In the introduction to “They say/I say”: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, authors Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein provide their rationale for the text and their inclusion of writing templates. According to the authors, these templates are designed to help people new to academic writing establish a set of “moves” to convey their ideas. They contend that while many people, including Graff and Birkenstein’s own students, believe the use of templates takes away originality and creativity from the writing process, the use of templates will often help writing become more original and creative. According to the authors, “even the most creative forms of expression depend on established patters and structures.” (10) They the examples that Shakespeare didn’t invent the sonnet and most song writers still use the verse-chorus-verse pattern for writing songs. “Creativity and originality lie not in the avoidance of established forms, but in the imaginative use of them,” (11) the authors reply. Graff and Birkenstein insist writing is a way of responding and sharing one’s own ideas as part of a larger conversation, and templates offer people the means and “moves” to enter that conversation.
I agree with Graff and Birkenstein only in the broadest use of their template system. I recognize that their system indeed accomplishes the authors goal, to give people the moves to enter the larger conversation (what ever that conversation may be about). Additionally, their point about the most creative forms of expression being based on patterns and templates is valid, however I question whether the templates the authors provide emphasize enough that writers can and should expand the templates. I believe there are better tools the authors could use to provide students of writing a basis on which to build their writing skills.
The authors explain that their templates “provide concrete prompts that can stimulate and shape such thought” (XV). These prompts include, 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? and Who cares? (XV). I believe these are great prompts for any student to ask them selves when starting to write. I would argue that offering students a sequence of prompts like these for making specific types of arguments would be more effective in encouraging creativity and originality in the conversation. For this exercise, I did not use the template provided, however I created and used prompts and answered those prompts. As such, the format of my essay is similar to the template provided, but using prompts forced me to create my own style for answering those prompts. All in all, I think Graff and Birkenstein’s templates can provide a starting point especially for many new writers, but more emphasis should be given to creating an effective style of ones own.