AP English Language

Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High


Comprehensive Review—Synthesis

A Note About Summary, Paraphrase, and Inference


No doubt you have been constructing summaries, paraphrases, and inferences as you learned the techniques of close reading and research. As a quick review, here are the definitions of these processes and an example of each. If you have any further questions, we strongly recommend you ask your instructor for clarification and further examples and/or practice.


If you want to summarize a text, you read closely and locate those key words and/or phrases that enable you to reduce the piece into its essential point(s).

Example: The previous New York Times article by Broder

Number of words in given text: 175

Number of key words underlined: 47

Summary based on the key words and phrases: For many, the debate about eminent domain centers around opposing local governments using it to seize private property for private development or supporting eminent domain because cities face economic disaster without this necessary power. (34 words)

Comments: The writer has whittled the original down by more than 73 percent to its essential point.

Practice this strategy on newspaper or magazine articles that you read regularly.

Note: Many online databases provide abstracts of longer articles when you perform a search. You might want to seek these out and read them to see how they are constructed to emphasize only the main points of the articles (Jodi Rice).


To paraphrase a given text or part of a text, you transpose the original material into your own words. This will probably be close to the number of words in the original. In most cases, you need to cite the original.

Example: The first paragraph in the previous Source C

Paraphrase: Kelo v. New London is an eminent domain case that was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in February of 2005. The argument centered around New London using the power of eminent domain to seize private property so that it could be sold and used in the redevelopment of a section of this city (Source C).

Comments: The original contains 67 words and two sentences, and the 54-word paraphrase is also two sentences long. Our writer has eliminated specific court numbers and the day of the month and combined several phrases into briefer and more direct ones. Because this background on the Kelo case is NOT common knowledge and because our writer is NOT a recognized expert in this field, a citation is necessary.

Practice this technique on sections of your own course textbooks and on newspaper or magazine articles you read regularly. You might also try to paraphrase the Master exam synthesis prompt itself, both the introduction and the assignment.


An inference is the process of drawing a conclusion based on specific material. By carefully considering the important information provided in the text, the reader reaches a conclusion or makes a judgment.

Example: Source B given in the synthesis essay prompt

Inference: Considering the amount of time given to the Saleets as compared to the mayor of their town, one could conclude that 60 Minutes is more inclined to side with the homeowners over the local government in this eminent domain confrontation.

Comments: Seven out of the ten paragraphs in this interview are positively related to the Saleets or their problem. The rhetorical question and answer given by the voiceover in paragraph five is indicative of the position of 60 Minutes, and the diction used to describe both sides of the issue is more favorable toward the position of the Saleets.

Practice making inferences based on editorials or letters to the editor that you find in your local newspapers. Go a step further. Take a close look at ads you find in the magazines you read regularly and draw some conclusions about their purpose, their intended audience, and the specific way the ads are presented. Remember, you must be able to support each of your inferences from specifics found in the text itself.

Strategy 4: Incorporating Sources into the Text of Your Essay

Let’s be realistic. The synthesis essay is not just a list of direct quotations from sources related to the topic. Once you have chosen your passages, you need to place them appropriately and interestingly within the actual text of your essay in the order that you’ve planned to best support your thesis/claim.

Just how do you do this? You could select from among the following techniques:

Direct quotation—full citation provided at beginning of the sentence

John Broder, in his February 21, 2006, New York Times article titled “States Curbing Right to Seize Private Homes,” quotes Scott G. Bullock of the Institute for Justice: “Our opposition to eminent domain is not across the board … What we oppose is eminent domain abuse for private development, and we are encouraging legislators to curtail it.”

Direct quotation—citation placed outside the text

In a 60 Minutes interview presented on July 4, 2004, Jim Saleet, a homeowner being adversely affected by the current eminent domain policy, stated, “The bottom line is this is morally wrong … This is our home … We’re not blighted…. This is a close-knit, beautiful neighborhood” (Source E).

Paraphrase of and direct quotation from the third paragraph—citation placed outside of the text

John D. Echeverria, an authority on land-use policy, sees a danger arising from legislatures doing away with many of the powers of eminent domain. For the Director of the Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Institute, if this policy change takes place across the country, there is a real danger that many urban areas will experience “economic decline” (Source E).

Combination of direct quotation and paraphrase—citation provided outside of text; note the use of the ellipsis

In 2005, a 5–4 Supreme Court decision in the Kelo v. New London case ruled that “… the government taking of property from one private owner to give to another in furtherance of economic development constitutes a permissible ‘public use’ under the Fifth Amendment” (Source C).

Notice that each of the examples integrates the source material into the text. The information is not just plopped down on the page. Take a close look at how our writer integrates the second example into the following paragraph in his essay.

Contrary to what the Court sees as “permissible public use” (Source C), I believe that a government taking a person’s home or business away and allowing another private individual or company to take it over goes against the idea of our private property rights. A good example of this is the situation in Lakewood, Ohio, where the mayor wants to condemn a retired couple’s home in order to make way for a privately owned, high-end condominium and shopping mall. As Jim Saleet said in his interview with 60 Minutes presented on July 4, 2004, “The bottom line is this is morally wrong … This is our home … We’re not blighted…. This is a close-knit, beautiful neighborhood.” The Saleets, who have paid off their mortgage, should be allowed to remain there as long as they want and pass it on to their children. Here, individual rights should prevail.

Comments: Our writer uses the sources to establish negative feelings toward the current policy. The writer then refers to the Kelo decision in a summary and proceeds to introduce the context of the Saleet reference with the transition phrase, “A good example of this is …” Cohesiveness is achieved by referring to Source C, which was previously cited in the essay. The actual quotation is incorporated into the text with an introductory dependent clause. Two related sentences follow that reemphasize the writer’s own position.

Practice: As you read, become aware of HOW professional writers incorporate sources into their writing. Use these as models to practice incorporating outside sources into your own sentences and/or essays.

Note: You might want to take a close look at reviews of movies and books. In many cases, you will find they include direct quotations from the dialog of the film or passages from the book.

Strategy 5: Writing the Conclusion

Our writer has used each of the excerpts in the body of the essay, EXCEPT for the survey information. Although this number is quite important, it does not fit into the development of the body paragraphs. Therefore, the writer decides to incorporate this survey result into the conclusion. It will contribute to a strong final statement. Following are three different ways to use the survey.

Direct quotation—citation after sentence

68% of survey respondents said that they “favored legislative limits on the government’s ability to take private property away from owners …” (Source G).

Direct quotation—citation within sentence

According to a survey conducted by CNN on July 23, 2005, 66% of those responding said “never” to the question, “Should local governments be able to seize homes and businesses?”

Paraphrase—citation outside sentence

In recent polls conducted by both the Washington Times and CNN, over 60% said no when asked if local governments should be able to take over private homes and businesses (Source G).

Carefully consider how this sentence is incorporated into the concluding paragraph.

Ultimately, I have to agree with the large majority of people who responded to recent polls conducted by both the Washington Times and CNN. When asked if local governments should be able to take over private homes and businesses, over 60% said “no” (Source G). But, I will have to be open to the possibility that public use and the greater good may, in some cases, be the only viable solution to a complicated problem.

Comments: The source material is sandwiched between two effective sentences. The first presents our writer’s position and leads the reader to the cited excerpt employed to make the point. The last sentence begins with the word “But,” which indicates that the writer is qualifying the cited sources in this paragraph and throughout the essay.

Final Comment

Remember, you MUST establish a position, and each source you choose to use MUST support and develop your position.