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How to write a good sociology paper yourself

I want to just talk about how to write a good sociological research paper, because this is something that is really not taught a lot in classes, especially in undergraduate classes.

We tend to rely more on English and literature classes to teach people how to write. But for me personally, I never really understood how to write a good research paper until probably just last year.

I think it really finally clicked in my mind the actual structure and process of it. And ever since then, it’s been a lot easier for me and I’m a lot more confident in my ability to write research papers.

So I just want to go through some of these ideas briefly, to begin with.

Step 1: Format a good sociology question for your research

The first and probably most important step is forming a good research question. We all have lots of questions we want to answer, but a good appropriate research question for a research paper is very important.

So to start with, you need this sort of amorphous green blob here. This represents just coming up with a general topic that you’re interested in. And this can be anything sociological. You could be interested in studying gender or religion or in my case, social movements. This is just a very broad topic of interest.

Most people have something they’re interested in, at least that they would like to research. So just start with that nice and easy. But then second, you’re going to want to hone in on something specific within that broader category.

This can be a specific issue or a specific event. Let’s say what gender you want to study gender relations between parents and children, like how they treat sons differently than daughters or in my case, social movements.

Let’s say I want to pick a specific event. I can decide. I want to do a study on the Occupy central protests in Hong Kong that have been taking place since last year. That’s something relatively new that hasn’t been studied much. So there’s definitely some room there.

And then the third part, and again, for me, your research question is to come up with a unique theoretical perspective this little drawing represents this is an eye that’s looking at the thing. So that’s the perspective of the theory. And of course, the perspective is driven by theory. You’re going to need to read other studies that have been done to see what kind of theories have been used and what kind of theories have not yet been used. And that will help you form and decide what kind of theory you want to employ and how you want to look at this issue. So, for example, with the Occupy central protests, I could you know, from what I’ve read about the protests, I know that there’s a lot of police repression in China.

It’s not a very open society in terms of protests. So one thing that the protesters have done quite a bit is they’ve had to come up with new tactics of protest to evade and get around police repression.

In one case, they actually have used a large number of protesters have used umbrellas to block pepper spray from police. And some people have even taken to calling it the umbrella revolution as a result.

So based on what I’ve learned therefrom reading about it, I could decide I want to use McAdams theory of tactical innovation to look at these protests, to see how the protesters are innovating new tactics in order to stay one step ahead of the police and keep from being repressed in that way. That would be my theoretical perspective.

You can pick any kind of theory that’s appropriate for whatever it is that you’re studying in an important part of coming up with these research questions also is identifying gaps in the existing literature.

There are three types of gaps that you can exploit, basically to come up with something original, either picking an original issue or event that hasn’t been studied before or picking an original theoretical perspective that hasn’t been applied to a specific issue or event yet or a new one altogether.

Or third, just picking an original data source. If you have original data, you can use an existing issue or event and even an existing theoretical perspective, but study it using a new source of data to either verify or argue against other studies that have been done.

So that’s very important, is to find an opening, find something that that hasn’t been done exactly the way you want to do it quite yet. And so then you can make your argument and add to the existing literature in some way.

A structure of sociology assignment paper

Now, for the structure of the research paper itself, this is one of the most useful parts of this lecture. Research papers can be very daunting. Oftentimes when you go into it and you’re thinking, wow, how am I gonna write this 15, 10, 15 page, sometimes even 20-page paper?

That seems like quite a bit, especially if you’re not used to writing papers of that length or using SPSS. So hopefully this will help by breaking it down into sections and showing you exactly what these sections need to consist of.

Start with an introduction

First of all, you want to start with your introduction now, introductions typically about two pages. This is an estimate, though. It can be a little bit longer or a little bit shorter, just depending on how you want to start your introduction by presenting the problem or the issue or the event or whatever it is that you’re writing about, just sort of laying it out what it is. And you want to follow that up by stating the importance of that problem.

And this is critical because you want to give people a reason to read your paper. This is the classic. So what question of sociology you want people to have a reason to spend the time to go through and read all of these pages that you’ve written.

So you need to state emphatically what the importance of this issue is. For example, with Occupy Central, I could say this can have repercussions for other social movements. This could have repercussions for the political structure of China and the history of it in the future. There are all this these very important implications as a result of what’s going on here.

State the goals of your sociology paper

Now, after you’ve introduced your subject and stated the importance of it, you want to give a broad statement of what your goals of the paper are. This is not as specific as your research questions, but something more general like this paper will explore the dynamics between police and protesters or something like that.

And you want to go over, give a brief overview of the steps that you’re going to take through the paper as you address the problem, which you might want to go back and right after you finish the paper, actually, it’ll be a bit easier to do it that way. Next is the literature review. This is one of the longer sections of the paper, about three to five pages, I would estimate, start with exploring and explaining similar previous work that’s been done.

And there are two things you want to identify. Your first is stepping stones, which are other work, other theories that you can build off of. And the third sorry, the second there are gaps which are openings, which are things that have not yet been explored that you want to fill yourself. And then after you’ve explored existing work, you want to layout your theoretical framework that you’re going to use in your paper as you explore your data and then you want to in your literature review.

State your research questions

Typically it’s at the end where you state your specific research questions to do the statistical assignment right on sociology. And this could be one question or it could be two or three questions, just depending on what you’re looking at.

Method section

The next section is your method section. This is typically only about one or two pages. You just want to describe how you’re collecting your data, where the data is coming from, how you’re what type of sampling strategy you’re using, and how you’re going to analyze the data.

And this can vary widely, whether you’re doing a quantitative or a qualitative study, if you’re using statistical analysis or if you’re just doing some interviews for market research or something like that, next then is your results section here. This is about two to three pages.

This can be a lot longer if you’re doing some kind of quantitative analysis, though. And here you just lay out the specific results of your data analysis, you don’t want to interpret your results or theorize much here because that comes in the next section here.

You just want to state the specific cut and dry results of your study.

Discussion section

The next section is discussion, which is also about two to three pages here. You want to explain and interpret the results from the previous section. You also want to talk about the implications. So what?

  • Why are these results important?
  • What does this mean in the bigger picture?
  • Why should we care?

And you also want to in this section talking about the limitations of your study, any drawbacks, any data that you couldn’t access, any limitation that was in the study. You want to be very upfront about it, because if you’re not, somebody is going to catch it eventually and call you out, probably, and that’s going to be even worse. So just be honest and upfront about any limitations that you encountered during the course of the study.

If you’re doing a qualitative study, too, sometimes your results in your discussion section can be combined. Let’s say you’re doing interviews, then you can actually kind of do those in the same section. They don’t have to be excuse me, specifically distinct sections there. In fact, for qualitative work, people oftentimes combine those. And then last of all, your conclusion, which is only about one page, maybe two, if the most get in that. And here you just want to give a summary of what you’ve written about what you found and what your theories were, and typically what you find is the first or second paragraph of the summary ends up becoming the abstract of the paper.

And you’ll notice this if you go back and if you read other studies, look at the first or second paragraph of their conclusion. And it’s oftentimes very, very similar to the abstract itself. So this is just you just want to summarize generally what you did and what you found in your paper and think of it in terms of that abstract, that one paragraph kind of summary.

And then you also want to end with suggesting directions for future research, talk about what other people can do or what you would like to do that you weren’t able to do in the study.

That’s always a big, big help for research because we want to do more research. So if you want to keep that door open for other people to follow up. So in summary, we have these six sections of the paper. Each section itself is actually not that long. But in the end, when you put them all together, you end up with about a 10 to 20-page paper coming out of that.