Planning and Researching Your Essay
It could be argued that the most important stage of your sociology essay is not the actual writing period but the time you spend beforehand planning your essay, conducting research and collecting your reading materials. If you have been provided with a reading list by your tutor then you should attempt to get hold of as many of the works that you have been directed towards as you can. Your bibliography will inform the reader of the scope and quality of your reading and if you have included – and more importantly, appropriately cited and knowledgably quoted – key texts then this is likely to win you extra marks. Reading a wide variety of works on your chosen subject will also ensure that you have a wide knowledge of your topic and will also inform you any recent developments in, and key arguments on, the subject. Once armed with this information it will be easier for you to construct an argument and build a structure for your own work.
A well structured essay is not only easier and more pleasing to read, it also shows your reader that you are able to present logical, reasoned and rational arguments within a cohesive and disciplined framework. Structuring your essay should ensure that each section is given equal and appropriate weight and consideration and it ought to prevent you from spending too much time and too many words on one point at the expense of others. Structuring will also help you to stay relevant and keep on topic, as well as improving the ‘flow’ of your arguments so that they will not appear disjointed.
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You must always begin with an introduction that explains to the reader what your main thesis or argument is. You should then go on to demonstrate how this thesis will be made by outlining the key points you plan to make. A good introduction will leave the reader in no doubt about how you intend to go about your task and should also show that you have a firm grasp of the subject in hand. Next comes the main body of your essay in which you expand upon the key themes and arguments that you set out in your introduction, as well as supporting them with relevant evidence and data. Ideally, depending on the word count, you should have three or four key points that you wish to make, all of which should be directly relevant to the overall task of answering the question set. The last part of your essay is the conclusion, in which you are expected to sum up your arguments and findings. Try not to introduce new themes or ideas, as the point here is to merely recap and remind the reader of your overall thesis.
Correctly referencing your work is crucial as poorly referenced work will not only lose marks but it also risks accusations of plagiarism, As such you must be sure that you have fully cited all sources and texts that you have used. This applies not only for direct quotations but also for paraphrasing or the indirect use of another’s work. If you have drawn upon or been influenced by the ideas or theories of another work then you should reference your work in a manner that makes this apparent to the reader. The Harvard system of referencing is the most common for sociology. It demands that the author of a work and its date of publication are given in the main body of the text, with the full and complete details given later in the bibliography. By just referring to the author’s name and the date of publication this system has the advantage of cutting down the amount of extraneous information within your essay. It is considered more reader-friendly and accessible than those referencing systems that rely on footnotes and, once you have mastered the basics, it is easy for you to implement. When using Harvard referencing, citing a work in the text will look as follows:
…it is clear that “collectivist ideas are a fatal threat to individual liberty and freedom” (Hayek 1944, p.123)
If the author and/or text are not directly referenced in-text then your reference should looks as follows:
It has been argued that collectivist ideas were a fatal threat to individual liberty and freedom (Hayek 1944, p123),
If the author is mentioned in-text then you just need to provide the year of publication and page number, if applicable:
Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944, p132) argued that collectivist ideas were a fatal threat to individual liberty and freedom
Hayek (1944, p.123) argued that collectivist ideas were a fatal threat to individual liberty and freedom
With regard to your bibliography, it is important to remember that all texts should be listed alphabetically. There are also separate rules for how different types of work ought to be presented in a bibliography, as shown below:
Chity, C. (1999) The Education System Transformed. Tisbury: Baseline Books
Books are listed by author, date, title, place of publication and publisher. The author’s surname always comes first. The date refers to the date of publication and not the year of the particular print or impression. The title should be italicized. If a book has multiple authors then you should refer to the in the same order that the book itself does. If you have numerous work by the same author if the same year then you should distinguish them, both in the text and bibliography, by use of a, b, c…and so on – eg, Chitty, C. (1999a), Chitty, C. (1999b).
Harper Bulman, K. & McCourt, C. (2002). Somali refugee women’s experiences of maternity care in west London: a case study.Critical Public Health, 12(4) pp.365-380
Journal article information is presented as follows: author, date, title of article, title of journal, part number, page numbers. The title of the publication is italicized and page numbers need to be given where possible
If you have accessed a source online then it will need to be referenced in a particular way. You need to provide the exact URL address of the specific page, not just the address of the site that hosts it. You must also give the date on which the piece was accessed. If a date is not given then you must put “date unknown.” If you cannot identify the author then use the name of the publication /website in its place (e.g. The Guardian).
Burke, J., (2004) Theatre of Terror. The Observer, 21 November [online]
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