Tips for Writing: “They Say” vs. “I say”
When presenting a well balanced argument in writing, it is extremely important for the author to express as rounded a presentation as possible regarding the particular subject matter that the paper is addressing. This is accomplished in several ways, but, regardless of the subject matter or the presentation method, it is vital for the author to present all possible angles within the document in order to strengthen his or her argument.
In the text, The Moves That Matter In Academic Writing: They say, I say, two elements are initially presented that are essential to penning a well received argument. These elements are titled “I say” and “they say”. A simple summation of both topics would lead the reader to analyze the actual chapter titles. “I say” is simply what the author is attempting to support within the piece that he or she is writing, while “they say” is what others are saying regarding the subject. On the surface, these elements appear to be extremely simplistic and, superficially, they are, but the deeper one probes into the nuances that define how each of these concepts can be presented, the more overwhelming each principle can become. The question then becomes “what are these specific nuances?” and “how do they compare within each of the defined elements that are essential to effective communication?”
The first similarity is found within the actual written presentation tools that are used to relay the information that is pertinent to the reader. For example, summary is used in both the presentation of “I say” and “they say”; however, it is more prevalent within the element of “they say”. The reason that it is found more often within this element is because it is more important for the author to include fine detail when presenting his or her side of the argument.
While it is extremely important to include what others are saying about the topic of discussion, the point of an essay is for the author to add his or her thoughts on the particular subject matter. As one looks closer into each of the elements, it becomes clear that the lines defining “I say” and “they say” are not as black and white as one would initially believe.
The author can use many different methods to define his or her opinion on the subject matter within the paper, but it is important to establish what “they say” in order for the author to have a starting point for contributing his or her opinion. The most common techniques used to accomplish this after what “they say” has been established are agreeing, disagreeing, or utilizing elements of both in order for the author to present his or her stance on the particular issue being discussed. When the author disagrees with the general consensus, he or she must present the reason for his or her disagreement with solid empirical evidence that supports his or her opinion. If the author neglects to present solid evidence that refutes what “they say”, then his or her opinion will be disregarded as strictly an opinion and will have no credibility within the academic world.
The same can be said for when the author generally agrees with the subject matter that he or she is writing about, because, even when the author agrees, there must be some point that the author is attempting to introduce that is different from the consensus opinion. Otherwise, there the discourse of the paper would be utterly useless, recycled information. Therefore, even when the author agrees, he or she must be presenting a different view or adding information to the general body of work regarding the subject. This view also needs to be supported with clear and credible evidence.
The most common manifestation of these principles within writing, however, occurs when an author both agrees and disagrees with specific points within the generally accepted consensus opinion regarding the subject being written about. This is prevalent when a particular subject has been widely researched for many years, and, due to this fact, many theories and opinions will have been given over the years, during the course of study. In that time, many of these theories and opinions will have come to be regarded as fact. At this point, it would be absurd to think that the well-versed author would not share some of the views that others have presented about the particular subject, but it is not unheard of for an author to disagree with several points within the general body of accepted opinions and theories regarding the subject. In order to showcase his or her opinion, an author will show support for the opinions that he or she agrees with and refute the opinions that the he or she does not support with strong analysis of empirical evidence.
Another important skill for an author to attain is the ability to make what “they say” into what “I say”. This occurs when an author strongly grasps and believes in a specific concept that another author has already presented and makes the general concept into his or her own either adding to, or slightly altering what was originally written. This technique can add credence to the author’s opinion as he or she is taking a generally accepted opinion and adding his or her own personal spin; therefore, creating his or her footprint within the generally accepted body of work about the particular subject.
Anytime an author asserts a new opinion into a field of study, he or she must be ready for the opinion to be dismantled and questioned. The mark of a veteran writer is evident when he or she is able to anticipate and counter many of the possible arguments that might be presented to refute his or her opinion within the text of the original document. When done properly, this allows the author’s opinion to garner a greater credibility and makes it much more difficult to disprove his or her opinion. This is a difficult skill to master, but it is essential when composing a strong paper that will hold up under scrutiny.
While the line between “I say” and “they say” might be slightly blurred at times, the importance of the inclusion of both elements into an effective essay cannot be overstated. Without these essential elements, any form of communication would be extremely lacking and would lose much of the credibility and peer acceptance that a dual-sided argument garners upon review and study.
Graff, G., Birkenstein, C., & Durst, R. (2009). The Moves That Matter In Academic Writing: They say I say (, pp. 463-481). New York: W.W. Norton & Company .