Writing well means
entering into conversation
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
without consciously realizing it, accomplished writers
rely on a stock of established moves that are crucial
for communicating sophisticated ideas.
inventory of basic moves is probably picked up by
reading a wide range of other accomplished writers.
experienced writers, by contrast, are often unfamiliar
with these basic moves, and unsure how to make them in
their own writing.
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.
STATE YOUR OWN IDEAS AS A RESPONSE TO OTHERS
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
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
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
For this reason, you need to
write the voices of others into
best academic writing has one underlying feature: it is
deeply engaged in some way with other people’s views.
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
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
fact, if your own argument doesn’t Identify the “they
say” that you’re responding to, then it probably won’t
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