A few years ago, I created this
class at Rutgers University.
It is now required as part of
Rutgers’ sociology program.
I also introduced another course
at Rutgers called the Teaching Practicum, designed
to help graduate students learn
how to teach. That course hasn't
been offered in a long time.
It's too bad that there isn't
as much concern for teaching.
Writing for Sociologists
Wed, 4:10-6:50, Spring 1996
Office: A351 Lucy Stone
The course is practically, not theoretically, oriented. That is,
the main requirements are: write,
write, write, edit, edit, edit,
share, share, share.
It's strange to find sociologists thinking about writing as if it
weren't a social thing. The
image is that of a lone creator,
locked away in a musty, or beautiful,
office hammering away at the
keyboard emerging, finally one
day, with a complete manuscript.
The image is utter fantasy.
For even if someone were to
lock themselves away for a day,
or a week, and actually produce
a manuscript at the end they
would not be alone. The audience
is always with you, even if
you don't explicitly conceptualize
it. And that, all by itself,
makes writing inherently, unalterably,
ineluctably social. That
writing is social has enormous
implications for what and how
we produce. The basic building
block of this course is the
sociality of writing. All else
will revolve around this main
theme. Details will follow.
Two books you should buy (at the Livingston bookstore) are Howard
Becker's Writing for Social
Scientists and William Strunk
Jr. and E.B. White's The
Elements of Style. ((The
original, which bears only Strunk’s
name is online.) I think
Becker's book is quite good
on a number of issues; I think
Elements is a sacred
document. Beyond these readings,
as you see below, I have a set
of recommended readings,
and I do mean recommended. That
is, it would be nice and good
if you read one or two or some
or all of them and we can talk
about some of the issues as
they arise. It would also be
nice for you to read, and suggest
for the class to read, other
things you've found helpful.
I've found many useful practical,
theoretical, and moral prescriptions
in these readings, but I won't
require them because when you're
reading you're not writing.
And we all want to write. There
is nothing else.
There are several aspects to the course's structure:
1. Each person will distribute a paper, or a piece of a paper,
a week before a class. (Hence,
having a draft of a sociology
paper already in hand is a prerequisite
of this course.) Everyone in
the class will respond in
writing to the author. If
you wish to make additional
comments on the paper you may.
But that is no substitute for
detailed, considered comments.
Then we will talk about the
criticisms and other issues
during class (where other issues
= everything from split infinitives
to the issue of sociological
importance). The details of
all this we'll work out the
first class period. Probably
we'll cover two people in one
class period. (How many people's
work we can cover in a single
period will depend on how many
people take the class. But,
if there are not a lot of people
in the class then you'll have
the opportunity to go more than
once.) So, for example:
Student A photocopies (at her expense) a paper on Week
2 for the class (i.e. make a
copy for everybody, including
me) that will meet Week 3. You
should have this paper to us
no later than the Wednesday
before you are scheduled to
present. We all then comment,
in writing, on the paper and
a separate sheet. The comments
on the paper itself should be
about minor things ("vague";
"nice example", etc.).
The comments on the separate
sheet should be about major
things and you should make a
copy of those for me. This is
an important part of the assignment,
so it's not acceptable for you
to make big comments on the
paper and then give me a copy
Week 3 comes and we all bring our copies of the paper
and the comments to class for
discussion. We go through the
big criticisms and suggestions,
talking about the issues. In
addition, perhaps we bring up
some issues we've read about
in the required or the recommended
2. In addition, there are many issues that I especially want
us to attend to, and I intend
to bring up these issues throughout
the semester. A partial list:
terse vs. discursive styles,
using irony, effective arguing,
writing for trade and academic
audiences, journal and book
reviewing (an important part
of the writing enterprise),
and the politics of publishing.
By the way, I've titled the course Writing for Sociologists, and
I mean it literally and in its
double sense. That is, 1) we'll
presume you are writing to publish
for a sociological audience
and 2) this course is not open
Careers in print:
books, journals, and scholarly
reputations, American Journal
of Sociology, 1995, 101(2):433-494.
Strunk and White and Becker, in their entirety are required for every
1. Jan 17
2. Jan 24
3. Jan 31
4. Feb 7
5. Feb 14
6. Feb 21
7. Feb 28
8. Mch 6
9. Mch 20
10. Mch 27
11. Apr 3
12. Apr 10
13. Apr 17
14. Apr 24
On Writing, Editing, and Publishing, University of Chicago
Jacques Barzun and Henry Graff
The Modern Researcher, NY: Harcourt, Brace, and World,
Robert Graves and Alan Hodge
The Reader Over Your Shoulder, 2nd edition, NY: Vintage,
Writing Stategies: Reaching Diverse Audiences, Qualitative
Research Methods Series Vol.
21, Newbury Park: Sage Publications,
On Writing Well, Harper Collins, 1990.
Barzun, "English As She's Not Taught"
Graves and Hodge, "Where Is Good English To Be Found?",
"The Principles of Clear
The Terror of the Frozen Keyboard (or quill pen)
Barzun, "Introduction" and "A Writer's
Issues of Rhetoric and Style
Barzun, "Lincoln the Writer"
Graves and Hodge, "The Graces of Prose"
Albert Hunter, ed., The Rhetoric of Social Research:
Understood and Believed, Rutgers
University Press, 1990.
Words, Paragraphs, and The Thinking Problem
Barzun and Graff "Organizing," "Plain
Words," "Clear Sentences,"
"The Arts of Quoting and
Walter Powell, Getting Into Print, Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1985.
Richardson, entire (70 pages)