“Sociology is the scientific study of human social life. Sociologists seek to describe social patterns and to develop theories for explanation and prediction of social processes of all sizes. Sociology applies objective and systematic methods of investigation to identify patterns and forms of social life and to understand the processes of development and change in human societies.”
Sociology can be described as the scientific study of society. Sociologists follow the scientific method in research and translate that research into language that is applicable to diverse audiences. Even if you don’t plan on becoming a sociologist, learning to communicate in the writing and oral styles that are specific to sociology can be useful in many professions. Even though sociological writing is presenting research about the social world, which we all live in and experience that does not mean that the sociological style of writing will come naturally. Whether you’re writing a “low-stakes” summary of assigned readings, or a “high-stakes” research proposal, there are stylistic rules specific to sociology that need to be followed. This writing guide aims to help students in sociology courses understand these guidelines and improve their sociological writing.
Departmental expectations include:
- Enable students to understand the interactions among individuals, groups, and social institutions in society
- Develop student competence in understanding, critically assessing, and applying major sociological concepts
- Introduce students to the various theoretical perspectives of sociology
- Develop student understanding of research methods appropriate to sociological inquiry
- Develop student competence in posing research questions, evaluating evidence, and developing logical arguments
Writing in sociology can be either argumentative or analytical. Too often, students in sociology try to find the “right” answer, rather than taking a stance on the literature. There are various writing genres within sociology. These genres include, but are not limited to: social issue analyses, article critiques, literature reviews, quantitative research designs, quantitative research papers, qualitative research designs, and qualitative research papers. Common types of writing in sociology classes at UNC Charlotte include summaries of readings, topic essays, literature reviews, methodological designs, and research proposals. For these writing assignments, you will be asked to analyze and critique previous research or make an argument for proposed research, or both. While the exact style of writing will vary by assignment, and by professor, the writing norms of sociology will always apply.
Writing and Speaking Norms in Sociology
The learning objectives for sociology courses can be reached through communicating in a way that is appropriate to the field of Sociology. As a student in Sociology, you will regularly engage in various types of writing. As is the case in other academic disciplines, sociologists have developed a style of writing that is most appropriate. The American Sociological Association style guide presents the fundamentals of sociological writing. Following these guidelines, writing in sociology should be:
- Clear in expression, with respect to ideas and structure
- Concise and coherent, avoiding wordy phrases
- Absent of language reflecting bias or stereotypes
- Using an active voice
- Use verb tense that is consistent within a section
- Proper citations, using American Sociological Association (ASA) guidelines
Examples of Common Assignments
The sociology department, as well as all departments at UNC Charlotte, incorporates low-stakes, medium-stakes, and high-stakes writing into the curriculum. It is not uncommon for sociology courses to assign written work from all of these levels.
Low-stakes assignments serve as a means for input: exploration, discovery, hypothesizing, problem-solving, and so on. Think of these assignments as "writing to learn". Below are some examples of low-stakes assignments commonly used in sociology courses.
- Brief in-class writing assignments on course topics.
- Summaries of assigned readings.
- Creating a hypothesis.
- Brief, or list-like, writings about a topic.
Medium-stakes assignments focus on certain thinking processes within the discipline. These assignments are still primarily informal but require more guidelines for format, structure, and style that are appropriate to sociology . These assignments are typically done in one sitting and do not require extensive revision. Below are some examples of medium-stakes assignments commonly used in sociology courses.
- Response papers on lecture or other course materials that incorporate sociological perspectives.
- Wiki contributions, blog posts, discussion board posts.
- Reflection papers on personal experiences.
- Analyses of current issues or events.
High-stakes assignments are easily recognizable. These assignments incorporate analysis, argumentation, or both to a broad range of concepts or readings. High-stakes writing assignments are subject to several revisions and follow more closely the style guidelines of sociology. Below are some common high-stakes writing assignments in sociology:
- Research proposal or research report.
- Written report on qualitative or quantitative research done by the student.
- Final papers that integrate the entirety of course topics.
Here's an example of a high-stakes research proposal with instructor comments.
Listed at the bottom of this page in the attachments section is an example of a survey research paper done by a UNC Charlotte student as well as the rubric the instructor utilized for grading purposes.
Below are several tools and tips to help you communicate effectively in sociology.
General Advice for Non-Majors will help students not familiar with writing in sociology.
ASA Style Guide will provide examples of the writing and speaking norms in sociology, as well as show how to properly cite resources.
This Reading Guide will help students learn how to approach sociological literature.
The Writing Resource Center at UNC Charlotte provides writing services to students.
Citation Guide will help you make sure that all of your resources are properly cited.
The University Center for Academic Excellence (UCAE) provides academic support for UNC Charlotte students.
The Dr. Abel Scribe citation tool is another useful guide for learning about the ASA’s formatting rules as well as its citation guidelines.
Endnote - Citation software program available to UNC Charlotte students.
These sections adapted from:
American Sociological Association. 2010. American Sociological Association Style Guide.4th ed. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association.
Bean, John C. 2001. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Darmouth Institute for Writing and Rhetoric "General Advice for Non-Majors" accessed 2013.
Harris, Angelique and Alia R. Tyner-Mullings. 2013. Writing for Emerging Sociologists. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications
Johnson, William A. et al. 2004. The Sociology Student Writer’s Manual. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall
UNC Charlotte Department of Sociology “Home” section accessed 2013.