Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article: Second Edition (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing)

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Students and researchers all write under pressure, and those pressures—most lamentably, the desire to impress your audience rather than to communicate with them—often lead to pretentious prose, academic posturing, and, not infrequently, writer’s block.

Sociologist Howard S. Becker has written the classic book on how to conquer these pressures and simply write. First published nearly twenty years ago, Writing for Social Scientists has become a lifesaver for writers in all fields, from beginning students to published authors. Becker’s message is clear: in order to learn how to write, take a deep breath and then begin writing. Revise. Repeat.

It is not always an easy process, as Becker wryly relates. Decades of teaching, researching, and writing have given him plenty of material, and Becker neatly exposes the foibles of academia and its “publish or perish” atmosphere. Wordiness, the passive voice, inserting a “the way in which” when a simple “how” will do—all these mechanisms are a part of the social structure of academic writing. By shrugging off such impediments—or at the very least, putting them aside for a few hours—we can reform our work habits and start writing lucidly without worrying about grades, peer approval, or the “literature.”

In this new edition, Becker takes account of major changes in the computer tools available to writers today, and also substantially expands his analysis of how academic institutions create problems for them. As competition in academia grows increasingly heated, Writing for Social Scientists will provide solace to a new generation of frazzled, would-be writers.

Product Details

  • Series: Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 2 edition (December 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780226041322
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226041322
  • ASIN: 0226041328
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.8 ounces

Customer Reviews

Good, but the second edition has few changes

17 people found this helpful.
 on January 21, 2008
By Hal Jordan
I bought the first edition of this book about 20 years ago and found it very helpful. I long ago misplaced my copy and so was happy to order the new second edition. On reading the book again, I found Becker’s advice to be as good as I remembered, but I was disappointed that he had made so few changes in the “second edition.” Essentially, the first edition has been reprinted verbatim–even typos weren’t corrected–with a relatively few pages of additional material added to the last two chapters. Chapter 9 now contains Becker’s general thoughts on recent software that he considers useful to writers. This discussion would have been more helpful if he had been willing to mention specific programs. I guess he decided not to either to avoid giving free advertising or to avoid dating the discussion. The last chapter gives some interesting, if brief, observations on the place of writing in modern academic life.

A practical and profound analysis of writing as a practice

2 people found this helpful.
 on October 10, 2014
By Dan
Becker’s message for his readers is to set aside their fears, relax, and do it. As unimpressive as that advice may sound, it is laid out in very modest, clear, practical terms and, like all good analyses, it is hard to implement because it goes to the heart of the matter and questions the assumptions that guide people’s writing practices, mostly without them realizing it. It helps that Becker has been grappling with similar problems for 30+ years as a writer, teacher, and editor. I will try to give a bullet list of what I took away from the book. That fails to do justice to the book, predominantly for two reasons: Firstly, the proof is in the pudding. If Becker is critical of citation practices, his own relatively short bibliography is rich and thought-provoking. Secondly, he has a knack for situating the problem in its context. Along the way, he appears to sociological gems of analysis like the dichotomy between head and hand, “the corruption of indicators,” “pluralistic ignorance,” etc. Some of the conclusions are a little too quick, but, overall, this is quality sociology applied to a common problem.

Great Author, Great Work

3 people found this helpful.
 on December 7, 2008
By Daniel Douglas
Howard Becker is indispensable to any student of the social sciences. This book, which provides insight into how to work efficiently as a scholar in the discipline, is an excellent resource. Read it while you’re writing so you don’t lose sight of the goal of finishing your work.

Writing for All Scientists

6 people found this helpful.
 on March 10, 2009
By Antonio Dias de Figueiredo
Howard S. Becker, the author of “Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article”, is a social scientist. Of course, no respectable scientist, social or non-social, would dare generalizing to other fields of knowledge the findings laboriously made in his own field. So, Becker conservatively addresses his book just to “social scientists”. Writing is, however, an essential aptitude for any scientist. In fact, it is no less crucial to the survival of the scientist, as a scientist, than his or her own aptitudes to read or think logically. So, what Becker writes in his book is just as important to social scientists as it is to any other kind of scientist. Quite paradoxically, most scientists initiate and develop their scientific careers without devoting a single minute of their time to specifically learning how to write. Anyone would agree that it is impossible to play good tennis without proper training, and whoever wished to become a professional tennis player by just playing along would very likely be regarded as downright naive. This is, however, what most scientists do when it comes to writing. Becker’s book does not fall in the category of the so called “how-to” books. It is, rather, a personal reflection written in a very entertaining and conversational style by an academic who addresses his fellow academics, not from the top of a pulpit, but from the cultural standpoint of the beliefs, traditions, aspirations and rites of their common academic life. It covers, in this way, a remarkably diverse collection of central aspects of scientific writing, such as the crucial role of editing and rewriting (and rewriting, and rewriting), the fear of scorn, the encounters with writer’s block, or the urge to produce pompous and obscure texts. As the book progresses, the readers notice that they are being faced with the main fallacies of traditional scientific writing and that they are being helped to build their own opinion on how these fallacies can be properly handled. One such fallacy resides in the belief that there is only one right way of putting things down on paper. In fact, most less experienced writers tend to believe that to write well is to get the text right the first time. So, they stumble in the beginning of their text, unsuccessfully trying to work out the best beginning (and believing that, if they don’t, they will not be able to proceed). Often, they also stumble when trying in vain to get the best plan for their text. Indeed, they seem to ignore that a significant part of our knowledge is built through experimentation, and that experimentation begins inside our own minds, as we tentatively combine ideas and try to make sense out of them.

Bought as a gift for my son-in-law – he was thrilled!

One person found this helpful.
 on August 21, 2013
By Amazon Customer
My son-in-law is writing his undergraduate thesis (his school actually requires a thesis to graduate with a B.A.). I was attracted to the title based on his and my daughter’s strong interest in sociology (her major) and their relentless research into why people do the things they do. He was thrilled with the book and feels like it will help him.

Hits the nail on the head.

 on October 6, 2015
By Nick’s Mommy
Reading this for one of my classes. Wish I had read it in the first semester of my doc program. Would have saved me some stress and many hours of writer’s block. Academic writing can be very intimidating. Becker does a great job making us see that we’re not alone in our insecurity & quirks about writing. This book and its themes are timeless.

Great Text

One person found this helpful.
 on April 21, 2012
By Chocolate Man
I was encouraged to get this text as I prepare for my dissertation. Never regretted it. Easy to read; spot on examples which seems like the writer was addressing me;focuses on what mattered to writers and a book which can be read as though it were a novel which you don’t want to put down.

I found this book comforting.

 on March 13, 2014
By J. E. Holmes
This is an easy to read beautifully written book, which made me realise that the difficulties I have writing are not unique, on the contrary, they are pretty much the norm. I feel encouraged to believe that my methods will eventually yield success, even though my field is not actually sociology and quite a bit of the advice was a bit irrelevant to my concerns. I’m very glad I bought this book.

producing an easy to read document absent of the "academic fluff"

 on June 28, 2014
By Kai
This booked changed the way I write. It is full of lessons/stories that compare how I previously thought an “intelligent writer” should write (or sound) vs. producing an easy to read document absent of the “academic fluff”…It is very beneficial as I worked my way through a graduate school grounded in social science.

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