One way to get started writing something as daunting as this essay is to write in pieces. So instead, take one point at a time. This is a time to just get things down (hence, the idea of the “down draft,” a concept I first learned about from teacher Kelly Gallagher). You can go back later to organize and revise.
- Consider: if your essay were a Synthesis Question on the exam, what would the prompt be? Developing or thinking about this prompt may help you focus.
- Review everything you’ve already written. Collect it all into a document and get it all down.
- If you feel comfortable and you are at this point, consider sketching an outline for yourself: Classical, Rogerian, CFC?
- Brainstorm questions/ideas as you write; put yourself in the shoes of your reader. Ask yourself: if I’m reading this, what would I want to know next?
- Repeat as needed.
Create a Synthesis Question
First, to help you focus, consider creating a synthesis prompt for your essay. Imagine your anthology transformed into a synthesis prompt on the AP exam. Write the introductory material and the question that you would find on the first page.
Write a “graff-like” template
If you are having trouble integrating expert opinions into your essay (or just need a better structure), try this. Find a source in your anthology and examine the summary analysis you composed. Revisit this and revise as needed for your essay.
I wrote a sample “big paper” a few years ago with my AP Lang students. In it, I questioned whether or not having more choices makes us happier. My position is that more choices can be worse for us. Below is an excerpt from what I wrote:
But does more choice—and the freedom to make so many choices—really make us happier? In “The Tyranny of Choice,” psychologist and Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz argues that there exists an inverse relationship between the number of choices a person has when making a decision and his/her level of satisfaction with the final outcome of his decision. In other words, the more choices you have, the less likely you are to be happy with your choice. More specifically, in his research, Schwartz found that people could be classified into two different “decision-making” types: maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers, according to Schwartz, are individuals who tend to invest more time to product comparison and research before making a final decision. Maximizers “exert enormous effort reading labels, checking out consumer magazines, and trying new products.” On the other hand, when satisficers “find an item that meets their standards, they stop looking.” The result? Schwartz found that
the greatest maximizers are the least happy with the fruits of their labors. When they compare themselves with others, they get little pleasure in finding out that they did better and substantial dissatisfaction from finding out they did worse. They are more prone to experiencing regret after a purchase, and if their acquisition disapoints them, their sense of well-being takes longer to recover. They also tend to brood or ruminate more than satisficers
Rather than feel like their hard work pays off, maximizers continuously second-guess their efforts and furthermore, “[D]ecision-making becomes increasingly daunting as the number of choices rises,” and consequently, “more choice is not always better than less.” When maximizers are given more choices, they see not only increased risk in making the wrong choice, but see the choices they didn’t make as lost opportunities. This “opportunity cost” leads to overall dissatisfaction and regret; indeed, Schwartz argues that “[t]he consequences of unlimited choice may go beyond mild disappointment, to suffering” and even suggests that maximizers are more prone to depression. Schwartz believes we need to reconsider the value we place on unlimited choice and its effect on our overall levels of happiness.
After you’ve finished summarizing your source and explaining the way it answers the question you initially posed, you should now add your own commentary on the source’s claims. What does this mean? It means explaining the extent to which the source is right/wrong or true/false based on your own experiences, observations, and readings. Do you agree or disagree with the source? Why? What personal experiences have you had that confirm or refute the source’s claims? Here’s an example I wrote (continued from above):
As I considered Schwartz’s argument, I found myself identifying with the maximizers he described. I, too, tend to invest a substantial amount of time researching certain purchases. For example, when it was time to purchase a car seat for my first child, I not only reviewed official guides like the reputable Consumer Reports and surveyed all my friends who already had children, but I also read all the customer reviews on Amazon.com, BabiesRUs.com, and BuyBuyBaby.com. I started getting overwhelmed by reviews from users like “Concerned Father” who informed me that while the Britax Marathon car seat “shoulder straps are thick and wide” so they don’t tangle easily, the “side lock down mechanism is tightened more by the thickness of the belt [and] can pop open without much pressure” (No idea what that meant, but it didn’t sound good). Or from user “Justbooking,” who informed me that “the Roundabout is a better car seat for boys than the Marathon” (at the time, I didn’t know the sex of the baby, so this review had me panicked about gender-specific criteria, as if the “harnesses,” “tethers,” and “Latch-systems” of car seats weren’t enough to confuse me). On the other hand, user “M. Bostic” (finally, a real name!) claimed that the Britax Marathon was “a life-saver” and “it is quite expensive, but well worth it!”
In the end, we did purchase the Britax Marathon after all. Having spent all that time researching and agonizing about my purchase, according to Schwartz, I should be less satisfied with my decision, perhaps even regretful. Yet, contrary to Schwartz’s findings, my car seat purchase is one that I feel fairly satisfied with. I feel no regret in making this purchase, even though the Marathon is one of the more expensive car seats on the market. If anything, the research I did only made me feel more confident with my decision. Despite some negative reviews, overall, the car seat consistently had the highest reviews. In fact, there really wasn’t a close second as far as a choice was concerned. The Britax Marathon was the clear winner. The research said so, and my experience with the car seat has only confirmed it.
So is Schwartz wrong? Shouldn’t all the choices available to me have been a source of confusion and regret?
Here’s the catch, though. In this case, there really wasn’t a “choice.” Because there was a general consensus about the quality of the product, the choice was easy. A no brainer. And because I’ve been pleased with the car seat’s performance, I’ve had no reason to be regretful.
Well, what if I was disappointed with the car seat’s performance? Or what if the reviews and researchers weren’t in such broad agreeement? As the maximizer Schwartz described, I would most certainly experience buyer’s remorse, and the process of choosing a car seat would have been marked by anxiety, confusion, and self-doubt.
In fact, the more I think about Schwartz’s central argument, the more I agree with him. Again, there really wasn’t a “choice” when it came to the car seat situation. But in cases where choice is abundant and a “clear winner” is not-so-clear, I am often dissatisfied with the results.
When I go into a restaurant with many menu items that appeal to me, I have a difficult time choosing. Oftentimes, the moment I place my order, I have to fight the urge to tell the waiter I’ve changed my mind. If my meal isn’t satisfying—or even if it is—I’ll wonder if the other entree would have been better. (If someone at dinner orders the entree I wanted-but-didn’t-order, I may feel even more unhappy—I should’ve ordered that instead, I think to myself.) Although some may argue that having many entree choices offers customers an opportunity to “try something new,” I’d be interested to see how many people actually choose to do so.
For example, according to their website, the Cheesecake Factory boasts a menu that “features more than 200 menu selections made fresh from scratch each day.” I have eaten several times at the Cheesecake Factory. Their menu is extensive and choices are limitless. Yet whenever I dine there, I almost always order the same thing—either the Thai Lettuce Wraps or the Shrimp and Bacon Club sandwich. I order these two dishes not because I even enjoy them that much, but because I enjoy them enough and I’d rather not take the risk in being disappointed with choosing something new. It’s a coping mechanism, I suppose, that I’ve come up with to manage all the choices available to me.
It’s not about being happy with my choice; it’s about not being unhappy.
As you can see in my example above, the first thing I did was explain how identified with one of Schwartz’s claims (that I, too, am a “maximizer”). I gave an example using my car seat buying experience. However, my example actually disproved or refuted the source’s claims. I then gave another example, however, that supported the claims. You may find, like I did, that there are parts of a source that you agree with and other parts that you do not agree with. And that is okay. That’s what we call qualifying.