Thursday, September 13, 2007

Exercise #2 (They Say, I Say)

In the introduction to "They Say/I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein provide templates designed to give students a taste of the language and patterns that sophisticated writing requires. These templates focus writers' attention on what is being said while also helping them to focus on rhetorical patterns. Specifically, Graff and Birkenstein argue that the most effective writing template they offer is the "they say_____, I say_____" formula. This formula expresses personal ideas ("I say") in response to another person or group ("they say"). This is the underlying structure of effective academic writing. It prompts students to progress in their writing in ways they might have not otherwise done. As the authors themselves put it, "listening closely to others and summarizing what they have to say can help writers generate their own ideas." Although some people believe that templates stifle creativity, Graff and Birkenstein insist that they will actually help writing to become more original and creative, not less. This is because mastering established forms can help writers to make imaginative use of them. In sum, then, their view is that templates are an important tool which can help students to engage in clear academic conversation while becoming more sophisticated writers.

I agree with Graff and Birkenstein. In my view, the types of templates that the authors recommend can help return writing to its conversational base. For instance, using the "they say / I say" model shows students that they can best develop their argument by looking outward and engaging the other person's voice. In addition, this model cuts across different disciplines and genres of writing. It can be used for anything from creative writing to academic writing. Some might object, of course, on the grounds that templates seem too simplistic. Yet I would argue that the templates are only as simple as the author would like to make them. The template's content, which may be very complex, could be best organized by a basic structure. Overall, then, I believe that templates are a fantastic way to quickly organize writing in a manner that is clear and concise.

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