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

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

—Anne-Marie Thomas, Austin Community College, Riverside

“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

“‘They Say’ with Readings is different from other rhetorics and readers in that it really engages students in the act of writing throughout the book. It’s less a ‘here’s how’ book and more of a ‘do this with me’ kind of book.”

—Kelly Ritter, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd i 11/8/14 3:34 PM

“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

“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

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd ii 11/8/14 3:34 PM


“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



01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd iii 11/8/14 3:34 PM

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd iv 11/8/14 3:34 PM


“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

RUSSEL DURST University of Cincinnatti

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

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd v 11/8/14 3:34 PM

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 © 2017, 2015, 2014, 2012, 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 747.

The Library of Congress has cataloged an earlier edition as follows: Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Graff, Gerald, author. “They say/I say”: the moves that matter in academic writing, with readings / Gerald Graff, University of Illinois at Chicago ; Cathy Birkenstein, University of Illinois at Chicago ; Russel Durst, University of Cincinnati.—Third Edition. p. cm Previous edition: 3rd. ed. 2014. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-393-93751-0 (pbk.) 1. English language—Rhetoric—Handbooks, manuals, etc. 2. Persuasion (Rhetoric)—Handbooks, manuals, etc. 3. Report writing—Handbooks, manuals, etc. 4. Academic writing—Handbooks, manuals, etc. 5. College readers. I. Birkenstein, Cathy, editor. II. Durst, Russel K., 1954- editor. III. Title. PE1431.G73 2014 808′.042—dc23 2014033777

This edition: ISBN 978-0-393-61744-3

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

01_GRA_61744_FM_i_xxx.indd vi01_GRA_61744_FM_i_xxx.indd vi 24/09/16 4:30 PM24/09/16 4:30 PM

To the great rhetorician Wayne Booth, who cared deeply

about the democratic art of listening closely to what others say.

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd vii 11/8/14 3:34 PM

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd viii 11/8/14 3:34 PM

i x


preface to the third edition xi i i

preface: Demystifying Academic Conversation xviii

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


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


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 “analyze this”: Writing in the Social Sciences 184

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd ix 11/8/14 3:34 PM




stephanie owen and isabel sawhill, Should Everyone Go to College? 208

sanford j. ungar, The New Liberal Arts 226

charles murray, Are Too Many People Going to College? 234

liz addison, Two Years Are Better than Four 255

freeman hrabowski, Colleges Prepare People for Life 259

gerald graff, Hidden Intellectualism 264

mike rose, Blue-Collar Brilliance 272

michelle obama, Bowie State University Commencement Speech 285


Kevin kelly, Better than Human: Why Robots Will—and Must—Take Our Jobs 299

nicholas carr, Is Google Making Us Stupid? 313

brooke gladstone and josh neufeld, The Influencing Machines 330

clive thompson, Smarter than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better 340

michaela cullington, Does Texting Affect Writing? 361

sherry turkle, No Need to Call 373

jenna wortham, I Had a Nice Time with You Tonight. On the App. 393

malcolm gladwell, Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted 399


01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd x 11/19/14 4:52 PM

x i


michael pollan, Escape from the Western Diet 420

steven shapin, What Are You Buying When You Buy Organic? 428

mary maxfield, Food as Thought: Resisting the Moralization of Eating 442

jonathan safran Foer, Against Meat 448

david zinczenko, Don’t Blame the Eater 462

radley balko, What You Eat Is Your Business 466

michael moss, The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food 471

marion nestle, The Supermarket: Prime Real Estate 496

david h. freedman, How Junk Food Can End Obesity 506


david leonhardt, Inequality Has Been Going on Forever . . . but That Doesn’t Mean It’s Inevitable 542

edward mcclelland, RIP, the Middle Class: 1946–2013 549

paul krugman, Confronting Inequality 561

gary becker and kevin murphy, The Upside of Income Inequality 581

monica potts, What’s Killing Poor White Women? 591

brandon king, The American Dream: Dead, Alive, or on Hold? 610

tim roemer, America Remains the World’s Beacon of Success 618

shayan zadeh, Bring on More Immigrant Entrepreneurs 623

pew research team, King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal 627


01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xi 11/8/14 3:34 PM

x i i


sheryl sandberg, Lean In: What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid? 642

bell hooks, Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In 659

anne-marie slaughter, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All 676

richard dorment, Why Men Still Can’t Have It All 697

stephen mays, What about Gender Roles in Same-Sex Relationships? 718

dennis baron, Facebook Multiplies Genders but Offers Users the Same Three Tired Pronouns 721

ellen ullman, How to Be a “Woman Programmer” 726

saul kaplan, The Plight of Young Males 732

penelope eckert and sally mcconnell-ginet, Learning to Be Gendered 736

credits 747

acknowledgments 753

index of templates 765

index of authors and titles 781


01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xii 11/19/14 4:52 PM

x i i i

preface to the third edition


When we first set out to write this book, our goal was simple: to offer a version of “They Say / I Say”: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing with an anthology of readings that would demonstrate the rhetorical moves “that matter.” And because “They Say” teaches students that academic writ- ing is a means of entering a conversation, we looked for read- ings on topics that would engage students and inspire them to respond—and to enter the conversations. The book has been more successful than we ever imagined possible, which we believe reflects the growing importance of academic writing as a focus of first-year writing courses, and the fact that students find practical strategies like the ones offered in this book to be particularly helpful. In addition, some teach- ers have told us that this book works well in courses that focus on argument and research because students find these strategies easier to grasp than those in the books that teach various kinds of formal argumentation. Our purpose in writing “They Say” has always been to offer students a user-friendly model of writing that will help them put into practice the important principle that writing is a social activity. Proceeding from the premise that effective writers enter conversations of other writers and speakers, this book encour- ages students to engage with those around them—including those who disagree with them—instead of just expressing their

x i i i

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xiii 11/8/14 3:34 PM

ideas “logically.” Our own experience teaching first-year writing students has led us to believe that to be persuasive, arguments need not only supporting evidence but also motivation and exigency, and that the surest way to achieve this motivation and exigency is to generate one’s own arguments as a response to those of others—to something “they say.” To help students write their way into the often daunting conversations of aca- demia and the wider public sphere, the book provides tem- plates to help them make sophisticated rhetorical moves that they might otherwise not think of attempting. And of course learning to make these rhetorical moves in writing also helps students become better readers of argument. That the two versions of “They Say / I Say” are now being taught at more than 1,500 schools suggests that there is a wide- spread desire for explicit instruction that is understandable but not oversimplified, to help writers negotiate the basic moves necessary to “enter the conversation.” Instructors have told us how much this book helps their students learn how to write academic discourse, and some students have written to us saying that it’s helped them to “crack the code,” as one student put it. This third edition of “They Say / I Say” with Readings includes forty-three readings on five compelling and controversial issues. The readings provide a glimpse into some important conver- sations of our day—and will, we hope, provoke students to respond and thus to join in those conversations.


Forty-three readings that will prompt students to think— and write. Taken from a wide variety of sources, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Salon, the Atlantic, the


x i v

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xiv 11/8/14 3:34 PM

Pew Research Center, the New Yorker, Wired magazine, best- selling trade books, celebrated speeches, and more, the readings represent a range of perspectives on five important issues:

• Is College the Best Option? • Are We in a Race against the Machine? • What Should We Eat? • What’s Up with the American Dream? • What’s Gender Got to Do with It?

The readings can function as sources for students’ own writing, and the study questions that follow each reading focus students’ attention on how each author uses the key rhetorical moves— and include one question that invites them to write, and often to respond with their own views.

A chapter on reading (Chapter 14) encourages students to think of reading as an act of entering conversations. Instead of teaching students merely to identify the author’s argument, this chapter shows them how to read with an eye for what arguments the author is responding to—in other words, to think carefully about why the writer is making the argument in the first place, and thus to recognize (and ultimately become a part of) the larger conversation that gives meaning to reading the text.

Two books in one, with a rhetoric up front and readings in the back. The two parts are linked by cross-references in the margins, leading from the rhetoric to specific examples in the readings and from the readings to the corresponding writ- ing instruction. Teachers can therefore begin with either the rhetoric or the readings, and the links will facilitate movement between one section and the other.

Preface to the Third Edition

x v

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xv 11/8/14 3:34 PM

x v i


what’s new

Two topics are new, two are updated—all addressing impor- tant conversations taking place today. The chapters on gender and technology are new. The food chapter now reaches beyond fast food to address a broader question: what should we eat? And the education chapter asks not just is college worth the price but whether it is even the best option.

Thirty-one new readings, including at least one documented piece and one essay written by a student in each chapter, added in response to requests from many teachers who wanted more complex and documented writing.

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- versation. Check it out at theysayiblog.com.

A new 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 help- ing students when they revise.

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 meet- ing of minds.

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xvi 11/19/14 4:52 PM

x v i i

A complete instructor’s guide, with teaching tips for all the chapters, syllabi, summaries of the readings, and suggested answers to the study questions. Go to wwnorton.com/instructors to access these materials.

We hope that this new edition of “They Say / I Say” with Read- ings will spark students’ interest in some of the most pressing conversations of our day and provide them with some of the tools they need to engage in those conversations with dexterity and confidence. Gerald Graff Cathy Birkenstein Russel Durst

Preface to the Third Edition

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xvii 11/8/14 3:34 PM

x v i i 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.

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xviii 11/8/14 3:34 PM

Demystifying Academic Conversation

x i x

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.

• Includes a chapter on reading, showing students how the authors they read are part of a conversation that they them- selves can enter—and thus to see reading as a matter not 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 interest 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 conversa- tions and debates that surround them. More specifically, 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

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xix 11/8/14 3:34 PM


x x

such mystification can be overcome. Second, 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 .

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xx 11/8/14 3:34 PM

Demystifying Academic Conversation

x x i

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.

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xxi 11/8/14 3:34 PM


x x i i

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.

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xxii 11/8/14 3:34 PM

Demystifying Academic Conversation

x x i i i

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.

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xxiii 11/8/14 3:34 PM


x x i v

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

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xxiv 11/8/14 3:34 PM

Demystifying Academic Conversation

x x v

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

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xxv 11/8/14 3:34 PM


x x v i

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

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xxvi 11/8/14 3:34 PM

Demystifying Academic Conversation

x x v i i

“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 formal and informal language, arguing that academic discourse is often perfectly compatible with the informal language that students use outside school; and concluding with a chapter on the art of metacommentary, showing students how to guide the way readers understand 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

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xxvii 11/8/14 3:34 PM


x x v i i i

a sense of what works to persuade different audiences and what 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

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xxviii 11/8/14 3:34 PM


“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



01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xxix 11/8/14 3:34 PM

01_GRA_93584_FM_i_xxx.indd xxx 11/8/14 3:34 PM



Entering the Conversation


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 writ- ing. This book 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

02_GRA_93584_Intro_001_016.indd 1 11/8/14 3:34 PM



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 can 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.

02_GRA_93584_Intro_001_016.indd 2 11/8/14 3:34 PM

Entering the Conversation


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

02_GRA_93584_Intro_001_016.indd 3 11/8/14 3:34 PM



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. To make an impact as a writer, you need to do more than make statements that are logical, well supported, and consis- tent. You must also find a way of entering a conversation with others’ views—with something “they say.” If your own argu- ment doesn’t identify the “they say” that you’re responding to, it probably won’t make sense. As the figure above suggests, what you are saying may be clear to your audience, but why you are saying it won’t be. For it is what others are saying and thinking that motivates our writing and gives it a reason for being. It follows, then, as the figure on the next page suggests, that your own argument—the thesis or “I say” moment of your text—should always be a response to the arguments of others. Many writers make explicit “they say / I say” moves in their writing. One famous example is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter

02_GRA_93584_Intro_001_016.indd 4 11/8/14 3:34 PM

Entering the Conversation


from Birmingham Jail,” which consists almost entirely of King’s eloquent responses to a public statement by eight clergymen deploring the civil rights protests 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

02_GRA_93584_Intro_001_016.indd 5 11/8/14 3:34 PM



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 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 national fervor of post-9/11 patriotism.

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”

02_GRA_93584_Intro_001_016.indd 6 11/8/14 3:34 PM

Entering the Conversation


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 read- ers 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 unqualified 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 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.

See Chapter 4 for more on agreeing, but with a difference.

02_GRA_93584_Intro_001_016.indd 7 11/8/14 3:34 PM



As you can see from these examples, many writers use the “they say / I say” format to agree or disagree with others, to chal- lenge 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 succeed 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.

ways of responding

Just because much argumentative writing is driven by disagree- ment, it does not follow that agreement is ruled out. Although argumentation is often associated with conflict and opposition, the type of conversational “they say / I say” argument that we focus on in this book can be just as useful when you agree as when you disagree.

j She argues , and I agree because .

j Her argument that is supported by new research

showing that .

Nor do you always have to choose between either simply agree- ing or disagreeing, since the “they say / I say” format also works to both agree and disagree at the same time, as Pollitt illustrates above.

02_GRA_93584_Intro_001_016.indd 8 11/8/14 3:34 PM

Entering the Conversation


j He claims that , and I have mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand, I agree that . On the other hand,

I still insist that .

This last option—agreeing and disagreeing simultaneously—is one we especially recommend, since it allows you to avoid a simple yes or no response and present a more complicated argu- ment, while containing that complication within a clear “on the one hand / on the other hand” framework. While the templates we offer in this book can be used to structure your writing at the sentence level, they can also be expanded as needed to almost any length, as the following elaborated “they say / I say” template demonstrates.

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 .

If you go back over this template, you will see that it helps you make a host of challenging moves (each of which is taken up in forthcoming chapters in this book). First, the template helps you open your text by identifying an issue in some ongoing conversation or debate (“In recent discussions of ,

02_GRA_93584_Intro_001_016.indd 9 11/8/14 3:34 PM


1 0

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 also 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 argument (“Though I con- cede 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.

do templates stifle creativity?

If you are like some of our students, your initial 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. Another agreed, adding, “Hey, I’m a jazz musician. And we don’t play by set forms. We create our own.” “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

02_GRA_93584_Intro_001_016.indd 10 11/8/14 3:34 PM

Entering the Conversation

Order now and get 10% discount on all orders above $50 now!!The professional are ready and willing handle your assignment.