Using Templates to Write Essays?

In the introduction to They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Persuasive Writing, Gerald Graff and Cathy Birenstein talks about the importance of using templates in academic and persuasive writing. They believe that you can improve your writing if you use templates such as “What I am saying is not ___, but ___,” or “I agree with you that ___, and would even add that ___.”

I was a little bit skeptical about it. At school you might have learned about things like the basic model of an essay (i.e. the five paragraph essay structure), but never templates. I thought this would discourage creativity in writing so it made sense. How can you write like yourself if you are using a formulaic device developed by someone else?

However, this little book has made me change my opinion about this. By following the exercises in the book, it actually encouraged me to write what I would not otherwise write down. The templates in the book are a great help to me because I am often unsure of what to say. I tend to think all my ideas are self-evident and end up not putting enough of them on the paper. The templates prompted me to write down all these seemingly self-evident ideas that are actually needed in the essay.

This is quite useful for beginning writers like me because I have yet picked out enough  moves from people’s writing to apply it to my own writing. Even though it’s a short book, it is loaded with examples of what works and what doesn’t. I like how it has exercises at the end of every chapter which allows the reader to practice and apply the guide.

The book claims that it is still possible to carry out your personal voice with templates. After all, even great writers like Shakespeare learned to write through imitation.

If you are looking for a guide to academic writing, I recommend this book to you. 😀


4 responses to “Using Templates to Write Essays?

  1. One of my professors used “They Say, I Say” in my first college writing class. I agree, it is a wonderful guide. It helps you organize your thoughts and arguments in a persuasive manner. Also, once you learn these foundational templates, you can build off of them. An excellent tool; thanks for writing about it!

  2. Sounds like a useful book! I’ll have to check it out next time I’m writing an academic essay.

  3. It used to be the case that schools had students copy the style and structure of famous authors, and in the process the students would internalize good use of the language. Then came the 1960s, and suddenly people were encouraged to do their own thing. The result has been 40 years of American students who “graduate” with no sense of how to use the English language in an articulate or elegant way.

    Steve Schwartzman

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