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Writing in Your Discipline: Writing for Social Sciences

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Psychology has a lot of different subfields and different kinds of writing tasks or goals. What’s considered “good” writing may change for these subfields and/or kinds of writing, but Psychology usually aims to study behavior as well as the factors/mechanisms/properties that support behavior.” Miami University’s Howe Center for Writing Excellence’s Psychology writing guide explains more about these writing goals, plus how to use the scientific method, build credibility, navigate different subfields, etc. when writing in Psychology.

Because of the differences among subfields, audience, purpose, and context are very important when writing in Psychology. Purdue’s OWL’s Psychology writing guide offers tips for how to approach these elements and also breaks down how to format, use tables, and write lab reports in Psychology.

Writing in Psychology relies on and values evidence. Harvard’s Psychology writing booklet provides valuable tips for reading, writing, and handling evidence in Psychology, including a list of “dos” and “don’ts” and a step-by-step guide for writing in Psychology.

There are a lot of different kinds of writing in Psychology, like reaction papers or research papers. UNC Chapel-Hill’s Psychology writing guide gives tips for writing such papers, plus advice for improving clarity. For example, research studies typically have four distinct sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion.

Writing for Social Sciences

Ideally your writing should be clear and straightforward. A lot of students feel that their style is not sophisticated or "academic" enough, and try to complicate their sentence structure and vocabulary in order to make the writing sound more impressive. Your lecturers and tutors will be far more impressed by your ability to respond to assignment topics in language that is clear, coherent, well-structured and accurate.

Appropriate academic writing style should be formal rather than conversational so avoid slang and contractions (conversational forms like isn't, it's, or would've instead of the "written" forms is not, it is, or would have).

In Arts and Social Sciences subjects many of your assessments will take the form of essays. They need to:

  • include appropriate content
  • be supported by evidence and properly referenced sources
  • make use of logically ordered paragraphs
  • have sentences that are grammatically complete and use proper punctuation.

Political Science

Political Science explores relationships among and within governments, societies, and individuals, both domestically and internationally. The UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center’s guide to writing about Political Science adds that “political scientists study such struggles, both small and large, in an effort to develop general principles or theories about the way the world of politics works.”

On the other hand, political theory deals more with “historical and normative” analysis than it does empirical analysis. Basically, while most political science uses the scientific method to analyze politics and assess “how things are,” political theory investigates how these political ideas developed and debates how things “should be.” Political Science values objective reasoning, clear and logically presented arguments, thoughtful consideration of opposing arguments, and thorough evaluation of relevant, empirical evidence for and against your main claim. 

Like all scientists, political scientists employ the scientific method to objectively analyze and deduce truths and build theories about the world we live in. Duke University’s Thompson Writing Program’s Political Science writing guide provides a thorough explanation of how this process works, as well as a step-by-step description of the research methodology political scientists generally follow. Writing in Political Science may include argument essays; responses to articles, texts, or events; research papers; and op-eds. 


Sociology courses also often give different types of writing assignments, including critical reviews, applying or testing a theory/concept, and research papers. Typically, though, writing in Sociology focuses on three main elements: the thesis, evidence, and unit of analysis. On top of describing each type of writing and its purpose, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Writing Center’s Sociology writing guide breaks the above three elements down accordingly: 1) the thesis must be straightforward and it must not assume its own conclusion; 2) the evidence must be empirical, gathered from qualitative and/or quantitative methods; and 3) the unit of analysis (or perspective) must be clear and consistent.

In particular, the thesis should be debatable and narrow — in other words, the thesis must have a reasonable counterargument and be supported by the evidence analyzed in the paper. There are two types of theses in this field: an analytic thesis (a claim about “what is”) and a normative thesis (a claim about “what should be”). UC Berkeley’s Sociology writing guide explains more about what these theses might look like in a sociology paper. They also define “good writing” as writing that includes a clear thesis, carefully-selected evidence, thorough analysis, and logical organization. 

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