Writing Tips, Proofreading, and Common Pitfalls to Avoid

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The Process of Writing a Literature Review (provided by Dr. Cameron Lippard) (PDF)

Proofreading Tips

Take a break and proofread it later. Unfortunately, this first tip requires that you write the paper well before your due date, but you should do this as a general good-writing practice anyway. Take a break after you have written the paper and let it sit for several hours or a day, so that it will escape your mind. This will make it easier to find problems later.

Why not use your word processing program's spell/grammar check for basic proofreading? This is a great start and you should really pay attention to those red and green wiggly marks, but don't blindly accept all the suggestions that spell/grammar check recommends; they could be wrong. Also, spell/grammar check will NOT catch all errors! An absence of red and green wiggly marks does NOT mean your paper is perfectly written.

Read through your work slowly, carefully, and out-loud. Again, you'll be surprised at the number of errors a human proofreader will catch that were missed by a spell/grammar check program. Even think about reading the document from end to beginning. Reading your work backwards focuses your attention on the spelling and grammar because we are trained to fill in missing words and skip over incorrect spellings.Take the time and slowly go over it.

Have a friend or family member proof your document. Even if they do not know anything about sociology, they can still identify grammar and spelling issues.

Purdue University Writing Lab's Suggestions on Proofreading

Common Pitfalls to Avoid

When writing a paper for a sociology course, take care to avoid the following common pitfalls:

Did not follow directions – Always read the directions! If you do not understand the directions, ask the instructor to clarify or provide examples.

Flawed arguments – Avoid three common flawed sociological arguments: arguing only from the perspective of the individual while ignoring social conditions, attributing patterns in behavior to "human nature," and explaining behavior as caused by "society" in general without looking at the societal processes at work.

Excessive summarizing/lack of analysis – Your task is to move beyond mere summary to help a reader understand your evaluation and analysis of the topic, texts or data.

Lack of an adequately complex thesis – A good thesis moves your reader beyond a simple observation. It asserts an arguable perspective that requires some work on your part to demonstrate its validity.

Lack of adequate support – A well-crafted thesis requires substantiation in the form of acceptable evidence. Often, if your thesis doesn't make a complex, arguable claim, the act of substantiation becomes difficult. Take care to develop a thesis that will require purposeful use of evidence.

Plagiarism – Plagiarism is the use of someone else's work or ideas, in any form, without proper acknowledgement. Whether you are quoting, summarize, or paraphrasing in your own words, you must cite your sources. Even if you do not intend to plagiarize, if you do not properly cite your sources, you have plagiarized.

Use of unreliable electronic sources – Take care to rigorously evaluate your sources, particularly ones from the Internet. Find out who authored the material, who published or sponsored it, how well the information reflects the author's knowledge of the field, and whether the information is accurate and timely.

Use of personal opinion or anecdotes – Personal opinions or anecdotes generally do not qualify as rigorous and appropriate sociological evidence in support of a claim. Your opinion does not qualify as data. Anecdotes (anecdotal evidence) can be used, often effectively, as an illustrative example, but that's as far as it goes. By itself, it does not provide a compelling argument for anything.

Improper use of a theory – If you are applying or testing a particular theory, be sure you have a good understanding of this theory. Since you don't know more than you know, it might be advisable to ask someone whose knowledge of theory you trust to review that part of your work.

Excessive quoting – When quoting a source in order to provide evidence, use only the relevant part of the quotation. When you establish a claim/assertion and provide textual support, be sure to explain the relationship between the quotation and the assertion. Your reader can't read your mind.

Shifting verb tense – Take care to shift verb tense only when necessary. Science's strong sense of timing requires that you accurately reflect that research was performed in the past and that certain knowledge is current.

Passive voice – Use active voice as often as possible. Active voice generally is more concise and lively than passive voice.

Reference to the author by his/her first name – It is customary and respectful to refer to the author using his/her last name.

No Name on Paper – Just because you submit the paper via e-mail or AsuLearn does not mean we know who wrote it. If you want credit for the paper, then put your name on it! Treat it as you would a hard-copy paper you submit.

(Adapted from the University of Montana's Writing Center)