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Entering the Conversation
Think about an activity that you do particularly well: cooking, playing the piano, shooting a basketball, or even something as basic as driving a car.
If you reflect on this activity, you’ll realize that once you mastered it you no longer had to give much conscious thought to the various moves that go into doing it.
Performing this activity, in other words, depends on your having learned a series of complicated moves—moves that may seem mysterious or difficult to those who haven’t yet learned them.
The same applies to writing. Often without consciously realizing it, accomplished writers routinely rely on a stock of established moves that are crucial for communicating sophisticated ideas.
What makes writers masters of their trade is not only their ability to express interesting thoughts but their mastery of an inventory of basic moves that they 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. Hence this book, is intended as a short, user-friendly guide to the basic moves of academic writing.
One of our key premises is that 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.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of this book is its presentation of many such templates, designed to help you successfully enter not only the world of academic thinking and writing, but also the wider worlds of civic discourse and work.
Instead of focusing solely on abstract principles of writing, then, this book offers model templates that help you put those principles directly into practice.
Working with these templates will give you an immediate sense of how to engage in the kinds of critical thinking you are required to do at the college level and in the vocational and public spheres beyond. Some of these templates represent simple but crucial moves like those used to summarize some widely held beliefs.
j Many Americans assume that. Others are more complicated. j On the one hand, . On the other hand, j Author X contradicts herself. At the same time that she argues, she also implies. j I agree that. j This is not to say that .
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
The single most important template that we focus on in this book is the “they say ; I say ” formula that gives our book its title.
If there is any one point that we hope you will take away from this book, it is 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 writing—and of responsible public discourse—resides 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 position.
You need to enter a conversation, using what others say (or might say) as a launching pad or sounding board for your own views.
For this reason, one of the main pieces of advice in this book is to write the voices of others into your text. In our view, then, 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.
If you have been taught to write a traditional five-paragraph essay, for example, you have learned how to develop a thesis and support it with evidence.
This is good advice as far as it goes, but it leaves out the important fact that in the real world we don’t make arguments without being provoked.
Instead, we make arguments because someone has said or done something (or perhaps not said or done something) and we need to respond: “I can’t see why you like the Lakers so much”; “I agree: it was a great film”; “That argument is contradictory.”
If it weren’t for other people and our need to challenge, agree with, or otherwise respond to them, there would be no reason to argue at all. “why are you telling me this?” To make an impact as a writer, then, you need to do more than make statements that are logical, well supported, and consistent.
You must also find a way of entering into conversation with the views of others, with something “they say.” The easiest and most common way writers do this is by summarizing what others say and then using it to set up what they want to say.
“But why,” as a student of ours once asked, “do I always need to summarize the views of others to set up my own view? Why can’t I just state my own view and be done with it?” Why indeed? After all, “they,” whoever they may be, will have already had their say, so why do you have to repeat it? Furthermore, if they had their say in print, can’t readers just go and read what was said themselves?
The answer is that if you don’t identify the “they say” you’re responding to, your own argument probably won’t have a point.
Readers will wonder what prompted you to say what you’re saying and therefore motivated you to write. As the figure on the following page suggests, without a “they say,” what you are saying may be clear to your audience, but why you are saying it won’t be.
Even if we don’t know what film he’s referring to, it’s easy to grasp what the speaker means here when he says that its characters are very complex. But it’s hard to see why the speaker feels the need to say what he is saying. “Why,” as one member
|No. of Pages||158|
|PDF Size||3 MB|
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