Writing in Sociology at Queens College

The Research Essay


ou are about to begin working on a research essay. The research essay is based on three assumptions:

  1. Writing and thinking are a part of the same process
  2. Revising and rewriting are an essential part of academic work
  3. Anything is possible if it is broken into small steps

Over the semester, you will develop a five-page essay based on research from a minimum of five scholarly sources. Your goal is to produce a professional level paper. Do not be misled by the length of the paper. It is much more difficult to write a short paper well than to write a long paper quickly!

On this page, you can get a general sense of the process of writing a research paper in sociology. For more details on any particular step, click on the boxed links. Each one leads to a more in-depth discussion of a particular facet of paper writing.

First Draft: For your first draft, you will be expected to write a detailed outline of your paper.
  • Start by identifying a question that is sociological. Pick a question that you love. You will be spending a lot of time with it.
  • Next, you will locate scholarly sources that are directly relevant to your question.
  • Finally, once you have located and read at least three to four sources, you will write a detailed outline of your paper.
Second Draft: In the second draft you will integrate your sources by means of a literature review and use sociological concepts to produce an in-depth analysis. Think of your second draft as your final draft - put everything you've got into it. Write it well (and proofread it!).
Third Draft: In the third draft, you should go through your paper and find the best parts of your arguments and analysis.
  • Respond to comments by classmates and of course by your professor - but also look at the ideas in your paper. Which ones are the strongest? Which ones aren't necessary to the paper?
  • You want to rip into the paper, making sure that it's well-written. Throw out everything that is unnecessary and build up everything that is interesting and important.
  • Start rewriting your draft by rethinking the structure and content of your paper. Don't start by trying to reword the second draft.
  • Take a hard look at every argument you make. Do you have the data or citations to support the argument? Is the point made clearly? Does this point fit in with the others you are making in the paper?
  • You may need to go back and do additional research. You may also need to throw out ideas or sources that are not working in the paper. This is hard to do, but the paper that emerges will be much stronger.

When you complete the research essay, you should have a solidly researched, tightly argued, and well written paper that can be used as a writing sample for graduate school or prospective employers. And of course you can simply hang it on the wall and admire its beauty.