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Typical Writing Assignments in Sociology

What is meant by Sociology and What Type of Papers Do Sociologists Write?

Sociology differs from many other subjects - English, history, literature and so on - in that the subject is new to a lot of students. Therefore, a brief look at the work of sociologists may help. The subject itself covers a diverse range of topics and subject matter. Some sociologists, for instance, study family-related issues including marriage, marriage breakdown, the raising of children, domestic violence and similar. They might look at how these issues apply in different societies, cultures and/or time periods, and how they affect different institutions and the individuals concerned. Other sociologists look at society’s larger institutions e.g. the hierarchies and structures of government and business organizations. There are others who study social groups and political movements e.g. the civil rights movement in America. Last but not least, some sociologists focus on the various inequalities and divisions in society with particular emphasis on issues like class, gender and race and how these issues affect a person’s opportunities and life choices. Therefore, sociology covers the study of almost everything. Consequently, it is the perspective taken by the writer rather than the subject matter that decides whether a paper is sociological or not.

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So what perspective constitutes a sociological one? In its most basic form, sociology tries to gain an understanding and provide an explanation of the interaction between individual people and groups of people in a particular society. How does one go about doing this? In a 1959 book entitled The Sociological Imagination, the author - C Wright Mills – claims that neither a society’s history nor an individual’s life “can be understood without understanding both.”

What a Typical Sociology Assignment Entails

When it comes to a sociology assignment, how does all the above apply? Sociology assignments at undergraduate level can involve any one of a number of approaches, but the most common approach includes reviewing any available literature on a given subject, conducting tests, applying a specific perspective, theory or concept, or writing a relatively short research-style report. This usually means combining application and any literature review findings.

Critical Analysis/Review

A review includes looking for any existing research on a given topic and evaluating and/or summing up the findings. All material should be organized in a clear manner and presented in synthesized form for the benefit of the reader. An effective review is more than a summing up of literature; it should examine the material for links and patterns and discuss the strong and weak points. The aim is to show your readers how all the collected information fits neatly together, what data is trustworthy, what additional work is required to bridge any gaps and what the implications are. This requires a lot of thought, organization and expertise on the part of the writer. You must show you can see the rights and wrongs of the arguments in the literature you have read and offer a valid opinion on which pieces of evidence are most credible, despite the material being new to you.

Testing a Concept or Theory and/or Applying It

Application requires you to apply a theory or concept to a given example in order to test how well you understand that theory or concept. To do this successfully, the following steps are required:

  1. Make sure you understand all aspects of the theory or concept clearly.
  2. The next important step is choosing a suitable case to study. Make sure this is not overly similar to the theory or concept you are applying because this will make it less interesting and will not allow you to showcase your ingenuity. Neither should you select a case that is too dissimilar because it may seem irrelevant.
  3. Finally, you will need to do an analysis that digs well beneath the exterior. Examine the process in action. Remember you are trying to argue and/or prove in detail that the example and theory have similarities.

Writing the Research Paper

The last part is the daunting task of writing your research paper. Actually, this is nothing more than a merger of the parts discussed above. Start by critically reviewing all literature and use this to develop the key question for your research paper. Often, this will be founded on an application e.g. “The following ideas will contribute to explaining X.” or on the testing of a hypothesis e.g. “If the following ideas are accurate, Y should result from an examination of  Z.” The writing skills you have acquired from other assignments should prove an immense help in this research project.

Thus, we come to the end of this short introduction to writing sociology papers. Sociologists are often idiosyncratic people, so expectations and instructions may vary from one tutor to another and from one class to another.

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