As a student of sociology you will be reading, thinking and writing about many things that are already very familiar to you; things that make up the fabric of your social world, such as families, relationships, popular culture, current affairs, and the media. Because they feel so well acquainted with the subject matter, however, too many students make the mistake of thinking that the essay questions they are set are easier than they are.
When it comes to writing essays, this can lead to several common pitfalls. These include:
From the fact that sociology deals with social relations, institutions and norms of behaviour with which we are all conversant, it does not follow that sociological questions are easy, or that every opinion is as good as another.
The aim of sociology is to suspend one's habitual responses and to adopt a critical and theoretically sophisticated stance based upon a dispassionate evaluation of the evidence. This means questioning the opinions and attitudes we take for granted and understanding how they are arrived at. By stepping back from our preconceived views and assumptions we can arrive at a better understanding of why social relations, norms and institutions are as they are.
Most papers you will be asked to write in sociology will be thesis-based or argumentative essays. This means that, rather than simply summarising what others have written, you will be expected to articulate and defend a clear and coherent line of argument.
Writing a good sociology essay requires wide reading, good writing skills, extensive research, sound reasoning, and advanced critical thinking. Ideally, every paragraph should coalesce around a single thesis, and every substantive claim will be based upon sound evidence.
A good essay will demonstrate not only a clear understanding of technical and theoretical terminology but also the ability to apply them appropriately. Instead of simply describing the phenomena you will employ sociological theories and concepts to arrive at plausible (albeit contestable) interpretations.
Theory, methodology, evidence and argumentation are the indispensable tools that all sociologists need to employ in order to make sense of what they study. A good sociology essay draws upon each of these in order to arrive at conclusions that are the outcome of reasoned inquiry rather than ungrounded speculation.
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