Some General Tips for Those Having to Write a Sociology Paper
by Michael Sweeney
Beginning an essay assignment in a sociology class is much the same as in many other disciplines. Typically, you want to have an angle of approach. You want to have an opinion about a certain topic. Now, this does not mean that you have to have an opinion, you can choose to research a topic that you think you have an interest in and want to know more about, but have not yet formed a judgment on. However, most assignments will involve molding your own opinion and, as such, this article covers argumentative papers.
Sociology dips into a wide spectrum of subject areas. Some sociologists prefer to focus on family interaction while others have an interest in more macro-level issues such as institutions, both public and private, in the United States and around the world. Some hone in on issues surrounding inequality, be it class, race, or gender. At the bottom of all this is a sociologist's desire to understand social interactions. Sociologists look at all these things and many more in order to better grasp how people interact, both at the micro and macro levels, in various settings.
Once you have a topic and a viewpoint on that topic, you will need support for your argument. No paper can survive even the weakest scrutiny without some degree of support or evidence for your claims. There are many different routes through which you can garner support. Say, for example, your paper topic is on the reliability of eyewitnesses in criminal cases. Perhaps you believe eyewitnesses are often wrong about who exactly it is that they saw rob some old lady at gunpoint. But, perhaps you also believe that there are things that can be done to help improve an eyewitness' accuracy. Where would you go to find evidence for such an argument? Sociologists will employ case studies to help test theories about witness accuracy and institutional practices that aid or hinder such accuracy. These studies are frequently published in scholarly peer-reviewed journals (i.e. Law and Human Behavior, Criminology, Journal of Educational Sociology, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, et cetera). Different paper topics will often utilize different types of evidence, among these are surveys. Surveys can be in the form of mailed hard copy questionnaires, enclosed with SASEs, or surveys conducted over the telephone. Sociologists will also research census data and statistics.
Other Web Resources
There are countless sites on the internet that cover writing for sociological topics and classes. Here is a list I have compiled of some that I found helpful, with short descriptions of each (all citations are in APA format, 5th edition, 2001):
Abels, Kimberly. (2002, April 16).
UNC-CH Writing Center: Handouts and
Links / Sociology. Retrieved
November 26, 2005, from UNC-CH (University of North Carolina at Chapel
The link above covers general material on the components of writing a sociological paper. Also, along the left side of page is a column with a list of links to different parts of the writing process (i.e. Audience, Brainstorming, Introductions, Conclusions, Thesis Statements, Transitions, et cetera). The site is good for a broad introduction into writing from a sociological perspective.
Gocsik, Karen. (2005, July 12).
Writing the Sociology Paper. Retrieved November 26, 2005 from
This site is good for both sociology majors and students outside the major who might be taking a sociology class. The site starts out with a description of how sociologists view a topic as compared to how biologists or historians might view the same topic. The author gives the example of writing a paper on why there is such an abundance of women in college who have eating disorders, and then gives examples of how individuals from the three different disciplines might approach the issue. The site goes on to talk about some pre-writing strategies and has links to other general writing advice for all majors. She also covers the five basic types of sociological writing (book reviews/reviews of the literature, social issue papers, case studies/ethnographic research, general research, and writing with data) with descriptions of each of the types and their purposes.
Rogers-Dillon, Robin. Writing in Sociology. (n.d.) Retrieved November 26, 2005 from Queens College, City University of New York: <http://www.soc.qc.edu/robin/writesoc/>
Rogers-Dillon covers four basic steps: (1) finding a research question, (2) reviewing the literature, (3) creating an outline, and (4) writing and revising the paper. This is obviously a very simplistic view of the writing process, but it is a good website for anyone who has never taken a sociology class before or who is just beginning in college. She gives examples of what is too broad a topic and what is too narrow for a 10 page paper. She also has some good, though general, advice about drafts and final papers: any good paper should have at least three drafts, preferably four or more. She also has some more focused tips while writing, like not to use qualifiers (i.e. really, very, extremely, et cetera), or not to overstate things, among others.
Sands, Peter. (1999, April 15). Writing Across the Curriculum: Sociology Bibliography. Retrieved November 26, 2005 from University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee: <http://www.uwm.edu/letsci/edison/wac/sociology.pdf>
This is actually a four page .pdf document written by Professor Peter Sands at UWM. The file is a list of articles and other publications from several scholarly journals about a wide range of subjects, all relating to sociology. Sands also includes abstracts for each source. Some of the topics include reviews of the Writing Across the Curriculum program at various universities and their applicability to sociology. Other topics are more unconventional. For example, one talks about the concept of having students write short stories on sociological issues by researching a specific subject and then developing a plot and characters that can revolve around the issue. Many of the sources listed in Sands' bibliography are geared toward instructors rather than students; however, a student who might be thinking about doing research on the various teaching methods of sociology professors would find this an invaluable tool. If you do not already have it, you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader in order to read this document. If you do not have the Reader you can download it at this URL:
Writing Within Sociology: A Guide for Undergraduates. Retrieved November 26, 2005 from Oregon State University: <http://oregonstate.edu/cla/sociology/pdf/socwritingguide1-7.pdf>
This is an online publication from the Sociology Department at OSU, written in collaboration by ten members of the department's faculty. It is a 91 page guide that covers several different types of papers. It has tips on writing theory and content papers, as well as an extensive overview of writing both quantitative and qualitative research papers. Literature and book reviews are also covered. The guide possesses listings of sociological journals and tips for basic word usage, both of which are found in the appendices. This will also need the Adobe Acrobat Reader program.
Any one of these sites would, I think, prove valuable to a student new to college or the discipline of sociology. Most of these sites have links to various other writing and study-aide sites from other universities around the country.