Student Writing in The Sociology Major

Many courses in the Sociology curriculum include writing various types of papers, and many instructors use essay examinations in their grading system. This reflects the faculty’s recognition that competent writing is inherently valuable, and will be crucial in the lives of Sociology students after completing the Sociology program. Also, many instructors request “informal writing,” which is writing that helps you prepare for discussions, reflect on a reading passage, or enable instructors to get feedback on how well you are understanding concepts or issues. This reflects the faculty’s recognition that writing can be an important way to refine and extend your learning, over and above writing that shows what you have already learned.

The sequence of required courses in the Sociology Program include features that are intended to help you develop your skill at formal writing. Among other types of written projects, you will be asked to write topical essays, integrative reviews of published research, reports of original research, papers or essays that analyze social issues or policies, and other types of writing.

Competent writing communicates the author’s thoughts in a way that allows the reader to know exactly what the writer meant. You will need to write about complex sociological ideas clearly and concisely. Such formal writing often may be analytical, detached and presented in as unbiased a way as possible, aiming mainly to inform your reader and share knowledge. Other types your formal writing will need to be persuasive, such as various types of research proposals policy proposals, or recommendations to clients or agencies. Sociologists often have to make recommendations to government or corporate officials about social issues. In all of these cases, you must be able to develop a clear and logical argument, usually supported with evidence, that is comprehensible to the specific needs, knowledge, attitudes and expectations of your audience.

Here is a list of the most important standards and expectations about writing that Sociology instructors will use as they work with you to help you develop your writing skills from their current level to increasingly competent, controlled and effective writing.

  • Coherent and unified style consistent with purpose (using varied and appropriate sentence patterns and paragraph development)
  • Precise vocabulary (using but not overusing or misusing technical terminology)
  • Demonstration of an understanding of, not simply use, sociological concepts, theories and methodological terminology
  • Clarity of purpose
  • Appropriate use of logic and evidence
  • Effective consideration of audience (writing should be tailored to the needs, knowledge, attitudes and expectations of the audience)
  • Error-free punctuation, spelling and grammar, with consistent verb tense
  • Use of general format of introduction, evidence, and conclusions to structure a paper, even short papers and essays; paragraphs should be organized strategically, and advance the content of the paper logically. (This general format should be modified if the audience for whom the piece is written makes an alternative format more appropriate (e.g., with a sequence such as putting the issue in context, describing the conclusions of an analysis, explaining and supporting the reasoning and providing evidence).
  • When tables, maps, charts and illustrations are included in a text, accurate and complete description and interpretation of the meanings of such visual aids.
  • Proper citation of sources using the American Sociological Association format (taught in Soc. 200), unless the instructor specifically explains that the particular assignment or context of the writing requires a more informal documentation of sources.

The university’s General Education Program includes a requirement that all UW-L students take two “writing emphasis” courses. This requirement is intended to help students develop writing skills beyond the level achieved in the required composition courses. The Sociology program has now joined a growing number of programs that are providing an alternative to writing emphasis courses. The Sociology faculty has refined the way writing is integrated into courses throughout the curriculum. Students who successfully complete the Sociology major simultaneously meet the General Education requirement previously met by taking writing emphasis courses.