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TIPS FOR WRITING SOCIOLOGY ESSAYS

Essays should engage with the literature on a topic, presenting the key findings of the literature as it relates to the essay question. Essays are not places to express your opinions, at least this is not their main purpose. Why? Because by engaging with the literature you will develop new understanding, beyond what you knew when you started the essay—you will come to learn about a topic from all the research that has already been undertaken on it. Your personality comes into an essay in the way that you engage with the literature, how you structure the essay, what themes you concentrate on, how well you frame your analysis, and so on. Remember, all great writers developed their understanding from engaging with research already undertaken.

The essay introduction should ‘answer’ the question in the first 2 or 3 sentences. Don’t start an essay with a long and roundabout summary—get straight to the point. An introduction should close with a very brief list of the 4, 5, 6 or so main points that the essay covers. You may also want to put in some background in the middle of the introduction, but don’t go overboard—you are answering a specific question, not providing a general overview. The opening ‘answer’ is difficult to do; that’s why a good introduction is impressive. So make a first attempt at it, and then return to it when you’ve finished the essay, once you know the topic well. An introduction is like a brief taster for the essay, so don’t go into any detail.

Then you should have 4, 5, 6 or so main points, which expand upon the ‘answer’ with which you began the introduction. Each point should be developed in one or two clear paragraphs, step by step—take your time explaining that one point. Don’t have any half paragraphs, one-line paragraphs, or anything like that. When you have finished your point, move onto the next in a new paragraph, trying to link the two with one sentence. A good essay is like a rainbow (sorry!), with distinct but related paragraphs that progress from one to the next.

If you are confident that your structure covers the main points of the essay theme, then there’s no need to keep referring back to the question. Rather, focus on explaining these points in detail. Don’t rush them, and don’t collapse different points together in one paragraph.

The conclusion should return to the question. Ask yourself, ‘so, how have I answered it?’ and explain that briefly, making sure that you use the terms of the question. It’s a good idea to try and pull out one or two points that somehow characterise the topic as a whole, or point to an intriguing aspect of the argument. Don’t add in anything substantially new—otherwise the reader will wonder why you didn’t put that in the body of the essay.

Quotations must be explained; they can’t stand alone without explanation. It’s a good idea to use quotation when a point is well made or controversial or difficult. Don’t go overboard, and don’t waste quotation on general points. All essays must be fully and correctly referenced—see ‘Course Unit Outline Part II’ on Blackboard.

PLAGIARISM: PLEASE DON’T DO IT. It’s very easy to spot, if you do it on assessed work you’ll have to attend the plagiarism board, get a mark of zero, and it will go on your record—it’s very sad indeed for all concerned. If you are in any doubt whatsoever as to what constitutes plagiarism then talk to Nick Thoburn or your tutor. More information on plagiarism is in the ‘Part II’ on Blackboard. Ignorance of what constitutes plagiarism isn’t a defence.

Nick Thoburn

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