By Howard Gardner
“Synthesis” seems to be in the atmosphere. The capacity to synthesize, the need for syntheses, and improvement of the quality of syntheses—these are seemingly of interest to many.
A preliminary working definition:
A synthesis is an attempt to bring together various ideas, strands, concepts, and materials. A good synthesis enhances one’s understanding of a question, puzzle, phenomenon (or multiples of these). Familiar examples are school term papers, doctoral dissertations, position papers, landscape analyses, executive summaries, and textbooks. But one can easily extend the list beyond the verbal—to chemical syntheses, equations in physics or mathematics, works of art (poems, paintings, dioramas)—indeed any creation or invention that brings together disparate elements in a satisfying and illuminating way.
Of course, it’s important to avoid the situation where just about everything qualifies as a synthesis.