Writing in the Social Sciences: beginning readings

An excellent introduction to writing in the social sciences is available through JSTOR. I think it would be a good place to begin.
“On Scientific Writing”
William F. Ogburn
The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 52, No. 5 (Mar., 1947), pp. 383-388

I hate to admit that we are far behind the times in this presentation, but I found a journal article from 1977 which discusses the creation of the course I will be teaching next semester.

“Writing for the Social Sciences”
Eleanor M. Hoffman
College Composition and Communication, Vol. 28, No. 2 (May, 1977), pp. 195-197

“The Hierarchy of the Sciences?” by Stephen Cole in The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 89, No. 1 (Jul., 1983), pp. 111ff argues that there is no difference between the natural (hard) sciences and the social (soft) sciences in terms of cognitive consensus or the rate at which new ideas are incorporated.

This might be an interesting way to address the feelings that social sciences isn’t as strong/hard/core as natural sciences.

Writing in the Social Sciences: Sample Syllabi

This syllabus from Penn State has as a scheduled beginning exercise watching Fight Club. They also read parts of Fast Food Nation. This is definitely a writing class first, with social sciences second. There is quite a bit of rhetorical theory, including Toulmin and claims (Aristotle).

A unit on writing and inquiry in the social sciences

Unit II – Writing and Inquiry in the Social Sciences
Objectives of Unit II: To familiarize students with the issues debated in the social sciences, and writing skills used in the social sciences. To increase student confidence in reading and writing in the social sciences. The successful completion of an experiment in the social sciences.

Class …
“Issues in Social Science – Social Science in Perspective”
Introduction to the Social Sciences Unit
Reflection and in-class writing on science unit. Introduction to the social sciences.
Relating social science to lived experience. Topics in Social Science.
Read: “Behavioral Studies in Obedience” “On ‘Obedience to Authority’” “Interpersonal Dynamics in a Simulated Prison” Optional: “Some Conditions of Obedience and Disobedience …” Write: Personal Reaction Essays. 1-2 page on each experiments.

Experimentation in the Social Sciences
Class discussion of the articles on the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milligram experiment. Discussion of the way knowledge is achieved through experimentation in the social sciences. Discussion of the purpose of such knowledge. Opinion vs. Evidence. Discussion of potential experimental topics for the Social Science Paper.
Read: “On the Ethics of Intervention …” Survey Building Complete: Ethics Survey/ Certification: http://hstraining.orda.ucsb.edu
Write: Proposal for experimental topic.

Class …
Refining and Conducting a Social Science Experiment / Experimental ethics.
Share experimental ideas. Discussion of ethics in the social sciences. Group the students into optional experimental teams. Workshop on writing effective survey questions.
Conduct: Experimental Survey

Class …
Interpreting and Presenting Data
Discussion of collected data from surveys. How to interpret information. How to craft raw data into a polished report. Group work on organizing and presenting results effectively. Discussion of experimental form.
Read: “Field Study and Reports” Write: Individual Rough draft of Social Science Experiment.

Class …
Social Science Report Workshop
Peer review and workshop of Social Science Experiment. Class discussion of common difficulties or problems. Volunteers to share portions of Social Science Experiment.
Write: Final Draft of the Social Science Experiment.

This course requires as a text
Behrens, Laurence and Rosen, Leonard J. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 8th ed.
New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 2002

The social sciences unit:

Unit 1: Social Sciences
Monday 9/30: Introduction and diagnostic

Wednesday 10/2: The basics of writing a college paper
Distribution of the assignment for paper 1
Reading: “Group Minds” (WRAC pp.306-8) and “The Organization Kid”
(WRAC pp.365-74)

Monday 10/7: Summary
Reading: “Opinions and Social Pressure” (WRAC pp.309-15)

Wednesday 10/9: Paraphrase and quotation
Reading: “The Perils of Obedience” (WRAC pp.317-28)

Monday 10/14: Critique
Reading: “Review of Stanley Milgram’s Experiments on Obedience” and
“Obedience” (WRAC pp.329-45)

Wednesday 10/16: Peer review of rough drafts

Writing in the Social Sciences: notes and ideas

Writing in the Social Sciences is a new course that I will teach in the spring. I am very excited about this course. My department is less thrilled. They see it as a service course for the social sciences rather than a writing course for writing majors. Nevertheless there are students wanting and needing to take the course and we have the ability to teach it, so we are going to.

I am online looking for ideas. If you know of any good readings, texts, or websites, please let me know.

I think I have found some useful ideas and websites.

Way to present the course
Science Writing Syllabus, complete with a Narrative Arc section entitled “The Story of the Course.” The course includes writing popular articles for the field. (And an ethnography and a controversies project.) I like the way he presented the course and I might look at that for the syllabus presentation.


The Social Sciences Virtual Library includes a list of the disciplines, journals, and scholarly societies. I like the anthropology link, because it further divided anthropology into (applied, biophysical, cultural, and linguistic) fields.

There is also a page for Social Science Sites by subject. Biosciences is included, but nothing else that deals with nursing. (Nursing students are apparently taking the course as well.)

The University of Texas offers a page of links for writing across the curriculum, including specific disciplines of social science (such as psychology) and in the social sciences as a group. Most of the social sciences sites didn’t work.

Introduction to primary research
The OWL at Purdue offers a description of how to do primary research that is very good. I think that it might be something to take the students through to start so that they can see where you begin to do research.

Types of papers/presentations

The OWL at Purdue also has a whole section on Writing in the Social Sciences, including:
Writing Scientific Abstracts presentation
Sample APA lit rvw
Social Work lit rvw guidelines
Writing with Statistics

Types of psychology writing
includes essays, lit reviews, and research papers. It includes a discussion of purpose, components, and suggestions.

For example:


A description of information with citations, related to your topic or research question
Identification of theoretical conflicts or controversies related to your research question
Any needs or questions for further research to address

I found this to be a good beginning resource. It might help me create my own documents for the course, by reminding me what needs to be in the descriptions.

An excellent Power Point Presentation on how to create a poster for the social sciences is available from George Mason U.

What if my students had to make a poster presentation on the work of one article? It would be interesting, would start them on the path, and would get some discussion going. I like that idea. It would let them know that there is a wide array of information out there (by seeing other students’ posters) and it would get them involved… Now where are those used? I don’t know. Maybe I need to ask a sociologist, psychologist, anthropologist.

Reading… abstract… poster… annotated bibliography…. literature review… research paper…

This is a hypertext guide to writing in psych. It has good information on Latin, abbreviations, and old usage in texts.

Note that (except for et al.) these abbreviations are only used in parenthetic material. In non parenthetic material, use the English translation.
Do not use E and S as abbreviations for experimenter and subject. This was done in articles written many years ago.
Note the following common abbreviations and note also that you do not use periods with them.

He also has a long and specific section on writing research and on research reports (lit review type).


A series of weblinks and exercises on Visual thinking, visual computing has some interesting things. I like the exercise where the Japanese topography is illustrated through 15 woodblocks. It is the first one.