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7.5: Reading like a writer can help you develop conversations in your essays

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  • Returning to the conversation example above, it is important to remember that you are not just having a conversation with and about abstract ideas. Rather, you are having conversations with your sources, and your sources are having conversations with other sources. Your academic writing will be strongest when you 

    1) show the conversations that are happening in your sources

    2) create new conversations between your sources

    Showing the Conversations happening in your sources

    Use your active reading strategies to pay attention to what ideas your sources draw on and who they cite. The sciences and social sciences take this strategy very seriously. That's why academic articles begin with a literature review. You want to make sure that your experiment isn't just repeating past experiments. Whenever you are writing with sources, you need to establish what conversation has already happened before you can join it.

    If you are using a source that taking part in a conversation, you might find it helpful to describe that conversation. Consider this example from Vershawn Ashanti Young's essay "Should Writers Use They Own English?". In the essay, Young is having a conversation with another scholar, Stanley Fish. Young begins his essay by paraphrasing and quoting Fish.

    Cultural critic Stanley Fish come talkin bout—in his three-piece New York Times “What Should Colleges Teach?” suit—there only one way to speak and write to get ahead in the world, that writin teachers should “clear [they] mind of the orthodoxies that have taken hold in the composition world” (“Part 3”). He say dont no student have a rite to they own language if that language make them “vulnerable to prejudice”; that “it may be true that the standard language is [...] a device for protecting the status quo, but that very truth is a reason for teaching it to students” (Fish “Part 3”).

    Then, Young directly responds to Fish

    But dont nobody’s language, dialect, or style make them “vulnerable to prejudice.” It’s ATTITUDES. It be the way folks with some power perceive other people’s language. Like the way some view, say, black English when used in school or at work. Black English dont make it own-self oppressed. It be negative views about other people usin they own language, like what Fish expressed in his NYT blog, that make it so.

    If you wanted to include Young's ideas in your essay, you would want to summarize or paraphrase the conversation between Young and Fish. Young's statements about where oppression comes from are more powerful BECAUSE they are part of a conversation. So, you might write something like this:

    In "Should Writers Use They Own English," Vershawn Ashanti Young describes the discrimination that occurs when writing teachers insist that students only use "standard language." Young responds to Stanley Fish, a prominant scholar in the field of composition studies. Fish claimed that students who don't use standard language are "vulnerable to prejudice," but Young replies that "Black English dont make it own-self oppressed. It be negative views about other people usin they own language, like what Fish expressed in his NYT blog, that make it so."

    2) create new conversations between your sources

    A second useful strategy is to look for ways to put your sources together in new ways. If your assignment asks you to "synthesize", then you are being asked to put your sources in conversation. As you're taking notes, if you're using a Triple-Entry Journal you can use one of the columns to make connections between sources. Look for places where different sources seem to be talking about the same ideas, using the same terms, or using the same kinds of examples. Here's an example from Young

    But, let me be fair to my man Stan. He prolly unware that he be supportin language discrimination, cuz he appeal to its acceptable form–standard language ideology also called “dominant language ideology” (Lippi-Green). Standard language ideology is the belief that there is one set of dominant language rules that stem from a single dominant discourse (like standard English) that all writers and speakers of English must conform to in order to communicate effectively. Dominant language ideology also say peeps can speak whateva the heck way they want to—BUT AT HOME!

    Here Young is combining the ideas from Stanley Fish with the ideas from Lippi-Green.  A look at the Works Cited page tells us that Rosina Lippi-Green wrote a book in 1997 titled English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States. By citing this book from 1997. Young is showing us that this conversation has a long history, and that he understands the conversation just as well, if not better, than Fish. Combining these sources allows Young to carve out a space in the conversation that is his: by combining these two sources, Young is now in a space where he can add his own new ideas. 

    Use existing patterns within your essay

    By reading as a writer, you can begin to notice the ways that writers use similar patterns to have conversations in essays. Here are some useful patterns you can use in your own writing

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