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They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 650 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393924091
ISBN-10: 0393924092
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Editorial Reviews


“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)

“Brilliantly simple . . . adds to the argumentative strategies students already possess . . . distills the essence of academic discourse in a way that students can understand and employ in their own writing.” (Russel Durst, University of Cincinnati)

“I absolutely love the governing idea of this book. As a teacher and WPA, I'm constantly thinking about how I can teach my students-and how I can help instructors teach their students-to make specific rhetorical moves on the page. This book offers a very powerful way of doing that.” (Joseph Bizup, Columbia University)

“A joy to read . . . like having a private tutorial with gifted teachers.” (Sarah Duerden, Arizona State University)

“I like the way the Graffs pick apart what's really happening in an argument. Many students get to college not knowing how to make the moves necessary to put forth an argument, and this book helps them work through that process.” (Christine Cozzens, Agnes Scott College)

“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)

“Demystifies academic argumentation. I like this book very much!” (Patricia Bizzell, College of the Holy Cross)

“Graff and Birkenstein's basic argument is both persuasive and congruent with my own experience: these are the moves I needed to learn as a student. A very, very smart book.” (Lisa Ede, Oregon State 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)

“Especially for beginning writers, "They Say / I Say" offers an excellent roadmap to the new world of academic discourse.” (Daniel Zimmerman, Middlesex County College)

About the Author

Gerald Graff, a professor of English and education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and 2008 president of the Modern Language Association of America, has had a major impact on teachers through such books as Professing Literature: An Institutional History, Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education, and Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind.

Cathy Birkenstein is a lecturer in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has published essays on writing in College English, and, with Gerald Graff in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Academe, and College Composition and Communication.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 181 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (January 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393924092
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393924091
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (650 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tobin Sparfeld on July 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
I received this book too late to use it for my persuasive writing class. While I had moderate success with my other book, Everything's an Argument, I would certainly use this book if I had to do it all over again.

They Say/I Say is a short book with a simple premise -- it correctly states that no argument occurs in a vacuum, but must depend upon what others have to say about it. Moreover, the authors believe one of the principle difficulties which students have with persuasive writing is an inability to correctly utilize these necessary ingredients (introduce what others have to say on the subject, and then present their own voice on the matter). Though I am not a writing teacher, I have found this to be the case in my classes.

TSIS summarizes the important aspects of this conversation in persuasive writing and provides templates for students to summarize what others say, introduce their own points, and perform various other techniques. While one may think the use of such templates leads to formulaic writing, the authors suggest the opposite is the case. By understanding how to shape their ideas, students can learn to better express their orginal thoughts, thus making their writing more individual.

While I am inclined to agree, TSIS is not perfect. It certainly cannot be used as a thorough textbook on all persuasive writing, nor am I completely convinced that the exercises provided in the book are the most effective at using the templates in student writing. If teachers can get students to incorporate the ideas of TSIS into student's writing, however, they will accomplish much. Check it out for yourself.
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Format: Paperback
Even as a writer, writing teacher, and rhetorician, I could not see how many gaps I left in my writing until this book. So much of the writing process was just flung at me in public school that I was fortunate to absorb dribs and drabs. Graff, Birkenstein, and Durst dismantle writing into a system, based on the most recent rhetorical research, and lay the process out in short chapters, plain language, and a scheme of templates that students can use to kick-start their own writing.

The authors' thesis is that writing is an uncomplicated process which can be reduced to a handful of rhetorical components. If students see writing as a social act, joining a larger conversation already in process, they will produce engaging writing which both they and their teachers will enjoy. Since the book is laced with examples of effective and ineffective writing, there is no doubt as to which the authors aim for, making evaluation a simple, somewhat objective process.

This book seeks to be accessible to a mass audience. It's written in vernacular English, using examples from current culture and respected print sources. It is so straightforward that teachers can use it at multiple levels, from advanced middle school up through college composition. It's so explicit that it could even be used without a teacher, with only a writing group or college writing center to fill in the role of hands-on assistance with individual problems.

This "With Readings" edition contains the full text of Graff and Birkenstein's original short primer of the same title. The original is less than 150 pages and can be digested in small segments by teachers and students alike.
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Format: Paperback
I have taught college level composition for decades. I do not particularly admire this text, but I think I understand its popularity.

The academy has for 50 years become more and more bound by a publish or perish model. New Ph.D.s are expected to make contributions very quickly to advanced fields. The disproportion between the youth and inexperience of new authors and the requirement of professional work for advancement has lead to predictable outcomes. First, young writers must quickly hyper-specialize to be able to master a sub-field. Often then scholars are fairly blind to areas that are adjacent as they cannot afford "horizontal" growth. Second, they must tailor their work to what is fashionable and currently being published: this means that the typical article spends a large chunk of time in the "literature review" of what has come before: then the author "turns the screw" a little and goes on to the next half turn paper. This pattern has now come to the undergraduates, and this book is its result.

The problem is that the book skips over all the basic skills of composition as if they were already mastered. Most students do not know how to read critically the primary materials that should form the basis for original thought. Therefore, when they enter the critical literature before reading primary texts as this book suggests, they have no idea themselves where they fall in regard to the material at issue. This means they are too easily swayed by the first "plausible" argument they find. Therefore, their relation to the material in question is often tertiary.

There is a "benefit" here. They may have by this technique quickly developed a skill at passing off the thought of others as their own, but they may have not engaged the material critically.
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