Synthesis means putting ideas together into a cohesive, unified whole. Generalizations are made when readers use their prior knowledge and understanding to infer what will happen next.
Drawing conclusions and making generalizations require that you use the textual clues to make educated guesses about what you are reading. Using the facts provided and the inferences you can make based on the information, you can draw a conclusion or make a generalization.
Conclusions are determinations made based on facts and evidence presented. Synthesizing prior experience and knowledge with facts and evidence provided in a text, critical readers draw carefully considered conclusions. They analyze an author’s conclusion by examining the supporting details that are provided to determine whether the conclusion is accurate.
A generalization is a broad statement that applies to multiple examples. Generalizations are formed based on what different examples or facts have in common. Based on those commonalities, a generalization is made. Critical readers should be able to recognize the generalizations made by an author and be able to form their own generalizations based on what they have read. They should also be able to evaluate the generalizations based on the evidence provided. Some key words associated with generalizations include: all, some, none, usually, always, most, and never.
Making predictions is one way to practice active reading. Making predictions can happen before you start reading a text and can also happen while you are reading and anticipating what to expect next. To make predictions before reading, use formatting clues to see if you can make some educated guesses about what to expect in a text. Look at the title—are there any clues there that hint at what you should expect in the passage? What does the text look like? How is it organized? Are there charts or graphs? How long are the paragraphs? How many paragraphs are there? Do some spot reading—what level vocabulary is the author using? What does that tell you about the intended audience? What predictions can you make about what to expect in the reading?
Making predictions while you are reading means that you anticipate what might happen next based on what you know about a character or the author’s style. Based on what you have read so far, what do you expect to happen next? If there was foreshadowing in the text, how do you expect to see that again?
One way to synthesize materials or make generalizations about texts is to compare and contrast them. Compare means to draw parallels or show similarities between two or more things, in this case, two or more literary texts. Contrasting means to point out the differences or unique qualities of each text. By identifying similarities and differences, active readers can make generalizations about the text or synthesize what they have learned from each and how they fit together to form a bigger picture. You may also be asked to compare and contrast ideas found within a single selection. In this case, it is important to be able to identify the main ideas presented by the author so that you can compare and contrast them in the same way you would if they came from different texts.
In synthesizing and generalizing, you may be asked to combine information from multiple sources. This may mean multiple texts or passages or graphs and charts. When you combine information from multiple sources, it is important to make sure that you are comparing apples to apples and the information you are pulling from each source connects in some way to your bigger argument or position. You might compare and contrast between multiple passages or a passage and a graph, for example. You might compare and contrast the structure between multiple texts or the authors’ use of figurative language in different texts. You might be asked to compare and contrast the main points or key details or evaluate the evidence each author uses.
Remember that in comparing and contrasting, you are looking for both similarities and differences. It is possible that two texts will disagree with one another and have very little in common, in which case you need to be able to examine that and explain why these sources somehow fit together even when it seems they are very different from one another. In combining information from multiple sources, you are trying to form it into a cohesive whole, so even if it is difficult to find points of comparison, that is part of the analysis a critical reader applies.