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Effective Writing in Sociology A-LevelHow to write better essays Chris Deakin Banbury School, Oxfordshire firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Think about Skills PartWhat skills are you assessed on in Sociology? Knowledge & Understanding This is the awareness of relevant sociological ideas, debates, theories, concepts and research findings. You need to be accurate in your presentation of material. Without this, arguments degenerate into personal anecdotes. Key Questions to Consider: • Do I know the main points of view and arguments surrounding this issue? • Do I know the key sociological thinkers and studies in this debate? • Do I understand the concepts and how they fit into this debate? Interpretation & Application This is the ability to select and use relevant sociological material in order to explain sociological problems and answer certain questions. The key issue here is the ability to apply sociological information in relevant ways to set questions. This includes relevant examples to support arguments. Key Questions to Consider: • Have I used sufficient course material in my work? • Can I link any current affairs/news stories to the question? • Can I use studies to support or undermine the arguments here? Evaluation This is the ability to ASSESS evidence or arguments in order to reach a balanced and reasoned conclusion. In a courtroom, a jury has to weigh up the evidence presented before reaching a verdict – you need to do the same. Consider points for and against and reach a fair/balanced conclusion.
Key Questions to Consider: • How many sides of the debate can you identify? • What are the main strengths and weaknesses of a given idea/argument? • Which evidence and arguments are most convincing and why? • Which views are most true to life? • What does a good Part 2 answer look like?Common Faults in Answers ‘Failing to answer the given question’ Students need to focus on the set question. What you write must be relevant and linked to the question set. You should use ‘signposts’ to direct your readers to help them understand where your answer is going. Introductions are vital to show your examiners that you have read a question properly. Answers must also be structured to answer questions effectively. ‘Saturation bombing’ Students cram their answers with all they know on a topic. Usually very descriptive, but not focusing on questions set. Relevancy is unclear. Students need to be more selective and know what to leave out and what to keep in. ‘Ignoring action words’ Students do not read questions carefully. They ignore the key words in a question which are designed to flavour the nature of an answer. Students can also fail to define and explore key words in essay titles. ‘Lack of illustration’ Students fail to support points with evidence. 2
‘Lack of structure’ Students appear to present points in a jumbled fashion and lack clarity and direction in answers. They do not organise points in a systematic way. Planning is absent and answers are confused as a result.What a good essay should look like A good essay should have a number of features. These include: • Takes the form of an argument which leads a reader from the introduction to a conclusion • It is clear to read and makes sense to the reader. • It is more than just listing everything a student knows. • Having a clear structure and direction. Essay Essentials • It is vital to have ‘an introduction → a body → a conclusion. • There needs to be a FLOW in your argument. Ideas must link together and these must be spelt out to your reader. • Good essays contain SIGNPOSTS. These are pointers that remind a reader of where you are coming from and where you are going. • Conclusions must make a brief sweeping look back over the argument of the essay and return to the question. • Sentences must make sense. • Avoid slang and use key terminology. • Uses evidence to support points being made. • Introductions should make a ‘punchy’ opening. • Display simple sentences which avoid rambling. • Have sharp endings at the close of paragraphs. • Be based on a well structured plan. • Be as objective as possible and avoid ‘I think’. 3
Key Questions that examiners ask when marking essays • Have students answered the question set? (check - are all points relevant) • Do students show a good grasp of the ideas that they have been studying on the course? (scan your notes and extract relevant material) • Have students presented a coherent argument? (organise your ideas – sort out points and develop a thread of meaning..create flow and use signposts) • Is the essay written in an objective/analytical style with appropriate use of evidence? • Is the essay well-written? 3 Strategies for Good Part Essay Writing The following tips are taken from a host of useful sources. They are divided into three sections; Starting Off, Planning and Writing.1. Starting Off a) Read and study the set question • Questions are worded carefully. They expect particular things of you. Read them carefully and consider each term given. • Think about the title for a couple of days. This helps you to clarify the key words and issues in your head. • Give attention to ‘action words’ and what they are requiring of you, ie) assess. • Identify the sociological context involved, the issues and debates that you will need to cover. 4
In brief • Read the question carefully • Think ! What exactly is the question asking? How could I best use my knowledge to answer it? b) Brainstorm your ideas • Write down all information/evidence that you think might be relevant. You can always cross things out later.2. Planning the essay • Organise your brainstorm into a logical sequence of ideas…number the points in the order that they will go into paragraphs. • Decide on the points for your introductory paragraph. • Decide on the points for the conclusion. • Think about structure and the links between the points that you wish to make in your work. • Always keep in mind what you wish to prove in your conclusions and how your ideas will feed into that. • Plan your paragraphs – Identify the separate points that you want to make and the order in which you wish to make them. Decide on evidence/studies and examples that you wish to use. • A good organisation technique is to consider THEMES in an answer. You could also divide a discussion into arguments for and against. • You can plan in a LINEAR NOTE FORM (point by point) or by using spidergrams/ mindmaps. 5
3. Writing the essay a) Introductions An introduction is so important to the quality of an essay. It must address the set question. A good introduction should: • Show an understanding of the concepts/theories referred to in the set question. (Including key definitions, setting out your stall, key points to be explored in the essay). • Show that you understand what the question is asking you to do. • Give some indication of the intended structure of the essay. • Be accurate in terms of grammar, spelling and sociological material. “MAKE A BOLD CLEAR START. ACKNOWLEDGE THAT YOU HAVE READ, UNDERSTOOD AND ARE GOING TO RESPOND TO THE QUESTION SET AND HIGHLIGHT A KEY DEBATE IF THERE IS ONE!” Some examples • “A popular debate in sociology concerns…….ie) the idea that ……… Whilst……claims……This viewpoint is hotly disputed by a range of writers who instead suggest that……….” • “ Sociologists have long been divided on the issue of ….By …..we mean that …… For example….claimed to have found evidence to support …., but this evidence is questionable because…” • “ Sociologists would support the view of …….to a certain extent, but evidence is far from conclusive because….” Things to avoid: • Starting with definitions – unless they are fully applied to the set question. • Answering the question in the first line – keep your options open by presenting a balanced introduction. • Things like.. “There are many points for and against the view that…” • Spelling incorrectly key words from the question. • Re-writing the question. 6
b) Constructing arguments and essay style The central part of your essay, which some people call ‘the body’, is likely to consist of an account of evidence based around different ‘themes’. Evidence to support your argument may take the form of; concepts, theories, research findings, examples from everyday life and statistics. There is a temptation to just list all of this evidence. But this is not enough to gain a good mark. To achieve this you need to use LINKING DEVICES such as; words, sentences or paragraphs that perform two key functions: 1. connect the evidence together 2. connect the evidence to the question set Use phrases to provide your examiner with cues. The following should help you here: How to connect the evidence together You can link material using ‘supportive links’ or ‘critical links’. Supportive links These are sentences that help bring in evidence to support a view. These will get you marks for interpretation and application as they show that you are developing arguments and applying further evidence to strengthen a case. When a number of points are included in an argument, this is called ‘range’. • Further evidence supports the view that….. • In addition…supports the idea…… • In support of the view that…….(a theorist) also believes…… • Increasing support for the view that….is….. • Not only does empirical evidence strengthen the…..theory, but case studies have also been used to lend further weight. • This argument has been developed by…… Critical links These are sentences that help to bring in other ideas in an evaluative capacity. They flag up to your examiner that your are evaluating and show that your answer is structured and has depth. • An alternative theory to the …..view was developed by..who argued…. • A major criticism of the …..view is……. • A major weakness of the …..theory is…. • Whereas the…..view focuses on….the….view explores….. • Although the …..theory is supported by……, certain evidence contradicts this by highlighting….. • A different explanation has been offered by…. • However…… 7
Try to avoid: • ‘and another study….’ (and just list evidence without using links) • Using the same link phrase again and again in the same essay. • Presenting the evidence without making it clear how/why it is relevant to the debate. • Presenting evidence without indicating how it relates to the previous sentence/paragraph. How to connect the evidence to the question When you leave one theme and move to another, you need to provide a linking device to act as a SIGNPOST. This indicates to your reader where you have been and where you are intending to go next in order to answer the question. Signposts often return explicitly to the questions. • “Whilst Becker notes how stereotyping takes place, others have explored the effects of this on students.” • “Whilst cultural factors are all about socialisation and values, material factors are more to do with resources and money.” • “So what does happen when a student feels like a failure at school.”c) Further notes on paragraph style Keep in mind the following points when you are writing paragraphs to impress an examiner: • You should start a new paragraph every time you introduce a major idea of piece of evidence. • Start a paragraph with a clear linking sentence. • State what a piece of evidence shows and what it means. • Apply your evidence to the set question. • In each paragraph aim to evaluate each piece of evidence that you put forward. If you have criticised an idea, etc, what does this mean for the overall question? This will help you link back to the question at the end of the paragraph. 8
d) Writing conclusions The following are key tips on how to approach writing conclusions in sociology answers. • Try to be bold – answer the question in a positive way. • Start with a clear linking sentence. • Provide justification for your answer. Do not just make a statement. Give reasons why an argument appears most convincing. • Try not to repeat yourself. • Do not choose one view completely over another..leave your conclusion open to imply that your are still unsure. • It is always good to re-read the main body of an essay before writing conclusions. • Try and refer to ‘recent developments’, ‘current affairs’ and issues like post- modernism. • Mention further areas for consideration. • Deal directly with the essay question.Try to avoid: • “We have looked at all viewpoints and a mixture of them is the answer…” etc • “And thus we can see…….”Good strategies may include…. • “ To conclude, it is probably the case that….However, we must bear in mind the idea suggested by….that argues…..which suggests that evidence on this debate is far from conclusive.” • “ I conclusion, it is clear that the debate is far from clear cut…..would support the view outlined in the title, but much evidence is suspect as so lacks value. It is perhaps reasonable to suggest that …………….. However, conflicting evidence makes it difficult to…………It may be that more research needs to focus on….” • “ To return to the question……..it appears that most evidence supports the view that…..However……” 9
ESSAY WRITING – A CONCLUSION1. Follow the 5 point plan : READ THINK BRAINSTORM PLAN WRITE2. Plan and structure your answer carefully.3. Make a bold start – demonstrate that you understand and are responding to the set-question with relevant knowledge.4. Use clear linking sentences to give your essay a logical framework.5. structure paragraphs – linking sentence/evidence (clear and concise), – interpretation (what does it show), – application (how is it relevant), – evaluation (how useful is it), – link back to the question.6. conclude boldly – giving reasoned, justified answer which logically follows on from the arguments presented. 10