THESIS, ANTITHESIS AND SYNTHESIS: three legs to the stool of good research and publication


There are three words to remember in reading this posting:

  1. Thesis
  2. Antithesis
  3. Synthesis

They are related words, all of which speak to the relationship among ideas.

A thesis is an original thought.  For instance, when a student, Mary Smith,  has completed a course of study it is required that the student write a thesis.  It is an original application of a concept, created and articulated after study and research on that concept.   If a student were to spend two years studying and researching secondary education, it would not be appropriate for the thesis to be a simple survey of the existing literature on the subject.

If, however, the student were to research and articulate the direct relationship between the length of classes and the length of school day in the practice of writing skills in secondary education in Ohio, it could well make for a good thesis.  There is every likelihood that someone else has already written on the subject, but probably not as specifically as this student’s research and writing.   It may be that the student discovers that there is a strong relationship between the length of the school day and success in the STEM* areas of secondary education.  However, in the area of writing, there is very little significance in the length of classes or the length of the school day. **    The student’s  thesis might be:

 There is no correlation between length of classes and the length of the school day with success in academics outside the STEM curriculum.”

Several years later, along comes Paul Trabor with the same question.  He reads Mary’s thesis, but comes to a different conclusion.  In fact, his conclusion denies the authority of Mary’s work.

The antithesis of this student’s thesis might well be :

Increased class time in a school with an extended school day provides greater opportunity for success for students in the area of the humanities, especially writing.”

Now, if the research has led this student (obviously not the same student) to the conclusion that there is more time for teacher involvement, active writing exercises, and access to individualized resources for writing, her paper, representing the opposite of the findings of the first student, creates an antithesis, or refutation of the earlier student’s research and articulation.  In fact, the title of the second student’s thesis might be”

A Refutation of Mary Smith’s Theory That Extended School and Class Time Does Not Enhance  Writing Skills in Secondary Schools in Ohio.”

Then, along comes a student in a future class at the same University as the two previous students, Chris Peterson,  who believes that they have both come to conclusions that are based upon a limited sample of students and locations.  His research leads him to believe that neither is an appropriate conclusion, but that both contain information found in their research which is helpful.  It is the third student’s hope to bring the two previous pieces of research together in a way that is helpful to the field of secondary education.   Therefore, Chris Peterson  writes a summary paper which proves to be a synthesis of the two previous findings.  That is to say, the third paper melds the two findings which we have called the thesis and the antithesis into a more comprehensive paper which merges the important data.   This synthesis might be called:

The Works of Mary Smith and Paul Trabor in the Discernment of Length of School Day and Length of School Classes in Improving the Effectiveness of Secondary School Education in Ohio.

The value of this third work is to focus upon the combined efforts of the two previous authors in focusing upon the issue of enhancing overall Secondary Education in Ohio.   It recognizes the good work of the two previous researchers, but brings them to a point of being complementary rather than adversarial.   This is a true synthesis.

The origin of the words is significant:

  • thesis: A dissertation advancing an original point of view as a result of research, especially as a requirement for an academic degree.  It is a word with Latin and Greek origin meaning “to set down.”
  • antithesis:The statement of two things that are directly opposite to each other.  It is a word, again from Latin and Greed  which means “opposition.”
  • synthesis:  Combining a number of different parts or ideas to come up with a new idea or theory.  In this case it is a purely Greek word meaning “to put together.”


Image Credit: Speaktoall

*STEM= science, technology, engineering and mathematics

**  (The explanation, were this to be true, might be that writing requires solitude and the absence of distraction, which is better achieved outside the school setting.  This, however, is just a hypothetical finding, not related to any research I know of.)

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