Hi, this is a revision writing work, need to revise based on my professor’s comment and correct all parts. I have post my paper in the attached file. No outside resources needed for this paper. Only need these resources:Read: “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What is?,” James Baldwin (pp. 156-160)Read: “Regarding Spanglish,” Felipe de Ortego y Gasca (pp. 174-182)Read: “‘Conquer English to Make China Strong’: The Globalization of English,” Henry Hitchings (pp. 270-280)Read: “Spanglish Moves into Mainstream,” Daniel Hernandez (pp. 167-170, LR)Read: “Writing Like a White Guy,” Jaswinder Bolina (pp. 182-197, LR)Read: “Accent Neutralisation and a Crisis of Identity in India’s Call Centers,” Shehzad Nadeem (pp. 293-297, LR)Here are the writing instruction for this paper. Requirements:double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman font, 1” marginsincorporate quotes or paraphrases from at least two texts to further develop your argument:”Writing Like a White Guy,” Jaswinder Bolina (pp. 182-197, LR)”Accent Neutralisation and a Crisis of Identity in India’s Call Centers,” Shehzad Nadeem (pp. 293-297, LR)Moke Action, dir. ʻĀina Paikai”Spanglish Moves into Mainstream,” Daniel Hernandez (pp. 167-170, LR)”Talk This Way,” Alec Wilkinson”If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What is?,” James Baldwin (pp. 156-160)”Regarding Spanglish,” Felipe de Ortego y Gasca (pp. 174-182)”‘Conquer English to Make China Strong’: The Globalization of English,” Henry Hitchings (pp. 270-280)proper MLA in-text citations & a Works Cited pageFormatting:Introduction: Use a “hook” to draw your reader into your paper. Next, provide context about this issue you are addressing to show why this matters. The last sentence should be your enthymeme.Body Paragraphs: Take as many or as little paragraphs to show the reader your line of reasoning. Remember to have clear topic sentences for each paragraph and transition sentences between each one.Somewhere in the body paragraphs, make sure to include:a counterargument: address one complication or loophole that your argument has not considered. This is not showing a fault in your argument, rather, it is an acknowledgment that your argument is not fool-proof (arguments never are). This adds some credibility to you as a writer as it shows that you have thought about what others may suggest in response to your argument.a rebuttal: Now that you’ve acknowledged a loophole in your argument, you can now respond to it. This does not mean you have to disprove the counterargument, rather, you can explain how your claim to this issue takes priority. In other words, there are many ways to approach an issue, and not all of them are good nor bad as it depends on context.Conclusion: This is not merely a summary of what you’ve just discussed. Leave the reader with an idea of where to go next. Your argument does not exist in a vacuum and as such should show its connection to the larger discourse on language. Leave a lasting impression with your reader.what they’re saying about “they say / i say”
“The best book that’s happened to teaching composition—
—Karen Gaffney, Raritan Valley Community College
“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
“My students are from diverse backgrounds and the topics in
this book help them to empathize with others who are different from them.”
—Steven Bailey, Central Michigan University
“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 Vermont
“‘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
“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 teaching 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
“My students love this book. They tell me that the idea of
‘entering a conversation’ really makes sense to them in a way
that academic writing hasn’t before.”
—Karen Henderson, Helena College University of Montana
“A concise and practical text at a great price; students love it.”
—Jeff Pruchnic, Wayne State University
“ ‘ They Say’ contains the best collection of articles I have found.
Students respond very well to the readings.”
—Julia Ruengert, Pensacola State College
“It’s the anti-composition text: Fun, creative, humorous, brilliant, effective.”
—Perry Cumbie, Durham Technical Community College
“A brilliant book… . It’s like a membership card in the academic club.”
—Eileen Seifert, DePaul 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
both of the University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Cincinnati
W. W. Norton & Company has been independent since its founding in 1923,
William Warder Norton and Mary D. Herter Norton first published lectures
at the People’s Institute, the adult education division of New York City’s
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
In the 1950s, the Norton family transferred control of the company to its
and today—with a staff of four hundred and a comparable number of trade,
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, 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
book, which begins on page 731.
ISBN 978-0-393-63168-5
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110
W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., 15 Carlisle Street, London W1D 3BS
To the great rhetorician Wayne Booth,
who cared deeply
about the democratic art
of listening closely to what others say.
preface to the fourth edition xi
preface: Demystifying Academic Conversation xvii
introduction: Entering the Conversation 1
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 43
4 “yes / no / okay, but”: Three Ways to Respond 53
5 “and yet”: Distinguishing What You Say
from What They Say 67
6 “skeptics may object”:
Planting a Naysayer in Your Text 77
7 “so what? who cares?”: Saying Why It Matters 91
8 “as a result”: Connecting the Parts 101
9 “you mean i can just say it that way?”:
Academic Writing Doesn’t Mean Setting Aside
Your Own Voice 117
10 “but don’t get me wrong”:
The Art of Metacommentary 131
11 “he says contends”: Using the Templates to Revise 141
12 “i take your point”: Entering Class Discussions 162
13 don’t make them scroll up:
Entering Online Conversations 166
14 what’s motivating this writer?:
Reading for the Conversation 176
15 “analyze this”: Writing in the Social Sciences 187
sean blanda, The “Other Side” Is Not Dumb 212
danah boyd, Why America Is Self-Segregating 219
michelle alexander, The New Jim Crow 230
j. d. vance, Hillbilly Elegy 251
gabriela moro, Minority Student Clubs: Segregation or
Integration? 269
robert leonard, Why Rural America Voted for Trump 279
joseph e. stiglitz, A Tax System Stacked against
the 99 Percent 286
barack obama, Howard University Commencement
Speech 296
stephanie owen and isabel sawhill, Should Everyone
Go to College? 318
sanford j. ungar, The New Liberal Arts 336
charles murray, Are Too Many People
Going to College? 344
liz addison, Two Years Are Better Than Four 365
gerald graff, Hidden Intellectualism 369
mike rose, Blue-Collar Brilliance 377
ben casselman, Shut Up about Harvard 390
steve kolowich, On the Front Lines of a
New Culture War 398
nicholas carr, Is Google Making Us Stupid? 424
clive thompson, Smarter Than You Think: How
Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better 441
michaela cullington, Does Texting Affect Writing? 462
jenna wortham, How I Learned to Love Snapchat 474
carole cadwalladr, Google, Democracy, and the Truth
about Internet Search 480
kenneth goldsmith, Go Ahead: Waste Time on
the Internet 500
sherry turkle, No Need to Call 505
zeynep tufekci, Does a Protest’s Size Matter? 525
anne-marie slaughter, Why Women Still Can’t
Have It All 534
richard dorment, Why Men Still Can’t Have It All 555
raynard kington, I’m Gay and African American. As a
Dad, I Still Have It Easier Than Working Moms. 576
laurie frankel, From He to She in First Grade 583
andrew reiner, Teaching Men to Be
Emotionally Honest 589
stephen mays, What about Gender Roles in
Same-Sex Relationships? 596
kate crawford, Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy
Problem 599
nicholas eberstadt, Men without Work 605
michael pollan, Escape from the Western Diet 624
olga khazan, Why Don’t Convenience Stores Sell
Better Food? 632
mary maxfield, Food as Thought: Resisting the
Moralization of Eating 641
david zinczenko, Don’t Blame the Eater 647
radley balko, What You Eat Is Your Business 651
michael moss, The Extraordinary Science of Addictive
Junk Food 656
david h. freedman, How Junk Food Can End Obesity 681
sara goldrick-rab, katharine broton, emily brunjes colo,
Expanding the National School Lunch Program to
Higher Education 713
credits 731
acknowledgments 737
index of templates 751
index of authors and titles 767
to the fourth 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 writing is a means of entering a conversation, we looked for readings on topics that would engage students and inspire them to
respond—and to enter the conversations.
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 encourages students to engage with those around
them—including those who disagree with them—instead of
just expressing their ideas “logically.” We believe it’s a model
more necessary than ever in today’s increasingly diverse—and
some might say divided—society. In this spirit, we have added
a new chapter, “How Can We Bridge the Differences That
Divide Us?,” with readings that represent different perspectives
on those divides—and what we might do to overcome them.
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 academia and the
wider public sphere, the book provides templates 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.
The two versions of “They Say / I Say” are now being taught
at more than 1,500 schools, which suggests that there is a widespread 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 fourth edition of “They Say / I Say” with Readings
includes forty readings—half of them new—on five compelling and controversial issues. The selections provide a glimpse
into some important conversations taking place today—and
will, we hope, provoke students to respond and thus to join in
those conversations.
Forty readings that will prompt students to think—and write.
Taken from a wide variety of sources, including the Chronicle
of Higher Education, the Washington Post, the New York Times,
the Wall Street Journal, medium.com, best-selling books, policy reports,
student-run journals, celebrated speeches, and more,
Preface to the Fourth Edition
the readings represent a range of perspectives on five important
• How Can We Bridge the Differences That Divide Us?
• Is College the Best Option?
• Are We in a Race against the Machine?
• What’s Gender Got to Do with It?
• What’s There to Eat?
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
taught in the book. Additionally, one question invites students
to write, and often to respond with their own views.
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 writing instruction. Teachers can therefore begin with either the
rhetoric or the readings, and the links will facilitate movement
between one section and the other.
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.
what’s new
A new chapter, “How Can We Bridge the Differences That
Divide Us?,” brings together diverse perspectives on some of
the issues that have been a source of division in our country,
with readings that offer possible ways to overcome those divisions—from Sean Blanda’s “The Other Side Is Not Dumb” to J. D.
Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.
Half of the readings are new, with at least one documented
piece and one student essay in each chapter, added in response
to requests from many teachers who wanted more complex and
documented writing. In the technology and gender chapters,
half of the readings are new, with essays on fake news, wasting
time online (and why that’s a good thing), and men without
work, among others. The education chapter now includes an
essay on problematic elitism in some circles of higher education
and another on one college’s quest to foster tolerance among
its diverse student body. Finally, the food chapter now asks a
slightly different question: what (if anything) is there to eat?
An updated chapter on academic language (now called “You
Mean I Can Just Say It That Way?”) underscores the need to
bridge spheres that are too often kept separate: everyday language and academic writing.
A new chapter on entering online conversations further
underscores the importance of including a “they say” when
responding to others on blogs, class discussion boards, and the
like, showing how the rhetorical moves taught in this book can
help students contribute clearly and respectfully to conversations in digital spaces.
Preface to the Fourth Edition
New examples—15 in total—appear throughout the rhetoric,
from Deborah Tannen and Charles Murray to Nicholas Carr
and Michelle Alexander.
An updated chapter on writing in the social sciences reflects
a broader range of writing assignments with examples from academic publications in sociology, psychology, and political science.
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.
They Say / I Blog. Updated monthly, this blog provides up-tothe-minute readings on the issues covered in the book, along
with questions that prompt students to literally join the conversation. 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
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/theysayreadings4 or contact your
Norton representative for more information.
We hope that this new edition of “They Say / I Say” with Readings 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
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 participate 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 participate in these conversations remains a formidable challenge.
This book aims to meet that challenge. Its goal is to demystify academic writing by isolating its basic moves, explaining
them clearly, and representing them in the form of templates.
In this way, we hope to help students become active participants in the important conversations of the academic world
and the wider public sphere.
• Shows that writing well means entering a conversation, summarizing 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 themselves 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 conversations 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
Demystifying Academic Conversation
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 counterargument, 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 classroom 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
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
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
For decades, we’ve worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-commondenominator 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.
Demystifying Academic Conversation
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
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 questioning: 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 comprehension as well. Since reading and writing are deeply reciprocal 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.
the usefulness of templates
Our templates also have a generative quality, prompting students to make moves in their writing that they might not otherwise 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 template 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
, 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: summarizing 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.
Demystifying Academic Conversation
“ok—but templates?”
We are aware, of course, that some instructors may have reservations 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 represent. 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 rhetorical 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 Renaissance studied rhetorical topoi or “commonplaces,” model passages
and formulas that represented the different strategies available
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 postdoctoral 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
. 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 making 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
Demystifying Academic Conversation
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 arguments? 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 various circumlocutions—“it will here be argued,” “the evidence
suggests,” “the truth is”—and these may be useful for avoiding 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
“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 coherence; 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
the templates to revise a text. Part 4 offers guidance for entering conversations in specific academic contexts, with chapters
on entering class discussions, writing online, and reading and
writing in the social sciences. Finally, we provide forty 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
doesn’t. In our view, people learn more about arguing from
Demystifying Academic Conversation
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
Entering the Conversation
Think about an activity that you do particularly well:
cooking, playing the piano, shooting a basketball, even something 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 realizing it, accomplished writers routinely rely on a stock of established 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
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, organized ways.
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 writing 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 underlying feature: it is deeply engaged in some way with other people’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 conversation 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 someone has said or done something (or perhaps not said or done
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 argument 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 consistent. 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? Furthermore, 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 saying 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
Entering the Conversation
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”:
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 characters “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 contrast 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 otherwise?” 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?” questions. 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
Entering the Conversation
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:
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 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 unqualiSee Chapter
4 for more
fied opposition. By agreeing and disagreeing with her
on agreeing,
but with a
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
Entering the Conversation
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 enjoying 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 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.
But just because controversy is important doesn’t mean you
have to become an attack dog who automatically disagrees with
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
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 overall conclusion that
j While X argues
, and I argue
, in a way
we’re both right.
Entering the Conversation
Agreement cannot be ruled out, however:
j I agree with
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
. 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
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.
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 argument (“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
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
Entering the Conversation
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 plagiarism 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 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. “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
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 opening to an essay on the fast-food industry that we’ve included at
the back of this book.
Entering the Conversation
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 uncreative. 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 companies 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 sitting 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 neverending 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
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 conversation 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
” 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.
1. Write a short essay in which you first summarize our rationale
for the templates in this book and then articulate your own
Entering the Conversation
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 templates designed to
. Specifically, Graff and Birkenstein
argue that the types of writing templates they offer
. As
the authors themselves put it, “
.” Although some people
, 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
. In addition,
. Some might object,
of course, on the grounds that
. Yet I would argue
. 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 actually independent thinkers, concerned citizens, and compassionate
human beings. For the truth is that there are many very good reasons
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.
“they say”
Starting with What Others Are Saying
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 passages 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 The hypowas only after
the speaker finished and took questions thetical audience in
from the audience that we got a clue: in response to the figure on
p. 5 reacts
one questioner, he referred to several critics who had similarly.
vigorously questioned Dr. X’s ideas and convinced many sociologists that Dr. X’s work was unsound.
This story illustrates an important lesson: that to give writing 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
See how an
natural order in which readers process material—and in
essay about
which writers think and develop ideas. After all, it seems
college opens
very unlikely that our conference speaker first developed
by quoting its
critics, p. 365.
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
Starting with What Others Are Saying
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-likethis?” 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 contradict 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, complicating, 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
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 civilization 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 paragraph to an anecdote about the conference speaker and then
move quickly at the start of the second paragraph to the misconception about writing exemplified by the speaker. In the following 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
Starting with What Others Are Saying
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
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
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.
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
Starting with What Others Are Saying
j Although I should know better by now, I cannot help thinking
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
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
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 declaring 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,
. On the other
. 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
Starting with What Others Are Saying
actually having a positive effect on writing. In fact, it seems likely
that texting has no significant effect on student writing.
Michaela Cullington, “Does Texting Affect Writing?”
Another way to open with a debate involves starting with a
proposition many people agree with in order to highlight the
point(s) on which they ultimately disagree.
j When it comes to the topic of
, most of us will readily agree that
. Where this agreement usually ends,
however, is on the question of
. Whereas some are
convinced that
, others maintain that
The political writer Thomas Frank uses a variation on this move.
That we are a nation divided is an almost universal lament of
this bitter election year. However, the exact property that divides
us—elemental though it is said to be—remains a matter of some
Thomas Frank, “American Psyche”
keep what “they say” in view
We can’t urge you too strongly to keep in mind what “they say”
as you move through the rest of your text. After summarizing
the ideas you are responding to at the outset, it’s very important to continue to keep those ideas in view. 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.
In other words, even when presenting your own claims,
you should keep returning to the motivating “they say.”
The longer and more complicated your text, the greater the
chance that readers will forget what ideas originally motivated
it—no matter how clearly you lay them out at the beginning.
At strategic moments throughout your text, we recommend
that you include what we call “return sentences.” Here is an
In conclusion, then, as I suggested earlier, defenders of
can’t have it both ways. Their assertion that
is contradicted by their claim that
We ourselves use such return sentences at every opportunity in
this book to remind you of the view of writing that our book
questions—that good writing means making true or smart or
logical statements about a given subject with little or no reference to what others say about it.
By reminding readers of the ideas you’re responding to,
return sentences ensure that your text maintains a sense of
mission and urgency from start to finish. In short, they help
ensure that your argument is a genuine response to others’ views
rather than just a set of observations about a given subject. The
difference is huge. To be responsive to others and the conversation you’re entering, you need to start with what others are
saying and continue keeping it in the reader’s view.
1. The following is a list of arguments that lack a “they say.”
Like the speaker in the cartoon on page 5 who declares
that the film presents complex characters, these one-sided
Starting with What Others Are Saying
arguments fail to explain what view they are responding
to—what view, in effect, they are trying to correct, add to,
qualify, complicate, and so forth. Your job in this exercise
is to provide each argument with such a counterview. Feel
free to use any of the templates in this chapter that you find
a. Our experiments suggest that there are dangerous levels
of chemical X in the Ohio groundwater.
b. Material forces drive history.
c. Proponents of Freudian psychology question standard
notions of “rationality.”
d. Male students often dominate class discussions.
e. The film is about the problems of romantic relationships.
f. I’m afraid that templates like the ones in this book will
stifle my creativity.
2. Below is a template that we derived from the opening of David
Zinczenko’s “Don’t Blame the Eater” (p. 647). Use the template to structure a passage on a topic of your own choosing.
Your first step here should be to find an idea that you support
that others not only disagree with but actually find laughable
(or, as Zinczenko puts it, worthy of a Jay Leno monologue).
You might write about one of the topics listed in the previous
exercise (the environment, gender relations, the meaning of
a book or movie) or any other topic that interests you.
If ever there was an idea custom-made for a Jay Leno monologue,
this was it:
. Isn’t that like
? Whatever happened to
I happen to sympathize with
, though, perhaps
“her point is”
The Art of Summarizing
If it is true, as we claim in this book, that to argue
persuasively you need to be in dialogue with others, then summarizing others’ arguments is central to your arsenal of basic
moves. Because writers who make strong claims need to map
their claims relative to those of other people, it is important
to know how to summarize effectively what those other people
say. (We’re using the word “summarizing” here to refer to any
information from others that you present in your own words,
including that which you paraphrase.)
Many writers shy away from summarizing—perhaps because
they don’t want to take the trouble to go back to the text in
question and wrestle with what it says, or because they fear that
devoting too much time to other people’s ideas will take away
from their own. When assigned to write a response to an article,
such writers might offer their own views on the article’s topic
while hardly mentioning what the article itself argues or says. At
the opposite extreme are those who do nothing but summarize.
Lacking confidence, perhaps, in their own ideas, these writers so
overload their texts with summaries of others’ ideas that their
own voice gets lost. And since these summaries are not animated
The Art of Summarizing
by the writers’ own interests, they often read like mere lists of
things that X thinks or Y says—with no clear focus.
As a general rule, a good summary requires balancing what
the original author is saying with the writer’s own focus.
Generally speaking, a summary must at once be true to what
the original author says while also emphasizing those aspects
of what the author says that interest you, the writer. Striking this delicate balance can be tricky, since it means facing
two ways at once: both outward (toward the author See how
being summarized) and inward (toward yourself). Nicholas Carr
Ultimately, it means being respectful of others but the mission of
Google on
simultaneously structuring how you summarize them p. 434, ¶ 24.
in light of your own text’s central argument.
on the one hand,
put yourself in their shoes
To write a really good summary, you must be able to suspend your
own beliefs for a time and put yourself in the shoes of someone
else. This means playing what the writing theorist Peter Elbow
calls the “believing game,” in which you try to inhabit the worldview of those whose conversation you are joining—and whom you
are perhaps even disagreeing with—and try to see their argument
from their perspective. This ability to temporarily suspend one’s
own convictions is a hallmark of good actors, who must convincingly “become” characters whom in real life they may detest. As
a writer, when you play the believing game well, readers should
not be able to tell whether you agree or disagree with the ideas
you are summarizing.
If, as a writer, you cannot or will not suspend your own
beliefs in this way, you are likely to produce summaries that are
so obviously biased that they undermine your credibility with
readers. Consider the following summary.
David Zinczenko’s article “Don’t Blame the Eater” is nothing more
than an angry rant in which he accuses the fast-food companies
of an evil conspiracy to make people fat. I disagree because these
companies have to make money… .
If you review what Zinczenko actually says (pp. 647–50), you
should immediately see that this summary amounts to an unfair
distortion. While Zinczenko does argue that the practices of
the fast-food industry have the effect of making people fat, his
tone is never “angry,” and he never goes so far as to suggest
that the fast-food industry conspires to make people fat with
deliberately evil intent.
Another telltale sign of this writer’s failure to give
Zinczenko a fair hearing is the hasty way he abandons the summary after only one sentence and rushes on to his own response.
So eager is this writer to disagree that he not only caricatures
what Zinczenko says but also gives the article a hasty, superficial reading. Granted, there are many writing situations in
which, because of matters of proportion, a one- or two-sentence
summary is precisely what you want. Indeed, as writing professor Karen Lunsford (whose own research focuses on argument
theory) points out, it is standard in the natural and social sciences to summarize the work of others quickly, in one pithy
sentence or phrase, as in the following example.
Several studies (Crackle, 2012; Pop, 2007; Snap, 2006) suggest that
these policies are harmless; moreover, other studies (Dick, 2011;
Harry, 2007; Tom, 2005) argue that they even have benefits.
The Art of Summarizing
But if your assignment is to respond in writing to a single author,
like Zinczenko, you will need to tell your readers enough about
his or her argument so they can assess its merits on their own,
independent of you.
When a writer fails to provide enough summary or to engage
in a rigorous or serious enough summary, he or she often falls
prey to what we call “the closest cliché syndrome,” in which
what gets summarized is not the view the author in question has
actually expressed but a familiar cliché that the writer mistakes
for the author’s view (sometimes because the writer believes it
and mistakenly assumes the author must too). So, for example,
Martin Luther King Jr.’s passionate defense of civil disobedience in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” might be summarized
not as the defense of political protest that it actually is but as
a plea for everyone to “just get along.” Similarly, Zinczenko’s
critique of the fast-food industry might be summarized as a call
for overweight people to take responsibility for their weight.
Whenever you enter into a conversation with others in your
writing, then, it is extremely important that you go back to
what those others have said, that you study it very closely, and
that you not confuse it with something you already believe. A
writer who fails to do this ends up essentially conversing with
imaginary others who are really only the products of his or her
own biases and preconceptions.
on the other hand,
know where you are going
Even as writing an effective summary requires you to temporarily adopt the worldview of another person, it does not mean
ignoring your own view altogether. Paradoxically, at the same
time that summarizing another text requires you to represent
fairly what it says, it also requires that your own response exert
a quiet influence. A good summary, in other words, has a focus
or spin that allows the summary to fit with your own agenda
while still being true to the text you are summarizing.
Thus if you are writing in response to the essay by Zinczenko,
you should be able to see that an essay on the fast-food industry
in general will call for a very different summary than will an
essay on parenting, corporate regulation, or warning labels. If
you want your essay to encompass all three topics, you’ll need
to subordinate these three issues to one of Zinczenko’s general
claims and then make sure this general claim directly sets up
your own argument.
For example, suppose you want to argue that it is parents, not
fast-food companies, who are to blame for children’s obesity.
To set up this argument, you will probably want to compose a
summary that highlights what Zinczenko says about the fastfood industry and parents. Consider this sample.
In his article “Don’t Blame the Eater,” David Zinczenko blames
the fast-food industry for fueling today’s so-called obesity epidemic,
not only by failing to provide adequate warning labels on its
high-calorie foods but also by filling the nutritional void in children’s lives left by their overtaxed working parents. With many
parents working long hours and unable to supervise what their
children eat, Zinczenko claims, children today are easily victimized
by the low-cost, calorie-laden foods that the fast-food chains are all
too eager to supply. When he was a young boy, for instance, and his
single mother was away at work, he ate at Taco Bell, McDonald’s,
and other chains on a regular basis, and ended up overweight.
Zinczenko’s hope is that with the new spate of lawsuits against
The Art of Summarizing
the food industry, other children with working parents will have
healthier choices available to them, and that they will not, like
him, become obese.
In my view, however, it is the parents, and not the food chains,
who are responsible for their children’s obesity. While it is true
that many of today’s parents work long hours, there are still several
things that parents can do to guarantee that their children eat
healthy foods… .
The summary in the first paragraph succeeds because it points
in two directions at once—both toward Zinczenko’s own text
and toward the second paragraph, where the writer begins to
establish her own argument. The opening sentence gives a sense
of Zinczenko’s general argument (that the fast-food chains are
to blame for obesity), including his two main supporting claims
(about warning labels and parents), but it ends with an emphasis on the writer’s main concern: parental responsibility. In this
way, the summary does justice to Zinczenko’s arguments while
also setting up the ensuing critique.
This advice—to summarize authors in light of your own
agenda—may seem painfully obvious. But writers often summarize a given author on one issue even though their text actually
focuses on another. To avoid this problem, you need to make
sure that your “they say” and “I say” are well matched. In fact,
aligning what they say with what you say is a good thing to
work on when revising what you’ve written.
Often writers who summarize without regard to their own
agenda fall prey to what might be called “list summaries,” summaries that simply inventory the original author’s various points
but fail to focus those points around any larger overall claim. If
you’ve ever heard a talk in which the points were connected
only by words like “and then,” “also,” and “in addition,” you
know how such lists can put listeners to sleep—as shown in
the figure above. A typical list summary sounds like this.
The author says many different things about his subject. First he
says… . Then he makes the point that… . In addition he says… .
And then he writes… . Also he shows that… . And then he says… .
It may be boring list summaries like this that give summaries
in general a bad name and even prompt some instructors to
discourage their students from summarizing at all.
Not all lists are bad, however. A list can be an excellent
way to organize material—but only if, instead of being a miscellaneous grab bag, it is organized around a larger argument
that informs each item listed. Many well-written summaries,
for instance, list various points made by an author, sometimes
itemizing those points (“First, she argues … ,” “Second, she
The Art of Summarizing
argues … ,” “Third …”), and sometimes even itemizing those
points in bullet form.
Many well-written arguments are organized in a list format as
well. In “The New Liberal Arts,” Sanford J. Ungar lists what he
sees as seven common misperceptions that discourage college
students from majoring in the liberal arts, the first of which
Misperception No. 1: A liberal-arts degree is a luxury that most
families can no longer afford… .
Misperception No. 2: College graduates are finding it harder to get
good jobs with liberal-arts degrees… .
Misperception No. 3: The liberal arts are particularly irrelevant for
low-income and first-generation college students. They, more than
their more-affluent peers, must focus on something more practical
and marketable.
Sanford J. Ungar, “The New Liberal Arts”
What makes Ungar’s list so effective, and makes it stand out in
contrast to the type of disorganized lists our cartoon parodies, is
that it has a clear, overarching goal: to defend the liberal arts.
Had Ungar’s article lacked such a unifying agenda and instead
been a miscellaneous grab bag, it almost assuredly would have
lost its readers, who wouldn’t have known what to focus on or
what the final “message” or “takeaway” should be.
In conclusion, writing a good summary means not just
representing an author’s view accurately, but doing so in a
way that fits what you want to say, the larger point you want
to make. On the one hand, it means playing Peter Elbow’s
believing game and doing justice to the source; if the summary
ignores or misrepresents the source, its bias and unfairness will
show. On the other hand, even as it does justice to the source,
a summary has to have a slant or spin that prepares the way
for your own claims. Once a summary enters your text, you
should think of it as joint property—reflecting not just the
source you are summarizing, but your own perspective or take
on it.
summarizing satirically
Thus far in this chapter we have argued that, as a general rule,
good summaries require a balance between what someone else
has said and your own interests as a writer. Now, however, we
want to address one exception to this rule: the satiric summary,
in which a writer deliberately gives his or her own spin to someone else’s argument in order to reveal a glaring shortcoming in
it. Despite our previous comments that well-crafted summaries
generally strike a balance between heeding what someone else
has said and your own independent interests, the satiric mode
can at times be a very effective form of critique because it lets
the summarized argument condemn itself without overt editorializing by you, the writer.
One such satiric summary can be found in Sanford J. Ungar’s
essay “The New Liberal Arts,” which we just mentioned. In his
discussion of the “misperception,” as he sees it, that a liberal
arts education is “particularly irrelevant for low-income and
first-generation college students,” who “must focus on something more practical and marketable,” Ungar restates this view
as “another way of saying, really, that the rich folks will do
the important thinking, and the lower classes will simply carry
out their ideas.” Few who would dissuade disadvantaged students from the liberal arts would actually state their position
The Art of Summarizing
in this insulting way. But in taking their position to its logical
conclusion, Ungar’s satire suggests that this is precisely what
their position amounts to.
use signal verbs that fit the action
In introducing summaries, try to avoid bland formulas like “she
says” or “they believe.” Though language like this is sometimes
serviceable enough, it often fails to reflect accurately what’s
been said. In some cases, “he says” may even drain the passion
out of the ideas you’re summarizing.
We suspect that the habit of ignoring the action when summarizing stems from the mistaken belief we mentioned earlier
that writing is about playing it safe and not making waves, a
matter of piling up truths and bits of knowledge rather than
a dynamic process of doing things to and with other people.
People who wouldn’t hesitate to say “X totally misrepresented,”
“attacked,” or “loved” something when chatting with friends
will in their writing often opt for far tamer and even less accurate phrases like “X said.”
But the authors you summarize at the college level seldom
simply “say” or “discuss” things; they “urge,” “emphasize,”
and “complain about” them. David Zinczenko, for example,
doesn’t just say that fast-food companies contribute to obesity; he complains or protests that they do; he challenges,
chastises, and indicts those companies. The Declaration of
Independence doesn’t just talk about the treatment of the
colonies by the British; it protests against it. To do justice to
the authors you cite, we recommend that when summarizing—
or when introducing a quotation—you use vivid and precise
signal verbs as often as possible. Though “he says” or “she
believes” will sometimes be the most appropriate language
for the occasion, your text will often be more accurate and
lively if you tailor your verbs to suit the precise actions
you’re describing.
templates for introducing
summaries and quotations
j She advocates a radical revision of the juvenile justice system.
j They celebrate the fact that
, he admits.
verbs for introducing
summaries and quotations
verbs for making a claim
argue insist
assert observe
remind us
claim report
emphasize suggest
verbs for expressing agreement
acknowledge endorse
admire extol
agree praise
The Art of Summarizing
verbs for expressing agreement
celebrate the fact that
corroborate support
do not deny
verbs for questioning or disagreeing
complain qualify
complicate question
contend refute
contradict reject
deny renounce
deplore the tendency to
verbs for making recommendations
advocate implore
call for
demand recommend
1. To get a feel for Peter Elbow’s “believing game,” write a summary of some belief that you strongly disagree with. Then
write a summary of the position that you actually hold on
this topic. Give both summaries to a classmate or two, and
see if they can tell which position you endorse. If you’ve
succeeded, they won’t be able to tell.
2. Write two different summaries of David Zinczenko’s “Don’t
Blame the Eater” (pp. 647–50). Write the first one for an
essay arguing that, contrary to what Zinczenko claims, there
are inexpensive and convenient alternatives to fast-food
restaurants. Write the second for an essay that questions
whether being overweight is a genuine medical problem
rather than a problem of cultural stereotypes. Compare your
two summaries: though they are about the same article, they
should look very different.
“as he himself puts it”
The Art of Quoting
A key premise of this book is that to launch an effective
argument you need to write the arguments of others into your
text. One of the best ways to do so is by not only summarizing
what “they say,” as suggested in Chapter 2, but by quoting their
exact words. Quoting someone else’s words gives a tremendous
amount of credibility to your summary and helps ensure that
it is fair and accurate. In a sense, then, quotations function as
a kind of proof of evidence, saying to readers: “Look, I’m not
just making this up. She makes this claim, and here it is in
her exact words.”
Yet many writers make a host of mistakes when it comes to
quoting, not the least of which is the failure to quote enough
in the first place, if at all. Some writers quote too little—
perhaps because they don’t want to bother going back to
the original text and looking up the author’s exact words, or
because they think they can reconstruct the author’s ideas from
memory. At the opposite extreme are writers who so overquote
that they end up with texts that are short on commentary of
their own—maybe because they lack confidence in their abil-
ity to comment on the quotations, or because they don’t fully
understand what they’ve quoted and therefore have trouble
explaining what the quotations mean.
But the main problem with quoting arises when writers assume
that quotations speak for themselves. Because the meaning of a
quotation is obvious to them, many writers assume that this meaning will also be obvious to their readers, when often it is not.
Writers who make this mistake think that their job is done when
they’ve chosen a quotation and inserted it into their text. They
draft an essay, slap in a few quotations, and whammo, they’re done.
Such writers fail to see that quoting means more than
See how
one author
simply enclosing what “they say” in quotation marks.
connects what
“they say”
In a way, quotations are orphans: words that have
to what she
wants to say,
been taken from their original contexts and that need
pp. 272–73,
to be integrated into their new textual surroundings.
¶ 6–8.
This chapter offers two key ways to produce this sort
of integration: (1) by choosing quotations wisely, with an eye
to how well they support a particular part of your text, and (2)
by surrounding every major quotation with a frame explaining
whose words they are, what the quotation means, and how
the quotation relates to your own text. The point we want to
emphasize is that quoting what “they say” must always be connected with what you say.
quote relevant passages
Before you can select appropriate quotations, you need to have
a sense of what you want to do with them—that is, how they
will support your text at the particular point where you insert
them. Be careful not to select quotations just for the sake of
demonstrating that you’ve read the author’s work; you …
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