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 Notes on They Say / I Say The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing By Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein The central claim of the authors It is our belief that the they say / I say pattern cuts across different disciplines and genres of writing, including creative writing. Although students must eventually master the specific writing conventions of their majors, we believe that there is no major or discipline that does not require writers to frame their own claims as a response to what others before them have said. Indeed, students who master the elemental moves prompted by the templates in this book should actually become better able to appreciate the differences between disciplines and genres (xviii).
They say / I say is the internal DNA of all argumentation. Coming to recognize the way these moves work in their own writing are positioned to become better readers, too, since the templates help them to recognize the ways that authors are positioning themselves in relationship to other arguments. The book provides templates not to stifle critical thinking but to be direct with students about the key rhetorical moves that comprise it (xv) the forms dont dictate content but provide a way of formatting how you say it (11). Part I. They Say The simplest template for academic writing is this one They say ____ I say ____. In other words, writingall writingis about listening to others, summarizing their views, and responding with your own idea. Its about more than asserting your own positionits about placing that position within the conversation thats already been taking place. The conversation doesnt have to be a response to great authors or experts or some well-known personit can be a response to some interior struggle, or to your sister. But theres got to be some tension When I was a kid, I thought that all people could succeed if they just tried hard enough. The older I get, though, the more I see that our chances for success are greatly restricted by our location, our upbringing, and the institutions we participate in. The goal of writing like this is NOT to play it safe. Good persuasive writing is not about repeating the truths that are already accepted by your audience instead, persuasive writing can only have a purpose if it challenges some belief your readers hold. However, this expectation doesnt mean that you have to make ridiculous claimsand in some cases, agreement can be a part of persuasive writing, if you have something NEW to add to the accepted view Her argument that _____________ is supported by new research/my own experience/changing attitudes that ______________. Changing the world begins with a sentence like this Of course, someone may object that ________. This structure works well for academic writing, but its not only about the academyits also a good model that helps us realize we need to listen to others different from us and find ways of engaging with them thoughtfully and respectfully. According to Graff and Birkenstein, argumentative writing needs to identify WHO its responding to, early in the writing To keep an audience engaged, a writer needs to explain what he or she is responding toeither 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, three or four pages in a longer one, or more than ten or so pages in a book-length text, reverses the...
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