Major Writing Project 2: Entering a Conversation

Major Writing Project 2:  Entering a Conversation (4 pages)

Instructions:  Choose one of the sets of essays listed below (Carr and Thompson together make up a “set,” etc.).  Your essay should include summaries of both of the authors’ arguments (“they say”); your argument should point out how the authors agree and disagree; and your argument should include your own response to the issues the two essays raise (“I say”).  The “I say” is your own argument concerning the issues.

– Make sure you include a naysayer to show possible objections to your own argument, and address the “so what” factor: why do

– Make sure you use proper formatting (MLA or APA style, double-spaced, Times or Times New Roman font, 12 point, paragraphs indented).

– Make sure you have a proper heading at the top of the first page (name, etc.)

– Your paper should be about 4 pages.

– Plagiarism will not be tolerated.

– I recommend you take a look at the Grading Guide (below), which explains how I will grade your papers.

Recommended structure:  For this paper you have four pages to work with and you need to include, in effect, five major parts:

1. Introduction: includes basic information about authors (brief), a very brief summary of authors’ ideas (a sentence or two), a brief statement of your argument or thesis statement (a sentence or two), and a brief explanation of why your argument matters (a sentence or two)

2. Summary of 2 authors, with quotes as evidence

3. Summary of how they agree/disagree; provide quotes if necessary

4. Your own opinion and your reasons for your opinion (which includes at least one naysayer); provide quotes as evidence

5. Conclusion:  includes a return sentence, a restatement of your argument, and a developed explanation of why your argument matters

Note that those are five parts, not paragraphs (exceptions: the introduction and the conclusion are usually one paragraph each).  What could this look like?  Here’s an example:  After the brief introductory paragraph (where you introduce your topic, basic information about your authors with brief summaries of authors’ ideas, a sense of your argument and perhaps why your argument matters), you might have a summary of one author (1 paragraph), then a summary of the second author (1 paragraph).  Then you might have one paragraph that explains how they agree or disagree (though you can already allude to that in the summary paragraphs through phrases like “Unlike Turkle, Wortham asserts that…”).  Note that the paragraph that explains how the two authors agree or disagree is still “they say,” since you’re not yet putting forward your own opinion on the issues.  At that point you’ll have written about 2 pages.  Then you write your own argument (“I say”) in relation to what they say (about a page and a half).  At that point you’ve written about 3.5 pages.  Then you end with one short concluding paragraph, where you wrap it up with a return sentence and again explain why it matters.

Keep in mind: this way of structuring this assignment is only a suggestion; it doesn’t have to be exactly like that.  But hopefully this gives you an idea of what this kind of paper could look like.

Sets

Set 1: Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

Clive Thompson, “Smarter than You Think:  How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better”

Set 2: Sherry Turkle, “No Need to Call”

Jenna Wortham, “I Had a Nice Time with You Tonight.  On the App.”

Set 3: Michaela Cullington, “Does Texting Affect Writing?”

Malcolm Gladwell, “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted”

Grading Guide: I will use the following grading guide to grade your papers.  Think of it as a “cheat sheet,” but without the “cheating” part.  It’ll help you figure out how to get a good grade on MWP 2.

Introduction (10 points)

Includes basic information about the authors as well as the full titles of essays; includes a brief summary statement about essays; includes a clear thesis statement (summary of “I say” in relation to “They Say”).

“They say” inhabits world-view of each author (20 points)

Each summary does not agree or disagree with author (summary inhabits worldview of author); each summary uses sophisticated signal verbs to summarize author’s points; no listing of author’s points or “closest cliché” (pp. 31, 35, 33)

Quoting: Uses quotes correctly and appropriately (20 points)

Quotes used to present “proof of evidence” (p. 43) in summary of authors’ arguments — Quotes should not be “orphans” (p. 44) — Quotes should be framed appropriately (“quotation sandwich”) (p. 47) — Quotes should be Introduced with appropriate verb (p. 48) – Indicates page number of quote (p. 49)

“I say” clearly agrees, disagrees, or combination of agrees and disagrees (20 points)

Clear “I say” statement in introduction, placed in relation to authors – Clear statements of agreement, disagreement, or both (use at least one template per author on pp. 58, 60, 62-65) – Clearly distinguishes “they say” from “I say” – Clearly signals who is saying what: Uses at least one template from pp. 70-74 – “I say” includes clear reasons for argument that are not simply summaries of authors’ arguments – Clearly plants naysayer to support “I say” argument (use at least one template from pp. 81, 82,83-84, 88).

Clearly states why the argument matters (10 points)

Uses at least one “who cares?” template from pp. 94-95; Uses at least one “so what?” template from pp. 97-98, 100 — statement why argument matters should be included in either introductory paragraph or concluding paragraph (or both)

Conclusion (10 points)

Includes at least one “return sentence” in the conclusion to remind reader of what “they say” (p. 27-28); includes a restatement of thesis or “I say”

Editing and tone (10 points)

No editing errors (spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting); Uses proper tone (formal where appropriate, informal where appropriate)

what they’re saying about “they say / i say”

“Many students say that it is the first book they’ve found that actually helps them with writing in all disciplines.”

—Laura Sonderman, Marshall University

“A brilliant book. . . . It’s like a membership card in the aca- demic club.” —Eileen Seifert, DePaul University

“This book demystifies rhetorical moves, tricks of the trade that many students are unsure about. It’s reasonable, helpful, nicely written . . . and hey, it’s true. I would have found it immensely helpful myself in high school and college.”

—Mike Rose, University of California, Los Angeles

“The argument of this book is important—that there are ‘moves’ to academic writing . . . and that knowledge of them can be generative. The template format is a good way to teach and demystify the moves that matter. I like this book a lot.”

—David Bartholomae, University of Pittsburgh

“Students need to walk a fine line between their work and that of others, and this book helps them walk that line, providing specific methods and techniques for introducing, explaining, and integrating other voices with their own ideas.”

—Libby Miles, University of Vermont

“A beautifully lucid way to approach argument—different from any rhetoric I’ve ever seen.”

—Anne-Marie Thomas, Austin Community College, Riverside

“It offers students the formulas we, as academic writers, all carry in our heads.” —Karen Gardiner, University of Alabama

“The best tribute to ‘They Say / I Say’ I’ve heard is this, from a student: ‘This is one book I’m not selling back to the bookstore.’ Nods all around the room. The students love this book.”

—Christine Ross, Quinnipiac University

 

 

“What effect has ‘They Say’ had on my students’ writing? They are finally entering the Burkian Parlor of the university. This book uncovers the rhetorical conventions that transcend dis- ciplinary boundaries, so that even freshmen, newcomers to the academy, are immediately able to join in the conversation.”

—Margaret Weaver, Missouri State University

“It’s the anti-composition text: Fun, creative, humorous, bril- liant, effective.”

—Perry Cumbie, Durham Technical Community College

“This book explains in clear detail what skilled writers take for granted.” —John Hyman, American University

“The ability to engage with the thoughts of others is one of the most important skills taught in any college-level writing course, and this book does as good a job teaching that skill as any text I have ever encountered.” —William Smith, Weatherford College

“Students find this book tremendously helpful—they report that it has ‘demystified’ academic writing for them.”

—Karen Gocsik, University of California at San Diego

“I love ‘They Say / I Say,’ and more importantly, so do my students.” —Catherine Hayter, Saddleback College

“ ‘They Say / I Say’ reveals the language of academic writing in a way that students seem to understand and incorporate more easily than they do with other writing books. Instead of a list of don’ts, the book provides a catalog of do’s, which is always more effective.”

—Amy Lea Clemons, Francis Marion University

“This book makes the implicit rules of academic writing explicit for students. It’s the book I really wish I’d had when I was an undergraduate.”

—Steven Bailey, Central Michigan University

 

 

F O U R T H E D I T I O N

“THEY SAY I SAY” The Move s Tha t Ma t t e r

i n Academ i c Wr i t i n g

H

GERALD GRAFF

CATHY BIRKENSTEIN

both of the University of Illinois at Chicago

B w . w . n o r t o n & c o m p a n y

n e w y o r k | l o n d o n

 

 

For Aaron David

W. W. Norton & Company has been independent since its founding in 1923, when William Warder Norton and Mary D. Herter Norton first published lectures delivered at the People’s Institute, the adult education division of New York City’s Cooper Union. The firm soon expanded its program beyond the Institute, publishing books by celebrated academics from America and abroad. By mid-century, the two major pillars of Norton’s publishing program—trade books and college texts—were firmly established. In the 1950s, the Norton family transferred control of the company to its employees, and today—with a staff of four hundred and a comparable number of trade, college, and professional titles published each year—W. W. Norton & Company stands as the largest and oldest publishing house owned wholly by its employees.

Copyright © 2018, 2017, 2014, 2010, 2009, 2006 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America

Permission to use copyrighted material is included in the credits section of this book, which begins on page 295.

ISBN 978-0-393-63167-8

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110 wwnorton.com

W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., 15 Carlisle Street, London W1D 3BS

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

 

 

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contents

preface to the fourth edition ix

preface xiii Demystifying Academic Conversation

introduction 1 Entering the Conversation

PART 1 . “THEY SAY”

one “they say” 19 Starting with What Others Are Saying

two “her point is” 30 The Art of Summarizing

three “as he himself puts it” 43 The Art of Quoting

PART 2 . “ I SAY”

four “yes / no / okay, but” 53 Three Ways to Respond

five “and yet” 67 Distinguishing What You Say from What They Say

six “skeptics may object” 77 Planting a Naysayer in Your Text

seven “so what? who cares?” 91 Saying Why It Matters

 

 

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PART 3. T YING IT ALL TOGETHER

eight “as a result” 101 Connecting the Parts

nine “you mean i can just say it that way?” 117 Academic Writing Doesn’t Mean Setting Aside Your Own Voice

ten “but don’t get me wrong” 131 The Art of Metacommentary

eleven “he says contends” 141 Using the Templates to Revise

PART 4. IN SPECIFIC ACADEMIC CONTEXTS

twelve “i take your point” 162 Entering Class Discussions

thirteen don’t make them scroll up 166 Entering Online Conversations

fourteen what’s motivating this writer? 176 Reading for the Conversation

fifteen “on closer examination” 187 Entering Conversations about Literature

sixteen “the data suggest” 205 Writing in the Sciences

seventeen “analyze this” 224 Writing in the Social Sciences

C O N T E N T S

 

 

Contents

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r e a d i n g s 243

Don’t Blame the Eater 245 David Zinczenko

Hidden Intellectualism 248 Gerald Graff

“Rise of the Machines” Is Not a Likely Future 256 Michael Littman

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness 261 Michelle Alexander

Everything That Rises Must Converge 275 Flannery O’Connor

credits 295

acknowledgments 297

index of templates 309

 

 

 

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preface to the fourth edition

H

Since it was first published over a decade ago, this book has been dedicated to the idea that our own views are most thoughtfully formed in conversation with the views of others, including views that differ from our own. When students work with one of this book’s templates like “They say that , and I concede . But ,” they see their beliefs from another side and, in our view, are therefore able to produce more compelling arguments. As the twenty-first century unfolds, however, the increas- ingly polarized state of our society is making it harder to listen to those who see things differently than we do. The wider our divisions become, the harder it is to find anyone who is will- ing to seriously consider viewpoints that oppose their own. Too often we either avoid difficult discussions altogether, or we talk only with like-minded people, who often reinforce our pre-existing assumptions and insulate us from serious challenge. In this fourth edition of our book, therefore, we double down in a variety of ways on the importance of getting outside our isolated spheres and listening to others, even when we may not like what we hear.

 

 

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what’s new in the book

New materials in the introduction reinforce the importance of listening carefully to what others say (what “they say”) and summarizing it in a way that does it justice, treating our own ideas (what “I say”) not as uncontestable givens but as entries in a conversation or a debate in which participants may agree, agree up to a point, or disagree.

A new chapter on entering online conversations further underscores the importance of referencing what “they say” when responding to others on blogs, class discussion boards, and the like. In this chapter, which offers more practical advice on online writing than the more theoretical chapter it replaces, we argue that, while digital technologies have transformed class- rooms and connected writers in unprecedented ways, genuine conversation is all too rare. Too many online writers, instead of actually responding to others, end up talking past one another in discrete monologues that leave it unclear who or what has motivated them to write. This chapter suggests why online writ- ing may be especially prone to this problem and offers tech- niques for overcoming it.

A substantially revised chapter on academic language (now called “You Mean I Can Just Say It That Way?”) under- scores the need to bridge spheres that are too often kept sepa- rate: everyday language and academic writing. This chapter encourages students to draw on their everyday voices in their academic writing rather than set them aside. By translating academic claims into everyday language, we show, students are better able to clarify their ideas for readers and even for themselves.

 

 

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Preface to the Fourth Edition

Many new model examples—fifteen in all—from a wide range of authors, including Rebecca Goldstein, Deborah Tannen, Charles Murray, Nicholas Carr, and Michelle Alexander, among others, highlight the many different contexts for aca- demic conversations.

A substantially revised and updated chapter on writing in the social sciences reflects a broader range of writing assign- ments, with examples from academic publications in sociology, psychology, and political science.

New documented readings from two different fields—an essay by the computer scientist Michael Littman and a selec- tion from The New Jim Crow by the legal scholar Michelle Alexander—show how the rhetorical moves taught in this book work across disciplines.

Even as we have revised and added to “They Say / I Say,” our basic goals remain unchanged: to demystify academic reading and writing by identifying the key moves of persuasive argu- ment and representing those moves in forms that students can put into practice. We hope this fourth edition will get us even closer to these goals, equipping students with the writing skills they need to enter the academic world and beyond.

what’s online

Online tutorials give students hands-on practice recognizing and using the rhetorical moves taught in this book both as readers and writers. Each tutorial helps students read a full essay with an eye on these moves and then respond to a writing prompt using templates from the book.

 

 

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They Say / I Blog. Updated monthly, this blog provides up-to- the-minute readings on the issues covered in the book, along with questions that prompt students to literally join the con- versations. Check it out at theysayiblog.com.

Instructor’s Guide. Now available in print, the guide includes expanded in-class activities, sample syllabi, summaries of each chapter and reading, and a chapter on using the online resources, including They Say / I Blog.

Ebook. Searchable, portable, and interactive. The complete textbook for a fraction of the price. Students can interact with the text—take notes, bookmark, search, and highlight. The ebook can be viewed on—and synced between—all computers and mobile devices.

InQuizitive for Writers. Adaptive, game-like exercises help students practice editing, focusing especially on the errors that matter.

Coursepack. Norton resources you can add to your online, hybrid, or lecture course—all at no cost. Norton Coursepacks work within your existing learning management system; there’s no new system to learn, and access is free and easy. Customizable resources include assignable writing prompts from theysayiblog. com, quizzes on grammar and documentation, documentation guides, model student essays, and more.

Find it all at digital.wwnorton.com/theysay4 or contact your Norton representative for more information.

P R E FA C E T O T H E F O U R T H E D I T I O N

 

 

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preface

Demystifying Academic Conversation

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Experienced writing instructors have long recognized that writing well means entering into conversation with others. Academic writing in particular calls upon writers not simply to express their own ideas, but to do so as a response to what others have said. The first-year writing program at our own university, according to its mission statement, asks “students to partici- pate in ongoing conversations about vitally important academic and public issues.” A similar statement by another program holds that “intellectual writing is almost always composed in response to others’ texts.” These statements echo the ideas of rhetorical theorists like Kenneth Burke, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Wayne Booth as well as recent composition scholars like David Bartholomae, John Bean, Patricia Bizzell, Irene Clark, Greg Colomb, Lisa Ede, Peter Elbow, Joseph Harris, Andrea Lunsford, Elaine Maimon, Gary Olson, Mike Rose, John Swales and Christine Feak, Tilly Warnock, and others who argue that writing well means engaging the voices of others and letting them in turn engage us. Yet despite this growing consensus that writing is a social, conversational act, helping student writers actually partici- pate in these conversations remains a formidable challenge. This book aims to meet that challenge. Its goal is to demys- tify academic writing by isolating its basic moves, explaining them clearly, and representing them in the form of templates.

 

 

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In this way, we hope to help students become active partici- pants in the important conversations of the academic world and the wider public sphere.

highlights

• Shows that writing well means entering a conversation, sum- marizing others (“they say”) to set up one’s own argument (“I say”).

• Demystifies academic writing, showing students “the moves that matter” in language they can readily apply.

• Provides user-friendly templates to help writers make those moves in their own writing.

• Shows that reading is a way of entering a conversation—not just of passively absorbing information but of understanding and actively entering dialogues and debates.

how this book came to be

The original idea for this book grew out of our shared inter- est in democratizing academic culture. First, it grew out of arguments that Gerald Graff has been making throughout his career that schools and colleges need to invite students into the conversations and debates that surround them. More spe- cifically, it is a practical, hands-on companion to his recent book Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind, in which he looks at academic conversations from the perspective of those who find them mysterious and proposes ways in which such mystification can be overcome. Second,

 

 

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this book grew out of writing templates that Cathy Birkenstein developed in the 1990s for use in writing and literature courses she was teaching. Many students, she found, could readily grasp what it meant to support a thesis with evidence, to entertain a counter argument, to identify a textual contradiction, and ultimately to summarize and respond to challenging arguments, but they often had trouble putting these concepts into practice in their own writing. When Cathy sketched out templates on the board, however, giving her students some of the language and patterns that these sophisticated moves require, their writing—and even their quality of thought—significantly improved. This book began, then, when we put our ideas together and realized that these templates might have the potential to open up and clarify academic conversation. We proceeded from the premise that all writers rely on certain stock formulas that they themselves didn’t invent—and that many of these formulas are so commonly used that they can be represented in model templates that students can use to structure and even generate what they want to say. As we developed a working draft of this book, we began using it in first-year writing courses that we teach at UIC. In class- room exercises and writing assignments, we found that students who otherwise struggled to organize their thoughts, or even to think of something to say, did much better when we provided them with templates like the following.

j In discussions of , a controversial issue is whether

. While some argue that , others contend

that .

j This is not to say that .

 

 

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One virtue of such templates, we found, is that they focus writers’ attention not just on what is being said, but on the forms that structure what is being said. In other words, they make students more conscious of the rhetorical patterns that are key to academic success but often pass under the classroom radar.

the centrality of “they say / i say”

The central rhetorical move that we focus on in this book is the “they say / I say” template that gives our book its title. In our view, this template represents the deep, underlying structure, the internal DNA as it were, of all effective argument. Effective persuasive writers do more than make well-supported claims (“I say”); they also map those claims relative to the claims of others (“they say”). Here, for example, the “they say / I say” pattern structures a passage from an essay by the media and technology critic Steven Johnson.

For decades, we’ve worked under the assumption that mass cul- ture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common- denominator standards, presumably because the “masses” want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But . . . the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less.

Steven Johnson, “Watching TV Makes You Smarter”

In generating his own argument from something “they say,” Johnson suggests why he needs to say what he is saying: to correct a popular misconception.

 

 

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Even when writers do not explicitly identify the views they are responding to, as Johnson does, an implicit “they say” can often be discerned, as in the following passage by Zora Neale Hurston.

I remember the day I became colored. Zora Neale Hurston, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”

In order to grasp Hurston’s point here, we need to be able to reconstruct the implicit view she is responding to and question- ing: that racial identity is an innate quality we are simply born with. On the contrary, Hurston suggests, our race is imposed on us by society—something we “become” by virtue of how we are treated. As these examples suggest, the “they say / I say” model can improve not just student writing, but student reading compre- hension as well. Since reading and writing are deeply recipro- cal activities, students who learn to make the rhetorical moves represented by the templates in this book figure to become more adept at identifying these same moves in the texts they read. And if we are right that effective arguments are always in dialogue with other arguments, then it follows that in order to understand the types of challenging texts assigned in college, students need to identify the views to which those texts are responding. Working with the “they say / I say” model can also help with invention, finding something to say. In our experience, students best discover what they want to say not by thinking about a subject in an isolation booth, but by reading texts, listening closely to what other writers say, and looking for an opening through which they can enter the conversation. In other words, listening closely to others and summarizing what they have to say can help writers generate their own ideas.

 

 

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the usefulness of templates

Our templates also have a generative quality, prompting stu- dents to make moves in their writing that they might not oth- erwise make or even know they should make. The templates in this book can be particularly helpful for students who are unsure about what to say, or who have trouble finding enough to say, often because they consider their own beliefs so self-evident that they need not be argued for. Students like this are often helped, we’ve found, when we give them a simple tem- plate like the following one for entertaining a counterargument (or planting a naysayer, as we call it in Chapter 6).

j Of course some might object that . Although I concede

that , I still maintain that .

What this particular template helps students do is make the seemingly counterintuitive move of questioning their own beliefs, of looking at them from the perspective of those who disagree. In so doing, templates can bring out aspects of stu- dents’ thoughts that, as they themselves sometimes remark, they didn’t even realize were there. Other templates in this book help students make a host of sophisticated moves that they might not otherwise make: sum- marizing what someone else says, framing a quotation in one’s own words, indicating the view that the writer is responding to, marking the shift from a source’s view to the writer’s own view, offering evidence for that view, entertaining and answering counterarguments, and explaining what is at stake in the first place. In showing students how to make such moves, templates do more than organize students’ ideas; they help bring those ideas into existence.

 

 

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“ok—but templates?”

We are aware, of course, that some instructors may have res- ervations about templates. Some, for instance, may object that such formulaic devices represent a return to prescriptive forms of instruction that encourage passive learning or lead students to put their writing on automatic pilot. This is an understandable reaction, we think, to kinds of rote instruction that have indeed encouraged passivity and drained writing of its creativity and dynamic relation to the social world. The trouble is that many students will never learn on their own to make the key intellectual moves that our templates repre- sent. While seasoned writers pick up these moves unconsciously through their reading, many students do not. Consequently, we believe, students need to see these moves represented in the explicit ways that the templates provide. The aim of the templates, then, is not to stifle critical thinking but to be direct with students about the key rhetori- cal moves that it comprises. Since we encourage students to modify and adapt the templates to the particularities of the arguments they are making, using such prefabricated formulas as learning tools need not result in writing and thinking that are themselves formulaic. Admittedly, no teaching tool can guarantee that students will engage in hard, rigorous thought. Our templates do, however, provide concrete prompts that can stimulate and shape such thought: What do “they say” about my topic? What would a naysayer say about my argument? What is my evidence? Do I need to qualify my point? Who cares? In fact, templates have a long and rich history. Public orators from ancient Greece and Rome through the European Renais- sance studied rhetorical topoi or “commonplaces,” model passages and formulas that represented the different strategies available

 

 

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to public speakers. In many respects, our templates echo this classical rhetorical tradition of imitating established models. The journal Nature requires aspiring contributors to follow a guideline that is like a template on the opening page of their manuscript: “Two or three sentences explaining what the main result [of their study] reveals in direct comparison with what was thought to be the case previously, or how the main result adds to previous knowledge.” In the field of education, a form designed by the education theorist Howard Gardner asks postdoctoral fellowship applicants to complete the following template: “Most scholars in the field believe . As a result of my study,

.” That these two examples are geared toward post- doctoral fellows and veteran researchers shows that it is not only struggling undergraduates who can use help making these key rhetorical moves, but experienced academics as well. Templates have even been used in the teaching of personal narrative. The literary and educational theorist Jane Tompkins devised the following template to help student writers make the often difficult move from telling a story to explaining what it means: “X tells a story about to make the point that

. My own experience with yields a point that is similar/different/both similar and different. What I take away from my own experience with is . As a result, I conclude .” We especially like this template because it suggests that “they say / I say” argument need not be mechanical, impersonal, or dry, and that telling a story and mak- ing an argument are more compatible activities than many think.

why it’s okay to use “i”

But wait—doesn’t the “I” part of “they say / I say” flagrantly encourage the use of the first-person pronoun? Aren’t we aware

 

 

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that some teachers prohibit students from using “I” or “we,” on the grounds that these pronouns encourage ill-considered, subjective opinions rather than objective and reasoned argu- ments? Yes, we are aware of this first-person prohibition, but we think it has serious flaws. First, expressing ill-considered, subjective opinions is not necessarily the worst sin beginning writers can commit; it might be a starting point from which they can move on to more reasoned, less self-indulgent perspectives. Second, prohibiting students from using “I” is simply not an effective way of curbing students’ subjectivity, since one can offer poorly argued, ill-supported opinions just as easily without it. Third and most important, prohibiting the first person tends to hamper students’ ability not only to take strong positions but to differentiate their own positions from those of others, as we point out in Chapter 5. To be sure, writers can resort to vari- ous circumlocutions—“it will here be argued,” “the evidence suggests,” “the truth is”—and these may be useful for avoid- ing a monotonous series of “I believe” sentences. But except for avoiding such monotony, we see no good reason why “I” should be set aside in persuasive writing. Rather than prohibit “I,” then, we think a better tactic is to give students practice at using it well and learning its use, both by supporting their claims with evidence and by attending closely to alternative perspectives—to what “they” are saying.

how this book is organized

Because of its centrality, we have allowed the “they say / I say” format to dictate the structure of this book. So while Part 1 addresses the art of listening to others, Part 2 addresses how to offer one’s own response. Part 1 opens with a chapter on

 

 

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“Starting with What Others Are Saying” that explains why it is generally advisable to begin a text by citing others rather than plunging directly into one’s own views. Subsequent chapters take up the arts of summarizing and quoting what these others have to say. Part 2 begins with a chapter on different ways of responding, followed by chapters on marking the shift between what “they say” and what “I say,” on introducing and answering objections, and on answering the all-important questions: “so what?” and “who cares?” Part 3 offers strategies for “Tying It All Together,” beginning with a chapter on connection and coher- ence; followed by a chapter on academic language, encouraging students to draw on their everyday voice as a tool for writing; and including chapters on the art of metacommentary and using templates to revise a text. Part 4 offers guidance for entering conversations in specific academic contexts, with chapters on entering class discussions, writing online, reading, and writing in literature courses, the sciences, and social sciences. Finally, we provide five readings and an index of templates.

what this book doesn’t do

There are some things that this book does not try to do. We do not, for instance, cover logical principles of argument such as syllogisms, warrants, logical fallacies, or the differences between inductive and deductive reasoning. Although such concepts can be useful, we believe most of us learn the ins and outs of argumentative writing not by studying logical principles in the abstract, but by plunging into actual discussions and debates, trying out different patterns of response, and in this way getting a sense of what works to persuade different audiences and what

 

 

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doesn’t. In our view, people learn more about arguing from hearing someone say, “You miss my point. What I’m saying is not , but ,” or “I agree with you that

, and would even add that ,” than they do from studying the differences between inductive and deductive reasoning. Such formulas give students an immediate sense of what it feels like to enter a public conversation in a way that studying abstract warrants and logical fallacies does not.

engaging with the ideas of others

One central goal of this book is to demystify academic writing by returning it to its social and conversational roots. Although writing may require some degree of quiet and solitude, the “they say / I say” model shows students that they can best develop their arguments not just by looking inward but by doing what they often do in a good conversation with friends and family— by listening carefully to what others are saying and engaging with other views. This approach to writing therefore has an ethical dimension, since it asks writers not simply to keep proving and reasserting what they already believe, but to stretch what they believe by putting it up against beliefs that differ, sometimes radically, from their own. In an increasingly diverse, global society, this ability to engage with the ideas of others is especially crucial to democratic citizenship. Gerald Graff Cathy Birkenstein

 

 

 

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introduction

Entering the Conversation

H

Think about an activity that you do particularly well: cooking, playing the piano, shooting a basketball, even some- thing as basic as driving a car. If you reflect on this activity, you’ll realize that once you mastered it you no longer had to give much conscious thought to the various moves that go into doing it. Performing this activity, in other words, depends on your having learned a series of complicated moves—moves that may seem mysterious or difficult to those who haven’t yet learned them. The same applies to writing. Often without consciously real- izing it, accomplished writers routinely rely on a stock of estab- lished moves that are crucial for communicating sophisticated ideas. What makes writers masters of their trade is not only their ability to express interesting thoughts but their mastery of an inventory of basic moves that they probably picked up by reading a wide range of other accomplished writers. Less experienced writers, by contrast, are often unfamiliar with these basic moves and unsure how to make them in their own writing. Hence this book, which is intended as a short, user-friendly guide to the basic moves of academic writing. One of our key premises is that these basic moves are so common that they can be represented in templates that you can use right away to structure and even generate your own

 

 

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writing. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of this book is its pre sentation of many such templates, designed to help you successfully enter not only the world of academic thinking and writing, but also the wider worlds of civic discourse and work. Instead of focusing solely on abstract principles of writing, then, this book offers model templates that help you put those principles directly into practice. Working with these templates will give you an immediate sense of how to engage in the kinds of critical thinking you are required to do at the college level and in the vocational and public spheres beyond. Some of these templates represent simple but crucial moves like those used to summarize some widely held belief.

j Many Americans assume that .

Others are more complicated.

j On the one hand, . On the other hand, .

j Author X contradicts herself. At the same time that she argues

, she also implies .

j I agree that .

j This is not to say that .

It is true, of course, that critical thinking and writing go deeper than any set of linguistic formulas, requiring that you question assumptions, develop strong claims, offer supporting reasons and evidence, consider opposing arguments, and so on. But these deeper habits of thought cannot be put into practice unless you have a language for expressing them in clear, orga- nized ways.

 

 

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state your own ideas as a response to others

The single most important template that we focus on in this book is the “they say ; I say ” formula that gives our book its title. If there is any one point that we hope you will take away from this book, it is the importance not only of expressing your ideas (“I say”) but of presenting those ideas as a response to some other person or group (“they say”). For us, the underlying structure of effective academic writing—and of responsible public discourse—resides not just in stating our own ideas but in listening closely to others around us, summarizing their views in a way that they will recognize, and responding with our own ideas in kind. Broadly speaking, academic writ- ing is argumentative writing, and we believe that to argue well you need to do more than assert your own position. You need to enter a conversation, using what others say (or might say) as a launching pad or sounding board for your own views. For this reason, one of the main pieces of advice in this book is to write the voices of others into your text. In our view, then, the best academic writing has one under- lying feature: it is deeply engaged in some way with other peo- ple’s views. Too often, however, academic writing is taught as a process of saying “true” or “smart” things in a vacuum, as if it were possible to argue effectively without being in conver- sation with someone else. If you have been taught to write a traditional five-paragraph essay, for example, you have learned how to develop a thesis and support it with evidence. This is good advice as far as it goes, but it leaves out the important fact that in the real world we don’t make arguments without being provoked. Instead, we make arguments because some- one has said or done something (or perhaps not said or done

 

 

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something) and we need to respond: “I can’t see why you like the Lakers so much”; “I agree: it was a great film”; “That argu- ment is contradictory.” If it weren’t for other people and our need to challenge, agree with, or otherwise respond to them, there would be no reason to argue at all.

“why are you telling me this?”

To make an impact as a writer, then, you need to do more than make statements that are logical, well supported, and consis- tent. You must also find a way of entering into conversation with the views of others, with something “they say.” The easiest and most common way writers do this is by summarizing what others say and then using it to set up what they want to say. “But why,” as a student of ours once asked, “do I always need to summarize the views of others to set up my own view? Why can’t I just state my own view and be done with it?” Why indeed? After all, “they,” whoever they may be, will have already had their say, so why do you have to repeat it? Further- more, if they had their say in print, can’t readers just go and read what was said themselves? The answer is that if you don’t identify the “they say” you’re responding to, your own argument probably won’t have a point. Readers will wonder what prompted you to say what you’re say- ing and therefore motivated you to write. As the figure on the following page suggests, without a “they say,” what you are saying may be clear to your audience, but why you are saying it won’t be. Even if we don’t know what film he’s referring to, it’s easy to grasp what the speaker means here when he says that its characters are very complex. But it’s hard to see why the speaker feels the need to say what he is saying. “Why,” as one member

 

 

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of his imagined audience wonders, “is he telling us this?” So the characters are complex—so what? Now look at what happens to the same proposition when it is presented as a response to something “they say”:

 

 

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We hope you agree that the same claim—“the characters in the film are very complex”—becomes much stronger when presented as a response to a contrary view: that the film’s char- acters “are sexist stereotypes.” Unlike the speaker in the first cartoon, the speaker in the second has a clear goal or mission: to correct what he sees as a mistaken characterization.

the as-opposed-to-what factor

To put our point another way, framing your “I say” as a response to something “they say” gives your writing an element of con- trast without which it won’t make sense. It may be helpful to think of this crucial element as an “as-opposed-to-what factor” and, as you write, to continually ask yourself, “Who says oth- erwise?” and “Does anyone dispute it?” Behind the audience’s “Yeah, so?” and “Why is he telling us this?” in the first cartoon above lie precisely these types of “As opposed to what?” ques- tions. The speaker in the second cartoon, we think, is more satisfying because he answers these questions, helping us see his point that the film presents complex characters rather than simple sexist stereotypes.

how it’s done

Many accomplished writers make explicit “they say” moves to set up and motivate their own arguments. One famous example is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which consists almost entirely of King’s eloquent responses to a public statement by eight clergymen deploring the civil rights protests

 

 

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he was leading. The letter—which was written in 1963, while King was in prison for leading a demonstration against racial injustice in Birmingham—is structured almost entirely around a framework of summary and response, in which King summarizes and then answers their criticisms. In one typical passage, King writes as follows.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.

Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

King goes on to agree with his critics that “It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham,” yet he hastens to add that “it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.” King’s letter is so thoroughly conversational, in fact, that it could be rewritten in the form of a dialogue or play.

King’s critics: King’s response: Critics: Response:

Clearly, King would not have written his famous letter were it not for his critics, whose views he treats not as objections to his already-formed arguments but as the motivating source of those arguments, their central reason for being. He quotes not only what his critics have said (“Some have asked: ‘Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?’ ”), but also things they might have said (“One may well ask: ‘How can

 

 

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you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ ”)—all to set the stage for what he himself wants to say. A similar “they say / I say” exchange opens an essay about American patriotism by the social critic Katha Pollitt, who uses her own daughter’s comment to represent the patriotic national fervor after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

My daughter, who goes to Stuyvesant High School only blocks from the former World Trade Center, thinks we should fly the American flag out our window. Definitely not, I say: the flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war. She tells me I’m wrong—the flag means standing together and honoring the dead and saying no to terrorism. In a way we’re both right. . . .

Katha Pollitt, “Put Out No Flags”

As Pollitt’s example shows, the “they” you respond to in crafting an argument need not be a famous author or someone known to your audience. It can be a family member like Pollitt’s daughter, or a friend or classmate who has made a provocative claim. It can even be something an individual or a group might say—or a side of yourself, something you once believed but no longer do, or something you partly believe but also doubt. The important thing is that the “they” (or “you” or “she”) represent some wider group with which readers might identify—in Pollitt’s case, those who patriotically believe in flying the flag. Pollitt’s example also shows that responding to

the views of others need not always involve unquali- fied opposition. By agreeing and disagreeing with her daughter, Pollitt enacts what we call the “yes and no” response, reconciling apparently incompatible views.

While King and Pollitt both identify the views they are responding to, some authors do not explicitly state their views

See Chapter 4 for more

on agreeing, but with a

difference.

 

 

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but instead allow the reader to infer them. See, for instance, if you can identify the implied or unnamed “they say” that the following claim is responding to.

I like to think I have a certain advantage as a teacher of literature because when I was growing up I disliked and feared books.

Gerald Graff, “Disliking Books at an Early Age”

In case you haven’t figured it out already, the phantom “they say” here is the common belief that in order to be a good teacher of literature, one must have grown up liking and enjoy- ing books.

court controversy, but . . .

As you can see from these examples, many writers use the “they say / I say” format to challenge standard ways of thinking and thus to stir up controversy. This point may come as a shock to you if you have always had the impression that in order to suc- ceed academically you need to play it safe and avoid controversy in your writing, making statements that nobody can possibly disagree with. Though this view of writing may appear logical, it is actually a recipe for flat, lifeless writing and for writing that fails to answer what we call the “so what?” and “who cares?” questions. “William Shakespeare wrote many famous plays and sonnets” may be a perfectly true statement, but precisely because nobody is likely to disagree with it, it goes without saying and thus would seem pointless if said. But just because controversy is important doesn’t mean you have to become an attack dog who automatically disagrees with

 

 

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everything others say. We think this is an important point to underscore because some who are not familiar with this book have gotten the impression from the title that our goal is to train writers simply to disparage whatever “they say.”

disagreeing without being disagreeable

There certainly are occasions when strong critique is needed. It’s hard to live in a deeply polarized society like our current one and not feel the need at times to criticize what others think. But even the most justified critiques fall flat, we submit, unless we really listen to and understand the views we are criticizing:

j While I understand the impulse to , my own view

is .

Even the most sympathetic audiences, after all, tend to feel manipulated by arguments that scapegoat and caricature the other side. Furthermore, genuinely listening to views we disagree with can have the salutary effect of helping us see that beliefs we’d initially disdained may not be as thoroughly reprehensible as we’d imagined. Thus the type of “they say / I say” argument that we promote in this book can take the form of agreeing up to a point or, as the Pollitt example above illustrates, of both agreeing and disagreeing simultaneously, as in:

j While I agree with X that , I cannot accept her over-

all conclusion that .

j While X argues , and I argue , in a way

we’re both right.

 

 

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Agreement cannot be ruled out, however:

j I agree with that .

the template of templates

There are many ways, then, to enter a conversation and respond to what “they say.” But our discussion of ways to do so would be incomplete were we not to mention the most comprehensive way that writers enter conversations, which incorporates all the major moves discussed in this book:

j In recent discussions of , a controversial issue has

been whether . On the one hand, some argue

that . From this perspective, . On the other

hand, however, others argue that . In the words of

, one of this view’s main proponents, “ .”

According to this view, . In sum, then, the issue is

whether or .

My own view is that . Though I concede that

, I still maintain that . For example,

. Although some might object that , I would

reply that . The issue is important because .

This “template of templates,” as we like to call it, represents the internal DNA of countless articles and even entire books. Writers commonly use a version of it not only to stake out their “they say” and “I say” at the start of their manuscript, but—just as important—to form the overarching blueprint that structures what they write over the entire length of their text.

 

 

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Taking it line by line, this master template first helps you open your text by identifying an issue in some ongoing conversation or debate (“In recent discussions of , a controversial issue has been ”), and then to map some of the voices in this controversy (by using the “on the one hand / on the other hand” structure). The template then helps you introduce a quotation (“In the words of ”), to explain the quotation in your own words (“According to this view”), and—in a new paragraph—to state your own argument (“My own view is that”), to qualify your argu- ment (“Though I concede that”), and then to support your argument with evidence (“For example”). In addition, the template helps you make one of the most crucial moves in argumentative writing, what we call “planting a naysayer in your text,” in which you summarize and then answer a likely objection to your own central claim (“Although it might be objected that , I reply ”). Finally, this template helps you shift between general, over-arching claims (“In sum, then”) and smaller-scale, supporting claims (“For example”). Again, none of us is born knowing these moves, especially when it comes to academic writing. Hence the need for this book.

but isn’t this plagiarism?

“But isn’t this plagiarism?” at least one student each year will usually ask. “Well, is it?” we respond, turning the question around into one the entire class can profit from. “We are, after all, asking you to use language in your writing that isn’t your

 

 

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own—language that you ‘borrow’ or, to put it less delicately, steal from other writers.” Often, a lively discussion ensues that raises important questions about authorial ownership and helps everyone better understand the frequently confusing line between pla- giarism and the legitimate use of what others say and how they say it. Students are quick to see that no one person owns a conventional formula like “on the one hand . . . on the other hand. . . .” Phrases like “a controversial issue” are so commonly used and recycled that they are generic— community property that can be freely used without fear of committing plagiarism. It is plagiarism, however, if the words used to fill in the blanks of such formulas are borrowed from others without proper acknowledgment. In sum, then, while it is not plagiarism to recycle conventionally used formulas, it is a serious academic offense to take the substantive content from others’ texts without citing the author and giving him or her proper credit.

“ok—but templates?”

Nevertheless, if you are like some of our students, your ini- tial response to templates may be skepticism. At first, many of our students complain that using templates will take away their originality and creativity and make them all sound the same. “They’ll turn us into writing robots,” one of our students insisted. “I’m in college now,” another student asserted; “this is third-grade-level stuff.” In our view, however, the templates in this book, far from being “third-grade-level stuff,” represent the stock-in-trade of

 

 

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sophisticated thinking and writing, and they often require a great deal of practice and instruction to use successfully. As for the belief that pre-established forms undermine creativity, we think it rests on a very limited vision of what creativity is all about. In our view, the templates in this book will actually help your writing become more original and creative, not less. After all, even the most creative forms of expression depend on established patterns and structures. Most songwriters, for instance, rely on a time-honored verse-chorus-verse pattern, and few people would call Shakespeare uncreative because he didn’t invent the sonnet or the dramatic forms that he used to such dazzling effect. Even the most avant-garde, cutting-edge artists like improvisational jazz musicians need to master the basic forms that their work improvises on, departs from, and goes beyond, or else their work will come across as uneducated child’s play. Ultimately, then, creativity and originality lie not in the avoidance of established forms but in the imaginative use of them. Furthermore, these templates do not dictate the content of what you say, which can be as original as you can make it, but only suggest a way of formatting how you say it. In addition, once you begin to feel comfortable with the templates in this book, you will be able to improvise creatively on them to fit new situations and purposes and find others in your reading. In other words, the templates offered here are learning tools to get you started, not structures set in stone. Once you get used to using them, you can even dispense with them altogether, for the rhetorical moves they model will be at your fingertips in an unconscious, instinctive way. But if you still need proof that writing templates need not make you sound stiff and artificial, consider the following open- ing to an essay on the fast-food industry that we’ve included at the back of this book.

 

 

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If ever there were a newspaper headline custom-made for Jay Leno’s monologue, this was it. Kids taking on McDonald’s this week, suing the company for making them fat. Isn’t that like middle-aged men suing Porsche for making them get speeding tickets? Whatever happened to personal responsibility? I tend to sympathize with these portly fast-food patrons, though. Maybe that’s because I used to be one of them.

David Zinczenko, “Don’t Blame the Eater”

Although Zinczenko relies on a version of the “they say / I say” formula, his writing is anything but dry, robotic, or uncre- ative. While Zinczenko does not explicitly use the words “they say” and “I say,” the template still gives the passage its underlying structure: “They say that kids suing fast-food com- panies for making them fat is a joke; but I say such lawsuits are justified.”

putting in your oar

Though the immediate goal of this book is to help you become a better writer, at a deeper level it invites you to become a certain type of person: a critical, intellectual thinker who, instead of sit- ting passively on the sidelines, can participate in the debates and conversations of your world in an active and empowered way. Ultimately, this book invites you to become a critical thinker who can enter the types of conversations described eloquently by the philosopher Kenneth Burke in the following widely cited passage. Likening the world of intellectual exchange to a never- ending conversation at a party, Burke writes:

You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated

 

 

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for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. . . . You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you. . . . The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form

What we like about this passage is its suggestion that stating an argument (putting in your oar) can only be done in conversa- tion with others; that entering the dynamic world of ideas must be done not as isolated individuals but as social beings deeply connected to others. This ability to enter complex, many-sided conversations has taken on a special urgency in today’s polarized, Red State / Blue State America, where the future for all of us may depend on our ability to put ourselves in the shoes of those who think very differently from us. The central piece of advice in this book—that we listen carefully to others, including those who disagree with us, and then engage with them thoughtfully and respectfully—can help us see beyond our own pet beliefs, which may not be shared by everyone. The mere act of craft- ing a sentence that begins “Of course, someone might object that ” may not seem like a way to change the world; but it does have the potential to jog us out of our comfort zones, to get us thinking critically about our own beliefs, and even to change minds, our own included.

Exercises

1. Write a short essay in which you first summarize our rationale for the templates in this book and then articulate your own

 

 

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position in response. If you want, you can use the template below to organize your paragraphs, expanding and modifying it as necessary to fit what you want to say.

In the Introduction to “They Say / I Say”: The Moves That Matter in

Academic Writing, Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein provide tem-

plates designed to . Specifically, Graff and Birkenstein

argue that the types of writing templates they offer . As

the authors themselves put it, “ .” Although some people

believe , Graff and Birkenstein insist that .

In sum, then, their view is that .

I [agree/disagree/have mixed feelings]. In my view, the types

of templates that the authors recommend . For

instance, . In addition, . Some might object,

of course, on the grounds that . Yet I would argue

that . Overall, then, I believe —an important

point to make given .

2. Read the following paragraph from an essay by Emily Poe, a student at Furman University. Disregarding for the moment what Poe says, focus your attention on the phrases she uses to structure what she says (italicized here). Then write a new paragraph using Poe’s as a model but replacing her topic, vegetarianism, with one of your own.

The term “vegetarian” tends to be synonymous with “tree-hugger” in many people’s minds. They see vegetarianism as a cult that brainwashes its followers into eliminating an essential part of their daily diets for an abstract goal of “animal welfare.” However, few vegetarians choose their lifestyle just to follow the crowd. On the contrary, many of these supposedly brainwashed people are actu- ally independent thinkers, concerned citizens, and compassionate human beings. For the truth is that there are many very good reasons

 

 

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for giving up meat. Perhaps the best reasons are to improve the environment, to encourage humane treatment of livestock, or to enhance one’s own health. In this essay, then, closely examining a vegetarian diet as compared to a meat-eater’s diet will show that vegetarianism is clearly the better option for sustaining the Earth and all its inhabitants.

 

 

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ONE

“they say”

Starting with What Others Are Saying

H

Not long ago we attended a talk at an academic conference where the speaker’s central claim seemed to be that a certain sociologist—call him Dr. X—had done very good work in a number of areas of the discipline. The speaker proceeded to illustrate his thesis by referring extensively and in great detail to various books and articles by Dr. X and by quoting long pas- sages from them. The speaker was obviously both learned and impassioned, but as we listened to his talk we found ourselves somewhat puzzled: the argument—that Dr. X’s work was very important—was clear enough, but why did the speaker need to make it in the first place? Did anyone dispute it? Were there commentators in the field who had argued against X’s work or challenged its value? Was the speaker’s interpretation of what X had done somehow novel or revolutionary? Since the speaker gave no hint of an answer to any of these questions, we could only wonder why he was going on and on about X. It was only after the speaker finished and took questions from the audience that we got a clue: in response to one questioner, he referred to several critics who had

The hypo­ thetical audience in the figure on p. 5 reacts similarly.

 

 

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vigorously questioned Dr. X’s ideas and convinced many soci- ologists that Dr. X’s work was unsound. This story illustrates an important lesson: that to give writ- ing the most important thing of all—namely, a point—a writer needs to indicate clearly not only what his or her thesis is, but also what larger conversation that thesis is responding to. Because our speaker failed to mention what others had said about Dr. X’s work, he left his audience unsure about why he felt the need to say what he was saying. Perhaps the point was clear to other sociologists in the audience who were more familiar with the debates over Dr. X’s work than we were. But even they, we bet, would have understood the speaker’s point better if he’d sketched in some of the larger conversation his own claims were a part of and reminded the audience about what “they say.” This story also illustrates an important lesson about the order in which things are said: to keep an audience engaged, a writer needs to explain what he or she is responding to—either before offering that response or, at least, very early in the discussion. Delaying this explanation for more than one or two paragraphs in a very short essay or blog entry, three or four pages in a longer work, or more than ten or so pages in a book reverses the natural order in which readers process material—and in which writers think and develop ideas. After all, it seems very unlikely that our conference speaker first developed his defense of Dr. X and only later came across Dr. X’s critics. As someone knowledgeable in his field, the speaker surely encountered the criticisms first and only then was compelled to respond and, as he saw it, set the record straight. Therefore, when it comes to constructing an argument (whether orally or in writing), we offer you the following advice: remember that you are entering a conversation and therefore need to start with “what others are saying,” as the

 

 

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title of this chapter recommends, and then introduce your own ideas as a response. Specifically, we suggest that you summarize what “they say” as soon as you can in your text, and remind readers of it at strategic points as your text unfolds. Though it’s true that not all texts follow this practice, we think it’s important for all writers to master it before they depart from it. This is not to say that you must start with a detailed list of everyone who has written on your subject before you offer your own ideas. Had our conference speaker gone to the opposite extreme and spent most of his talk summarizing Dr. X’s critics with no hint of what he himself had to say, the audience probably would have had the same frustrated “why-is-he-going-on-like- this?” reaction. What we suggest, then, is that as soon as possible you state your own position and the one it’s responding to together, and that you think of the two as a unit. It is generally best to summarize the ideas you’re responding to briefly, at the start of your text, and to delay detailed elaboration until later. The point is to give your readers a quick preview of what is motivating your argument, not to drown them in details right away. Starting with a summary of others’ views may seem to con- tradict the common advice that writers should lead with their own thesis or claim. Although we agree that you shouldn’t keep readers in suspense too long about your central argument, we also believe that you need to present that argument as part of some larger conversation, indicating something about the arguments of others that you are supporting, opposing, amending, compli- cating, or qualifying. One added benefit of summarizing others’ views as soon as you can: you let those others do some of the work of framing and clarifying the issue you’re writing about. Consider, for example, how George Orwell starts his famous essay “Politics and the English Language” with what others are saying.

 

 

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Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civiliza- tion is decadent and our language—so the argument runs—must inevitably share in the general collapse. . . . [But] the process is reversible. Modern English . . . is full of bad habits . . . which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.

George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”

Orwell is basically saying, “Most people assume that we cannot do anything about the bad state of the English language. But I say we can.” Of course, there are many other powerful ways to begin. Instead of opening with someone else’s views, you could start with an illustrative quotation, a revealing fact or statistic, or— as we do in this chapter—a relevant anecdote. If you choose one of these formats, however, be sure that it in some way illustrates the view you’re addressing or leads you to that view directly, with a minimum of steps. In opening this chapter, for example, we devote the first para- graph to an anecdote about the conference speaker and then move quickly at the start of the second paragraph to the miscon- ception about writing exemplified by the speaker. In the follow- ing opening, from an opinion piece in the New York Times Book Review, Christina Nehring also moves quickly from an anecdote illustrating something she dislikes to her own claim—that book lovers think too highly of themselves.

“I’m a reader!” announced the yellow button. “How about you?” I looked at its bearer, a strapping young guy stalking my town’s Festival of Books. “I’ll bet you’re a reader,” he volunteered, as though we were

 

 

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two geniuses well met. “No,” I replied. “Absolutely not,” I wanted to yell, and fling my Barnes & Noble bag at his feet. Instead, I mumbled something apologetic and melted into the crowd. There’s a new piety in the air: the self-congratulation of book lovers.

Christina Nehring, “Books Make You a Boring Person”

Nehring’s anecdote is really a kind of “they say”: book lovers keep telling themselves how great they are.

templates for introducing what “they say”

There are lots of conventional ways to introduce what others are saying. Here are some standard templates that we would have recommended to our conference speaker.

j A number of sociologists have recently suggested that X’s work

has several fundamental problems.

j It has become common today to dismiss .

j In their recent work, Y and Z have offered harsh critiques of

for .

templates for introducing “standard views”

The following templates can help you make what we call the “standard view” move, in which you introduce a view that has become so widely accepted that by now it is essentially the conventional way of thinking about a topic.

 

 

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j Americans have always believed that individual effort can

triumph over circumstances.

j Conventional wisdom has it that .

j Common sense seems to dictate that .

j The standard way of thinking about topic X has it that .

j It is often said that .

j My whole life I have heard it said that .

j You would think that .

j Many people assume that .

These templates are popular because they provide a quick and efficient way to perform one of the most common moves that writers make: challenging widely accepted beliefs, placing them on the examining table, and analyzing their strengths and weaknesses.

templates for making what “they say” something you say

Another way to introduce the views you’re responding to is to present them as your own. That is, the “they say” that you respond to need not be a view held by others; it can be one that you yourself once held or one that you are ambivalent about.

j I’ve always believed that museums are boring.

j When I was a child, I used to think that .

 

 

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j Although I should know better by now, I cannot help thinking

that .

j At the same time that I believe , I also believe

.

templates for introducing something implied or assumed

Another sophisticated move a writer can make is to summarize a point that is not directly stated in what “they say” but is implied or assumed.

j Although none of them have ever said so directly, my teachers

have often given me the impression that education will open doors.

j One implication of X’s treatment of is that .

j Although X does not say so directly, she apparently assumes

that .

j While they rarely admit as much, often take for

granted that .

These are templates that can help you think analytically—to look beyond what others say explicitly and to consider their unstated assumptions, as well as the implications of their views.

templates for introducing an ongoing debate

Sometimes you’ll want to open by summarizing a debate that presents two or more views. This kind of opening

 

 

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demonstrates your awareness that there are conflicting ways to look at your subject, the clear mark of someone who knows the subject and therefore is likely to be a reliable, trustworthy guide. Furthermore, opening with a summary of a debate can help you explore the issue you are writing about before declar- ing your own view. In this way, you can use the writing process itself to help you discover where you stand instead of having to commit to a position before you are ready to do so. Here is a basic template for opening with a debate.

j In discussions of X, one controversial issue has been .

On the one hand, argues . On the other

hand, contends . Others even maintain

. My own view is .

The cognitive scientist Mark Aronoff uses this kind of template in an essay on the workings of the human brain.

Theories of how the mind/brain works have been dominated for centuries by two opposing views. One, rationalism, sees the human mind as coming into this world more or less fully formed— preprogrammed, in modern terms. The other, empiricism, sees the mind of the newborn as largely unstructured, a blank slate.

Mark Aronoff, “Washington Sleeped Here”

A student writer, Michaela Cullington, uses a version of this template near the beginning of an essay to frame a debate over online writing abbreviations like “LOL” (“laughing out loud”) and to indicate her own position in this debate.

Some people believe that using these abbreviations is hindering the writing abilities of students, and others argue that texting is

 

 

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