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Synthesis Essay

Imagine someone is trying to sell you a magic potion that they say can cure any disease, but they don't list out any of the ingredients, and they can't explain how it cures diseases. Would you want to buy the potion? Probably not!

The same goes when you're writing an essay. Even if you have great ideas, a reader won't believe them unless you can say where you got them from. That's where the synthesis essay comes in! A synthesis essay makes (or synthesizes) a claim based on outside sources. We use synthesis essays to build strong arguments for our ideas.

Synthesis Essay Definition

In writing, synthesis means gathering information from different sources and using it to support a central idea or thesis.

In other words, if you give a thesis statement, but you don't provide any evidence to back it up, it won't be very convincing. You have to synthesize a strong argument using info from outside sources.

The key steps in synthesizing an argument include:

  • Forming a strong thesis.

  • Finding relevant evidence to back up your thesis.

  • Explaining the connections between the evidence and your thesis.

  • Citing your sources to show exactly where you got your information from.

A good synthesis essay covers all of these elements to create a strong argument.

What is a Synthesis Essay?

The synthesis essay part of language and composition exams involves answering a prompt using information from a few sources, usually in a five-paragraph format. To get the full six points on the synthesis essay, you need to give:

  • A thesis statement that shows a defensible position.

  • Evidence from at least three of the given sources.

  • Commentary that explains how the evidence supports the thesis.

  • Sophistication in your understanding of the prompt, the sources, and your own argument.

Synthesis Essay Topics

The prompt on the first page of the synthesis essay section lays out the topic that your essay should focus on. Past synthesis essay prompts have dealt with the following topics:

  • Teaching handwriting in schools

  • Relevance of libraries in the Internet age

  • Wind power and renewable energy

  • Eminent domain (governments buying land for public use)

  • English as the dominant language in business

  • Honor codes in schools

  • Value of college education

These topics all involve debates. The prompt presents two opinions on the topic, and your job is to pick a stance on it. Every supporting paragraph in your essay will back up that stance on the topic.

Defending, Challenging, and Qualifying

Once you've looked over the prompt and you begin forming your thesis, you need to decide what angle to take with your argument. The prompt will tell you to defend, challenge, or qualify the claim of the topic with your argument.

Defending the Claim

Defending the claim means that you agree with the claim in the prompt. If you're defending the claim, you will want to get evidence from sources that also defend the claim.

Challenging the Claim

Challenging the claim means that you disagree with the claim in the prompt. If you're challenging the claim, you will want to get evidence that goes against the claim or could even prove it wrong.

Qualifying the Claim

Qualifying the claim means that you agree with parts of it but disagree with others. For this middle-of-the-road approach, you will want to get evidence from both sides of the argument. Use your supporting paragraphs to weigh out the pros and cons of the claim.

Qualifying the claim doesn't mean you can avoid making a clear statement on it! Even when you explore the pros and cons, you need to explain how those pros and cons inform your final decision.

Synthesis Essay Outline

This is the general outline of a synthesis essay. While you're reading through your sources for evidence, think of where the info would fit into the outline.

I. Introduction

A. Hook: Include an interesting, attention-grabbing sentence.

B. Introduce the topic: Summarize the topic the prompt gave.

C. Thesis statement: Write your stance on the topic you're about to defend.

II. Body Paragraph (x3)

A. Topic sentence: State what the paragraph and evidence is about.

B. Source/evidence: Summarize, paraphrase, or quote the source.

C. Analysis: Explain why the evidence supports your thesis.

III. Conclusion

A. Transition: Show that you're wrapping up the essay.

B. Summary: Go back over your main points and restate your thesis.

C. Close: Close off by saying how your conclusions apply beyond the essay.

Synthesis Essay Example

Below is a sample synthesis essay (including prompt, sources, and outline) that shows the key elements that it comprises.

Example Synthesis Essay Prompt

Growing issues of excess waste in our oceans and climate change have sparked debates about sustainability in packaging. Some argue that glass packaging is the most sustainable option because it is easily reused and recycled. Others argue that recyclable plastics are a more sustainable solution because they are lightweight and require less energy to produce.

Read through the provided sources completely. Then, synthesize an argument using information from at least three of the sources, and present your argument in a complete and structured essay. Your essay should defend, challenge, or qualify the claim that glass packaging is a more sustainable solution than plastic.

Use the sources to provide evidence for your argument and explain your stance on the claim. Incorporate the evidence by directly quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing the sources. Remember to specifically credit each source you take information from.

The claim in the second paragraph of the prompt is the central question: is glass packaging a more sustainable solution than plastic? The thesis statement is an answer to the central question.

Synthesis Essay Plastic Waste Essay StudySmarterFig. 2 - The environmental impact of plastic waste is the type of crucial issue that writers might encounter in a synthesis essay prompt.

Example Synthesis Essay Sources

In the sources given for the synthesis essay, you'll probably be provided with more information than you really need. In the synthesis essay, it's best to work with three sources out of the ones you're given. This means you have to be able to sort through the sources and find the ones that work best with your thesis.

The prompt says that there are six sources to work from. The list below outlines the types of sources that may be available. The writer's job is to choose sources that are relevant to the thesis.

  • Articles written by experts can provide scientific evidence to support the thesis: This kind of source is especially helpful for writing about scientific topics like this one.

  • Editorial articles express opinions on the topic: These sources don't provide scientific evidence, but they can give writers good points to work from. Writers can use them to show how the claim can be challenged or defended.

  • Graphs provide numbers and visuals to help us understand data: These are also useful sources because the numbers are objective. That means they're fact-based instead of coming from someone else's opinion.

  • Excerpts from literature: These are sometimes included in synthesis essay prompts. This kind of source can't give evidence on scientific topics; however, a literature excerpt can be effective when writers use it to add some dramatic flair, like in the hook portion of the introduction!

Imagine one of the sources (Source A) is a newspaper article. The writer can use the part of it below in their body paragraph:

Source A

The manufacturing of plastics is endangering our environment and our lives. Plastic production involves crude oil and natural gas. Crude oil must be extracted from beneath the earth's crust by drilling large holes through bedrock in the ocean. Harvesting natural gas involves a similar process called fracking, which also involves breaking the earth's crust. Fracking and oil drilling both cause pollution in our oceans.

Introduction

There's a common saying about writing an essay: "Tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them." Your introduction is the first part of this.

In the introduction, set up the argument you're about to give and clearly state your thesis at the end.

On my last trip to the beach, I looked out at the ocean and saw nothing but waste. Bottles, boxes, and bags crowded the water and washed up on the shore. As a society, we must find more sustainable packaging solutions to prevent this pile of garbage from growing even larger. The sustainability of glass and plastic, in particular, is hotly debated. Due to problematic factors in plastic production and recycling, glass packaging is a more sustainable option and should be employed by manufacturers.

The last sentence is the thesis statement. It answers the main question from the prompt and clearly shows that the writer is defending the claim that glass packaging is a more sustainable solution than plastic.

The introduction to an essay can sometimes be the hardest part of an essay to write. It helps to save writing the introduction for the end and writing the body of the synthesis essay first instead. This can help writers formulate clear ideas and then go back and summarize them in their introduction.

Body

The body is the main part of the synthesis essay. The body usually consists of three supporting paragraphs. This is where you'll add the info you picked from your sources and show how it supports your thesis.

Here is a short example of one of the three body paragraphs.

It is not only plastic waste that endangers our oceans but also plastic production. Crude oil and gas are necessary to produce plastic, both of which cause significant damage to the earth's crust and pollute the oceans (Source A). Glass production, on the other hand, does not require these methods. A transition to glass packaging over plastic would decrease the need for these environmentally damaging practices.

The first sentence introduces the paragraph. The second gives the information in the source. The last two sentences explain how that information backs up the thesis and analyzes the source. Each body paragraph will handle different evidence, but this general format will help the writer use each source to support the thesis.

Conclusion

The conclusion is the last part of that saying: "tell them what you told them."

In the conclusion, you'll summarize everything you just wrote in the body section. State your thesis again – this time, it will have all of the information from the body to back it up!

In conclusion, the evidence from these sources supports the use of glass packaging over plastic. The sheer amount of plastic waste in the ocean, as well as the harmful practices of fracking and oil drilling in plastic production, disadvantage the use of plastic packaging. A societal shift from plastic to glass packaging could help us to repair the damage to our environment and create a better future for the earth.

More explanations in this Study Set will go over these elements in more detail.

Synthesis Essay, Cheerleaders, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The sources in a synthesis essay are like cheerleaders that support the thesis.

Using the Sources

When writing your synthesis essay, you should make sure that every source you decide to use supports the thesis and is cited correctly.

Supporting the Thesis

A successful synthesis essay clearly connects evidence with the thesis and smoothly transitions between topics.

Here’s an example of tying a source into your writing in an ineffective way:

Plastic waste in the oceans is a major environmental concern. Source B states that millions of tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. Glass packaging is more sustainable than plastic.

The writer has given information from a source and the thesis, but they're not connected. Readers can't see how they relate to each other, so it's hard to see the point.

A better way to tie these together would be something like this:

Plastic waste in the oceans is a major environmental concern. Source B states that millions of tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. This shows that plastic production is not a sustainable solution.

The final sentence brings the point together with the source. and shows how the information from Article A supports the thesis.

Some phrases from these three common cohesive patterns can help draw these connections and make your writing flow more smoothly. Here are some examples of phrases that can help draw connections:

  • Cause and effect: Show how one statement caused the other, e.g.:

    • This shows that…

    • This suggests…

    • Because of this…

    • Given this information…

    • In the same way…

  • Compare and contrast: Show how one statement is different from the other, e.g.:

  • Problem and solution: Show how one statement solves the problem of the other, e.g.:

    • In order to...

    • As a result...

    • Since...

    • As a solution to...

    • To resolve this...

Citing the Sources

Last but not least, you need to accurately cite your sources. Citing your sources shows where you got the information from. Citing sources is also important because it credits the original writer. In the exam, the citation can be in the sentence or in parentheses at the end of it.

You can include the source information in your essay in three ways: paraphrase, direct quotation, and summary.

Paraphrase

Paraphrasing means giving the information in your own words. Writers can use paraphrasing to tie a source to their thesis.

Source B states that millions of tons of plastic enter the oceans every year.

Direct quotation means repeating the source and placing it in quotation marks. If you use the exact same words as the source in your essay, you have to put them in quotation marks. That way, you're not accidentally using someone else's work as your own.

"Each year, the oceans are filled with millions of tons of added plastic" (Source B).

A summary is an overview of the information given in a source.

In this article, Smith discusses the potential consequences of increasing plastic waste in the ocean, stating that millions of tons of plastic enter the ocean every year (Source B).

It's important to show the reader where you got your information from. You need to summarize, paraphrase, or directly quote the material and cite the source. This shows that you've done your research and helps you avoid taking credit for someone else's work.

Synthesis Essay - Key Takeaways

  • Synthesis means gathering information from different sources and using it to support a central idea or thesis.
  • The thesis is the core of the synthesis essay. All the information you add to your essay will support the thesis.
  • A synthesis essay has an introduction, body, and conclusion. You can structure them using the saying, "tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them."
  • Choose sources for your synthesis essay that will best support your thesis.
  • Use connecting phrases to show cause and effect, compare and contrast, or show a problem and solution to demonstrate how your source applies to your thesis.
  • Make sure to cite your sources so that you don't accidentally plagiarize someone else's work.

Frequently Asked Questions about Synthesis Essay

A synthesis essay is an essay that involves gathering information from multiple sources and using it to support a central idea, or thesis. The synthesis essay is the first of three essays in the AP English Language and Composition Exam.

A synthesis essay is a short-form essay on the AP Language and Composition Exam that supports a thesis statement using information from multiple sources.

Form a thesis based on the main question in the prompt. Find relevant information in sources that can provide evidence for your thesis. Work the information into your body paragraphs, and make sure to show where you got the information from. Finish the essay with a conclusion.

A synthesis essay has an introduction, where you state your thesis, a body, where you provide at least three sources of evidence for your thesis, and a conclusion, where you restate your thesis and draw conclusions from your evidence.

The introduction of a synthesis essay should address the prompt. Explain to the reader what the body of the essay is going to discuss, and state the thesis that the body is going to support. In other words, "tell them what you're going to tell them."

Final Synthesis Essay Quiz

Question

What is the function of a synthesis essay?

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Answer

A synthesis essay is used to build strong arguments by giving evidence from outside sources.

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Question

What are the three major sections of a synthesis essay?

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Answer

Introduction, body, and conclusion

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Where should you first state the thesis in your synthesis essay?

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Answer

State your thesis first at the end of the introduction.

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Question

Which of these types of sources are best for giving scientific evidence?

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Answer

Articles from experts

Show question

Question

What is missing from this quote in a body paragraph?


"Hundreds of species have gone extinct because of deforestation."

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The citation is missing! The source (either something like "Source A" or the name of the author) needs to go at the end of the sentence in parentheses. 


"Hundreds of species have gone extinct because of deforestation" (Source A).

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Question

What is the definition of synthesis in writing?

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Answer

In writing, synthesis means gathering information from different sources and using it to support a central idea, or thesis.

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How many sources should you take information from in your AP synthesis essay?

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Answer

Take information from at least 3 sources to make a good argument and earn full points.

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Question

What kind of stance says that you agree with some parts of a claim, but disagree with others?

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Defending the claim

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Where would a literature excerpt be most effective as a source in a synthesis essay?

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In the hook at the beginning of the introduction

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How should you end each body paragraph of your synthesis essay?

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Answer

End the body paragraph by explaining how the evidence from your source supports your thesis.

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What kind of stance says that you agree with the claim in the synthesis essay prompt?

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Defending the claim

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Why is it important to cite your sources in a synthesis essay? Choose the BEST answer.

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Answer

It proves your evidence is credible and that you are not stealing intellectual property.

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Question

Which of the three common cohesive patterns do these phrases represent?


  • This shows that … 

  • This suggests …

  • Because of this …

  • Given this information …

  • In the same way …

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Answer

Cause and effect

Show question

Question

What kind of stance says that you disagree with the claim in the synthesis essay prompt?

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Answer

Defending the claim

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Question

Which of the three common cohesive patterns do these phrases represent?


  • In order to ...

  • As a result ...

  • Since ...

  • As a solution to ...

  • To resolve this ...

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Answer

Compare and contrast

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Question

What is the definition of a thesis statement?

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Answer

A thesis statement is a one-sentence statement toward the end of the first paragraph (the introduction) that summarizes the main point of an essay. 

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What are the primary goals of a thesis statement?

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To set up the main idea for the reader

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The thesis statement might be considered the "_______" of an essay, providing guidance on what's coming.

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road map

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Where should the thesis statement appear in an essay?

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The thesis statement should always appear toward the end of the first paragraph (the introduction).

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What is the purpose of an expository thesis statement?

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The purpose of an expository thesis statement is to explain the relationships between facts and ideas from different sources in one sentence.

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What types of words should one stay away from when writing an argumentative thesis statement?

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When writing an argumentative thesis statement, avoid vague position words like "for" or "against." Instead, one should explain their specific position on the issue.

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What question should be asked when writing a comparative thesis statement? 

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When writing a comparative thesis statement, one can ask "What are the most important areas of agreement and disagreement between my sources?"

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What is the purpose of an analytical thesis statement?

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The purpose of an analytical thesis statement is to describe what was analyzed, how it was analyzed, and what was learned from that analysis in one sentence.

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What is the first step when writing a thesis statement?

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The first step when writing a thesis statement is to determine what type of thesis statement is needed.

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What is the second step of writing a thesis statement?

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The second step of writing a thesis statement is to create a question that reflects the purpose of the essay.

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An effective thesis statement states the main point AND ______.

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An effective thesis statement states the main point AND summarizes the writer's reasoning.

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Is it okay to write the thesis statement after writing the rest of the essay? 

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It IS okay to write the thesis statement after the rest of the essay. Work in reverse! Use the body of the essay to decide which type of thesis statement is needed and figure out the main point. 

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True or False: 

The body of an essay does not need to support or connect to the thesis statement. 

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False

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How long should a thesis statement be?

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A thesis statement should be one sentence long. Keep it focused and concise!

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What are some of the ways that a thesis statement can help with the writing process?

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Answer

Brainstorming

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What is the third step of writing a thesis statement? 

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The third step of writing a thesis statement is to answer the question created in step 2. 

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What is an intended audience? 

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An intended audience is the person or group of people a writer has in mind as potential readers for their work.

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Identifying the intended audience can help with: 

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Establishing purpose

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What is the tone of an essay?

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The tone is a writer's attitude toward their subject and intended audience. Think of tone as the "voice" of an essay.

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When writing, use ONLY  ______, ______, or _____ the intended audience is familiar with.

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comparisons

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The 3 types of intended audiences are:

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Individual

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What are some examples of an individual audience?

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Parent

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What are some examples of a group audience?

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American teachers

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True or False: When writing for a General Public audience, it is safe to assume they are familiar with the subject.

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False

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What is the first step in identifying the intended audience?

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The first step in identifying the intended audience is establishing the purpose of the essay.

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Where can one look for clues to identify the intended audience?

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One can look to the essay prompt for clues to identify the Intended Audience.

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If the essay prompt gives no clues, what can be done to identify the intended audience?

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If the essay prompt gives no clues, imagine who would be interested in the subject matter to determine the Intended Audience.

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What specifics are important to consider when identifying an intended audience?

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Age

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True or False: 

It is important to be as specific as possible when identifying the Intended Audience.

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True: The specifics help with the writing.

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When writing for a group audience, what should one consider?

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When writing for a group audience, one should consider what this group of people is likely to know about and respond to in the essay.

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What is the purpose of an essay?

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The purpose of an essay is the effect the writer wants to have on the reader.

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Why is it important to identify the intended audience?

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It is important to identify the intended audience so one can achieve their purpose for writing.

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True or False: The intended audience can be real or imaginary.

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True

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Question

What is exigency?

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Exigency is what a situation requires. In rhetoric, exigency is what is required to address an issue, problem, or situation. 

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What is the key difference between rhetorical exigency and non-rhetorical exigency?

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Answer

Rhetorical Exigency can be addressed with rhetoric. Non-rhetorical exigency cannot.

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