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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

3.8  ·  Rating details ·  3,601 Ratings  ·  366 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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May 24, 2012 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
Sep 15, 2009 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 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
Jul 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, reference
This is a very useful guide that introduces students to the basic concepts of argumentative writing at the college level. Graff and Birkenstein stress that students remember they are not writing in a vacuum but rather to a particular audience as part of a larger ongoing conversation. Some of the templates they provide for students to incorporate into their writing are a little clichéd, sure ("On the one hand... On the other hand"), but they will help students who are only beginning to learn how ...more
Nov 03, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The authors' aim is to help student writers take part in an academic conversation. Their definition of writing well consists of summarising current debate (they say) and setting up one's own arguments (I say). Each chapter provides simple templates to help students make these move in their own writing. For example,
"In discussions of X, one controversial issue has been _____ . One the one hand, ____ aruges ____. On the other hand, ____ contends ____. Others even maintain _____ . My own view is _
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.
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 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
A fantastic, actually helpful resource for academic writers.

It's very liberal/lefty, but that's exposed only in the pieces the authors selected for critique. The writing advice itself is very good.

I read the third edition, from 2016, which contains extra chapters on literature and modern Internet technology. This audiobook version also contained some excerpts at the end from essays and short stories to use for practical exercises.

Leave it to Norton Publishing to create a handy guide like this. A
Oct 16, 2010 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
Jun 27, 2014 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
Jan 29, 2008 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
Nov 24, 2009 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
Sep 06, 2012 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.
Jun 13, 2014 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.
Alyssa Chrisman
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Clear book that is helpful for anyone writing an academic/argumentative paper. I love the templates-- they are especially helpful when teaching others about writing. I appreciate the chapter on language/voice as well.
We covered Chs. 1-7 in ENG 1304 at Baylor. Some sections are clearly biased towards a politically correct agenda, but often slivers of sanity slip 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.
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
They Say/I Say contends that good writing is always dialogic; it is always participating in a conversation. While this may seem like an obvious point, it is not always obvious to college students, who often assume that all a good writer needs to do is present his or her own ideas, full stop. Instead, Graff and Birkenstien argue, responsible scholarship acknowledges ongoing debates and seeks to respectfully participate in them--by agreeing with the views of others, disagreeing, or agreeing and di ...more
Lane M.
It was alright. Most of the points they make are relevant, but for anyone past 9th or 10th grade they made seem a little obvious. Of course, as in all things, I think the value of this book depends on the individual reader's personal knowledge and way of learning. For some, this book could be completely unnecessary. But for others, it could be a life saver. When you get to the bottom of it though, they do make good points, even if they are about more basic, fundamental parts of writing. My only ...more
Barbi Faye (The Book Fae)
Jul 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Authors,
Recommended to Barbi Faye (The Book Fae) by: Writers
A cute little book (in size) to help out people who are writers, authors, or highly academic to assist in creating writing that helps link what your writing and other people's writings. It provides excellent, descriptive ways of telling and also integrating others' voices with their own ideas, providing templates for bridges between the two. Basically, links between what "They say/I say"; a manual. Or, in the fabulous GoodReads World, it is a grand helper for someone who writes at least a review ...more
Crystal ✬ Lost in Storyland
This is a book that I wish I had back when I was still teaching HS English. It has good tips in clear, simple language on how to write academically, and the templates would have been helpful to provide to students who struggled with putting their thoughts to paper.
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm looking forward to trying this out with my students in the fall.
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Teaches what higher lever writers know intuitively. Each chapter articulates specific moves that writers can make for certain effects and outcomes. The smarter students were bored with it. Ug. How to find a balance? The struggling ones really appreciated it. I used this in my English 1010 class (freshmen in college.) Gives templates that are very helpful. Exercises are relevant and not just busy work. Readings in the back are good.
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
For what this book is, an introductory text for new academic writers, it's above par. Students should read this to get a grasp on how to write at the late high school and early college level.
Katrina Sark
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Preface – Demystifying Academic Conversation

p.xvi – writing well means entering into conversation with others. Academic writing in particular call upon writers not simply to express their own ideas, but to do so as a response to what others have said.


p.3 – [Academic writing is about] 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
Henrique Maia
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

It has become common today to dismiss this kind of books, especially from those who tend to have a poor perception of a genre they call self-help literature. It is often said that books promising to help you achieve success in your field are offering nothing more than delusions. If, on top of that, you consider how conventional wisdom has it that in order for one to produce good writing one has to be born with a special gift, you would think that there’s no way to take this particular book serio
One of the best writing textbooks I've ever seen. I want to use it next semester.
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