Identify three ideas from each of the following that stand out to you. These can be shared as bullet points but should express complete thoughts that a peer could learn from.The Academic ArgumentArgument Dinner Party Series, Part IArgument Dinner Party Series, Part IIThe Parts of Essays: Main Claims, Subclaims, and OutlinesParts of Body Paragraphs (SEER)They Say/I Say, Chapter 3They Say/I Say, Chapter 4Identify one technique you’d like to work on from the readings or videos listed, above, and write 100-125 words about this skill, why it’s important, and how you’ll incorporate this learning in your essays this semester.It can be a challenge to find sources that oppose ours when we are writing academic arguments. How have you found opposing sources or what is a technique you could try? How might you break a problem down to find an important element that a credible source might disagree with?
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cademic Argument: Evidence-Based
Defense of a Non-Obvious Position
Adapted from Jerz’s “ Literacy Weblog” by Dennis G. Jerz, Associate Professor
of English: New Media Journalism, Seton Hill University
Definition of the Academic Argument
An academic argument is an evidence-based defense of a non-obvious position on a complex issue
(Jerz). Therefore, quality arguments require deep thinking about problems to arrive at more than
surface-level pro/con or for/against conclusions.
Dialing in our Understanding: How Arguments Differ from Other Essay Types
Arguments Differ from Personal Essays
Personal essays rely on personal experience whereas academic arguments rely on research, the
analysis and synthesis of ideas from multiple sources, and opposing positions.
Arguments Differ from Expository Essays (Essays that Explain Something)
Expository essays seek to explain something without considering opposition.
* Analysis is the act of taking something apart (like a reading) to understand its key ideas,
assumptions, and the quality of evidence and reasoning it contains, for example.
Synthesis is the act of putting things together (like ideas or concepts from readings) in new
ways to create new ideas and ways of thinking about problems.
In this course, our focus is on producing academic arguments because 1. Arguments rely on research. This expands our knowledge and extends the scholarly
2. Arguments respond to opposition which is an important “test” of how well the writer’s
position holds up. When we’re reading an author’s work, we’re likely to think, “Yeah, but…”
multiple times. We want the writer to respond to such points of opposition or we’re left
with many unfulfilled questions, especially when issues are complex and important.
Academic arguments –
➢ Rely on evidence from credible sources, in the form of direct quotations, summaries,
paraphrases, and statistical data and other facts
➢ Rely on sound reasoning (the logical way ideas and evidence relate to each other)
➢ Explain, define, analyze, and synthesize
➢ Present and respond to multiple oppositional positions related to a given main claim
Academic Arguments are Public Conversations
Academic Arguments are Scholarly Conversations
Academic arguments are scholarly conversations that investigate main claims. Because these are
conversations, academic argumentation is a public not a personal form of writing. In an academic
setting, once a writer has placed his or her ideas on the table, everyone is allowed to discuss or
dispute them according to common rules of evidence gathering and reasoning.
Therefore, Academic Arguments aren’t Based on Personal Beliefs or Preferences
Arguments based on personal beliefs, preferences, or opinions can’t be debated because everyone is
entitled to their personal beliefs. If someone believes dogs go to heaven, I must respect their belief,
as I respect their autonomy. I can only hope my dogs go there, too. But, there’s no basis in fact for
informed, well-reasoned debate.
We cannot argue about preferences. If you like onion rings, great! Enjoy them. Why would anyone
want to talk you out of it? Instead, academic arguments must rely on evidence and reasoning that
anyone can question and dispute.
Because we can’t argue about these things academically, doesn’t mean they’re not important or
shouldn’t be valued. It just means there are other venues to share such beliefs and opinions.
A successful academic argument is, therefore, not a squabble, a difference of opinion, or a
clash of values or beliefs.
How do writers find topics and draw conclusions for successful academic papers?
Writers look for topics that credible experts disagree about.
They begin by investigating topics with an open-mind.
They narrow their focus so they can investigate an idea fully, given the length of the work
In our course, we are preparing for later academic work and developing the ability to look at
focused topics in new ways; find areas of difference and common ground between sides;
investigate and promote positions that aren’t necessarily black and white; and develop positions as
new evidence is found.
The Qualities of Successful Academic Arguments
They support clearly identified, and focused main claims.
They include necessary context, including the opposing sides, to provide necessary
background for the reader. They assume a reader who hasn’t read what the class or the
writer has read.
They are supported by subclaims (the individual points a writer needs to make to support
the overall main claim or point). These subclaims are, in turn, supported by credible
evidence and sound reasoning.
They are focused so an idea can be fully explored.
They are opposed by actual (not made-up or conjectural) sources that are credible.
They uncover new insights that can help readers think through problems in new ways.
Academic Arguments REQUIRE Credible Opposition
An academic argument is NOT simply an involved explanation of an important problem (no
matter how important the problem is). Without actual, expert opposition there is no
argument because arguments require disagreement.
An academic argument is part of a discussion that respects multiple viewpoints as long as
those viewpoints are credible. If opposing positions are not credible, they are not to be
considered by the writer.
If NO credible challenges by experts exist, argumentation is not possible. Finding, quoting,
and engaging with credible opposing evidence is part of the task of an academic writer.
Arguing against poor opposing sources that are not credible undermines the writer’s
credibility. Strong arguments can withstand strong opposition; weak ones can’t.
If the writer’s position on a topic is so strong that he or she cannot imagine that a rational
person would disagree with them, then the writer should pick a different topic.
If the evidence is overwhelmingly on the writer’s side, the law is on their side, public opinion
is on their side, and morality, ethics, and common sense are all on their side, then the writer
isn’t actually making a debatable argument. Reasonable, informed people already agree.
There’s no basis for argument.
“THEY SAY I SAY”
The Moves That Matter
in Academic Writing
both of the University of Illinois at Chicago
w. w. norton & company
new york | london
Demystifying Academic Conversation
Experienced writing instructors have long recognized
that writing well means entering into conversation with others.
Academic writing in particular calls upon writers not simply to
express their own ideas, but to do so as a response to what others
have said. The first-year writing program at our own university,
according to its mission statement, asks “students to participate in ongoing conversations about vitally important academic
and public issues.” A similar statement by another program
holds that “intellectual writing is almost always composed in
response to others’ texts.” These statements echo the ideas
of rhetorical theorists like Kenneth Burke, Mikhail Bakhtin,
and Wayne Booth as well as recent composition scholars like
David Bartholomae, John Bean, Patricia Bizzell, Irene Clark,
Greg Colomb, Lisa Ede, Peter Elbow, Joseph Harris, Andrea
Lunsford, Elaine Maimon, Gary Olson, Mike Rose, John Swales
and Christine Feak, Tilly Warnock, and others who argue that
writing well means engaging the voices of others and letting
them in turn engage us.
Yet despite this growing consensus that writing is a social,
conversational act, helping student writers actually participate in these conversations remains a formidable challenge.
This book aims to meet that challenge. Its goal is to demystify academic writing by isolating its basic moves, explaining
them clearly, and representing them in the form of templates.
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In this way, we hope to help students become active participants in the important conversations of the academic world
and the wider public sphere.
Shows that writing well means entering a conversation, summarizing others (“they say”) to set up one’s own argument
Demystifies academic writing, showing students “the moves
that matter” in language they can readily apply.
Provides user-friendly templates to help writers make those
moves in their own writing.
Shows that reading is a way of entering a conversation—not just
of passively absorbing information but of understanding and
actively entering dialogues and debates.
how this book came to be
The original idea for this book grew out of our shared interest in democratizing academic culture. First, it grew out of
arguments that Gerald Graff has been making throughout his
career that schools and colleges need to invite students into
the conversations and debates that surround them. More specifically, it is a practical, hands-on companion to his recent
book Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the
Mind, in which he looks at academic conversations from the
perspective of those who find them mysterious and proposes
ways in which such mystification can be overcome. Second,
Demystifying Academic Conversation
this book grew out of writing templates that Cathy Birkenstein
developed in the 1990s for use in writing and literature courses
she was teaching. Many students, she found, could readily grasp
what it meant to support a thesis with evidence, to entertain
a counterargument, to identify a textual contradiction, and
ultimately to summarize and respond to challenging arguments,
but they often had trouble putting these concepts into practice
in their own writing. When Cathy sketched out templates on
the board, however, giving her students some of the language
and patterns that these sophisticated moves require, their
writing—and even their quality of thought—significantly
This book began, then, when we put our ideas together and
realized that these templates might have the potential to open
up and clarify academic conversation. We proceeded from the
premise that all writers rely on certain stock formulas that they
themselves didn’t invent—and that many of these formulas
are so commonly used that they can be represented in model
templates that students can use to structure and even generate
what they want to say.
As we developed a working draft of this book, we began using
it in first-year writing courses that we teach at UIC. In classroom exercises and writing assignments, we found that students
who otherwise struggled to organize their thoughts, or even to
think of something to say, did much better when we provided
them with templates like the following.
j In discussions of
, a controversial issue is whether
. While some argue that
j This is not to say that
, others contend
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One virtue of such templates, we found, is that they focus
writers’ attention not just on what is being said, but on the
forms that structure what is being said. In other words, they
make students more conscious of the rhetorical patterns that
are key to academic success but often pass under the classroom
the centrality of “they say / i say”
The central rhetorical move that we focus on in this book is the
“they say / I say” template that gives our book its title. In our
view, this template represents the deep, underlying structure,
the internal DNA as it were, of all effective argument. Effective
persuasive writers do more than make well-supported claims
(“I say”); they also map those claims relative to the claims of
others (“they say”).
Here, for example, the “they say / I say” pattern structures
a passage from an essay by the media and technology critic
For decades, we’ve worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-commondenominator standards, presumably because the “masses” want
dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the
masses what they want. But . . . the exact opposite is happening:
the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less.
Steven Johnson, “Watching TV Makes You Smarter”
In generating his own argument from something “they say,”
Johnson suggests why he needs to say what he is saying: to
correct a popular misconception.
Demystifying Academic Conversation
Even when writers do not explicitly identify the views they
are responding to, as Johnson does, an implicit “they say” can
often be discerned, as in the following passage by Zora Neale
I remember the day I became colored.
Zora Neale Hurston, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”
In order to grasp Hurston’s point here, we need to be able to
reconstruct the implicit view she is responding to and questioning: that racial identity is an innate quality we are simply born
with. On the contrary, Hurston suggests, our race is imposed
on us by society—something we “become” by virtue of how
we are treated.
As these examples suggest, the “they say / I say” model can
improve not just student writing, but student reading comprehension as well. Since reading and writing are deeply reciprocal activities, students who learn to make the rhetorical moves
represented by the templates in this book figure to become more
adept at identifying these same moves in the texts they read. And
if we are right that effective arguments are always in dialogue
with other arguments, then it follows that in order to understand
the types of challenging texts assigned in college, students need
to identify the views to which those texts are responding.
Working with the “they say / I say” model can also help
with invention, finding something to say. In our experience,
students best discover what they want to say not by thinking
about a subject in an isolation booth, but by reading texts,
listening closely to what other writers say, and looking for an
opening through which they can enter the conversation. In
other words, listening closely to others and summarizing what
they have to say can help writers generate their own ideas.
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the usefulness of templates
Our templates also have a generative quality, prompting students to make moves in their writing that they might not otherwise make or even know they should make. The templates
in this book can be particularly helpful for students who are
unsure about what to say, or who have trouble finding enough
to say, often because they consider their own beliefs so
self-evident that they need not be argued for. Students like this
are often helped, we’ve found, when we give them a simple template like the following one for entertaining a counterargument
(or planting a naysayer, as we call it in Chapter 6).
j Of course some might object that
, I still maintain that
. Although I concede
What this particular template helps students do is make the
seemingly counterintuitive move of questioning their own
beliefs, of looking at them from the perspective of those who
disagree. In so doing, templates can bring out aspects of students’ thoughts that, as they themselves sometimes remark,
they didn’t even realize were there.
Other templates in this book help students make a host of
sophisticated moves that they might not otherwise make: summarizing what someone else says, framing a quotation in one’s
own words, indicating the view that the writer is responding to,
marking the shift from a source’s view to the writer’s own view,
offering evidence for that view, entertaining and answering
counterarguments, and explaining what is at stake in the first
place. In showing students how to make such moves, templates
do more than organize students’ ideas; they help bring those
ideas into existence.
Demystifying Academic Conversation
We are aware, of course, that some instructors may have reservations about templates. Some, for instance, may object that
such formulaic devices represent a return to prescriptive forms
of instruction that encourage passive learning or lead students
to put their writing on automatic pilot.
This is an understandable reaction, we think, to kinds of rote
instruction that have indeed encouraged passivity and drained
writing of its creativity and dynamic relation to the social world.
The trouble is that many students will never learn on their own
to make the key intellectual moves that our templates represent. While seasoned writers pick up these moves unconsciously
through their reading, many students do not. Consequently, we
believe, students need to see these moves represented in the
explicit ways that the templates provide.
The aim of the templates, then, is not to stifle critical
thinking but to be direct with students about the key rhetorical moves that it comprises. Since we encourage students to
modify and adapt the templates to the particularities of the
arguments they are making, using such prefabricated formulas
as learning tools need not result in writing and thinking that
are themselves formulaic. Admittedly, no teaching tool can
guarantee that students will engage in hard, rigorous thought.
Our templates do, however, provide concrete prompts that can
stimulate and shape such thought: What do “they say” about my
topic? What would a naysayer say about my argument? What
is my evidence? Do I need to qualify my point? Who cares?
In fact, templates have a long and rich history. Public orators
from ancient Greece and Rome through the European Renaissance studied rhetorical topoi or “commonplaces,” model passages
and formulas that represented the different strategies available
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to public speakers. In many respects, our templates echo this
classical rhetorical tradition of imitating established models.
The journal Nature requires aspiring contributors to follow
a guideline that is like a template on the opening page of their
manuscript: “Two or three sentences explaining what the main
result [of their study] reveals in direct comparison with what was
thought to be the case previously, or how the main result adds to
previous knowledge.” In the field of education, a form designed
by the education theorist Howard Gardner asks postdoctoral
fellowship applicants to complete the following template: “Most
scholars in the field believe
. As a result of my study,
.” That these two examples are geared toward postdoctoral fellows and veteran researchers shows that it is not
only struggling undergraduates who can use help making these
key rhetorical moves, but experienced academics as well.
Templates have even been used in the teaching of personal
narrative. The literary and educational theorist Jane Tompkins
devised the following template to help student writers make the
often difficult move from telling a story to explaining what it
means: “X tells a story about
to make the point that
. My own experience with
yields a point
that is similar/different/both similar and different. What I take
away from my own experience with
a result, I conclude
.” We especially like this template
because it suggests that “they say / I say” argument need not be
mechanical, impersonal, or dry, and that telling a story and making an argument are more compatible activities than many think.
why it’s okay to use “i”
But wait—doesn’t the “I” part of “they say / I say” flagrantly
encourage the use of the first-person pronoun? Aren’t we aware
Demystifying Academic Conversation
that some teachers prohibit students from using “I” or “we,”
on the grounds that these pronouns encourage ill-considered,
subjective opinions rather than objective and reasoned arguments? Yes, we are aware of this first-person prohibition, but
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