ENC1102 First-year Composition II




They Say, I Say



  Department of English


Writing well means entering into conversation with others.


Academic writing calls upon writers not simply to express their own ideas, but to do so as a response to what others have said.


”Intellectual writing is almost always composed in response to others’ texts.”


This book aims to demystify academic writing by isolating its basic moves, explaining them clearly, and representing them in the form of templates.




Entering the Conversation


Often without consciously real­izing it, accomplished writers rely on a stock of estab­lished moves that are crucial for communicating sophisticated ideas.


This inventory of basic moves is 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.


These basic moves are so common that they can be represented in templates that you can use right away to structure and even generate your own writing.



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.




It is important not only to express your ideas (“I say”), but to present those ideas as a response to some other person or group ("they say").


The underlying structure of effective academic writing is 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, and responding 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 ideas.


You need to enter a conversation, using what others say (or might say) as a launching pad or sounding board for your own ideas.


For this reason, you need to write the voices of others into your text.


The best academic writing has one underlying feature: it is deeply engaged in some way with other people’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 conversation with someone else.


In the real world we don’t make arguments without being provoked. We make arguments because someone has said or done something (or per­haps not said or done something) and we need to respond


To make an impact as a writer, 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’ views— with something “they say.”


In fact, if your own argument doesn’t Identify the “they say” that you’re responding to, then it probably won’t make sense.




Just because much argumentative writing is driven by dis­agreement, it does not follow that agreement is ruled out.


Although argumentation is often associated with conflict and opposition, the type of conversational “they say/I say” argument that we focus on in this book can be just as useful when you agree as when you disagree.


Nor do you always have to choose between either simply agree­ing or disagreeing, since the “they say/I say” format also works to both agree and disagree at the same time.