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"They Say, I Say:" Advice to Help Improve Your Writing

Updated on November 9, 2011

A Good Teacher and A Great Textbook Go a Long Way

As a neophyte to the HubPages world, one thing I have noticed is a shared desire to improve and help others improve their writing. I am still on the improving side of that spectrum (hopefully one day I will be on the other side) but I have a bit of advice that was passed on to me by two professors in my last semester of college that helped me improve tremendously and can maybe help others too. After all the lectures and one on one discussions, they finally provided me with a solution to help my writing. This can be found in what I discovered is the best summation of all I had been taught in my school career in a textbook called They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Persuasive Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein.

Writing as a Conversation

When reading this book, it was to improve my critical writing, which, at the time was okay, but not perfect. One significant piece of advice given in this book was that, when writing, an author should think of their piece as a "conversation about ideas." Critical writing especially falls under this thought bubble as it is a response to critics that have come before you but this advice can also be taken into consideration for other types of writing. When you think of your piece as a conversation with readers, it can become more personal and less of a "this is how it is and that's it." Works are so much more interesting to read when they are open to response or questioning. You want people to talk about what you're reading and have a discussion, not just slap down facts on a cold slab as if they are static.

Don't Get too Fancy

One thing I learned to get over once I entered the university arena is the tendency to think of academic writing as a glorified untouchable thing on a pedestal. Sometimes people with this mindset start writing unnecessarily fancy or make sad attempts that make themselves look foolish. In this situation, the thesaurus is not your friend. No one wants to read long, flowing sentences that leave the audience gasping for air. Also, the thesaurus is not always right when used to find a better (or smarter sounding) word to replace another. It can make you look a little foolish or distract and confuse readers.


The last major helpful tool this book gives you is templates. This, I never used because I don't like the idea of keeping writing locked in a specific form but it can help as a starter for writers who need it. The textbook provides sentences with fill-in-the-blank type layouts and lists of words to help you get started. Seems a little fishy, but take one of these templates, fill in the blanks and what not, and I can almost guarantee star quality writing.

What I Say about "They Say"

If you've read through other articles with fantastic advice but still can't seem to get to where you want to be, pick up a copy of They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Persuasive Writing . I downloaded it on my Kindle and used it from the day I got it until I wrote my very last essay before graduation. Still, I say having a hard copy to sticky-note and underline would be much more handy. Teachers and fellow writers are fantastic sources but at three in the morning when your stuck on how to get your writing started or how to fix a problem, a book full of advice is always available.

© 2011 Lisa


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    • profile image

      Destiny 3 years ago

      Basically to follow up on the up-date of this topic on your wiesbte and would wish to let you know how much I prized the time you took to generate this helpful post. Within the post, you spoke on how to actually handle this issue with all comfort. It would be my personal pleasure to get together some more ideas from your blog and come as much as offer others what I have benefited from you. Many thanks for your usual great effort.

    • sankari.nayagam profile image

      sankari.nayagam 6 years ago

      good review about the book! will surely get one and try to improve my writing!

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      All good advice. I still have so much to learn about online writing

    • Ardot profile image

      Ardot 6 years ago from Canada

      Great hub! I'll definitely check out this book in the near future.

    • LisaKoski profile image

      Lisa 6 years ago from WA

      Thank you! All of your comments are so kind. They've really helped build my confidence up :)

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 6 years ago from Taos, NM

      Great hub! I am voting this up. I have been looking for a contemporary book on writing. All the ones I have are at least twenty years old. Don't think you are too young or inexperienced to help other writers. You have helped me. I will definitely look at this book. I believe in conversational writing to a point, but sometimes persuasive writing means taking a stand and supporting it. But, then, may be I'm too old fashioned about writing. Yes, you want to inspire comments and conversation with your writing. I think your writing does.

      It is interesting for me to see your writing since you have recently graduated from college or university. I think you are a very good writer.