As a sociology major, you will complete a variety of writing assignments to demonstrate your knowledge and research skills, your ability to apply and synthesize abstract concepts and theories, or even show your critical thinking skills. Below is a brief description of the types of paper assignments that are common across the sociological discipline. Of course, your instructors may have other ideas of how you should demonstrate your writing abilities, but these assignments will certainly show up sooner or later in your academic career. (Dartmouth College's Explanation of Writing in Sociology)
Critical Thinking/Social Issue Paper
Probably the most common paper you will be asked to write as a sociology student will require you to examine a specific social issue in which you have to consider the social, political, or economic forces that contribute to or influence theis issue. An instructor may ask you to apply a certain concept or theory, or even take a position and provide supporting evidence. It may also require critiquing a position. Regardless of the topic or directions, instructors will use this assignment to evaluate your critical thinking skills.
The Literature Review (a/k/a the Term Paper)
This specific approach to writing usually entails two tasks: (1) identifying a research question or topic of interest and (2) conducting library and/or Internet research to locate scholarly research articles, books, or Internet materials that address the topic selected. This paper is not a mere listing of research findings, but a synthesis of materials to develop a new way of thinking about a topic or suggests directions for further inquiry (see Giarrusso et al., A Guide to Writing Sociology Papers ). This assignment will also require you to use an appropriate citation and reference style; you can check out our suggestions in the Writer's Guide.However, always follow the instructor's suggestions for citation styles. You can find examples of this type of writing in:
- Literature Review using APA Style Citations
- Literature Review examples from Students (PDF)
- The Process of Writing a Literature Review (provided by Dr. Cameron Lippard) (PDF)
The Research Paper/Project
Like the literature review paper, you will be required to select a research question or topic and conduct library and/or Internet research regarding scholarly work. However, you will go one step further and conduct your own original research on the topic. This is where you will do what most scientists do: formulate and test hypotheses, use research methods to collect data, complete a quantitative or qualitative analysis of the data collected, and provide conclusions that link your data to the theoretical arguments you discussed in your literature review. In general, this paper will include the following sections: (a) Introduction, (b) Literature Review, (c) Methods Description, (d) Results (data analysis section), (e) Discussions and Conclusions, and (f) References. Usually you will complete a paper like this during your Research Methods and/or Senior Seminar courses. Finally, just like the literature review paper, you will have to use an established citation and reference style. The links below, to already published papers, are good examples of how to do this.