synthesis essay human sexualities sociology


Completing assigned readings is one task. Putting readings in conversation with one another and evaluating their respective and collective contributions to the field of scholarship is another, much more difficult, accomplishment. This assignment is intended to encourage students toward this the challenge of synthesizing and assessing scholarly material. The goal of this assignment is for students to write a short assessment of the state of the field on a specific topic of research within sexuality studies.

Students will (1) identify a topic represented by readings in the course (this could be one of the weekly themes or it might be a theme of the students’ choice that appears in the readings), (2) select four scholarly sources that engage this topic (three from readings assigned on the syllabus, one from library research), and (3) write a short essay that summarizes scholarship on this topic and identifies problems or shortcomings in the literature.

Sources should be from scholarly publications in sociology or social sciences. Journals to begin your search with include:


Sexuality Research & Social Policy



Gender & Society

Some mainstream sociology journals also publish research on sexualities. In these cases, you will need to search more diligently to find articles on sexuality. Some prominent mainstream journals include:

Social Problems

American Journal of Sociology

Sociological Theory

This is the longest writing assignment in this course, and students’ opportunity to study and think critically about how a topic related to sexualities has been studied and written about by social scientists. Strong essays will analyze the literature efficiently and accurately, then take a critical standpoint. No scholarship is perfect, and this assignment is in part an exercise in learning to identify specific imperfections.


Students should submit an essay that is approximately 1600 words in length. Submissions of more than 2000 words will NOT be accepted.

Students should paraphrase or directly quote each article that they cite. Because four scholarly sources are required, there should be a minimum of four citations in this essay. Cite consistently using a style of your choice other than MLA (i.e. APA, ASA, Harvard, Chicago, etc.). Include a references section or ‘works cited’.

This synthesis assignment is graded out of 20 points distributed across four areas. Each area is worth a total of five points. This rubric provides a description of what full credit in each area would entail, and a description of work that would earn partial credit in each area. Specific award of points is at the discretion of the grader. No credit will be given if the area of assessment is not addressed at all in the submitted essay.


Full credit

Partial credit

Engagement with literature

Essay succinctly summarizes the questions, methods, claims, and contributions of four scholarly sources, three from readings assigned on the syllabus and one outside source. Collectively, each source is put in conversation with the others around the common theme or topic that the student has identified. Overall, this essay should provide a narrative about how the selected topic has been studied.

Essay provides uneven or incomplete summaries of questions, methods, claims, and contributions of sources. Fewer than four sources are referenced or no source from outside the syllabus has been identified. The essay does not provide an overarching narrative regarding the selected topic, focusing only on the findings of specific projects represented in sources.


Essay forwards a claim about the strength, validity, relevance, or implications of the research presented in the selected sources. The student’s assessment of the literature is supported using at least 1 quote and/or reference from each source.

Essay offers a claim about the research that is vague, narrow, or unsupported. A vague claim might refer only to the overall state of research that is not specific to the selected topic. A narrow claim might refer only to the research’s relevance to one specific theme. An unsupported claim would provide insufficient references to the text or the field.


Essay offers an original and insightful identification of topic and assessment of scholarship. The student’s selection of sources is explained well and demonstrates a thoughtful engagement with what they have read. Strong essays will also point to ‘holes’ or limitations of current scholarship and suggest directions for future research.

Essay does not effectively explain how the sources selected are related to or demonstrative of the selected topic. Reflections on scholarship may be too specific, referring only to one source, or they may be too vague, not clearly referring to any of the sources cited.


Writing is clear and supports a thesis that reflects the student’s assessment of the scholarship being synthesized. Each paragraph should develop support for the student’s claim about the state of this area of scholarship. Supporting quotes, references, and examples are integrated fluidly.

Writing is not clearly organized to support a claim. There may be a claim presented but specific supporting points are not connected to it. Quotes or examples are offered in support but not integrated, explained, or analyzed effectively in connection with the student’s overarching analysis.

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