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Tips for Writing: 'They Say, I Say'

For VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

Sometimes students make writing harder than it has to be. That is what Gerald Graff says. He and Cathy Birkenstein are the writers of a best-selling book about college writing. It is called They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. The book has had a major effect on the way writing is taught in the United States. It is a required book at more than 1,000 universities. The goal of this short book is to take the mystery out of academic writing. English learners often think that academic writing is all about spelling, grammar, and organization.

Author Cathy Birkenstein says almost anyone can put a sentence together. The difficult part is learning to read and think critically. She says English learners need to learn how to put together an argument, and how to be interesting. The two experts say that good academic writing follows a simple design, or formula, called “They Say, I Say.” A paper should begin with what others have already said about the subject, or “they say.” Then, student writers present their own opinions, or “I say.” A college paper should show the writer entering a debate among experts. Good academic writing starts with reading.

Cathy Birkenstein says students should explain an expert’s idea first, then give your own opinion. If you are not sure what to write about, summarize a good author, and find out what that author is responding to, she says. Then determine the debate or conflict and where you stand on that as well. The third version of “They Say I Say” is being release in February.