- compose around 2000 words
- include at least five sources cited/synthesized
- include at least one personal anecdote
- include a primary source
- demonstrate your understanding of rhetorical modes (narration, description, definition, etc.)
- demonstrate your understanding of rhetorical terms and devices (logos, ethos, pathos as well as devices such as anaphora, hypophora, etc.)
- organize ideas in a meaningful and deliberate way (sections are arranged in a way that builds/expands the argument)
- use interesting diction and thoughtful sentence structures
- present in a visually appealing “magazine” version
- include a separate works cited page
- showcase your voice
STEP 1: Getting organized
Gather all your materials:
- Anything in your notebook
- Any blog posts about topic
- Examples of synthesis essays read in class (“Why are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?” “The End of White America,” “Stupid Games,” “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” “The Case Against High School Sports,” “Getting In,” “The Upside of Being an Introvert,” as well as others this year from the textbook, such as ” “Best in Class,” “High School Confidential,” etc.)
- They Say, I Say packet (given in class)
- Create your own synthesis question (like the AP essay). Include a brief intro and a question.
- For example:
Introduction--Many of the most popular and successful animated movies of recent years feature characters who are missing a mother figure. Instead, many films feature a loving and supporting father figure who, in addition to the role of father, is also a buddy, a mentor, and even a "mother" to his children.
Question: Using the following sources, develop a position on the importance of this trend and evaluate the possible reasons and effects of this story choice.
Now put anything you’ve written related to your topic into one place / document in Google Drive or your new OneDrive.com.
STEP 2: Down Draft
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.
- Create a Synthesis Question for your topic
- “Graff-like” template that includes the question, the answer based on a source, and a personal reflection/commentary. See below.
- When you are done, assess what you’ve written or thought about regarding your topic.
- Brainstorm questions/ideas about where you can go from here based on what you’ve already written.
- Repeat as needed.
Write a “graff-like” templateNext, find a source in your anthology to answer that question. Write 1 (longer) or 2 (shorter) paragraph(s). Use a “Graff-like” template here, if that helps. Consult your summary analyses from your anthology.
The following is a sample “big paper” Mrs. Ebarvia wrote a few years ago with herAP Lang students. In it, she questioned whether or not having more choices makes us happier. Her position is that more choices can be worse for us. Below is an excerpt from what she 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 she did was explain how she identified with one of Schwartz’s claims (that she, too, is a “maximizer”). She gave an example using her car seat buying experience. However, her example actually disproved or refuted the source’s claims. She then gave another example, however, that supported the claims. You may find, like she 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.
STEP 3: Up Draft
Now it’s time to build “up” your essay.
Evaluate what you have written so far. Try putting things in some sort of tentative order. Then use one or more of the following strategies to continue your writing/thinking. (Note: the points below are not meant to be chronological “steps” to follow, but a list of suggestions. Each person’s process is different; use what works for you.)
- Review the sample synthesis essays as we read them in class. What made these essays work? How do professional writers introduce their essays? How do they integrate expert opinions? What types of evidence do the writers use and why? How are these arguments arranged? In short, What device, ideas, details, structure, etc. do the writers use that I could also use in my paper?
- Review the synthesis question you composed and outline your answer (as you would during an actual exam situation). Then use your outline to begin drafting your essay.
- Brainstorm questions related your topic. Then choose the most important questions related to your overall argument and use the sources to answer those. You can even use those questions as a way to organize your essay (hypophora, anyone?).
- Write like a Reader: put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Every few paragraphs or so (after you’ve finished what feels like a “section” in your essay), ask yourself what questions you think the reader might have at that particular point in your essay. For example, after describing a problem (e.g., how valedictorian policies are controversial), the reader might need some historical information to establish how the problem came to be (e.g., how the valedictorian practice first started and its original rationale). Effective writers anticipate the questions or concerns potential readers may have an address those questions or concerns in a logical manner.
- Ask yourself: what’s missing? This goes along with the previous point. What other information, as of this essay, do you think you’d need?
- Tell stories. Narrative is the most compelling of rhetorical modes. When we hear a story or the writer shares his or her personal observations, we as readers are more compelled to listen. In fact, one your requirements is to include a personal anecdote. Perhaps you can use a story as part of your intro or in response to one of your sources. Don’t be afraid to allow your essay to have a clear narrative voice.
- Determine which sources you’ll use. And more importantly, how and why. Ask yourself, what does this source claim? To what extent do I agree or disagree with its claims? What personal experiences, observations, or other readings (i.e. other sources) confirm or refute this claim and how. Make your thinking crystal clear to the reader.
- Pull quotable excerpts from your sources. When I used to write essays for class (in high school and college), I would often pull all my excerpts/quotes first. You can copy/paste/retype these directly from your anthology. Then use any one or each one as a “jumping off” point. Analyze the excerpt: how does it fit into your larger argument?
- Use your voice. Be funny, sarcastic, satirical, dramatic, humble, etc.
- Evaluate your logos/logic. What facts, statistics, or studies could you include that would help to bolster one or more of your points in your argument? Where in your essay would be the best place to introduce this type of evidence?
- Be interesting. To make your essay interesting to others, first ask yourself what it is about your topic that most interests you. Share something—an unexpected or surprising fact, story, idea—that relates to your topic. How does that relate to the rest of your topic?
- Use a meaningful organization. It may be helpful for you to think about how you’ll organize your thoughts. Will a classical arrangement work best—a Rogerian one, or some hybrid of the two? Speaking of organization, consider organizing your essay into formal sections, with section titles, to make it easier for your reader to follow your ideas.
- Use a variety of rhetorical modes and other types of information. Here’s a partial list: narration, cause-effect, process analysis, expository, description, classification-division, definition, personal experience, anecdotal observations, current events, historical events, expert opinions, refutation/concession, etc.
- Get feedback. Don’t be afraid to share what you’ve written so far, especially if you’re stuck and need some direction. See what others think.
My own models
Over the past few years, I've been putting together a collection of essays about music. Two of them are featured on Medium.com--a great online site for publishing work and reaching an audience. They are both personal essays that explore an idea. They have much in common with your synthesis paper assignment and might serve as another model for your own.
Here's one about the song "Auld Lang Syne" and another about "It's a Small World After All."
Check out these former student samples. In particular, notice how each writer begins the essay, integrates personal experience and expert opinion, organizes each section, and works in visuals as support.
- The Birds, The Bees, and Why We Deserve Better
- Talented Tentacles
- The Checkmate Effect
- Latin: Back From The Dead
- Man's Best Friend: Why The Bond Lasts Forever
- Back To The Past
- Reality TV: America's Guilty Pleasure Revealed
- Adults By Age 10: Kids As The Nation's Newest Consumers
Here are some from Mrs. Ebarvia's former classes: