Sociology Thesis Writing Guide

Your senior sociology thesis paper will (hopefully) mark an auspicious ending to your academic career. Because this is the final impression that you are leaving with your professors, your final paper will need to demonstrate excellence - thorough research, extensive planning, and enough sophistication and logical organization lest your professors think you have written the entire paper on a laptop in the school parking lot a few hours before it was due. Avoid procrastination at all costs because you will not be able to do good work if you wait until the last minute - the average senior thesis paper is 30-50 pages.

In addition, you have to make original connections and make sense or your professor would believe she would be committing a terrible mistake in turning you loose onto the world with a Bachelor’s Degree in sociology. While your professor may have assigned all your work before, your area of research is something you must come up with on your own, which brings me to the first point.

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Topic Selection For Your Sociology Thesis

Now that you are getting started, the first thing you need to do is pick a topic. After three or more years of study in your field, you now have a much clearer picture of what interests you. Unfortunately, the truth is that most students have no idea what they want to write about for their thesis paper. This is understandable because you want to make sure that your topic is not so obscure that those in your field do not find it relevant, but not so broad that a thorough discussion in 30-50 pages is impossible. For example, writing about sexual abuse in general is too broad of a topic - there are too many people affected by this phenomenon and to treat all of it in one thesis paper is much too ambitious; there is simply too much to deconstruct. However, for example, tracking the educational and employment attainment levels of those that survived childhood sexual abuse may be narrow enough to cover in your allotted number of pages. In your brainstorming session, you might want to start with general topics and then raise questions whose answers might ‘fill the gaps’ in existing research.

Locating Source Material

Good research does not happen in a vacuum, thus it is very important that you choose reliable sources for your paper. At this point in your academic career, you know an open-source online encyclopedia such as Wikipedia (or answers.com) is not acceptable. The best places to look are academic databases such as JSTOR and Sage Publications for peer-reviewed journal articles - these databases have a great deal of information for students in the social sciences. Your university library also has a wealth of information. Most professors would prefer that you restrict your source-findings to these media. However, if there are news articles, movies or unpublished dissertations relevant to your research, then it may be wise to include them as well. After choosing a research topic, you want to gather and review the relevant source material. It is only after this step that it is possible to flesh out a thesis statement.

Developing a Working Sociology Thesis and Writing the Rough Draft

Now this is where the true work begins. As with any piece of writing, you must decide upon your main idea, and proving it using existing research. Quite often, you may be required to do independent research yourself. In any case, make sure your argument is not too broad (Alcoholism is correlated with lower socioeconomic status) or too narrow (Alcoholics tend to keep messy houses). You want to be able to find plenty of information for your project, but you want to avoid treading over the well-worn path. At any rate, your thesis statement is the pinnacle of your paper (the one thing everyone looks to) while the rest must support this metaphorical glimmering statue. Beware of the digression and the contradiction - no matter how compelling your thesis statement may be, any forays into the wastelands of irrelevance and contradiction will lose you points and if you lose your thread entirely, you may not get a passing grade. That is why an outline is extremely important: it will keep you on task, gently reminding you to stick to the point. Make the outline as long as you want, as it is easier to cut out the odd paragraph here and there, than it is to add several pages. Once you have a working bibliography, a thesis statement, and an outline you are armed with everything you need to write the rough draft. This may take a week or so.

Revisions and Producing the Final Draft of Your Sociology Thesis

After you produce a first draft, chances are it would not be good enough to submit. Typically, you will have grammatical errors, sentence structure issues, and a general lack of flow. Of course, that means breaking out the evil red pen and being ruthless with yourself. After a while, you will have trouble finding more mistakes and you will get complacent looking at your own writing. If possible, have a fresh pair of eyes look at the document because, more likely than not, you are too invested in your own work to cut out a brilliant, but useless turn of phrase. Sometimes, you can get a fantastic paper the first time. Unfortunately, that is like winning a prize in the state lottery - only a 1 in 20 chance.

Referencing

This list will be the last page(s) of your paper. For a well-referenced 30-50-page paper, you may want to have at least 100 sources. If you want to publish your thesis in a journal, please consult the formatting guidelines of that particular journal. Some prefer American Psychological Association (APA) style, others prefer the ‘footnotes and bibliography’ style (i.e. Chicago/Turabian). If this is for your professor’s eyes only, she will most likely ask that you complete the paper in APA as the author-date citation style is generally more favored by social scientists than the author-work style of MLA. To make sure that all in-text references and the bibliography are properly formatted, consult the latest style-guide, which is available at the local library, bookstore, or Amazon.com.

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