Scott Postma

A blog about the Great Books, the Craft of Writing, and Human Flourishing.

Saturday School: Lesson #10 – Analysis and Synthesis


Lesson #10 – Analysis and Synthesis

  • Complete the reading assignment
  • Complete the writing exercise
  • Post your assignment in the comments
  • Share the lesson with a friend



In the last lesson, we discussed the five topics of invention most useful in developing arguments for our thesis:

  1. What is the definition of X? What are its characteristics, both general and specific.
  2. What is the difference between X and Y? How are they different, and how are they alike, and to what degree?
  3. What is the relationship between X and Y? cause and effect? antecedent and consequence? contraries or contradictions?
  4. What are the circumstances of X? Is it impossible; is it improbable; is it probable; is it certain?
  5. Is there any credible testimony that supports my argument? Is there an authority, a statistic, a law, a maxim, a precedent, or an example?

Today’s Lesson

In today’s lesson we are going to discuss how to develop arguments for your paper using analysis and synthesis.

Analysis is where we focus on a particular topic or episode in a text. When we speak of analysis, we are talking about our study, assessment, and observation of a particular part of a text or topic.

Synthesis is where we focus on the particular’s relationship to the whole. When we speak of synthesis, we are talking about our study, assessment, and observation of how all the parts of the story make up the whole.

For example, if we were writing a paper on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that was arguing Victor had neglected his responsibility as the monster’s creator and was thereby responsible for his own brother’s death,  we could make an argument by analyzing the monster’s feelings when he reflected on his fear and loneliness having been neglected by the only person he knew. We could further synthesize this part of the story with the whole of the narrative by comparing it with, say, an analysis of Victor’s feelings when he rejected the monster and fled the laboratory, or his own passion and path to “playing God.”

One more illustration should be helpful. Think of it as putting up fence: analysis is digging a deep hole into a single part of the story and burying a post there; and, synthesis is connecting all the posts together with fencing wire to make a fence.

In his book, The Office of Assertion, Scott Crider offers a helpful “three-step formula” for putting this into practice.1 I’ve modified it into a four-step formula that makes more sense for our purposes.

  1. Articulate a point that supports your thesis.
  2. Quote a passage that supports the point.
  3. Then relate the point and passage and explore the implications.
  4. Explore the inter-connectedness of said passage with other passages.

Writing Exercise

Now it’s your turn. Take your favorite novel. Choose an argument you think could be made about a topic, theme, or character. Analyze two different episodes that would support your argument. Finally, demonstrate the inter-connectedness of the two episodes and how they relate for the purpose of proving your thesis.

Do you want to touch readers with your words, learn the craft of writing, or simply improve your writing skills from a classical perspective? Join me each week for Saturday (Writing) School. Every Saturday I’ll send a lesson to your inbox you can complete in an hour, or you can work on it at your leisure. It’s free!

1Crider, Scott F. The Office of Assertion: An Art of Rhetoric for the Academic Essay. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2005.

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About Scott Postma

Scott is a writer and teacher living in North Idaho. He loves teaching the Great Books, writing and blogging, and collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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