"THEY SAYI SAY"
The Moves That Matter
in Academic Writing
TH 1 N 1< ABOUT AN ACTIVITY that you do particularly well: cooking, playing the piano, shooting a basketball, even some~
thing as basic as driving a car. If you reflect on this activity, you'll realize that once you masteredit you no longer had to give much
conscious thought to the various moves that go into doingit. Performing this activity, in other words, depends on your hav~
ing learned a series of complicated moves-moves that may seem mysterious or difficult to those who haven't yet learned them.
The same appliesto writing. Often without consciously realizing it, accomplished writers routinely rely on a stock of estab~
lished moves that are crucial for communicating sophisticated ideas. \Vhat makes writers masters of their trade is not only
their abilityto 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. This book is intended as a short, user-friendly guideto the
basic moves of academic writing. One of our key premises is that these basic moves are so common that they can be represented intemplates that you can
use right away to structure and even generate your own writing. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of this book is its
presentation of many such templates, designed to help yousuecessfully enter not only the world of academic thinking and
writing, but also the wider worlds of civic discourse and work. Instead of focusing solely on abstract principles of writing,
then,this book offers model templates that help you put those principles directly into practice. Working with these templates
can give you an immediate sense of howto 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. ,.. Many Americans assume that others are more complicated.
~>On the one hand, . On the other hand, ~> Author X contradicts herself. At the same time that she argues
, she also implies
,.. I agree that
,.. 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.
STATE YouR OWN IDEAS AS A RESPONSE TO OTHERS
The single most important template that we focus on in this bookis the "they say ; 1 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("! 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, andr~sponding 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 oneunderlying feature: it is deeply engaged in some way with other peo~
ple's views. Too often, however, academic writing is taught as a process of saying "true" or "smart" things in a vacuum, as if it were
possible to argue effectively without being in conversationwith 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 perhapsnot said or done something) and we need to respond: "I can't see why you like the Lakers so muchn; "I agree: it was a great
filmn; "That argument is contradictory.n If it weren't for other people and our need to challenge, agree with, or otherwise respond to them, there would be no reasonto argue at all.
To make an impact as a \\Titer, you need to do more than make statements that are logical, well supported, and. consistent. You must also find a way of entering a conversation with others' viewswith
something "they say." If your own argument doesn't identify the "they say" that you're responding to, it probably won't make sense. As Figure 1 suggests,what you are saying may be clear to
your audience, butwhy you are saying it won't be. For it is what others are saying and thinking that motivates our writing and gives it a reason for being. It follows, then, as Figure 2 suggests, that your
own argument -the thesis or "I sayn moment of your text -should always be a response to the arguments of others. Many writers make explicit "they say / I sayn moves in their
writing. 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 clergy~
men deploring the civil rights protests he was leading. The letter-which was written in 1963, while King was in prison for leading a demonstration against racial injustice inBirming~
ham-is structured almost entirely around a framework ofsummary 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,n yet he hastens to add that "it is even more unfortunate that the city's
white power structure left the Negro community with noalternative." King's letter is so thoroughly conversational, in fact, that it could be rewritten in the form of a dialogue or play.
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 theymight have said ("One may well ask: 'How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?' ")-all to set the stage for what he himself wants to say.
A similar "they say / I say" exchange opens an essay about American patriotism by the social critic Katha Pollitt, who uses her own daughter's comment to represent the national fervor
of post-9/11 patriotism.
My daughter, who goes to Stuyvesant High School only blocks
from the former World Trade Center, thinks we should fly the
American flag out our window. Definitely not, I say: The flag stands
for jingoism and vengeance and war. She tells me I'm wrong-the
flag means standing together and honoring the dead and saying no
to terrorism. In a way we're both right ....
KATHA PoLLITT, "Put Out No Flags''
As Pollitt's example shows, the "they" you respond to incrafting 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 aprovocative 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 unqualified opposition. By agreeing and disagreeing with her daughter, Pollitt enacts what we callon agreeing, but with a the "yes and no" response, reconciling apparently difference.
While King and Pollitt both identify the views they are responding to, some authors do not explicitly state their views but instead allow the reader to infer them. See, for instance, if
you can identify the implied or unnamed ''they say" that the following claim is responding to.I like to think I have a certain advantage as a teacher of literature because when I was growing up I disliked and feared books.
GERALD GRAFF,"Disliking Books at an Early Age" In case you haven't figured it out already, the phantom "they say" here is the common belief that in order to be a good teacher of literature, one must have grown up liking and enjoy~
As you can see from these examples, many writers use the "they sayI I say" format to agree or disagree with others, 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
toplay 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 vvriting that fails to answer what we call the "so whatt and "who cares?" questions. "William Shakespeare wrote many famous plays and sonnets" may be a perfectly true
statement, but precisely because nobody is likely to disagree with it, it goes without saying and thus would seem pointless if said.
WAYS OF RESPONDING
Just because much argumentative writing is driven bydisagreement, it does not follow that agreement is ruled out. Although argumentation is often associated with conflict and
opposition, the type of conversational "they sayI I say" argument that we focus on in this book can be just as useful when you agree as when you disagree.
~~>-Her argument that
, and I agree because
is supported by new research
Nor do you always have to choose between either simplyagreeing or disagreeing, since the "they say/ I say" format also works to both agree and disagree at the- same time, as Pollitt illustrates above.
Entering the Conversation
~~>-He claims that , and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I agree that . On the other hand, I still insist that
This last option-agreeing and disagreeing simultaneously-is one we especially recommend, since it allows youto avoid a simple yes or no response and present a more complicated argument, while containing that complication within a clear "on
the one hand / on the other hand" framework. While the templates we offer in this book can be used to structure your writing at the sentence level, they can also be
expanded as needed to almost any length, as the following elaborated "they sayI I say" template demonstrates.
In recent discussions of , a controversial issue has been whether . On the one hand, some argue that
. From this perspective,
others argue that
. On the other
In the words of
___ , one of this view's main
According to this view,
My own view is that
.. , I still maintain that
In sum, then, the issue is
. Though I concede that
. Although some might object that I would
reply that . The issue is important because
If you go back over this template, you will see that it helps you make a host of challenging moves (each of which is taken up in forthcoming chapters in this book). First, the template helps
you open your text by identifying an issue in some ongoingconversation 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 also helps
you introduce a quotation ("In the words'.of"), to explain the quotation in your own words ("According to this view"), and in a new paragraph-to state your own argument ("My own view is that"), to qualify your argument ("Though I 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 book.
Do TEMPLATES STIFLE CREATIVITY?
Ifyou 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 rum us into writing robots," one of our students insisted. Anot.her agreed, adding, "Hey, I'm a jazz musician. And we don't play
by set forms. We create our own." ''I'm in college now," another student asserted; "this isthird~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 thatpre~established forms undermine creativity, we think it rests on a very limited vision of what creativity is all
about. In our view, the above template and the others in this book will actually help your writing becomemore 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 atime~honored versechorus~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 mostavant arde, cutting~edge artists (like improvisational jazz musicia~s) 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 thecontent 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 toolsto 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 do not stifle creativity, consider the following opening to an essay on the
fast-food industry that we've included in this book.
If ever there were a newspaper headline custom-made for Jay Leno's monologue, this wasit. 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 ZtNCZENKO, "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 com·panies for making them fat is a joke; but I say such lawsuits are justified."
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 youto use language in your writing that isn't your 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 plagiatism 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 <,:oml
monly used and recycled that they aregeneric~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.
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
toa never-ending 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 and "putting in your oar" can only be done in
conversation with others; that we all enter the dynamic world
of ideas not as isolated individuals but asso~ial beings deeply
connected to others who have a stake in what we say.
This ability to enter complex,many~sided conversations has
taken on a special urgency in today's diverse,post~9/ll world,
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 crafting a sentence that·
begins "Of course, someone might object that " may
not seem like a way to change the world; but it does have the
potentialto jog us out of our comfort zones, to get us think~
ing critically about our own beliefs, and perhaps even to
change our minds.
L 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
Poe 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 brain~
washes its followers into eliminating an essential pan of their daily
Entering the Conversation
diets for an abstract goal of "animal welfare."However, few vege~
tarians choose their lifestyle just to follow the crowd.On the con~
trary, 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 rea~
sons for giving up meat. Perhaps the best reasons are to improve
the epvironment, 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 ameat~eater's diet will show that
vegetarianism is clearly the better option for sustaining the Earth
and all its inhabitants.
2. Write a short essay in which you first summarize ourration~
ale for the templates in this book and then articulate your
own position in response. If you want, you can use thetern~
plate below to organize your paragraphs, expanding and
modifying it as necessaryto fit what you want to say.
• In the Introduction to"They Say/ I Say": The Mo"s 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 believe , Graff and Birkenstein
insist that . In sum, then, their view is that
I [agreefdisagreefhave mixed feelings]. In my view, the types
of templates that the authors recommend For
instance, In addition,
object, of course, on the grounds that
argue that . Overall, then, I believe
important point to make given
. Yet I would
Starting with What Others Are Saying
NOTLONG AGo we attended a talk at an academic confer~
ence where the speaker's central claim seemed to be that acer~
tain 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 byDr. 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 needto
makeit 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 was only
after the speaker finished and took questions from theSee an example
in Figure 1
audience that we got a clue: in response to oneques~
tioner, he referredto several critics who had vigorously
questioned Dr. X's ideas and convinced many sociologists that
Dr. X' s work was unsound.
This story illustrates an important lesson: thatto give writ~
ing the most important thing of all-namely, a point-a writer
needsto 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 theorder
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, three or four pages in a longer one, or more
than ten or so pages in a boob length text reverses the natural
order in which readers process material-and in which writers
think and develop ideas. After all, it seems very unlikely that
See how anour conference speaker first developed his defense of Dr.
essay aboutX and only later came across Dr. X's critics. As some~
Wal-Martone knowledgeable in his field, the speaker surely
opens by quot·encountered the criticisms first and only then was com~
ingits critics, pelled to respond and, as he saw it, set the record straight.
P· 62o,~'· The rerro re, wh en it comes to constructm. g 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'simpor~
tant 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-onlike~
this?"reaction. What we suggest, then, is that as soon as
possible you state your own position and the one it's responding
totogether, and that you think of the two as a unit. It is gener~
ally bestto 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 ismoti~
vating your argument, notto drown them in details right away.
Starting with a summary of others' views may seem tocon~
tradict 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,compli~
eating, 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. Ourciv~
ilization is decadent and ourlanguage-s~. the argument runsmust
inevitably share in the general collapse.
[But] the process is reversible. Modem English ... is full of bad
habits ... which can be avoided if one is willing to take thenee~
GEORGEORWELL, "Politics and the English Language"
Orwell is basically saying, "Most people assume that wecan~
not do anything about rhe 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, oras
we do in this chapter-a relevant anecdote. If you choose
one of these formats, however, be sure that it in some wayillus~
trates 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 firstpara~
graph 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 a 2004 opinion piece in theNew Y ark Times Book
Review,Christina Nehring also moves quickly from an anecdote
illustrating something she dislikesto 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,Festi~
val of Books. "I'll bet you)re a reader," he volunteered, as though we
Starting with What Others Are Saying
were 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'sa' 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.
,.. A number of sociologists have recently suggested that X's w9rk has
~-~.Y.~.r..i'-1f1l n_Q_gm.~ .. o.te.J. _pJQ.R.l.~m .. ~ ..
,.. It has become common today to dismiss
..,. In their recent work, Y and Z have offered harsh critiques of
··- for ___ .- --·
TEMPLATES FOR INTRODUCING
The following templates can help you make what we call the
"standard viewn 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.
11 THEY SAY"
~>-Americans have always believed that individ_u~J .. E::.(fq_ri;__(:_a_I1.J.r.i..w.mp .. h
,.. Conventional wisdom has it that
,.. Common sense seems to dictate that
,.. The standard way of thinking about topic X has it that
~>-It is often said that
~>-My whole life I have heard it said that
,.. You would think that
,. 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
TEMPLATES FOR MAKING WHAT "THEY 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
,.. I've always believed thatm_w~e:.LJ.n1S are bqrir1g.
,.. When I was a child, I used to think that
Starting with What Others Are Saying
• Although I should know better by now, I cannot help thinking that
,.. 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 '\hey say" but is
implied or assumed.
~~>Although none of them have ever said so directly, my teachers have
often given me the impression that E::clucatjon _wi_II _Q.P.~.I1 .... Q_q__q_r_~.·
,.. One implication of X's treatment ofis that
~>-X apparently assumes that
,. While they rarely admit as much, often take for granted
that ______ _
These are templates that can help you think analyticallyto
look beyond what others say explicitly and to consider
their unstated assumptions, as well as the implications of their
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
,\J E"THEY SAY"
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~ 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 thewrit~
ing process itself to help you discover where you stand instead
of having to commit to a position before you are ready to
Here is a basic template for opening with a debate.
._ In discussions of X, one controversial issue has been
On the one hand, argues
On the other hand,
. My own view is
The cognitive scientist Mark Aronoff uses this kind oftern~
plate 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 formedpreprogrammed,
in modem terms. The other, empiricism, sees the
mind of the newborn as largely unstructured, a blank slate.
MARK ARONOFF, "Washington Sleeped Here"
Another wayto open with a debate involves starting with a
proposition many people agree with in orderto highlight the
point(s) on which they ultimately disagree.
._ When it comes to the topic of
, most of us willre~dily
Where this agreement usually
Starting with What Others Are Saying
ends, however, is on the question of
some are convinced that
, others maintain that
The political writer Thomas Frank uses a variation on this
That we are a nation dividedis an almost universal lament of this
bitter election year. However, the exact property that divides uselemental
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 impor,
tantto 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 originallymoti~
vated 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 example.
~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 norefer~
ence 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 ofmis~
sion 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. Thedif~
ference is huge. To be responsive to others and theconversa~
tion 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"any
sense of who needs to hear these claims, who might
think otherwise. Like the speaker in the cartoon on page 4
who declares thatThe Sopranos presents complex characters,
theseone~sided arguments fail to explain what view they are
responding to-what view, in effect, they are trying tocor~
rect, add to, qualify, complicate, and so forth. Your job in
this exercise is to provide each argument with such acoun~
terview. Feel freeto use any of the templates in this chap~
ter that you find helpful.
Starting with What Others Are Saying
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. 391). 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 Lena monologue). You might write about one of
the topics listed in the previous exercise (theenviron~
ment, sports, 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,