Writing and presenting research can feel overwhelming. In addition to finding a topic for their research, students also need to find sources, and then they have to figure out how to put all the sources together into some kind of coherent paper/presentation. In order to do this effectively, they need to master synthesis (see http://www.users.drew.edu/sjamieso/synthesis.html). Synthesizing means taking the summary, analysis, and interpretation of various sources and putting them together to capture three important things:
- Conversation: Consider not only what each source says, but also how each source responds to what others say. Do they agree? Disagree? Does one source have ideas another one is missing?
- Argument: Organize your content by claims that build to a strong argument. Some students make the mistake of simply summarizing each source in a separate paragraph, but it’s much more effective if students look at claims and use sources wherever they support those claims. For example, if a source makes a claim about definition, that definition should probably go near the beginning, when the audience needs background information. If the same source also makes a claim about policy (i.e. We should…), then that claim should probably be used near the end of the paper, where the call to action for an argument is generally made.
- Narrative: Tell a story. In other words, help the audience understand what has happened in the past, how it has affected the present, and what we can do about it now and in the future. To write or present research effectively, students need to know how to organize sources so this story is clear to the audience.
If we want our students’ research to reflect conversation, argument, and narrative, it helps if students can visually see the relationship between sources. Prezi can help them do this, but they will be more successful at it if you prepare them through the following steps:
1. Start with an annotated bibliography where students not only summarize and evaluate sources, but also identify key claims. For a quick reference on this kind of assignment see OWL Purdue (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/614/03/).
2. After students have an annotated bibliography, have them break up sources by claims in a table. Through this table, students should begin to see how they can use each source to back up different claims in their paper. This will also help students avoid simply summarizing sources in separate paragraphs without thinking about how they relate to each other.
3. Once students have organized the sources in a table, they can begin transferring them into a prezi template that allows them to see relationships between their overall question/thesis, major claims, and sources that support each claim. To see one template that works well for this, check out this sample (https://prezi.com/ezaetzsecxml/synthesis-of-sources-cyberbullies/). [a1]
Though this visual outline could also be completed in other formats, there are a few key advantages to creating the outline in Prezi:
- Peer Review: Students can present their outline to the whole class or in small groups and get feedback from their peers on conversation, argument, and narrative.
- Whole & Parts: Since Prezi allows students to see both the whole framework and the individual pieces of their outline, students can more easily see where synthesis in conversation, claims, and narrative is working (or not working).
- Editing Power: Graphic organizer worksheets have been used for many years to help students organize their thinking and prepare to write, but when the outlines are in Prezi, students can more easily move ideas, expand ideas, and add new ideas.
- Presentation Draft: In addition to helping them draft their paper, a visual outline of sources in Prezi can also be a draft for a presentation. Presenting is becoming an increasingly important skill in higher education and professional life, and learning to transfer a research paper into a Prezi format can help students learn to transfer other ideas to visual formats in the future.
Research papers are not easy to write or present, but if we focus on helping students develop the skill of synthesis through powerful visual tools like Prezi, students will be much more likely to present their ideas in a clear and compelling way. For more information on how to help students present effectively with Prezi, check out these other great resources:
About the guest author: Diantha Smith is PhD candidate in English and the Teaching of English at Idaho State University. She has taught writing to college students for five years, and before that, she taught 2nd and 3rd grade for six years. No matter what ages she’s teaching, she loves finding new ways to incorporate technology and teaching to help her students be successful in writing, researching, and presenting.