The Study Dude – They Say I Say

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to feel comfortable inserting your own views and ideas in your research articles–something otherwise shunned in academic writing.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s focus is on a book titled They Say I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. This book is the key to helping you advance your own voice in your academic writing.

Effectively Summarizing and Quoting What Others Say
In graduate studies, I came across a bunch of literature on a topic that seemed to have different interpretations. It was as if there was some agreement in certain places and some opposition in others and some entirely novel slants in yet others.

But, isn’t that like life? So many new issues are presented in online media, such as the “thigh gap”. Beauty is relative. What was once pornography becomes commonplace. Morals change over time–and not necessarily for the better. Freedom of speech is a liberty to some and a curse to others. Every facet of life can be positioned as a debate that evolves out into some new facet.

That’s why the conversation amongst researchers matter. Their voices influence the changing landscape of intellectual and contemporary thought, and your voice needs to be added in the mix as well. Yet, you first need to know how to succinctly summarize and quote what others are saying in your writing before you can leverage your own views.

Graff and Birkenstein (2010) have some suggestions for summarizing and quoting the material of others:
– make sure that your own voice is integrated within the summary. Add your own voice by honing in on the points that are most important to your own view that you intend to present.
– Try to pretend that you are an actor playing the part of the researcher you are about to summarize. See the world from his or her perspective, and summarize from that point-of-view.
– Avoid short sentence summaries that have loaded language. For instance, don’t say that an author’s point is “pure nonsense” or “contributes nothing to the ongoing debate.” You want to be as objective and fair as possible in your representation of other’s views.
– To understand the author’s perspective, use your dictionary to look up any ambiguous terminology. Get to know their viewpoint intimately, and don’t cite passages that you don’t understand.
– Choose the author’s points that best lead up to your argument. If, for instance, the author talks about obesity, and you want to make a point that parents are at fault in childhood obesity, select more of the points the author makes on the parents’ role in obesity. In other words, make sure you summarize author’s points that that align with your own argument.
– Make a “quotation sandwich” (p. 46). That is to say, introduce the quote speaker as the upper slice of bread. Follow the introduction with the actual quote. After that, proceed to add the bottom slice of bread, which is your explanation, or interpretation, of the quote, followed by why you feel the quote is relevant and meaningful in the context of your paper. Make sure the quotes support your own point-of-view, or if you are adding a naysayer, make sure that you have a quality rebuttal.
– Long complicated quotes need extra explanation on your part.

Inserting Your Voice: Whether You Agree, Disagree, or Agree and Disagree Simultaneously
In undergraduate studies and graduate studies, I would let the weight of the evidence guide my particular perspective on a matter. While not a bad strategy, sometimes we have our own ideas, our own experiences, and our own biases that could add meaning to a discussion on a particular topic. Should our own voice go by the wayside in academic writing?

Graff and Birkenstein (2010) suggest that we can take a stand on any discussion in the literature. We can agree, disagree, or agree and disagree simultaneously. Here’s how they indicate we can insert our own views in academic writing:
– Believe the truth: you are more than intelligent enough to join any academic debate. You have more than enough experiences, background, and knowledge to contribute to any conversation.
– When you disagree, you need to offer persuasive reasons. These reasons could be that the author doesn’t pay heed to relevant factors at play or that the author’s reasoning is faulty, incomplete, or insubstantial. The reasons could also be that the author makes weak or erroneous assumptions, uses poor logic, contradicts him or herself, or doesn’t address the bigger issue(s).
– You can always agree with one small point and then disagree on other points made by the same author–or vice versa.
– Be up front but considerate in your disagreement.
– When you agree, try to add more than just a rephrasing of the author’s view. Add your own contribution. You could always try these strategies for adding your voice: discuss points that weren’t elaborated by the author, but that could add to the argument; insert your own corroborating personal experience; introduce a situation that wasn’t mentioned by the author, but that has relevance; simplify the author’s argument in your own tidy explanation.
– When agreeing and disagreeing simultaneously, weight your argument slightly toward either agreement or disagreement. For instance, you could use the sentence “Although X was correct in the assumption Y, X failed to notice Z” to express primarily disagreement or “”Although X was incorrect in the assumption Y, X succeeded in noticing Z” to express primarily agreement.
– If you are ambivalent toward the author’s point of view, go ahead and state your view as such. Say, “A reader with Y background could be of two minds about X’s claim that…”.

While these ideas are excellent for leveraging your own views, it is also noteworthy that following up your own view with supportive research and quotes can catapult your own voice into an even more credible position.

Answering the Big “So What?” and “Who Cares” Questions
When writing an academic piece, you always want to answer the questions “So what?” and “Who cares?” As a matter of fact, when writing anything under the sun, you want to answer these questions to the best of your ability, preferably before you begin drafting your article or book.

When you get to more advanced stages of your undergraduate degree or to any stage of your graduate program, you are usually expected to include some indication of why your writing matters and to whom it matters. Doing so may up your grade in addition to adding interest to your point of view.

I once wrote a paper on the major themes of one of Plato’s works, but I never answered to myself, or within my paper, why these particular themes mattered in the scope of the assignment. By omitting this detail, I didn’t let my reader (in this case, the instructor) know why these particular choices of themes in Plato’s writing should be of any relevance to her day-to-day living. By omitting such detail, I stymied what might have been a more engaging relay of the themes. By answering the “So what?” question, you garner interest in your perspective. You make your article relevant to the reader. You up your grade and captivate the reader. Not a bad outcome for a little bit of thought investment.

Here are some tips for answering the “So What?” and “Who Cares?” questions of your articles as addressed by Graff and Birkenstein (2010):

– There are two primary questions you need to answer in your writing: “So what?” and “Who cares?” The “Who cares?” question should refer to a person or group, while the “So what?” question should apply to both some real world situation and the consequences of the matter in question.
– The “Who cares?” could be referring to, for instance, the scientific community. You could say that scientists used to think X, or that scientists long assumed X, or that scientists once believed X, but new insights have led to the realization of Y.
– But what if your readers are not scientists and still don’t care. You could always appeal to the bigger picture–a larger issue that your discussion pertains to, such as racism, obesity, inequality, environmentalism, freedom of speech, and the like. You can always look at broader implications, major consequences, significant applications–or the very prominence of the work you are studying itself.
– Take the “So what?” question as far and as wide as you possibly can. This will imbue your writing with intrigue.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Graff, Gerald, & Birkenstein, Cathy. (2010). They Say; I Say: The moves that matter in academic writing. New York, NY: Norton & Company.

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