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They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing
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They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing

3.77  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,393 Ratings  ·  260 Reviews
They Say / I Say" shows that writing well means mastering some key rhetorical moves, the most important of which involves summarizing what others have said ("they say") to set up one s own argument ("I say"). In addition to explaining the basic moves, this book provides writing templates that show students explicitly how to make these moves in their own writing.
Paperback, 181 pages
Published January 10th 2006 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published September 1st 2005)
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Mark Feltskog Often times, with a book like this, the only thing that changes from edition to edition is the pagination. I'm an English teacher and I just finished…moreOften times, with a book like this, the only thing that changes from edition to edition is the pagination. I'm an English teacher and I just finished reading the second edition. I cannot imagine what needs to be added....

Hope this helps.(less)

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Aug 05, 2012 Carol. rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who want to improve their non-fiction writing
Very interesting premise, namely, looking at academic writing as participating in a dialogue. It's a fascinating idea that goes back to at least Greek roots in the Socratic dialogue. (Come to think of it, some Eastern teachers use that technique as well; I'm just not well-versed in non-Western history). I think it's a technique that helps a student place their work in a larger conversation, and elevate an academic essay above the "explanatory" work into a work that defends or promotes a viewpoin ...more
Oct 17, 2009 Jack rated it really liked it
My writing is often competent, but not as effective as I'd like. I bought this expecting to screen it for use as a corrective to my students. I found it surprisingly useful for myself, although at a fairly detailed level. The most useful thing they say, which I should have known already, but didn't, is that it is critically important to remember that one's academic writing is a contribution to an ongoing discussion that one's reader likely has not been paying close attention to. As such, one nee ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
When students on my campus are flagged for citation troubles and tried for plagiarism, one thing they have to do is come to me for a plagiarism tutorial. Because students accidentally plagiarize (and sometimes not accidentally) for a lot of different reasons, I don't just have a pre-packaged tutorial I send them off to do. I'm finding that most often, students simply are not equipped to write about ideas they have found.

This book attempts to guide students through strategies for handling the id
Sep 01, 2015 Ayla rated it it was ok
My two stars are generous. If you need this book's atrocious templates to write a paper, you have some serious literary remediation to do.

The templates, when strung together into a disjointed paragraph of concessions and cliches, make for an amazingly boring and unoriginal essay. Even when incorporated into an otherwise mediocre paper, they stand out as obvious regurgitations of what the writer feels an academic paper "should" say.

Any scholar who pridefully publishes the words "I'm of two mind
This is one of the most useful books I've ever encountered if you teach academic writing, reading, or critical thinking.
Some instructors might disagree, but I find the use of templates very helpful for my students. In my opinion, it is not encouraging plagiarism to give the students a template to make it easier for them. (For example, "Author X makes an excellent point that_____, but I would also add_____." They are not native English speakers and it is crucial for them to be given a clear idea
Patrick Faller
Nov 10, 2011 Patrick Faller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've taught the shorter, rhetoric-based version of this text before, and now, after having moved away from it to teach other texts that seemed even more "democratic" than this, I'm returning to this text next semester because other texts simply don't inspire students to begin writing with near as much purpose and confidence as this one does. I've ordered my copy of the 2nd edition, actually, which comes out on 15 November 2011. The rhetorical chapters haven't changed;
I'm sure they'll contain edi
Sarah Cammelot
I could appreciate this book as a great read for beginning writers, but I firmly believe that writing is learned by practice of creativity, not template. I personally feel that this book was too template-focused and did not emphasize the writers natural flow of words enough.
Oct 16, 2010 Michelle rated it really liked it
This book, given to me by my dear friend Scott who studied under Gerald Graff, singlehandedly improved my essays. It seems weird to have templates for writing essays, but they gave me better ideas about how to enter conversations in my essays and how to move from one paragraph to the next. I had my students read the whole book and then asked them to have 7 out of the 10 elements in their essays. The only things that I've noticed to be confusing for people is their absolute negativity towards usi ...more
MB (What she read)
3.5 stars.
Assigned textbook for class. This book is made up of about 1/3 teaching material and 2/3 essays, articles, speeches, etc. intended for reading/discussions/class assignments. Overall, I thought it did a pretty good job. The "They Say/I Say" part was clear and easily understood. Good examples were provided. The readings were divided into five main themes, and were pretty interesting. Some were new to me, and some familiar. (Some of the readings seemed a teensy bit dated now, but not too
Dec 16, 2015 Jon rated it really liked it
When it comes to the topic of learning to write through imitation, Romantic writers—those that claim that style and originality trump everything—must bristle at the idea of templates, asserting that adhering to such confinements would rot their style. This assertion should swiftly end, however, upon discovering that every one of the great writers of the sentence (Shakespeare, Austen, Byron, Keats etc.) learned to write through imitation.

In terms of the simplicity to usefulness ratio, Graff and
May 27, 2008 Mary rated it really liked it
Shelves: teacher-books
I think I would have hated this book if I were assigned it as a freshman in college. But I was kind of an asshole then, as are most college freshman.

As such, high school seems the better forum to teach a lot of these very basic writing skills. I used this to help me scaffold a persuasive paper I assigned to eleventh graders and they really seemed to appreciate the help. Graff breaks down the elements of good academic persuasive writing into such useful, manageable chunks that it was a breeze to
Dec 04, 2012 Nan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
They Say I Say is one of my favorite composition textbooks. It explains writing in a way that students can understand, and it opens the world of academic discourse to them. The readings in this edition were timely and well-chosen. Over the years that I've used this book, I've become more and more impressed with it.
Informative in terms of getting ideas for pinning down points of view and learning specific terms and phrases for rhetorical modes like comparison/contrast or transitioning between paragraphs, etc--but I'm very wary, very very wary of using templates. Inevitably, templates become too formulaic, and the students end up regurgitating the same terms, phrases, and words without any originality or creativity in wielding our English language.
Apr 15, 2015 Eleanor rated it really liked it
Kinda wish someone had made me read a book about how to structure argumentative papers back when I was first starting college. I don't recall being exposed to anything like this at the time, but its place on the Amazon bestseller list indicates that it is commonly assigned these days. Most of what it puts forth is pretty intuitive to me now, but as an undergrad, I struggled with understanding the difference between simple narrative and argumentative narrative. Making arguments about big subjects ...more
Chelsea Lonsdale
Jun 13, 2014 Chelsea Lonsdale rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The templates are far too reductive (they reduce sophisticated thinking to a seemingly simple process), my students felt like the book was condescending, I felt like it was repetitive, but it was useful, small, and affordable - a good framework for a research writing course, if supplemented by more rigorous lessons/lectures/assignments. Am considering switching to The Craft of Research instead.
Trent Mikesell
Oct 19, 2014 Trent Mikesell rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. If anyone knows other great books on teaching writing, please send me your recommendations. I need to read more like this.

I feel that sometimes teachers are down on templates. I realize that is not how "real writers write" (or so I am told), but I am open to anything that makes writing easier and more accessible for students. There are so many great templates in here to help students format their ideas and create argumentative pieces. I'm excited to use some of the i
Calley Odum
Apr 18, 2016 Calley Odum rated it it was ok
This is only useful for the beginner, for the person who is truly uncomfortable writing. Oh sure, it's clearly written.... And it I'll clearly spell out the most inane, basic frameworks of writing. If you've taken a 101 course, there's a good chance you've used this book.... I just had the misfortune of using it in a 300 level course, where the demanded formulaic structure was more limiting than useful.
Jun 27, 2014 Donna rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was used for my class, The Writing Process. My class was 12 weeks long and having to use this book for 12 long weeks was excruciating. In my opinion, Graff does not give the student enough credit, as this neat little book tries to do all the work for you! Just fill in the blanks. I also thought this book was biased, old fashioned in some of its stories. I saw it as an agenda for a college professor and former MLA President to get colleges to use his book. I think this is a conflict of ...more
May 10, 2011 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
Though a person who is a good reader will probably already possess many of the skills outlined in this book, even such writer's would likely benefit from seeing them laid out in such a clear and detailed fashion. This book puts into words what many teachers of writing struggle to articulate and outlines several frameworks, exercises, and even templates that beginning writers might use to jump start their own pieces. Another thing this book does well as accurately identify the importance of readi ...more
Jan 03, 2012 Alma rated it did not like it
Shelves: college
Let me sum up what each page in this 70 page waste of time says: when using information from and outside source, introduce the information, explain the information, and then have a "dialogue" with the information, making sure that you integrate your own ideas as well. I'm so glad I had to read this because I would never have thought all of that would be a good idea! I'm also really glad that the book was extremely repetitive, because otherwise I don't think I could have understood such complex i ...more
Jan 13, 2015 Ivan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-craft, thm
Simple thesis: good writing should fit into the template of "they say/I say," pointing out the conversation (on X) and where you as the writer seek to modify, challenge, etc. Of course, the issue with such an approach is that it prioritizes form over content; it gives the impression that if you have the template down then the rest should take care of itself.

Some of the chapters I found most helpful? chapter 3 on the art of quoting, chapter 8 on connecting the parts, and chapter 9 on the art of
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dave Harris
This book is aimed at undergraduates, and I could easily see a more advanced scholar putting it aside for that reason. But I think this could be a very valuable resources for many graduate students. Much of the book is dedicated to sentence templates--fill-in-the-blank sentences--and those could be really annoying (I'll admit that I didn't closely read the whole book or look closely at all the different templates). Nonetheless, I think this book does a great job of addressing a problem that a lo ...more
Jan 04, 2016 Stan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here's an excellent book for academic writers. The authors present a template for writing - "they say/I say". The whole book is about argumentation, respectfully presenting the ideas of others and responding to them with one's own ideas.

The authors present many templates in the book, but it all goes back to the overarching template.

The templates are not crutches, but learning tools. With practice one will develop the writing skills in such way that they are natural and overt use of the templates
Zach Hedges
Jul 12, 2016 Zach Hedges rated it really liked it
One of the strategies that authors Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein (faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago) propose for enhancing argumentative writing is “filling in the gap,” or identifying an area of the academic discipline which has, to this point, received inadequate attention. Apparently, this is precisely the strategies that the authors themselves have employed in developing this useful book on academic writing. They Say/I Say blazes new trails by giving aspiring academic wr ...more
Feb 03, 2016 Gary rated it it was amazing
This is the best textbook I have seen in a while. It teaches how to write.
"How to Write" - you understand - the students know their grammar and spelling, some punctuation, and they know the five-paragraph essay, but this book teaches how to write, how to connect each sentence to the one before and the one after, how to connect ideas, how to present opposing ideas to your benefit.
This really does teach "academic moves that matter," as it says it does on the cover.
Jan 13, 2015 Jessica rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I half-doubted, a short way into this, that Graff and Birkenstein actually intended it for practical purposes – so troubling did I find their approach to writing. It offended me that they provided templates for expository writing. However valid their claims were, I felt uneasy considering the countless misconstructions their method invited. They Say/I Say makes apt observations – on audience, argument, and conversation – that risk trite, formulaic, and ultimately ineffective applications. Writi ...more
Apr 27, 2016 Caleb rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastically engaging book on sharpening your argumentative writing skills. Very illuminating and intelligent insights, and the writers are never pretentious or talk down to you. I had to read it for a class, and it's been a big help with my process of writing the final paper. Highly recommend this to anyone seeking to craft stronger arguments and/or blow their professors away!
We covered Chs. 1-7 in ENG 1304 at Baylor. Some sections seem clearly biased towards a politically correct agenda, but every once in a while a sliver of sanity slips through the cracks. If it weren't for the obviously liberal bias, I'd give it four stars—it's got really excellent advice for writers.
This is a good textbook, but it seems to expect students to be prepared at the sentence and basic essay level before engaging with this material. For many incoming college freshmen, it would be most beneficial in a College Composition course that was taken after a remedial grammar and writing course.
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