“They Say/I Say” Intro & Chapter 1

s.chowdhury on Oct 28th 2014

In the Introduction to¬†They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, authors Gerald Graff and Cathy Brikenstein present readers with templates to structure their writing. Graff and Brikenstein argue that these templates help put the abstract concepts of how to write into actual practice. They write that “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” (2). The key to academic writing or any discourse is responding (“I say”) to someone/something else (“they say”). Acknowledging and addressing the opposite side makes your own response stronger and more meaningful. The templates provided in the book help novice writers to understand and apply this strategy to their writing. Although some claim that these templates stifle creativity, Graff and Brikenstein posit that the templates do the opposite. The templates create a base for writers to reach the standard that everyone should at least be at, and then from there writers can branch out and create their own voice.

I think that these templates are indeed useful. As Graff and Brikenstein point out themselves, without a foundation, one cannot reach anywhere. Writing also isn’t a skill that can be just told to you; you have to practice. The templates are a great way to show writers how to structure their sentences, have writers put that knowledge to practice, and form a good foundation. I can see how people might think that this would create the same kind of writing coming out everyone, however, a closer look at the templates shows that they still require the writer’s own thoughts and own voice which automatically triggers individuality.

The main point of Chapter 1 is to address the “they say” in your opening and periodically throughout your paper. Letting readers know what/who you’re responding to gives your writing context and purpose. Readers can better understand your point and why it matters when they know what you are reacting to.

“To keep an audience engaged, a writer needs to explain what he or she is responding to…Delaying this explanation…reverses the natural order in which readers process material – and in which writers think and develop ideas” (20).

“The point is to give your readers a quick preview of what is motivating your argument, not to drown them in details right away” (21).

“Readers won’t be able to follow your unfolding response, much less any complications you may offer, unless you keep reminding them what claims you are responding to” (27).

To what extent should you assume readers know what you are talking about?

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