Beating the Monster ‘Academic Writing’ Through Templates

Have you ever sat down to write and panicked? Oh gosh! What do I write? I have nothing to say about this topic! Is the feeling of wanting to write about ‘something’ but not knowing what to write about it familiar to you? I know I have most certainly been there. At such times, many of you like me, may have received the advice, read what others have written about the ‘something’ you wish to write about.

What? Read what others have written! Wouldn’t that pollute my mind? Wouldn’t it bury my original ideas under the burden of acquired ideas? I most certainly thought so. Therefore, my approach during my literary studies was, beat yourself up till the time you can squish out every possible minute and remotest idea related to the ‘something’. Once my original creation was ready, only then would I smugly turn to others and half-heartedly listen/read what they had to say. The result? My output was at times miraculously superb and at times absolutely ignorant. What then is the solution I propose? Templates.

Image of a woman protesting against the use of templates for academic writing.

Using templates
Whoaaaa…I most certainly hear voices roaring in protest and shouting plagiarism. However, in the introduction to They Say I Say: With Reading, Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein provide templates designed to aid students in the art of academic writing. Specifically, Graff and Birkenstein argue that the types of writing templates they offer, motivates writers to listen to conversations, think critically, enter into a conversation, and question and respond critically as well as respectfully.

As the authors themselves put it, “Though the immediate goal of…[the]…book is to help you become a better writer, at a deeper level it invites you to become…a critical, intellectual thinker who, instead of sitting passively on the sidelines, can participate in the debates and conversations of your world in an active and empowered way” (Graff).

Nope, its not plagiarism

Image of a man who looks fishy to symbolise plagiarism.

Although some people believe, that the use of templates in academic writing takes creativity out of the writing process, makes it a robotic rather than a human endeavour and is akin to plagiarism, Graff and Birkenstein insist that the templates are like prompts, that make writers bring their original ideas to the surface in response to the ideas circulating around them.

Quite sensibly, they point out that like the use of the phrases, “However”, “Nevertheless”, “Furthermore” have become a part and parcel of academic writing and their use is not considered plagiarism, similarly, the writing templates too can be seen as a part and parcel of academic writing that could serve to string together original ideas produced by the writer and his milieu.

Templates: A way to enter conversations

Two people having a conversation.

In sum, then, their view is that it is of foremost importance as an academic writer to first listen to and summarise what has been said on the topic one wishes to write on and then enter into the conversation from an informed and knowledgeable space.

This information and knowledge would allow a writer to put forth arguments that have a strong basis for agreeing or disagreeing. The templates merely serve as different paths that we could consider taking while forming our arguments or they could also help us come up with our line of argument.

I quite agree with the proposal that has been put forth by Graff and Birkenstein. In my view, the types of templates that the authors recommend helped me realise that it was acceptable to respond to what has been said with my opinions and perspectives and that contributing to the on going conversation is also valuable. That merely saying what I thought without considering what has been said was akin to shouting on top of an existing conversation trying to drown the other voices. For instance, Graff and Birkenstein’s templates, “In recent discussions”, “My own view is”, “For example”, “In sum then”, not only provide a logical course of arguments in an academic writing but also mirror the thought process of an individual as they read and respond to that reading. Additionally, some templates like “While I agree with X that” and “While X argues, I argue” help a writer come up with alternate ways to express their opinions and break the monotony of writing.

Do templates kill creativity?

Image of an ink pen poised over a paper with cursive writing. It symbolises creativity in writing.

As has been acknowledged, some might object, of course, on the grounds that such templates kill creativity and try to systemise writing. Yet I would argue that, unbeknownst to most of us, we are constantly abiding by writing templates. Is it not true that we are taught to have an Introduction, Body and Conclusion in our essays? Are we not taught to introduce and explain the theory in an essay before implementing it in our writing?

Moreover, irrespective of the templates, we have to fill in the words that follow them and indeed those words are our own and original. Overall, then, I believe—an important point to make given all the arguments against the use of templates is that it allows beginners, like me, to break into a conversation and even helps accustomed writers who feel stuck to grope their way forward into a conversation.

Well it has allowed me to break into the conversation about academic writing for sure. Do you think you can spot the templates I have made use of in this article?

Until next time,
Happy Writing!

Works Cited:
-Graff, Gerald, Cathy Birkenstein and et al. They Say I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing With Readings. W. W Norton & Company, 2018.
-Feature Image: Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash
-Photo by Vlad on Unsplash 

Decoding The Templates Used Above

-Have you ever….‘something’ you wish to write about.

>>Using Templates
-In the introduction to They Say I Say: With Reading, Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein provide templates designed to
-Specifically, Graff and Birkenstein argue that….
-As the authors themselves put it….

>>Nope it’s not plagiarism
-Although some people believe…..Graff and Birkenstein insist that

>>Templates: A way to enter conversations
-In sum, then their view is that
-In my view
-For instance

>>Do templates kill creativity?
-[S]ome might object of course
-Overall, then, I believe

>>Sign off


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