Developing the Main Claim in an Argument Paper Please read the assignment sheet carefully and demonstrate the skills you’ve learned or further developed th

Developing the Main Claim in an Argument Paper Please read the assignment sheet carefully and demonstrate the skills you’ve learned or further developed this semester. Remember to – Develop a main claim that all key points of the essay will relate back to.Fully develop subclaims with evidence from materials I’ve provided in class (no outside sources).Embed quotes, paraphrase, and summary statements with signal phrases and accurate MLA in-text citations.Write clearly and logically, demonstrating care for the reader’s understanding and experience.Use MLA format.Note: a Works Cited page is not required. Final Exam Course Reflection Essay
The final exam will be a 3-4 page, MLA-formatted course reflection with in-text citations. In this
essay, you will reflect on what you’ve learned in this course and what you’ll take with you into
more advanced study and your professional lives. Your last Roll Call Post was designed to help you
get started.
Begin with a “Big Idea”: Your Main Claim
By now, you know that whenever we write academically, we have to begin with a main claim or a
strong organizing main idea. These “big ideas” focus our essays.
For the Final Exam Essay, you’ll begin by doing some brainstorming and analysis to arrive at a “big
idea” that the course has introduced you to or helped you think more about with respect to strong
academic writing. Scroll through each week of the course and look through the Course Materials
module to find an idea that interests you.
Main Claim Examples
o Words shape our worlds.
o There is danger in a single story.
o Academic argumentation is like a dinner party.
o Accurate citation and formatting establish an author’s credibility.
There are many others. To arrive at one, ask yourself:
o What is a large over-arching theme raised in any of our texts or materials (for example, in
They Say/I Say, A Rulebook for Arguments, the “Argument Dinner Party Series,”
Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story,” or Neil Postman’s, “World
Weavers/World Makers”) that interests me?
o Or, what is a big idea I’ve developed on my own as a participant in the course?
As always, to help your reader better understand your main claim and what it means to you, you’ll
need to break it down by providing specific examples of skills, concepts, and/or attitudes you’ve
learned, developed, or appreciated in this course that relate to your main claim. Each of these skills,
concepts, or attitudes will be the basis for your subclaims and body paragraphs.
Subclaims Examples
If you want to argue that citation and formatting establish an author’s credibility, for example,
you might defend the following subclaims:
SC1: Credibility is essential to an academic writer.
SC2: Accurate citation which we’ve worked on in class helps to establish credibility.
SC3: The accurate and careful paper formatting we’ve practiced likewise helps to establish
SC4: Accurate citation and formatting should not be considered less important than other
aspects of academic writing.
CONCLUSION: I will use these skills in later classes/in professional life by…
Essay Structure & Requirements
This essay will comprise the following elements, which are very familiar to you.
An Introductory Paragraph
The introductory paragraph will provide necessary context for your main claim. It should draw
the reader in with an engaging opening. This essay is not argumentative, so you don’t need to
introduce authors at this stage or present opposing sides, but you may choose to introduce one
or more authors if they help you provide necessary context for your main claim. Mostly, you’ll
want your readers to understand why this big idea is important in strong academic writing. The
introductory paragraph will logically lead to and include your main claim.
In the body of the essay, you’ll support a minimum of THREE subclaims. Each body paragraph
should begin with a subclaim.
EACH subclaim must be supported by a minimum of ONE CITATION (direct quotation or
paraphrase with an accurate in-text citation) from our class materials (no outside sources).
Overall, the essay MUST include FOUR different authors or sources.
In your conclusion, you’ll examine how the big idea of the essay and the related skills, concepts,
or attitudes will help you in your later classes and/or professional lives,
o You are required to use a minimum of FOUR DIFFERENT sources in the essay from this course
(not outside materials) and a minimum of ONE citation in EACH body paragraph.
o Your sources may include any of the materials found in the “Course Materials” module or any
other materials we’ve used during the semester to develop our academic writing.
o Outside sources are not to be used for this essay. The only exception would be a single
inspirational or philosophical quotation that relates to the big idea you are focusing on.
In-Text Citations are Required (A Works Cited list is not required.)
Accurate in-text citations are REQUIRED. If a source does not have an author, you may just use
the title or an abbreviated version of it in quotation marks, for example: (“In-Text Cheat Sheet”).
Accurate MLA Formatting
The essay must be accurately MLA formatted to demonstrate that you’ve acquired this skill in the
You must go through the checklist items to ensure that you’ve accomplished each. Remember that
each item represents an essential academic skill.
The Moves That Matter
in Academic Writing
both of the University of Illinois at Chicago
w. w. norton & company
new york | london
Demystifying Academic Conversation
Experienced writing instructors have long recognized
that writing well means entering into conversation with others.
Academic writing in particular calls upon writers not simply to
express their own ideas, but to do so as a response to what others
have said. The first-year writing program at our own university,
according to its mission statement, asks “students to participate in ongoing conversations about vitally important academic
and public issues.” A similar statement by another program
holds that “intellectual writing is almost always composed in
response to others’ texts.” These statements echo the ideas
of rhetorical theorists like Kenneth Burke, Mikhail Bakhtin,
and Wayne Booth as well as recent composition scholars like
David Bartholomae, John Bean, Patricia Bizzell, Irene Clark,
Greg Colomb, Lisa Ede, Peter Elbow, Joseph Harris, Andrea
Lunsford, Elaine Maimon, Gary Olson, Mike Rose, John Swales
and Christine Feak, Tilly Warnock, and others who argue that
writing well means engaging the voices of others and letting
them in turn engage us.
Yet despite this growing consensus that writing is a social,
conversational act, helping student writers actually participate in these conversations remains a formidable challenge.
This book aims to meet that challenge. Its goal is to demystify academic writing by isolating its basic moves, explaining
them clearly, and representing them in the form of templates.
In this way, we hope to help students become active participants in the important conversations of the academic world
and the wider public sphere.

Shows that writing well means entering a conversation, summarizing others (“they say”) to set up one’s own argument
(“I say”).

Demystifies academic writing, showing students “the moves
that matter” in language they can readily apply.

Provides user-friendly templates to help writers make those
moves in their own writing.

Shows that reading is a way of entering a conversation—not just
of passively absorbing information but of understanding and
actively entering dialogues and debates.
how this book came to be
The original idea for this book grew out of our shared interest in democratizing academic culture. First, it grew out of
arguments that Gerald Graff has been making throughout his
career that schools and colleges need to invite students into
the conversations and debates that surround them. More specifically, it is a practical, hands-on companion to his recent
book Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the
Mind, in which he looks at academic conversations from the
perspective of those who find them mysterious and proposes
ways in which such mystification can be overcome. Second,
Demystifying Academic Conversation
this book grew out of writing templates that Cathy Birkenstein
developed in the 1990s for use in writing and literature courses
she was teaching. Many students, she found, could readily grasp
what it meant to support a thesis with evidence, to entertain
a counter­argument, to identify a textual contradiction, and
ultimately to summarize and respond to challenging arguments,
but they often had trouble putting these concepts into practice
in their own writing. When Cathy sketched out templates on
the board, however, giving her students some of the language
and patterns that these sophisticated moves require, their
writing—and even their quality of thought—significantly
This book began, then, when we put our ideas together and
realized that these templates might have the potential to open
up and clarify academic conversation. We proceeded from the
premise that all writers rely on certain stock formulas that they
themselves didn’t invent—and that many of these formulas
are so commonly used that they can be represented in model
templates that students can use to structure and even generate
what they want to say.
As we developed a working draft of this book, we began using
it in first-year writing courses that we teach at UIC. In classroom exercises and writing assignments, we found that students
who otherwise struggled to organize their thoughts, or even to
think of something to say, did much better when we provided
them with templates like the following.
j In discussions of
, a controversial issue is whether
. While some argue that
j This is not to say that
, others contend
One virtue of such templates, we found, is that they focus
writers’ attention not just on what is being said, but on the
forms that structure what is being said. In other words, they
make students more conscious of the rhetorical patterns that
are key to academic success but often pass under the classroom
the centrality of “they say / i say”
The central rhetorical move that we focus on in this book is the
“they say / I say” template that gives our book its title. In our
view, this template represents the deep, underlying structure,
the internal DNA as it were, of all effective argument. Effective
persuasive writers do more than make well-supported claims
(“I say”); they also map those claims relative to the claims of
others (“they say”).
Here, for example, the “they say / I say” pattern structures
a passage from an essay by the media and technology critic
Steven Johnson.
For decades, we’ve worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-commondenominator standards, presumably because the “masses” want
dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the
masses what they want. But . . . the exact opposite is happening:
the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less.
Steven Johnson, “Watching TV Makes You Smarter”
In generating his own argument from something “they say,”
Johnson suggests why he needs to say what he is saying: to
correct a popular misconception.
Demystifying Academic Conversation
Even when writers do not explicitly identify the views they
are responding to, as Johnson does, an implicit “they say” can
often be discerned, as in the following passage by Zora Neale
I remember the day I became colored.
Zora Neale Hurston, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”
In order to grasp Hurston’s point here, we need to be able to
reconstruct the implicit view she is responding to and questioning: that racial identity is an innate quality we are simply born
with. On the contrary, Hurston suggests, our race is imposed
on us by society—something we “become” by virtue of how
we are treated.
As these examples suggest, the “they say / I say” model can
improve not just student writing, but student reading comprehension as well. Since reading and writing are deeply reciprocal activities, students who learn to make the rhetorical moves
represented by the templates in this book figure to become more
adept at identifying these same moves in the texts they read. And
if we are right that effective arguments are always in dialogue
with other arguments, then it follows that in order to understand
the types of challenging texts assigned in college, students need
to identify the views to which those texts are responding.
Working with the “they say / I say” model can also help
with invention, finding something to say. In our experience,
students best discover what they want to say not by thinking
about a subject in an isolation booth, but by reading texts,
listening closely to what other writers say, and looking for an
opening through which they can enter the conversation. In
other words, listening closely to others and summarizing what
they have to say can help writers generate their own ideas.
the usefulness of templates
Our templates also have a generative quality, prompting students to make moves in their writing that they might not otherwise make or even know they should make. The templates
in this book can be particularly helpful for students who are
unsure about what to say, or who have trouble finding enough
to say, often because they consider their own beliefs so
self-evident that they need not be argued for. Students like this
are often helped, we’ve found, when we give them a simple template like the following one for entertaining a counterargument
(or planting a naysayer, as we call it in Chapter 6).
j Of course some might object that
, I still maintain that
. Although I concede
What this particular template helps students do is make the
seemingly counterintuitive move of questioning their own
beliefs, of looking at them from the perspective of those who
disagree. In so doing, templates can bring out aspects of students’ thoughts that, as they themselves sometimes remark,
they didn’t even realize were there.
Other templates in this book help students make a host of
sophisticated moves that they might not otherwise make: summarizing what someone else says, framing a quotation in one’s
own words, indicating the view that the writer is responding to,
marking the shift from a source’s view to the writer’s own view,
offering evidence for that view, entertaining and answering
counterarguments, and explaining what is at stake in the first
place. In showing students how to make such moves, templates
do more than organize students’ ideas; they help bring those
ideas into existence.
Demystifying Academic Conversation
“ok—but templates?”
We are aware, of course, that some instructors may have reservations about templates. Some, for instance, may object that
such formulaic devices represent a return to prescriptive forms
of instruction that encourage passive learning or lead students
to put their writing on automatic pilot.
This is an understandable reaction, we think, to kinds of rote
instruction that have indeed encouraged passivity and drained
writing of its creativity and dynamic relation to the social world.
The trouble is that many students will never learn on their own
to make the key intellectual moves that our templates represent. While seasoned writers pick up these moves unconsciously
through their reading, many students do not. Consequently, we
believe, students need to see these moves represented in the
explicit ways that the templates provide.
The aim of the templates, then, is not to stifle critical
thinking but to be direct with students about the key rhetorical moves that it comprises. Since we encourage students to
modify and adapt the templates to the particularities of the
arguments they are making, using such prefabricated formulas
as learning tools need not result in writing and thinking that
are themselves formulaic. Admittedly, no teaching tool can
guarantee that students will engage in hard, rigorous thought.
Our templates do, however, provide concrete prompts that can
stimulate and shape such thought: 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? Who cares?
In fact, templates have a long and rich history. Public orators
from ancient Greece and Rome through the European Renaissance studied rhetorical topoi or “commonplaces,” model passages
and formulas that represented the different strategies available
to public speakers. In many respects, our templates echo this
classical rhetorical tradition of imitating established models.
The journal Nature requires aspiring contributors to follow
a guideline that is like a template on the opening page of their
manuscript: “Two or three sentences explaining what the main
result [of their study] reveals in direct comparison with what was
thought to be the case previously, or how the main result adds to
previous knowledge.” In the field of education, a form designed
by the education theorist Howard Gardner asks postdoctoral
fellowship applicants to complete the following template: “Most
scholars in the field believe
. As a result of my study,
.” That these two examples are geared toward postdoctoral fellows and veteran researchers shows that it is not
only struggling undergraduates who can use help making these
key rhetorical moves, but experienced academics as well.
Templates have even been used in the teaching of personal
narrative. The literary and educational theorist Jane Tompkins
devised the following template to help student writers make the
often difficult move from telling a story to explaining what it
means: “X tells a story about
to make the point that
. My own experience with
yields a point
that is similar/different/both similar and different. What I take
away from my own experience with
. As
a result, I conclude
.” We especially like this template
because it suggests that “they say / I say” argument need not be
mechanical, impersonal, or dry, and that telling a story and making an argument are more compatible activities than many think.
why it’s okay to use “i”
But wait—doesn’t the “I” part of “they say / I say” flagrantly
encourage the use of the first-person pronoun? Aren’t we aware
Demystifying Academic Conversation
that some teachers prohibit students from using “I” or “we,”
on the grounds that these pronouns encourage ill-considered,
subjective opinions rather than objective and reasoned arguments? Yes, we are aware of this first-person prohibition, but
we think it has serious flaws. First, expressing ill-considered,
subjective opinions is not necessarily the worst sin beginning
writers can commit; it might be a starting point from which they
can move on to more reasoned, less self-indulgent perspectives.
Second, prohibiting students from using “I” is simply not an
effective way of curbing students’ subjectivity, since one can
offer poorly argued, ill-supported opinions just as easily without
it. Third and most important, prohibiting the first person tends
to hamper students’ ability not only to take strong positions but
to differentiate their own positions from those of others, as we
point out in Chapter 5. To be sure, writers can resort to various circumlocutions—“it will here be argued,” “the evidence
suggests,” “the truth is”—and these may be useful for avoiding a monotonous series of “I believe” sentences. But except
for avoiding such monotony, we see no good reason why “I”
should be set aside in persuasive writing. Rather than prohibit
“I,” then, we think a better tactic is to give students practice
at using it well and learning its use, both by supporting their
claims with evidence and by attending closely to alternative
perspectives—to what “they” are saying.
how this book is organized
Because of its centrality, we have allowed the “they say / I say”
format to dictate the structure of this book. So while Part 1
addresses the art…
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