evidence, but those types of opinions are easy to dismiss, right? The challenge lies in providing evidence from sources outside yourself that provide support to what you’re saying.

So, to be clear, you are free to argue whatever you really believe about this controversial issue, but you cannot argue it if you cannot support it with sources. Does that make sense? Can you sense the difference between an argument that supports itself with evidence and one that is just a statement of unsupported opinion?

Thinking about your Audience:

Rhetoric, you will remember from last semester, is all about argumentation, or the ways people negotiate their differences through reasoning, language, and other modes of communication and thought. The philosopher Aristotle called rhetoric “the art of persuasion” – an art in the sense that one could both study it and practice it. A rhetorician, then, is someone who carefully analyzes other people’s arguments, often with the goal of helping people who hold different opinions understand one another, but sometimes also with the goal of trying to change their minds.

As with the rhetorical analysis, in writing the synthesis essay, consider yourself a rhetorician. But instead of just studying and explaining the ways that other writers try to be persuasive, as you did with the rhetorical analysis, now you are attempting to be persuasive yourself using your own thoughts on the issue coupled with support from other sources. Since you are taking a position, your essay this time will not be unbiased, but that does not mean it can now be unfair to other people’s arguments. How can analyzing persuasion help you actually be persuasive?

In order to be persuasive, you will need to write to a particular audience. Having this audience in your mind as you write will help guide your rhetorical decisions. What persuades some audiences will fall flat with others, right? The key for successful arguments, then, is matching your rhetoric with your audience, as best as you can. So it isn’t that there are inherently bad rhetorical strategies (well, there are some, but most of those have to do with lying and being manipulative) as much as strategies used in inappropriate situations on the wrong audiences. Knowing the audience helps you know the situation, and knowing that helps you know better which strategies might be appropriate and useful. Defining the audience for your argument is a crucial way to control your argument. How can exerting this type of control help you be better understood?

For this essay, imagine that your audience will be smart, civic-minded readers who are looking to you for a thorough and thoughtful position on a controversial issue because they are unsure of their own position and want help in deciding, but do not want to be bullied. You can assume that they are generally well informed about the issue being debated (in this case, illegal immigration), so they will know if you make statements that are unsupportable and inaccurate.

They are educated, but remember that they are neutral about the issue—that is, they unsure of their own position on the issue. Also, they may not be familiar with the arguments from your particular sources, so they need you to present those other people’s writing fairly and accurately.

Your purpose is to provide your readers with an informative and well-written statement of your position on whether illegal immigrants should be granted a path to citizenship, and a detailed explanation of why you believe your position is viable. You want to end your essay with a definite sense of why your position is useful and worthwhile.

Essay Writing Advice

If you understand what makes the synthesis essay challenging, if you can appreciate why those challenges need to be successful met in order to produce a strong and valuable argument that acknowledges the views of other people outside of yourself, then you will no doubt be able to write a solid essay that really contributes to this conversation about illegal immigration in the U.S.

Still, you may be a little puzzled about what your essay might look like. Please see the three stages below for some friendly advice on how to organize, or structure, your essay. Some of the advice will ask you to look at a sample student essay, because there you will see examples of how these essays can be structured. Please note that the sample essay is NOT about immigration, so while the content of the essay is different from what you are discussing, the organization will be similar.

Stage 1) Invention, or, How do I know what to say in my paper?

 1. Your first task is to make a claim that illegal immigrants either should be granted a path to citizenship, should not be granted a path to citizenship, or should be granted a path to citizenship on certain conditions, but make sure you specify those conditions.

  • Example: Consult Comment (2) on the “SPURS Sample Synthesis Essay” for an example of a central claim.

2. Once you’ve settled on your central claim, come up with at least three supporting reasons for that claim.

  • Example: Consult Comment (3) on the “SPURS Sample Synthesis Essay” for an example of three supporting reasons.

3. Next provide evidence that proves your supporting reasons are true. In addition to your own reasoning and common sense, refer to all your five sources for evidence to support your reasons.

  • Examples: Consult Comments (4), (5), and (7) on the “SPURS Sample Synthesis Essay” for examples of evidence to prove that supporting reasons are true.

4. Address any potential counterarguments to your position by identifying opponents, summarizing their views fairly, making any necessary concessions, and stating your rebuttal.

  • Examples: Consult Comments (8), (9), and (10) on the “SPURS Sample Synthesis Essay” for an example of how to address a potential counterargument.

5. The previous four steps focus on logos, which, you’ll recall, is only one kind of rhetorical appeal. In addition to the logic and evidence of your argument, make sure you establish good ethos by coming across as a person of good character, good sense, and good will. Ask yourself the “questions for analyzing ethos,” and make sure you can honestly provide good answers.

6. Make sure you appeal to pathos, another appeal, by stirring the feelings, values, and imagination of your readers. Make sure you can provide good answers to the “questions for analyzing pathos.”
Stage 2) Arrangement, or, Now that I have stuff to write about, how do I put it together?
Once you have completed your invention stage, think about how you want to organize the different parts of your argument. Come up with a plan/outline that you think will prove most persuasive with your audience.

Begin with an introduction that: (1) demonstrates to your audience that the issue you’re discussing matters to them and needs to be addressed, (2) clearly states the claim you plan to support, and (3) clearly outlines the path your argument will take. If you write an introduction like this, the rest of your argument will take shape simply by following the plan you’ve laid out in your opener.

These kind of introductions are a lot like the driving directions from a Google Map: it lists all the places your argument will go before you start out, so your audience will know where they are expected to end up. If you do not follow your plan, they will get lost.

  • Examples: Consult Comments (1), (2), and (3) on the “SPURS Sample Synthesis Essay” for an example of this type of introduction.

It’s up to you to decide how many body paragraphs your paper should include, but you should have at least one supporting paragraph for each of your three reasons. Thus, one possible, simple structure would be an introduction, followed by three body paragraphs, followed by a conclusion. The “SPURS Sample Synthesis Essay” follows this format, though there is no standard paragraph number. Ultimately you need to include as many paragraphs as it takes to completely and persuasively make your argument. If it’s five, fine. If it’s more, that’s fine, too.

Stage 3) Style, or, Now that I know what I’m going to say, and I know the order in which I’m going to say it, how do I say it?

Your most important stylistic concern should be with crafting unified paragraphs, which consist of two things: (1) a topic sentence that clearly states the main idea of the paragraph and (2) supporting sentences that cluster around the main idea without detours.

  • Examples: Consult Comments (4), (5), and (7) on the “SPURS Sample Synthesis Essay” for examples of unified paragraphs.

Beyond constructing unified paragraphs, you should avoid errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Good luck!

University of Texas at Austin ~ DDCE SPURS Program ~ Spring 2010

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