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Department-by-Department Reference Guide

Writing in Social and Cultural Studies Courses

A Sampling of Advice from Faculty

This department includes four different undergraduate majors—Anthropology, Criminology and Law Studies,
and Social Welfare and Justice. As may be expected, the kinds of written work covered by this range of disciplines and subject matter can vary widely.

1.  What kinds of writing assignments can I expect in SOCS classes?
      Professors in this department listed a large variety of assignments that they give in various courses, from major term papers to short, non-graded papers. These include
short (2–3 page) reaction papers to readings, experiential papers, empirical (research) papers, research reports, group project papers (coauthored, 3–5 person groups).


     Term papers typically require extensive research and/or major data analysis. Classes that involve Service Learning projects or volunteer work may ask for journals and reflective writing. The internship in Criminology and Law Studies requires that each student develop a résumé.


     Other types of written work assigned in this department include

  • Book and film reviews
  • Position papers
  • Sequenced exercises on data gathering and analysis
  • Library investigation projects
  • Analysis of current events or cultural phenomena


2.  What qualities of writing are especially valued in SOCS classes?

  • Clear sense of the question or topic being written about
  • Clear purpose and reasonable argument with relevant support (evidence, references, illustrations/examples)*
  • Careful integration of literature used in paper (flow, coherence)
  • Good organization so that each part builds from previous section
  • Depth of coverage
  • Accuracy
  • Critical insight
  • Theoretical analysis and analytic sensitivity
  • Identification and questioning of assumptions
  • Creativity, exploration of ideas
  • Clear, concise language
  • Correct use and reporting of research methods if paper is empirical
  • Careful attention to typed format and documentation
  • Few to no grammatical or spelling errors

*As one faculty member notes, students should not argue from “common sense” or write off of the top of their head.

 3.  What kinds of evidence are recognized as valid in SOCS papers?

     This can vary according to the assignment and the particular field in which you are working. Be sure that you understand your professor's expectations. For those who are doing empirical work or research reports, journal articles or professional/peer reviewed pieces are required. For other papers, especially experiential papers or reaction papers, Web site citation may be appropriate.

4.  What citation conventions will I be expected to use in SOCS papers?

     Requirements for citation format vary by professors. Many prefer (some will insist on) the author-date format of the American Sociological Association (ASA), which you can derive from the opening pages of ASA journals. Student members of ASA can access a style guide through the ASA student section website. For other resources about using ASA format, click here.

     All faculty in the department emphasize that bibliographies are very important and that students must “give credit where credit is due.”

5.  Special do’s and don’ts for papers in the Social and Cultural Studies department


  • Cite material you use—even material you paraphrase!
  • Use active verb construction. 
  • Write more than one draft of a paper. This makes a huge difference in quality.
  • Run your spell check!
  • Do double-check the correct spelling of the names of theorists and authors you are citing, and terms you use.
  • Say “I” or “me” in papers—where and when appropriate.


  • “Borrow” ideas without citation, even if you paraphrase them.
  • Dash off a quick draft version and print it out to turn in.
  • Write the same paper for different classes, changing just a few details.
  • Try to sound “smart” to the point of using words and phrases that you don’t really understand—instead, write like you talk.
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Page Last Modified: October 18, 2018

  For suggestions and corrections, please email
Dr. Rebecca Nowacek, Associate Professor of English
Director of the Ott Memorial Writing Center, 240 Raynor Library (414.288.5542)
© 2005 Marquette University.
P.O. Box 1881 · Milwaukee, Wis. USA · 53201-1881