Understanding the "They Say, I Say" structure can help you read and understand information and information sources. This is because "They Say, I Say" is built into the basic structure of information!
It's tempting to say information is just facts, and facts are simply there in an obvious and immediate way. You read them, you understand them.
Even a moment's thought, however, shows that this isn't the whole truth. Think of any fact, and you can also think of some ways or some contexts in which it doesn't hold. If you now think about the fact you thought of originally, you'll find that you now recognize some of the limiting factors or contexts for it.
The truth is that every fact has a context and a history, and facts "change" or become clarified through what others say in response, and so on, and so on!
Many academic journal articles begin by referring to what previous researchers have said. The authors of the article then refer to what their research is about, an example of "I [or We] Say."
You've undoubtedly seen TV reports that include interviews with eye-witnesses or spokespersons representing the Police or other authorities. These are good examples of one source (the report) using other sources (the spokesperson), the "They Say, I Say" structure in action.
In some fields, researchers work with "primary" and "secondary" sources. These are fields like literature, philosophy, and history, where new research consists of engaging with a primary source, such as a short story, or a philosophical dialog, or a historical document such as a letter or government report. In such research, the researcher analyzes the primary source or sources and presents an interpretation or reconstruction as the research result.
Secondary sources in such cases are what other researchers have said about the primary source or sources. (Secondary sources might also be about method or the context of the sources or the research.)
In terms of "They Say, I Say," you will see in research articles in these fields:
As you write your own papers in these fields, you'll also tell your reader what the primary source says (They Say); what the secondary sources say (They Say); and what you say in response (I Say).
(Notice that it's perfectly OK to use more than one primary source and even expected that you'll use more than one secondary source in a paper.)
|Primary Source||Secondary Source|
|A short story, poem, novel or play||An article or book that analyzes the story or the writer's work|
|A philosophical dialog, book, or article||
An article or book that analyzes the dialog, book, or article or the work of the philosopher
|A historical document or set of documents, such as letters, diaries, and contemporary newspaper accounts and documents, related to a historical person, event, or situation||
An article or book that analyzes and interprets the same person, event, or situation
When you read or listen to a news report, you may have some difficulty identifying They Say, I Say in the report.
If the report quotes sources or participants in an event (They Say), the reporter or writer's response may seem to be missing (no I Say).
I think the explanation for this has to do with the journalistic standards. Journalism in its reporting role aims to be objective. This often means that the reporter's views on the event or situation are purposely left out. (Editorials, on the other hand, are designed to emphasize the "I Say.")
However, because the "They Say, I Say" structure is so important for information, reporters usually employ a They Say, They Say structure: "Eyewitnesses said ... Authorities now say ...." You will also find They Say, They Say in other kinds of writing.
When a report that we expect to be objective isn't, we recognize that as bias, propaganda, or "fake news."
Seen through the lens of "They Say, I Say," these kinds of things have too much of the "I Say." We expect academic writers to give us reasons to believe the things they write. Such reasons incorporate evidence, arguments, and summaries from other sources (They Say). In an academic essay, what I say should be supported by what they say and my own objective observations.
In propaganda or fake news, however, the author's "I Say" overwhelms the reader because, first, the writer insists on a view; second, it doesn't seem believable; and third, we're not given any reason to believe it other than the author's insistence. A skilled writer can even make false claims seem believable, especially if the reader isn't careful to apply critical thinking standards.
Often, unfortunately, a writer will want so badly to make his case obvious that he'll purposely
There are two lessons here. First, read and think critically. This is a skill you can develop.
Second, in your own writing,
Understanding the Information Cycle will help you understand how "They Say, I Say" is built into the structure of information in all forms and media.
Scholarly (or academic) journal articles exhibit the They Say, I Say structure clearly. Usually the first sentences summarize what "they say."
Look for "I Say" moments in the article near the beginning
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