what they’re saying about “they say / i say”
“The best book that’s happened to teaching composition— ever!” —Karen Gaffney, Raritan Valley Community College
“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 Rhode Island
“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
“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
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“As a WPA, I’m constantly thinking about how I can help instructors teach their students to make specific rhetorical moves on the page. This book offers a powerful way of teach- ing students to do just that.” —Joseph Bizup, Boston University
“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
“Loved by students, reasonable priced, manageable size, readable.” —Roxanne Munch, Joliet Junior 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
“A fabulous resource for my students (and for me). I like that it’s small, and not overwhelming. It’s very practical, and really demystifies the new kind of writing students have to figure out as they transition to college.” —Sara Glennon, Landmark College
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T H I R D 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
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T H I R D 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
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
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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.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Graff, Gerald. “They say / I say” : the Moves that Matter in Academic Writing / Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, Both of the University of Illinois at Chicago.—Third Edition. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-393-93584-4 (paperback) 1. English language—Rhetoric—Handbooks, manuals, etc. 2. Persuasion (Rhetoric)—Handbooks, manuals, etc. 3. Report writing—Handbooks, manuals, etc. I. Birkenstein, Cathy. II. Title. PE1431.G73 2013 808′.042—dc23
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v i i
preface to the third edition xi i i
preface: Demystifying Academic Conversation xvi
introduction: Entering the Conversation 1
PART 1 . “THEY SAY” 1 “they say”: Starting with What Others Are Saying 19 2 “her point is”: The Art of Summarizing 30 3 “as he himself puts it”: The Art of Quoting 42
PART 2. “ I SAY”
4 “yes / no / okay, but”: Three Ways to Respond 55 5 “and yet”: Distinguishing What You Say from What They Say 68 6 “skeptics may object”: Planting a Naysayer in Your Text 78 7 “so what? who cares?”: Saying Why It Matters 92
PART 3. TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
8 “as a result”: Connecting the Parts 105 9 “a in’t so / is not”: Academic Writing Doesn’t Always
Mean Setting Aside Your Own Voice 121 10 “but don’t get me wrong”: The Art of Metacommentary 129 11 “he says contends”: Using the Templates to Revise 139
PART 4. IN SPECIFIC ACADEMIC CONTEXTS
12 “i take your point”: Entering Class Discussions 163 13 “imho”: Is Digital Communication Good or Bad—or Both? 167 14 “what’s motivating this writer?”:
Reading for the Conversation 173 15 “on closer examination”: Entering Conversations
about Literature 184 16 “the data suggest”: Writing in the Sciences 202 17 “analyze this”: Writing in the Social Sciences 221
index of templates 293
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preface to the third edition xiii
preface xvi Demystifying Academic Conversation
introduction 1 Entering the Conversation
PART 1 . “THEY SAY” 17
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” 42 The Art of Quoting
PART 2 . “ I SAY” 53
four “yes / no / okay, but” 55 Three Ways to Respond
five “and yet” 68 Distinguishing What You Say from What They Say
six “skeptics may object” 78 Planting a Naysayer in Your Text
seven “so what? who cares?” 92 Saying Why It Matters
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PART 3. T YING IT ALL TOGETHER 103
eight “as a result” 105 Connecting the Parts
nine “ain’t so / is not” 121 Academic Writing Doesn’t Always Mean Setting Aside Your Own Voice
ten “but don’t get me wrong” 129 The Art of Metacommentary
eleven “he says contends” 139 Using the Templates to Revise
PART 4. IN SPECIFIC ACADEMIC CONTEXTS 161
twelve “i take your point” 163 Entering Class Discussions
thirteen “imho” 167 Is Digital Communication Good or Bad—or Both?
fourteen “what’s motivating this writer?” 173 Reading for the Conversation
fifteen “on closer examination” 184 Entering Conversations about Literature
sixteen “the data suggest” 202 Writing in the Sciences
seventeen “analyze this” 221 Writing in the Social Sciences
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r e a d i n g s 239
Don’t Blame the Eater 241 David Zinczenko
Hidden Intellectualism 244 Gerald Graff
Nuclear Waste 252 Richard A. Muller
The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream 260 Barbara Ehrenreich
Everything That Rises Must Converge 272 Flannery O’Connor
index of templates 293
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preface to the third edition
We continue to be thrilled by the reception of our book, which has now sold over a million copies and is assigned in more than 1,500 (over half) the colleges and universities in the United States. We are also delighted that while the audi- ence for our book in composition courses continues to grow, the book is increasingly being adopted in disciplines across the curriculum, confirming our view that the moves taught in the book are central to every academic discipline. At the same time, we continue to adapt our approach to the specific ways the “they say / I say” moves are deployed in different disciplines. To that end, this edition adds a new chapter on writing about literature to the chapters already in the Second Edition on writing in the sciences and social sciences. In this new chapter, “Entering Conversations about Literature,” we suggest ways in which students and teachers can move beyond the type of essay that analyzes literary works in isolation from the conversations and debates about those works. One of our premises here is that writing about literature, as about any subject, gains in urgency, motivation, and engage- ment when the writer responds to the work not in a vacuum, but in conversation with other readers and critics. We believe that engaging with other readers, far from distracting attention from the literary text itself, should help bring that text into sharper
x i i i
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focus. Another premise is that the class discussions that are a daily feature of literature courses can be a rich and provocative source of “they says” that student writers can respond to in generating their own interpretations. Throughout the chapter are numerous templates that provide writers with language for entering into conversations and debates with these “they says”: published critics, classmates and teachers, their own previous interpretations, and the authors of literary works themselves. This new edition also includes a chapter on “Using the Templates to Revise,” which grew out of our own teaching experience, where we found that the templates in this book had the unexpected benefit of helping students when they revise. We found that when students read over their drafts with an eye for the rhetorical moves represented by the templates they were able to spot gaps in their argument, concessions they needed to make, disconnections among ideas, inadequate summaries, poorly integrated quotations, and other questions they needed to address when revising. Have they incorporated the views of naysayers with their own? If not, our brief revision guidelines can help them do so. The new chapter includes a full essay written by a student, annotated to show how the student used all the rhetorical moves taught in this book. Finally, this edition adds a new chapter on writing online exploring the debate about whether digital technologies improve or degrade the way we think and write, and whether they foster or impede the meeting of minds. And given the importance of online communication, we’re pleased that our book now has its own blog, theysayiblog. Updated monthly with current articles from across media, this blog provides a space where students and teachers can literally join the conversation.
P R E FA C E T O T H E T H I R D E D I T I O N
x i v
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Even as we have revised and added to “They Say / I Say,” our basic goals remain unchanged: to demystify academic writing and reading by identifying the key moves of persuasive argu- ment and representing those moves in forms that students can put into practice. We hope this Third Edition will get us even closer to these goals, equipping students with the writing skills they need to enter the academic world and beyond.
Preface to the Third Edition
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x v i
Demystifying Academic Conversation
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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Demystifying Academic Conversation
x v i i
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.
• 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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P R E FA C E
x v i i i
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
j This is not to say that .
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Demystifying Academic Conversation
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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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P R E FA C E
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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Demystifying Academic Conversation
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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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P R E FA C E
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okay, 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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