Lecture Notes by Christopher Lay

Los Angeles Pierce College

Department of Philosophy & Social Sciences



Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say






"But Isn't This Plagiarism?" 

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





"I'm Lovin' It"

Who owns words? 


Nobody owns "conventional formula[s]." 


Conventional formulas are "community property." 

" ... no one person owns a conventional formula like "on the one hand ... on the other hand ... ."  Phrases like "a controversial issue" are so commonly used and recycled that they are generic–community property that can be freely used without fear of committing plagiarism."





"It is plagiarism, however, if the words used to fill in the blacks of such formulas are borrowed from others without proper acknowledgement." 





Proper Citation

" ... it is a serious academic offense to take the substantive content from others' texts without citing the author and giving him or her proper credit."

" ... while it is not plagiarism to recycle conventionally used formulas, it is a serious academic offense to take the substantive content from others' texts without citing the author and giving him or her proper credit." 






Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's "They Say, I Say"





Chapter One

"'They Say'"

"Starting with What Others Are Saying"

Entering conversations ...

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say








Essays for this class will need a thesis.


For our purposes, a thesis is a statement that crystalizes for the reader your main claim.


Theses must be original, interesting, and argumentative.


Providing context to your thesis can show your readers how your thesis is original, interesting, and argumentative.


As the authors state it: "a writer needs to indicate clearly not only his or her thesis, but also what larger conversation that thesis is responding to."






By providing your readers with the context surrounding your thesis, you can keep them engaged.

"to keep an audience engaged, a writer needs to explain what he or she is responding to–either before offering that response or, at least, very early in the discussion." 





For this class your essays will be parts of larger conversations.


To help your readers understand your thesis, introduce them first to those conversations.

"remember that you are entering a conversation and therefore need to start with 'what others are saying,' as the title of this chapter recommends, and then introduce your own ideas as a response."





" ... you need to present that argument as part of some larger conversation, to indicate something about the arguments of others that you are supporting, opposing, amending, complicating, or qualifying."







The authors nicely state: 


"Though it's true that not all texts follow this practice, we think it's important for all writers to master it before they depart from it."







But how detailed should you be in presenting the context/conversation relevant to your thesis? 


The authors have a nice answer: 


"It is generally best to summarize the ideas you're responding to briefly, at the start of your text, and to delay detailed elaboration until later."


"The point is to give your readers a quick preview of what is motivating your argument, not to drown them in details this early."

"as soon as possible ... state your own position and the one it's responding to together, and that you think of the two as a unit. It is generally best to summarize the ideas you're responding to briefly, at the start of your text, and to delay detailed elaboration until later. The point is to give your readers a quick preview of what is motivating your argument, not to drown them in details this early."





"you shouldn't keep readers in suspense too long about your central argument ... "











Beyond Introductions

After the introduction readers sometimes need to be reminded of the context/conversation you're dealing with

"Readers won't be able to follow your unfolding response, much less any complications you may offer, unless you keep reminding them what claims you are responding to."





"The longer and more complicated your text, the greater the chance that readers will forget what ideas originally motivated it–no matter how clearly you lay them out at the outset. At strategic moments throughout your text, we recommend that you include what we call 'return sentences.'"

"even when presenting your own claims, you should keep returning to the motivating 'they say.' The longer and more complicated your text, the greater the chance that readers will forget what ideas originally motivated it–no matter how clearly you lay them out at the outset. At strategic moments throughout your text, we recommend that you include what we call 'return sentences.'"





Reminding your readers of the context/conversation you're dealing with is a useful tool to keep your essay on track

"By reminding readers of the ideas you're responding to, return sentences ensure that your text maintains a sense of mission and urgency from start to finish. In short, they help ensure that your argument is a genuine response to others' views rather than just a set of observations about a given subject."






"To be responsive to others and the conversation you're entering, you need not only to start with what others are saying, but also to continue keeping it in the reader's view."






Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





Chapter Two

"'Her Point Is'"

"The Art of Summarizing"

Introducing ­ Summarizing ­ Paraphrasing ­ Quoting

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





To the Point

"If it is true, as we claim in this book, that to argue persuasively you need to be in dialogue with others, then summarizing others' arguments is central to your arsenal of basic moves." 






Don't shy away from summarizing what others have said. 


It is a skill you'll need to refine; don't overdo it and don't underdo it. 


Don't let the fear that devoting time and space to summarizing others' views will take away from the presentation of your own view. 


Learn, at least at this stage in your writing, to balance what "they say," and what you say. 

"Many writers shy away from summarizing–perhaps because they don't want to take the trouble to go back to the text in question and wrestle with what it says, or because they fear that devoting too much time to other people's ideas will take away from their own."







Sometimes writers lack confidence in their own view and this motivates them to merely summarize others' views. 

" ... those who do nothing but summarize. Lacking confidence, perhaps, in their own ideas, these writers so overload their texts with summaries of others' ideas that their own voice gets lost."




A Good, General

Rule for


"As a general rule, a good summary requires balancing what the original author is saying with the writer's own focus."





Selective Summarization

Often times you will not have space enough to give a summarization of all of what others say. 


You'll need to summarize what others say while also focusing in on just those parts of what others say that are relevant to your particular interests. 

"Generally speaking, a summary must at once be true to what the original author says while at the same time emphasizing those aspects of what the author says that interest you, the writer."





"Ultimately, it means being respectful of others while simultaneously structuring how you summarize them in light of your own text's central claim." 






"On the One Hand, Put Yourself in Their Shoes"





Ethics of Summarization

Your summarizations should be devoid of your own position. 


" ... try to see their argument from their perspective."

"To write a really good summary, you must be able to suspend your own beliefs for a time and put yourself in the shoes of someone else. This means playing what the writing theorist Peter Elbow calls the 'believing game,' in which you try to inhabit the worldview of those whose conversation you are joining–and whom you are perhaps even disagreeing with–and try to see their argument from their perspective."




Avoiding Bias

By having a summarization devoid of your own position, you present to your reader a credible depiction of what "they say." 

"If, as a writer, you cannot or will not suspend your own beliefs in this way, you are likely to produce summaries that are so obviously biased that they undermine your credibility with readers."





Give your reader the chance to evaluate the ideas and arguments you summarize on their own. 

"if your assignment is to respond in writing to a single author ... then you will need to tell your readers enough about his or her argument so they can assess its merits on their own, independent of you."





Failure to properly summarize can lead to the presentation of, not what "they say," but what nobody has said–a false view. 

"When a writer fails to play the believing game, he or she often falls prey to what we call 'the closest clichˇ syndrome,' in which what gets summarized is not the view the author in question has actually expressed, but a familiar clichˇ that the writer mistakes for the author's view (sometimes because the writer believes it and mistakenly assumes the author must too)."





"A writer who fails to do this ends up essentially conversing with imaginary others who are really only the products of their own biases and preconceptions."

"Whenever you enter into a conversation with others in your writing, then, it is extremely important that you go back to what those others have said, that you study it very closely, and that you not confuse it to something you already believe. A writer who fails to do this ends up essentially conversing with imaginary others who are really only the products of their own biases and preconceptions."






What follows is a brief presentation of a related logical fallacy, from Burton F. Porter's The Voice of Reason: Fundamentals of Critical Thinking, Oxford University Press, 2002. 





Straw Person


"straw person, the mistake of attributing to your opponents a ridiculous position they do not hold and that is easily knocked down like a person made of straw." 


Notice the steps involved. 

"By exaggerating, oversimplifying, or distorting the other person's view, you set up an easy target." 


"This absurd position, not the other person's actual one, is then refuted by showing how ludicrous it is." 




Straw Person



"An opponent of welfare might argue, 'I am as generous and sympathetic as the next person, but if you want to give handouts to lazy teenage mothers with four kids who are getting rich on welfare payments contributed by decent, hard-working taxpayers, then I'm afraid I cannot go along with it." 

"A moment's reflection will show that a straw person is being set up.  Those who support welfare programs do not sanction abuses of the system, and welfare recipients do not become wealthy from their government checks." 


"Obviously, welfare payments should be made to the deserving poor, that is, to those unable to support themselves, not to those unwilling to work.  Welfare provide temporary assistance to people who are critically in need of help while they try to become self-supporting." 


"The system has had numerous problems, but to present it as a way for freeloaders to become rich is a distortion." 





Straw Person


"Whenever an opponent's position is described in a way that makes it ludicrous and indefensible, we know that the fallacy has been committed." 



"Once we are aware of the fallacy, straw person is easily identified." 







Now back to our assigned text. 






"On the Other Hand, Know Where You Are Going"





Your Focus

Recall that you frequently will want to offer summarizations that "fit with your own overall agenda." 


This is a valuable, but difficult, skill to acquire. 

"A good summary ... has a focus or spin that allows the summary to fit with your own overall agenda while still being true to the text you are summarizing."





Without that focus, summarizations often times end up being to list-like. 

"Often writers who summarize without regard to their own interests fall prey to what might be called 'list summaries,' summaries that simply inventory the original author's various points but fail to focus those points around any larger overall claim. If you've ever heard a talk in which the points were connected only by words like 'and then,' 'also,' and 'in addition,' you know how such lists can put listeners to sleep ... ."





"Using Signal Verbs That Fit the Action"






"In introducing summaries, try to avoid bland formulas like 'he talks about,' 'she says,' or 'they believe.' Though language like this is sometimes serviceable enough, it often fails to reflect accurately what's been said."

"In introducing summaries, try to avoid bland formulas like 'he talks about,' 'she says,' or 'they believe.' Though language like this is sometimes serviceable enough, it often fails to reflect accurately what's been said. In some cases, 'he says' may even drain the passion out of the ideas you're summarizing."





The inclination to be bland sometimes stems from a fear of being provocative. 

"We suspect that the habit of ignoring the action in what we summarize stems from the mistaken belief we mentioned earlier that writing is about playing it safe and not making waves, a matter of piling up truths and bits of knowledge rather than a dynamic process of doing things to and with other people."





"To do justice to the authors you cite, we recommend that when summarizing–or even when introducing a quotation–you use vivid and precise signal verbs as often as possible."



"To do justice to the authors you cite, we recommend that when summarizing–or even when introducing a quotation–you use vivid and precise signal verbs as often as possible. Though 'he says' or 'she believes' will sometimes be the most appropriate language for the occasion, your text will often be more accurate and lively if you tailor your verbs to suit the precise actions you're describing."





But make sure that you use your words because of their precise meaning, and not because they sound nice or provocative. 


That you use words because of what they mean is crucial. 







Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





Chapter Three

"'As He Himself Puts It'"

"The Art of Quoting"

Introducing ­ Summarizing ­ Paraphrasing ­ Quoting

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say









When you quote, you offer your reader evidence. 


You gain credibility as a result. 


Accuracy is easier to ensure. 


"Quoting someone else's words gives a tremendous amount of credibility to your summary and helps ensure that it is fair and accurate."


"In a sense, then, quotations function as a kind of evidence, saying to readers: 'Look, I'm not just making this up. She makes this claim and here it is in her exact words.'"




Don't Underdo It

There are instances when quoting is necessary. 


Quoting is usually necessary when:


    1) attributing something controversial to the person quoted,


    2) you are pointing out something that is too easily overlooked, or


    3) your entire thesis depends on particular wording.

"Some writers quote too little—perhaps because they don't want to bother going back to the original text and looking up the author's exact words, or because they think they can reconstruct the author's ideas from memory."




And Don't Overdo It

Offering too many quotes can sometimes rob you of the space you need to present your own thoughts. 



Unnecessary quoting occurs, in my mind, when it seems like:

    1) you have nothing to say and so are throwing in quotes,

    2) you are using long quotes to fluff up your essay, or

    3) you are afraid to commit to a paraphrase, when a paraphrase would convey the same information.


Why do authors sometimes give too many quotations? 


" ... maybe because they lack confidence in their ability to comment on the quotations, or because they don't fully understand them and therefore have trouble explaining what they mean."

"At the opposite extreme are writers who so overquote that they end up with texts that are short on commentary of their own–maybe because they lack confidence in their ability to comment on the quotations, or because they don't fully understand them and therefore have trouble explaining what they mean."




Quantity of Quotes Aside ...

"[T]he main problem with quotation arises when writers assume that quotations speak for themselves."






While the meaning of a quotation may be obvious to you, it may not be obvious to your readers. 


Don't always assume that your reader knows what you know about a quotation. 


Readers aren't psychic. 

"Because the meaning of a quotation is obvious to them, many writers assume that this meaning will also be obvious to their readers, when often it is not."




"quotations are orphans"

"In a way, quotations are orphans: words that have been taken from their original contexts and that need to be integrated into their new textual surroundings."

"quoting means more than simply enclosing what 'they say' in quotation marks."





"quoting what "they say" must always be connected with what you say."





"Quote Relevant Passages"

But what to quote? 





Why Quote

at All? 

The inclusion of quotations is not to show that you've done some assigned reading. 


Include quotations to support your argument. 

"Be careful not to select quotations just for the sake of demonstrating that you've read the author's work; you need to make sure they support your own argument." 







You can abandon a quotation if you discover you don't need it. 


You are not married to quotations once you write them out. 


If you discover that a quotation is no longer necessary, get rid of it. 

"Given the evolving and messy nature of writing, you may sometimes think that you've found the perfect quotation to support your argument, only to discover later on, as your text develops, that your focus has changed and the quotation no longer works." 




"Frame Every Quotation"

From what we've seen, quotations require framing


"Since quotations do not speak for themselves, you need to build a frame around them in which you do that speaking for them."





"[P]resent [quotations] in a way that makes their relevance and meaning clear to your readers."

"Finding relevant quotations is only part of your job; you also need to present them in a way that makes their relevance and meaning clear to your readers."




The Frame

Introduce the quotation. 


Present the quotation. 


Explain the quotation. 

"To adequately frame a quotation, you need to insert it into what we like to call a 'quotation sandwich,' with the statement introducing it serving as the top slice of bread and the explanation following it serving as the bottom slice."




The Presentation

"use language that accurately reflects the spirit of the quoted passage."

"When offering such introductory phrases, it is important to use language that accurately reflects the spirit of the quoted passage."




The Explanation

The "follow-up statements should explain why you consider the quotation to be important and what you take it to say." 

"The introductory or lead-in claims should explain who is speaking and set up what the quotation says; the follow-up statements should explain why you consider the quotation to be important and what you take it to say." 




"Blend the Author's Words with Your Own"

You needn't always parrot what "'They Say'" word for word, especially when explaining a quotation. 


When explaining a quote you can show how the quotation fits into your own aim. 





"Can You Overanalyze a Quotation?" 

When is your analysis of a quotation enough? 





General Rule

"As a general rule, ... most explanatory framing is needed for quotations that may be hard for readers to process ... "

"As a general rule, ... most explanatory framing is needed for quotations that may be hard for readers to process: quotations that are long and complex, that are filled with details or jargon, or that contain hidden complexities." 




Playing it Safe

When in doubt, aim to over-explain as opposed to under-explain

"It is better to risk being overly explicit about what you take a quotation to mean than to leave the quotation dangling and your readers in doubt."





Even when you are "preaching to the choir" it is important to expose your understanding of a quote with your explanation of it. 

"provide such explanatory framing even when writing to an audience that you know to be familiar with the author being quoted and able to interpret your quotations on their own."





"readers need to see how you interpret the quotation, since words–especially those of controversial figures–can be interpreted in various ways and used to support different, sometimes opposing, agendas." 






"Your readers need to see what you make of the material you've quoted, if only to be sure that your reading of the material and theirs is on the same page."










What Follows are my Notes on Quoting and Paraphrasing

Aside from what our textbook has to offer, consider the following notes. 





On the

Use and Abuse

of Quoting


Here are some conceptual ideas to help us get on the same page. 


1) Summarizations are Representations.

2) Representations ­ Things Represented.

3) Representations < Things Represented.

4) Subtracting from Things Represented is an act of interpretation. 

5) Interpretations are subject to evaluation. 

6) There are good summaries and bad summaries. 









Finding the correct quote can be exhilarating, but putting it into your paper may not be necessary. 


Finding the quote, and putting it into your paper is easy, but paraphrasing that quote is difficult–but also very rewarding. 


Most importantly, it shows that you understand the quote. 


Paraphrasing is, in general, better than quoting. 


Here is a good, general guide for when to paraphrase instead of quoting:  if you can convey the same information in your own words without loss of meaning, then a paraphrase is usually better. 


Readers of your paper tend to understand you better than they understand academic articles. 


When grading your papers, graders need to see that you understand what it is that you are representing. 


If you can properly paraphrase passages, then it shows your grader that you understand the material better than someone who can only find the correct passage and quote it. 


And if a paraphrase won't do, whenever you quote, you should also explain the quote to the reader, to help them understand it (and to show your grader that you yourself understand the quote).







Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





Chapter Four

"'Yes / No / Okay, But'"

"Three Ways to Respond"

Making your own case ... . 

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say






Now, in Part Two, you will learn to "offer your own argument as a response to what 'they' have said."






"But I'm just an undergraduate, how can I contribute to these debates I've been reading?"–you may ask yourself. 


The authors of They Say, I Say have an excellent point: many "good arguments are based not on knowledge that only a special class of experts has access to, but on everyday habits that can be isolated, identified, and used by almost anyone." 






Sometimes, just doing research is all you need to do to equip yourself with what's needed to make your own claim. 






Up Front

When presenting your claim, cut to the chase: let your reader know early what your claim is: it is frequently "a good tactic to begin your response not by launching directly into a mass of details but by stating clearly whether you agree, disagree, or both, using a direct, no-nonsense formula ... ." 





"Disagree–And Explain Why"

When you disagree with what has been, or could be, said, you take on the responsibility of supporting your claim: in disagreeing you must "offer persuasive reasons why you disagree." 

"Disagreeing can ... be the easiest way to generate an essay: find something you can disagree with in what has been said or might be said about your topic, summarize it, and argue with it." 





Without support, your disagreement is not much more than what your parents told you when they said "because I said so." 








When you have a thesis, you need to support a thesis. 


"To make an argument, you need to give reasons to support what you say: because another's argument fails to take relevant factors into account; because it is based on faulty or incomplete evidence; because it rests on questionable assumptions; or because it uses flawed logic, is contradictory, or overlooks what you take to be the real issue."






Theses should add to a conversation. 


"To move the conversation forward (and, indeed, to justify your very act of writing), you need to demonstrate that you yourself have something to contribute."





Don't Overdo It

Choose your battles when you disagree. 


" ... there is usually no reason to take issue with every aspect of someone else's views."


"You can single out for criticism only those aspects of what someone else has said that are troubling ... ."





"Agree–But with a Difference"

Just as merely disagreeing with someone is insufficient, merely agreeing with someone is insufficient. 


In agreeing, "it's important to bring something new and fresh to the table, adding something that makes you a valuable participant in the conversation." 






There are many ways to contribute to a conversation by agreeing with what someone else has said, for instance, by "pointing out unnoticed implications or explaining something that needs to be better understood."


"You may point out some unnoticed evidence or line of reasoning that supports X's claims that X herself hadn't mentioned."


"You may cite some corroborating personal experience, or a situation not mentioned by X that her views help readers understand."


"If X's views are particularly challenging or esoteric, what you bring to the table could be an accessible translation–an explanation for readers not already in the know."





But ...

with Difference

Make sure that you show how you are not repeating what others have said. 


"[O]pen up some difference between your position and the one you're agreeing with ... ." 






In agreeing with someone, you are likely thereby disagreeing with someone else. 


"It is hard to align yourself with one position without at least implicitly positioning yourself against others."





"Agree and Disagree Simultaneously"

This way of expressing your own contribution to a conversation is nice insofar as it avoids worries associated with the "'is too / is not'" way of proceeding. 






Moreover, "it can be tipped subtly toward agreement or disagreement, depending on where you lay your stress." 





"Is Being Undecided Okay?" 

Usually not. 





Proceed Carefully

In being indecisive, you can sometimes appear to be unsure of yourself. 


Sometimes, being indecisive can confuse your readers, especially those who want to know what you think. 

"Some may worry that by expressing ambivalence they will come across as evasive, wishy-washy, or unsure of themselves."


"Or they may think that their ambivalence will end up confusing readers who require clear-cut conclusions."





When it is true, it can be the case that "acknowledging that a clear-cut resolution of an issue is impossible can demonstrate your sophistication as a writer." 







Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





Chapter Five

"'And Yet,' Distinguishing What You Say From What They Say"

In this chapter we'll learn ways of keeping the distinction between what you say and what others say clear. 

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say






Don't require your reader to guess whether or not you are expressing your own thoughts, or presenting others' thoughts. 

"If good academic writing involves putting yourself into dialogue with others, it is extremely important that readers be able to tell at every point when you are expressing your own view and when you are stating someone else's."





"This chapter takes up the problem of moving from what they say to what you say without confusing readers about who is saying what."





"Determine Who is Saying What in the Texts You Read"

There are strategies for making it clear without being too blunt. 






Texts frequently "rely on subtle clues to let readers know when a particular view should be attributed to the writer or to someone else."







"[W]hen we teach Mantsios's essay, some students invariably come away thinking that the statement 'we are all middle-class' is Mantsios's own position rather than the perspective he is opposing, failing to see that in writing these words Mantsios acts as a kind of ventriloquist, mimicking what others say rather than directly expressing what he himself is thinking."






Let's go over the solution to this problem in detail. 





"'[V]oice [M]arkers'"

" ... Mantsios uses these 'voice markers,' ... to distinguish the different perspectives in his essay on America's class inequalities."





Gregory Mantsios, "Rewards and Opportunities: The Politics and Economics of Class in the U.S."

"'We are all middle-class,' or so it would seem. Our national consciousness, as shaped in large part by the media and our political leadership, provides us with a picture of ourselves as a nation of prosperity and opportunity with an ever expanding middle-class life-style. As a result, our class differences are muted and our collective character is homogenized."


"Yet class divisions are real and arguably the most significant factor in determining both our very being in the world and the nature of the society we live in."





Distancing Moves

" ... the phrase 'or so it would seem' shows that Mantsios does not necessarily agree with the view he is describing ... ."


"[W]riters normally don't present views they themselves hold as ones that only 'seem' to be true."


"Mantsios also places this opening view in quotation marks to signal that it is not his own."





Further Distance

"He then further distances himself from the belief being summarized in the opening paragraph by attributing it to 'our national consciousness, as shaped in large part by the media and our political leadership,' and then attributing to this 'consciousness' a negative, undesirable 'result': one in which 'our class differences' get 'muted' and 'our collective character' gets 'homogenized,' stripped of its diversity and distinctness."





A Negative Thesis Emerges

" ... before Mantsios has declared his own position, readers can get a pretty solid sense of where he probably stands."






"[T]he second paragraph opens with the word 'yet,' indicating that Mantsios is now shifting to his own view (as opposed to the view he has thus far been referring to)."





Paragraph Parallelism

"Even the parallelism he sets up between the first and second paragraphs–between the first paragraph's claim that class differences do not exist and the second paragraph's claim that they do–helps throw into sharp relief the differences between the two voices."





Tonal Difference

"Finally, Mantsios's use of a direct, authoritative, declarative tone in the second paragraph also suggests a switch in voice."






"Although he does not use the words 'I say' or 'I argue,' he clearly identifies the view he holds by presenting it not as one that merely seems to be true or that others tell us is true, but as a view that is true or, as Mantsios puts it, 'real.'"






"These voice markers are an aspect of reading comprehension that is frequently overlooked."  


"Readers who are unfamiliar with them often take an author's summaries of what someone else believes to be an expression of what the author himself or herself believes."





"But I've Been Told Not to Use 'I'"

Some of the templates provided by the authors include usage of the first-person pronoun. 






Does using I encourage "subjective, self-indulgent opinions rather than well-grounded arguments?" 


The use of the word I certainly does not mean an argument related to it is not well-grounded. 

"Although you may have been told that the 'I' word encourages subjective, self-indulgent opinions rather than well-grounded arguments, we believe that texts using 'I' can be just as well supported–or just as self-indulgent–as those that don't."




Good Point

"Furthermore, if you consistently avoid the first person in your writing, you may have trouble making the key move addressed in this chapter: differentiating your views from those of others, or even offering your own views in the first place."





Don't Overdo It

I think that the author is incorrect. 




It appears that the author is correct.




The author is correct.

" ... certain occasions may warrant avoiding the first person and writing, for example, that 'She is correct' instead of 'I think that she is correct.'"




"Another Trick for Identifying Who Is Speaking"







" ... you can alert readers about whose voice you're speaking in by embedding a reference to X's argument in your own sentences."






"Hence, instead of writing:


Liberals believe that cultural differences need to be respected. I have a problem with this view, however.


you might write:


I have a problem with what liberals call cultural differences.


There is a major problem with the liberal doctrine about so-called cultural differences."





Economizing Your Writing

The latter versions are shorter and do not come off as interruptions. 

"Embedded references like these allow you to economize your train of thought and refer to other perspectives without any major interruption."





"Getting in the habit of using voice markers will keep you from confusing your readers and help alert you to similar markers in the challenging texts you read."







Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





Chapter Six

"'Skeptics May Object:' Planting a Naysayer in Your Text"

In this chapter we'll learn ways of strengthening what you say by responding to what hypothetical, critical others could say in response to your original argument. 

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say






Don't be upset when others criticize your work, consider it as an opportunity to revise and strengthen, or sometimes even reverse, your standpoint.

"[E]ven though most of us are upset at the idea of someone criticizing our work, such criticisms can actually work to our advantage."





When objections are heard and answered, your essay can be markedly improved. 

"[O]ur writing actually improves when we not only listen to these objections but give them an explicit hearing in our writing."





"[N]o single device more quickly improves a piece of writing [that already has a thesis] than the practice of planting a naysayer in the text ... ."





"Anticipate Objections"

Buy you'll want to try and figure out how someone could object to what you've written before others have even read it. 






Considering how others could object to your argument certainly does "enhance your credibility." 

"We are urging you to tell readers what others might say against you, but our point is that doing so will actually enhance your credibility, not undermine it."




Imagined Other

Imagine "what others might say against your argument."

Engage "others in a dialogue or debate ... by opening your text with a summary of what others have said, as we suggest in Chapter 1, but also by imagining what others might say against your argument as it unfolds."





"When you entertain a counterargument, you make a kind of preemptive strike, identifying problems with your argument before others can point them out for you."

"[O]pposing arguments can work for you rather than against you."







By considering possible objections, you treat your readers "as independent, critical thinkers who are aware that yours is not the only view in town."

"[B]y entertaining counterarguments, you show respect for your readers, treating them not as gullible dupes but as independent, critical thinkers who are aware that yours is not the only view in town."





" ... you come across as a generous, broad-minded person who is secure enough to open himself or herself to debate ... ."






(Considering how someone could object to your argument, you will have less of a hard time meeting an essay prompt's page length requirements.)

"[I]f you fail to plant a naysayer in your text, you may find that you have very little to say."




Vague Other

Considered objections can be put forth as what "one" could argue. 

"[T]he objections in the [first set of templates for this chapter] are attributed not to any specific person or group, but to 'skeptics,' 'readers,' or 'many.'"




More Determinate Other

Considered objections can also be put forth as the type of objection that a particular group could assert. 


"Philosophers may disagree ... ." 


"One-legged honeybadgers will object that ... ." 

"But the ideas that motivate arguments and objections often can–and, where possible, should–be ascribed to a specific ideology or school of thought (for example, liberals, Christian fundamentalists, neopragmatists) rather than to anonymous anybodies."





Labeling your naysayer "can add precision and impact." 

"In other words, naysayers can be labeled, and you can add precision and impact to your writing by identifying what they are."





These labels do put people in "boxes, stereotyping them and glossing over what makes each individual unique."

"To be sure, some people dislike such labels and may even resent having them applied to themselves. Some feel that such labels put individuals in boxes, stereotyping them and glossing over what makes each individual unique."





"And it's true that labels can be used inappropriately, in ways that ignore individuality and promote stereotypes."





Categories for Life

"But since the life of ideas, including many of our most private thoughts, is conducted through groups and types rather than by solitary individuals, intellectual exchange requires labels to give definition and serve as a convenient shorthand."







"If you categorically reject all labels, you give up an important resource and even mislead readers by presenting yourself and others as having no connection to anyone else."






"You also miss an opportunity to generalize the importance and relevance of your work to some larger conversation."




Cautious Procedure

"The way to minimize the problem of stereotyping, then, is not to categorically reject labels but to refine and qualify their use ... ."





"Represent Objections Fairly"

Just as you should introduce and summarize others' views without bias, so too should supposed objections be presented without bias. 








"[R]epresent and explain [the supposed objection] with fairness and generosity."

"Once you've decided to introduce a differing or opposing view into your writing, your work has only just begun, since you still need to represent and explain that view with fairness and generosity."





"When writers make the best case they can for their critics (playing what Peter Elbow calls the "believing game"), they actually bolster their credibility with readers, rather than undermine it."

"Although it is tempting to give opposing views short shrift, to hurry past them, or even to mock them, doing so is usually counterproductive."




Make a Strong Case for the Objection

Try and present your supposed objection as fully and seriously as possible. 

"[W]henever you entertain objections in your writing you stay with them for several sentences or even paragraphs and take them as seriously as possible."




Empathic Perspective

"[R]ead your summary of opposing views with an outsider's eye: put yourself in the shoes of someone who disagrees with you and ask if such a reader would recognize himself in your summary."





"Answer Objections"

But be sure, of course, to answer the supposed objection. 






Persuade your reader with your answer. 

"[W]hen you represent objections successfully, you need to answer those objections persuasively."





There is a risk here.  Your reader may be more convinced of your objection than your answer. 

"[W]hen you write objections into a text, you always take the risk that readers will find those objections more convincing than the argument you yourself are advancing."





"[Y]ou need to do your best to make sure that any counter-argument you address is not more convincing than your own claims. It is good to address objections in your writing, but only if you are able to overcome them."





Whoa ...

Really?  What do you do with supposed objections that you cannot persuasively answer?  Bury your head in the sand?  The authors have better advice, to which we'll turn soon. 





Middle Route

"Often the best way to overcome an objection is not to try to refute it completely, but to agree with certain parts while challenging only those you dispute."






Treat "the counter-view as an opportunity to revise and refine your own position."






or Inquiry?

"Rather than building your argument into an impenetrable fortress, it is often best to make concessions while still standing your ground ... ."





Not Formalism

"[A]nswering naysayers' objections does not have to be an all-or-nothing affair in which you either definitively refute your critics or they definitively refute you."





Rather Inquiry

"Often the most productive engagements among differing views end with a combined vision that incorporates elements of each one."





Don't Be an Ostrich

Now, what to do with those objections that you can't seem to come up with a persuasive answer for? 

"But what if you've tried out all the possible answers you can think of to an objection you've anticipated and you still have a nagging feeling that the objection is more convincing than your argument itself?"




Abandon Ship!

"In that case, the best remedy is to go back and make some fundamental revisions to your argument, even reversing your position completely if need be."






"Although finding out late in the game that you aren't fully convinced by your own argument can be painful, it can actually make your final text more intellectually honest, challenging, and serious."






"After all, the goal of writing is not to keep proving that whatever you initially said is right, but to stretch the limits of your thinking."






"So if planting a strong naysayer in your text forces you to change your mind, that's not a bad thing."






"Some would argue that that is what school and learning are all about."







 Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





Chapter Seven

"'So What?  Who Cares?'"

"Saying Why It Matters"

Motivate your readers. 


Sometimes, and especially when page-length limits are short, you have to have a narrow thesis. 


Sometimes those narrow theses will seem dry and uninteresting. 


To mitigate that fear, show how your narrow thesis fits into a broader, more interesting position. 


Introduce your reader to that broader, more interesting position, then show how your thesis fits into that position. 


Conclude by showing how, if your narrow thesis is true, it bears on that broader, more interesting position. 

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





To The Point

"'[W]ho cares?' literally asks you to identify a person or group who cares about your claims."


"'[S]o what?' asks about the real-world applications and consequences of those claims–what difference it would make if they were accepted."





Be Explicit

Make it explicitly clear to your reader "what is at stake" and "why they should care."

"Regardless of how interesting a topic may be to you as a writer, readers always need to know what is at stake in a text and why they should care."




Steer Your Reader

When you leave it up to your reader answer those two questions, you run the risk of those readers answering them in ways that you may not like. 

" ... writers and speakers assume that audiences will know or will figure out the answers on their own."





Without your own answers to those questions, readers may themselves not see why they should care. 

"As a result, students come away from lectures feeling like outsiders to what they've just heard ... ."




But When? 

"Rather than assume that audiences will know why their claims matter, all writers need to answer the 'so what?' and 'who cares?' questions up front."





Audience Retention

"[W]riters who cannot show that others should care or already do care about their claims will ultimately lose their audiences' interest."





More Detail

Let's look at these two questions in more detail. 





"'Who Cares?'"

"[A]nwsering the 'who cares?' question involves establishing the type of contrast between what others say and what you say ... ." 






"[C]reate a dramatic tension or clash of views in your writing [so] readers will feel invested in and want to see [that tension or clash] resolved." 





"'So What?'"

"The best way to answer such questions about the larger consequences of your claims is to appeal to something that your audience already ... care[s] about."





Broader Interest

The "'so what?' question asks you to link your argument to some larger matter that readers already deem important."





Don't Assume

Don't assume that your readers know why it matters. 





Don't Overdo It

My own words of caution: make sure that your claims about why something is important or interesting are true.







 Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





Chapter Eight  

"'As a Result'"

"Connecting the Parts"

When you have parts that are not related on paper and only in your head, you leave it up to your reader to make those connections–which you shouldn't do. 

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say






"The best compositions establish a sense of momentum and direction by making explicit connections among their different parts, so that what is said in one sentence (or paragraph) not only sets up what is to come but is clearly informed by what has already been said."






"When you write a sentence, you create an expectation in the reader's mind that the next sentence will in some way echo and be an extension of the first, even if–especially if–the second one takes your argument in a new direction."






"To move smoothly from point to point in your argument, you need to firmly ground what you say in what you've already said."


"In this way, your writing remains focused while simultaneously moving forward."






"All these moves require that you always look back and, in crafting any one sentence, think hard about those that precede it."


"(1) using transition terms (like 'therefore' and 'yet');"


"(2) adding pointing words (like 'this' or 'such');"


"(3) using certain key terms and phrases throughout your entire text; and"


"(4) repeating yourself, but with a difference–a move that involves repeating elements in your previous sentence, but with enough variation to move the text forward and without being redundant."






Connect two distinct thoughts in ways that convey to your reader how they are connected. 



Prisoners are humans.  Slavery is wrong. 


Connected poorly:

That prisoners are humans is related to slavery being wrong. 


Connected less poorly:

The humanity of prisoners is violated by the wrongness of slavery. 







"Transitions are usually placed at or near the start of sentences so they can signal to reades where your text is going: in the same direction it has been moving, or in a new direction." 





"transitions tell readers whether your text is":


"echoing a previous sentence or paragraph ('in other words'),"


"adding something to it ('in addition'),"


"offering an example of it ('for example'),"


"generalizing from it ('as a result'), or"


"modifying it ('and yet')."






When you are skillful with the use of these types of words, they blend into your essay. 





Help with Arguments

Employing some transition words can "help ensure that you have an argument to begin with. In fact, we think of words like 'but,' 'yet,' 'nevertheless,' 'besides,' and others as argument words, since it's hard to use them without making some kind of argument."






"The word 'therefore,' for instance, commits you to making sure that the claims leading up to it lead logically to the conclusion that it introduces."





Pointing Words

Point words "point or refer backward to some concept in the previous sentence." 






Pointing words help create a smooth flow. 


Philosophers are curious individuals.  Philosophers are interested in what most people assume. 


or ...


Philosophers are curious individuals; they are interested in what most people assume. 






But make sure that our pointer words unambiguously point to one thing. 


Philosophers and honeybadgers are curious; philosophers are interested in foundational ideas and honeybadgers engage in variegated behaviors.  That is what makes them so interesting. 


But what does "that" or "them" point to?  Does "them" refer to both philosophers and honeybadgers?  Philosophers alone?  Just honeybadgers? 





Repetition of Key Terms and Phrases

Consistently "develop [and use] a constellation of key terms and phrases, including their synonyms and antonyms, that you repeat throughout your text."





"Repeat Yourself–But with a Difference"

Sometimes saying what you've already said, but in a different way (different enough that your reader doesn't get the impression that you are being monotonous), can help you take your reader from what you've said to a new part of your ideas. 


Honeybadgers are curious creatures.  Their strange and unusual behavior has led some to believe that the military has trained them to kill humans. 





Of Course,

Don't Overdo It

Only "repeat yourself in varied and interesting enough ways that you advance your argument without sounding tedious." 







Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





Chapter Nine

"'Ain't So/Is Not'"

"Academic Writing Doesn't Always Mean Setting Aside Your Own Voice"

When to use formal English locutions, and when to use informal jamz? 

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





Academic Writing

What should academic writing do? 


Academic writing does many things, but for academic writing to be successful it should be "easy to follow." 

"[A]cademic writing can–and in our view should–be relaxed, easy to follow, and even a little bit fun."  




Two Points

Don't "avoid using sophisticated, academic terms in your writing," and don't always avoid "the kinds of expressions and turns of phrase that you use every day when conversing with family and friends."


I see it sometimes in class when a student presents what they've written, but when pressed to explain what they've written, the explanation will be in everyday terms that are actually more understandable. 

"Although we don't want to suggest that you avoid using sophisticated, academic terms in your writing, we encourage you to draw upon the kinds of expressions and turns of phrase that you use every day when conversing with family and friends."




"'You Say'" Does Sometimes Really Mean "You Say"

"[Y]ou may well become turned off from writing if you think your everyday language practices have to be checked at the classroom door."





Not Anything, Anytime

"This is not to suggest that any language you use among friends has a place in writing."





Not A Replacement

"Nor is it to suggest that you may fall back on colloquial usage as an excuse for not learning more rigorous forms of expression."






"After all, learning these more rigorous forms of expression and developing a more intellectual self is a major reason for getting an education." 






Colloquial ways of speaking can enhance some academic writing. 

"[R]elaxed, colloquial language can often enliven academic writing and even enhance its rigor and precision."





It can sometimes help you connect with your readers. 

"[I]nformal language also helps you to connect with readers in a personal as well as an intellectual way."





The best use of colloquial language comes when it is mixed with formal English. 

"[I]t is a mistake to assume that academic writing and everyday language are completely separate things, and that they can never be used together."





"Mix Academic and Colloquial Styles"





Think of it as Translation

"[T]ranslating the one type of language into the other, the specialized into the everyday, can help drive home a point."





The Trick Recipe

Here is "a simple recipe for blending the specialized and the everyday: first make your point in the language of a professional field, and then make it again in everyday language–a great trick, we think, for underscoring a point."






There are those who are against the addition of colloquial language in academic essays. 


But, who are we to exclude?  Perhaps "the number of participants in the academic conversation needs to be expanded."

"Although some scholars might object to these unconventional practices, this is precisely Smitherman's point: that our habitual language practices need to be opened up, and that the number of participants in the academic conversation needs to be expanded."





"When to Mix Styles? Consider Your Audience and Purpose"





Audience & Purpose

"In all situations, think carefully about your audience and purpose."





Formal Audience,

Formal Language

Have your language match your audience. 

"On such occasions [as when you are writing a job application cover-letter], it is usually best to err on the safe side, conforming as closely as possible to the conventions of standard written English."




They Say, I Say

Do you think the author so this text, They Say, I Say; did they consider the proper audience when they wrote it? 

"In other situations for other audiences, however, there is room to be more creative–in this book, for example."






"Ultimately, your judgments about the appropriate language for the situation should always take into account your likely audience and your purpose in writing."




Many Streams

"Although academic writing does rely on complex sentence patterns and on specialized, disciplinary vocabularies, it is surprising how often such writing draws on the languages of the street, popular culture, our ethnic communities, and home."





Communication Happens

"It is by blending these languages that 'standard' English changes over time and the range of possibilities open to all writers continues to grow."







Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





Chapter Ten

"'But Don' Get Me Wrong'"

"The Art of Metachommentary"

Letting your reader know what you are, and are not, saying. 

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





What That?

Metacommentary occurs "whenever [you] make a point of explaining something [you]'ve said or written."


You tell your "audience how to interpret what [you] have already said or are about to say."





Outside of Composition

You do it whenever you begin a statement by saying things like this:


"Do you want the good news or the bad news?" 


"Now don't take this the wrong way, but ... ." 


"Just hear me out." 






"[M]etacommentary is a way of commenting on your claims and telling readers how–and how not–to think about them."






Notice when you sometimes write in the margins of texts you read.  Those comments you add are metacommentaries.  You can incorporate similar, clarifying comments directly into your text to make it easier for your reader to understand you. 

"Think of metacommentary as a sort of second text that stands alongside your main text and explains what it means."





"In the main text you say something; in the metatext you help readers interpret and process what you've said."





Work It

In metacommentary, you "'work' your ideas," for instance, by


1) "distinguishing your views from others they may be confused with,"


2) "anticipating and answering objections, connecting one point to another,"


3) "explaining why your claim might be controversial,"


4) etc.  

"What we are suggesting, then, is that you think of your text as two texts joined at the hip: a main text in which you make your argument, and another in which you 'work' your ideas, distinguishing your views from others they may be confused with, anticipating and answering objections, connecting one point to another, explaining why your claim might be controversial, and so forth—in short, guiding readers in processing and interpreting your main points."





"Clarify and Elaborate"


"[M]etacommentary can help you extract the full potential from your ideas, drawing out important implications, explaining the ideas from a different angle, clarifying how one idea supports another, and so forth."






Readers can fail to understand you. 

"no matter how clear and precise your writing is, readers can still fail to understand you in any number of ways."




Unintended Reactions

Readers can sometimes react in ways you might not intend. 


Readers can get lost. 


Readers can sometimes fail to see the connections that you think you've made clear. 

"Even the best writers can provoke reactions in readers that they didn't intend, and even good readers can get lost in a complicated argument or fail to see how one point connects with another."





Readers can fail to see the implications of your argument. 


Readers can fail to make the conclusions that you argue follow from your arguments. 

"Readers may also fail to see what follows from your argument, or they may follow your reasoning and examples yet fail to see the larger conclusion you draw from them."





Readers can fail to see the significance of your claims. 


Readers can "mistake what you are saying for a related claim that you actually want to distance yourself from."

"They may fail to see your argument's overall significance, or mistake what you are saying for a related claim that you actually want to distance yourself from."




In the Face of Possible Failure

"As a result, no matter how clear a writer you are, readers still need you to help them process what you really mean."






"Because the written word is prone to so much mischief and can be interpreted in so many different ways, we need metacommentary to keep misinterpretations and other communication misfires at bay."






Practical & Academic

Ancillary benefits include meeting page-length constraints, and actual learning. 

"Another reason to master the art of metacommentary is that it will help you develop your ideas and generate more text."





"If you have ever had trouble producing the required number of pages for a writing project, metacommentary can help you add both length and depth to your writing."





Ideal Academic Goal

"Ideally ... metacommentary should help you recognize some implications of your ideas that you didn't initially realize were there." 






Titles are also forms of metacommentary. 





Carnival Analogy

Titles "functioning rather like carnival barkers telling passersby what they can expect if they go inside."





Sub-Titles Too

"Subtitles, too often function as metacommentary on a main title, further explaining or elaborating on it."





No Titles

"Essays vague titles (or no titles) send the message that the writer has simply not bothered to reflect on what he or she is saying and is uninterested in guiding or orienting readers."






Much of what we've already covered in They Say, I Say resonates with this notion of metacommentary. 

"Many of the other moves covered in this book function as metacommentary: entertaining objections, adding transitions, framing quotations, answering 'so what?' and 'who cares?'"









"'So What'" and "'Who Cares'"

"When you entertain objections, you stand outside your text and imagine what a critic might say; when you add transitions, you essentially explain the relationship between various claims. And when you answer the 'so what?' and 'who cares?' questions, you look beyond your central argument and explain who cares about it and why."





"This move orients readers, giving them advance notice about where you are going and making it easier for them to process and follow your text."






"[T]he most persuasive writing often doubles back and comments on its own claims in ways that help readers negotiate and process them." 





"'Stage Managing'"

"Instead of simply piling claim upon claim, effective writers are constantly 'stage managing' how their claims will be received." 








Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





Chapter Eleven

"'I Take Your Point'"

"Entering Class Discussions"

Discussing effectively ...

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say






Frequently, the points you present in classroom discussion "become more cogent and powerful the more" they respond to what others have said. 


Just as you frame quotations, frame your in-class points in terms of what others have said. 

"[I]mportant for class discussion is the point that our own ideas become more cogent and powerful the more responsive we are to others, and the more we frame our claims not in isolation but as responses to what others before us have said." 





Classroom discussions are frequently enhanced when you identify "to what and to whom you are responding."

"[A] good face-to-face classroom discussion (or online communication) doesn't just happen spontaneously.  It requires the same sorts of disciplined moves and practices used in many writing situations, particularly that of identifying to what and to whom you are responding." 





"Frame Your Comments as a Response to Something That Has Already Been Said"






"The single most important thing you need to do when joining a class discussion is to link what you are about to say to something that has already been said." 





Same Page

"[I]n oral discussions about complicated issues that are open to multiple interpretations, we usually ... need to resummarize what others have said to make sure that everyone is on the same page." 






"To Change the Subject, Indicate Explicitly That You Are Doing So"






When you attempt to change the subject, be explicit that you are doing so. 

"It is fine to try to change the conversation's direction.  There's just one catch: you need to make clear to listeners that this is what you are doing." 





Without doing so, you run the risk that listeners will think that you are being irrelevant. 

"You can try to change the subject without indicating that you are doing so.  But you run the risk that your comment will come across as irrelevant rather than as a thoughtful contribution that moves the conversation forward." 





"Be Even More Explicit Than You Would Be in Writing"





Rereading is not an Option

"Because listeners in an oral discussion can't go back and reread what you just said, they are more easily overloaded than are readers of a print text." 






There are two basic steps when entering an in-class discussion. 

"[I]n a class discussion you will do well to take some extra steps to help listeners follow your train of thought." 





"(1) When you make a comment, limit yourself to one point only though you can elaborate on this point, fleshing it out with examples and evidence." 






"If you feel you must make two points, either unite them under one larger umbrella point, or make one point first and save the other for later." 






"Trying to bundle two or more claims into one comment can result in neither getting the attention it deserves." 






"(2) Use metacommentary to highlight your key point so that listeners can readily grasp it." 







Deborah Tannen's "Agonism in the Academy: Surviving the Argument Culture," in Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say





"Agonism in the Academy: Surviving the Argument Culture"

What are we doing here? 

Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say, I Say






"Agonism does not refer to disagreement, conflict, or vigorous dispute. It refers to ritualized opposition–for instance, a debate in which the contestants are assigned opposing positions and one party wins, rather than an argument that arises naturally when two parties disagree." 






"[A]gonism is endemic in academe–and bad for it."





An Academic Assumption

Here in academia we seem to be under the spell of an "ideological assumption that intellectual inquiry is a metaphorical battle." 


Under that assumption: "the best way to demonstrate intellectual prowess is to criticize, find fault, and attack."

"The way we train our students, conduct our classes and our research, and exchange ideas at meetings and in print are all driven by our ideological assumption that intellectual inquiry is a metaphorical battle. Following from that is a second assumption, that the best way to demonstrate intellectual prowess is to criticize, find fault, and attack."




In our Class Too? 

"[I]n our scholarly papers, most of us follow a conventional framework that requires us to position our work in opposition to someone else's, which we prove wrong."

"Many aspects of our academic lives can be described as agonistic. For example, in our scholarly papers, most of us follow a conventional framework that requires us to position our work in opposition to someone else's, which we prove wrong."




As a Result

"The framework tempts–almost requires–us to oversimplify or even misrepresent others' positions; cite the weakest example to make a generally reasonable work appear less so; and ignore facts that support others' views, citing only evidence that supports our own positions."







"The way we train our students frequently reflects the battle metaphor as well."




At the Expense

While there can be benefits to this approach, it "often means that they don't learn to do the harder work of integrating ideas, or of considering the work's historical and disciplinary context."

"We assign scholarly work for them to read, then invite them to tear it apart. That is helpful to an extent, but it often means that they don't learn to do the harder work of integrating ideas, or of considering the work's historical and disciplinary context."




Even Worse

"Moreover, it fosters in students a stance of arrogance and narrow-mindedness, qualities that do not serve the fundamental goals of education."





Debate over Discussions

And for in-class discussions, we sometimes mistake heated debates (i.e., metaphorical battles) as equivalent to learning. 

"In the classroom, if students are engaged in heated debate, we believe that education is taking place."




Discussion over Debate

When the focus in class is on "exploring ideas, uncovering nuances, comparing and contrasting different interpretations of a work" fewer students are repelled; "more students take part, and more of them gain a deeper, and more accurate, understanding of the material."


Fancy that. 

"If the class engages in discussion rather than debate–adding such intellectual activities as exploring ideas, uncovering nuances, comparing and contrasting different interpretations of a work–more students take part, and more of them gain a deeper, and more accurate, understanding of the material. Most important, the students learn a stance of respect and open-minded inquiry."




What to Reward

"Academic rewards–good grades and good jobs–typically go to students and scholars who learn to tear down others' work, not to those who learn to build on the work of their colleagues."






Here is another problem with agonism in academia: policymakers.  "Lacking the expertise to figure out who's right, they typically conclude that they cannot look to academe for guidance."

"Agonism has still another serious effect: It is one of the reasons scholars have a hard time getting policymakers to pay attention to their research. Policymakers who come across relevant academic research immediately encounter opposing research. Lacking the expertise to figure out who's right, they typically conclude that they cannot look to academe for guidance."





But are there well thought out alternatives? 

"Our agonistic ideology seems so deeply embedded in academe that one might wonder what alternatives we have."




Balanced Games

"In Embracing Contraries, the English professor Peter Elbow calls the ways we approach ideas a 'doubting game'–a method for sniffing out faults. What we need, he says, is an additional approach–a 'believing game,' to sniff out strengths."






"The two games would complement each other. Although we wouldn't end up agreeing with all the authors we read, by suspending disbelief we would be more likely to learn something from them."





Tannen's Contribution

We need to replace the battle metaphor. 

"In my view, we need new metaphors through which to think about our academic enterprise, or to conceptualize intellectual interchange."





"We could learn much more if we thought of theories not as static structures to be shot down or falsified, but as sets of understandings to be questioned and reshaped."





Daly's Dough E.G.

"'theories should be treated like bread dough that rises with a synergetic mix of ingredients only to be pounded down with the addition of new ingredients and human energy.'"

"The sociologist Kerry Daly, in the introduction to his book Families and Time, suggests that 'theories should be treated like bread dough that rises with a synergetic mix of ingredients only to be pounded down with the addition of new ingredients and human energy.'"