Graff and Birkenstein's Do's and Don'ts



Introduction: "Entering the Conversation"

Main points:

  • Writing, like basketball or any other skill, involves mastering a series of "moves." 
  • One of this book's goals is to give you "templates" -- stock phrases with which you can easily make these "moves."
  • Good argumentative writing (academic writing is a type of argumentative writing) responds to others' ideas. It makes your ideas relevant to a larger conversation.


  • Frame your arguments as a response to other's ideas


  • Be afraid to use stock phrases ("templates")

Chapter 1: "Starting with What Others are Saying"

Main Points:

  • It should be obvious right from the beginning of your essay what idea you're responding to. 
  • There are many types of ideas you can respond to: 
    • widely held views, something you used to believe, something people imply but don't say outright, etc
  • There are many ways you can respond
    • agree, disagree, agree and disagree at the same time, etc
  • Don't let your reader forget what it is you're responding to. Keep reminding them of it.


  • Make it clear early in your essay what idea you're responding to


  • Confuse your reader by stating your ideas "in a vacuum"--i.e. without explaining what you're responding to
  • Let your reader forget what it is you're responding to. You need to keep reminding them of it.

Chapter 2: "The Art of Summarizing"

  • Summarizing others' ideas is important, because in order to respond to others' ideas, you need to be able to say what they are.
  • A good summary represents someone's ideas fully and fairly. It shouldn't oversimplify their ideas.
  • A good summary should emphasize those points or ideas to which you plan to respond; it should not simply list everything the author said without a clear focus.
  • When summarizing someone's ideas, make an effort to use vivid verbs (we call these "reporting verbs") to convey how that person is stating those ideas. Don't just repeat "he says" again and again.


  • Summarize others' ideas fully and fairly
  • Summarize with an emphasis on the points or ideas to which you plan to respond
  • Use vivid reporting verbs


  • Oversimplify others' ideas
  • List all the author's ideas without a clear focus
  • Keep repeating boring, bland verbs like "says" or "believes."

Chapter 3: "The Art of Quoting"

  • Quoting is important because it signals to the reader that you're representing others' ideas accurately. (Austin's addition: it makes the reader "hear" the voice of the person you're quoting)
  • It's important to choose quotations wisely. Don't just quote sentences willy-nilly; choose only quotes that support your argument.
  • It's important to "integrate quotations into your text" by saying where the quote came from and then by explaining what it means -- to you. Don't take it for granted that the meaning of the quote is obvious to the reader. Graff and Birkenstein call this a "quotation sandwich."


  • Pick good quotations -- those that "crystallize" the author's viewpoint (Austin's phrase) and that are relevant to your argument
  • Introduce the quotation: say where it came from
  • Explain what the quotation: say what it means to you


  • Quote something you could just as easily paraphrase (say in your own words)
  • Make "hit-and-run" quotations: quotations that begin out of the blue and aren't followed by an explanation