Tips Straight from Professors

Note: These tips should be used only as general guidelines for writing in Sociology. Though most writing in Sociology shares key characteristics, writers should be mindful that every professor looks for something different in papers, every paper has different requirements, and every student has a different method and style of writing.

What is one thing that students must never forget about writing in Sociology?

  • For me the most important thing is logic. They have to be able to show me that they know what causes what, and how. That’s true both of the argument they’re making and of the structure of the paper. The structure of the paper has to have a logic. —Professor Eleanor Miller

What makes you go “Wow” when reading papers? –In a good way?

  • I think the “Wow” factor for me is when a student has good diction. I find that pretty rare-when students know the subtleties of what words mean and can choose exactly the right word to express what they want to say. I think that’s a sophisticated skill, and one that a lot of students don’t have, because they don’t read enough, in my opinion. —Professor Eleanor Miller

What makes you go “Wow” when reading papers? –In a bad way?

  • I think the really “Wow, terrible” thing is when I try to explain something in class and then I get it back in a way that’s completely garbled, and I have a good sense that it’s not me. —Professor Eleanor Miller

What are some primary differences between qualitative sociological writing and quantitative sociological writing?

  • Quantitative sociological writing is going to be interspersed, usually, with formulas and tables and texts. [It is] usually pretty to the point and not very much contextualized. Qualitative work is going to be much more narrative. It’s going to try to capture the emotion of the moment, the emotion of the speaker, which quantitative analysis is trying to eliminate. Context is really important-describing the context, the setting, maybe even the physical attributes of the person-really important. Quantitative analysis is more interested in sort of a representative person without embodied characteristics or context. They’re very different approaches. Ideally, they should be complementary, but they’re usually not in Sociology. The writing styles are very different [between quantitative and qualitative analysis], and reflect the approach and subject matter. —Professor Eleanor Miller

What do you mean when you say quantitative sociological writing is typically not as contextualized?

  • Because quantitative people are trying to be scientific, they try to weed out. anything that’s individualistic, that would prevent them from coming up with generalizations and ultimately laws. Qualitative people don’t believe that’s possible, so they don’t try to do that. they think you lose a lot of interesting data when you do that. —Professor Eleanor Miller

Do you have any advice for a student writing in sociology for the first time?

  • I think they should pay attention to the different varieties of ways in which sociology is presented, so they understand that there are several right ways to write sociology. Then you have to learn to adapt your writing of sociology to the subject matter and to the course. It’s like a mini-experiment in knowing your audience. [Students with experience in sociological writing] should do this better, with more ease. The content will be deeper and broader, and their sociological knowledge will be deeper and they’ll be able to draw on it and make connections across courses, [demonstrating] the ability to integrate material and still make it have a coherence. —Professor Eleanor Miller

Is there anything you would like the UVM Writing Tutors to know about sociological writing?

  • It is imperative that the student be able to tell a story, that there is a narrative foundation that has a beginning, middle, and end, and a logic. That’s the most important thing, I think. Other than that, students who read a lot are good writers. Students who don’t, aren’t. You have to be able to tell a story to engage your reader, and reveal to the reader what the logic of the narrative is. Organization is really important. —Professor Eleanor Miller