Writing in Sociology
Students of sociology, like students in other social science disciplines, communicate what they know primarily via written work. We assume that you’ve come into sociology because you are curious about how society works, how it is changing, and why people in groups behave the way they do. According to the American Sociological Association’s recent study on why students major in sociology, the top reasons for choosing sociology include: interesting concepts, enjoyed first course, understanding social forces, wanting to help change society, and wanting to understand our own lives. Students care about “educational inequality, crime waves, natural disasters, race relations, social networks, urban communities, and political movements” (ASA, 2010:41). The top skills that students report having gained in the course of their baccalaureate education include: identifying ethical issues in research, developing evidence-based arguments, evaluating different research methods, writing a report understandable by non-sociologists, forming causal hypotheses, using computer resources to develop a reference list, interpret data, and using statistical software” (ASA, 2010:10). Most of these skills will rely heavily on the student’s ability to communicate what s/he knows through good writing.
Types of Writing Assignments
It is difficult to provide a compendium of assignments requiring writing in sociology, but some of the kinds of writing we do in and outside of sociology classes (in no particular order) include:
- Keeping a journal or a blog
- Being able to take careful notes on class reading
- Free writing in class
- Being able to clearly summarize scholarly ideas by writing abstracts
- Expository writing
- Persuasive essays
- Formal literature reviews
- Term papers based on original synthesis of secondary sources
- Formal, original research
Effective Writing in Sociology
Students should make sure that they understand what is being asked of them, and if not, clarify with the professor. Beyond that, reading the assignment carefully and understanding what is meant by such standard phrases as “compare and contrast,” “synthesize,” “abstract” is a helpful starting point. Students are encouraged to take advantage of all of the writing resources available to them—some of these include feedback from their professors, peer review from classmates, and input from University Writing and Multiliteracy Center tutors.
Upon entering the Sociology Program as freshmen, students should understand and follow the basic rules of grammar and punctuation. You should also be able to organize and structure a composition of any length in order to clearly communicate.
Upon beginning upper division (Junior/Senior courses) in Sociology, students should be able to demonstrate proficiency in writing – that is, to have moved beyond an SOCIOLOGY CI WRITING GUIDE 72 understanding of the basic rules of grammar, spelling, syntax, and organization -- to develop a more mature voice as an advanced undergraduate student of sociology. The student should understand how to build an argument, whether it be theoretical, empirical or both.
Graduates of the Sociology Program should be able to:
- Recognize good writing;
- Be able to give good feedback about writing;
- Be capable of working alone or with a team of students to conduct original research posed in the framework of appropriate sociological theory. This includes being able to formulate a clear hypothesis, synthesize existing literature in an original interpretation, build an argument based on data, and drawing original conclusions. Good sociological writing, like good writing anywhere, is concise and spare, clear and original.
Sociology uses American Sociological Association formatting for formal written work. However, consistency is often more important than formatting style. Any good writing guide, beginning with the ASA Style Guide ( 4th edition), but including APA, MLA and others are fine. We also recommend the wonderful Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White.
American Sociological Association. 2010. American Sociological Association Style Guide, 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Sociological Association
American Sociological Association, Research and Development Department, 2010. Launching Majors into Satisfying Careers: A Faculty Manual with a Student Data Set. Washington, D.C. : American Sociological Association.
Strunk, William, Jr. and E.B. White. 2000. The Elements of Style, 4th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.