A style sheet for student sociology papers

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Carl B. Backman

June 2007

Adapted, with permission, from Harrington (nd)
Plagiarism refers to using someone else's published work without giving credit to the original author. The grossest form of plagiarism is copying five or more words in a row from someone else's work without either quotation marks or a block quote. Do not do this. Do not do this. Do not do this. Close paraphrase of another work without providing a citation to that work is also considered plagiarism. If you must paraphrase, be sure to give a citation. You are also expected to give citations to sources of ideas you have extracted from your reading, even if you put the ideas into your own words. Plagiarism is academic dishonesty (cheating). DO NOT PLAGIARIZE.
Quotations and Block Quotes
Quoted material that takes three lines or less should be enclosed in double quotes (""). Longer quotes require block quotes. Block quotes are indented five spaces (or half an inch) and may optionally be in smaller type. They are not enclosed in quotes. Unless it precedes the quote, the citation for a block quote is put in parentheses as the last item of the quote. For example,
Radical groups often exaggerate their own significance. The budding communists of 1848 could only wish their self-image were true:

A spectre is haunting Europe--the spectre of communism. All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German Police Spies.
     Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries? (Marx and Engels [1848] 1972:335)

Nevertheless, having asserted their importance, Marx and Engels ([1848] 1972) go on to declare that, "It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views … with a Manifesto" (p. 335), as if anybody cared.
Citations for quotations always include page numbers (except citations to unpaginated internet sources). Note the use of ellipsis (…) to indicate that the quotation has left out some of the words that were in the original. On rare occasions it may be necessary to insert your words into a quote to clarify a pronoun reference or alter the verb tense. In such cases, your words should be put in square brackets ([]).
Citation and Reference Style
As indicated in the previous section, you must give credit for ideas, words, or facts you found somewhere else. This credit is called a citation. The most appropriate style for American sociologists to use when making citations is ASA style, the citation style specified in the American Sociological Association Style Guide (American Sociological Association 2007). Note that this is not the Modern Language Association (MLA) style that you probably learned in your English classes nor the also popular American Psychological Association (APA) style (American Psychological Association 2001). Since ASA style is used in the American Sociological Review, looking through recent issues of the American Sociological Review is probably the easiest way to figure out how to make citations, particularly for unusual situations that I do not cover here.
The ASA citation and reference style is an author-date-reference section system. Whenever it is appropriate to give credit, you do so by enclosing in parentheses the author's last name, a space, and the date of the publication. An example might be (Backman 1991). If there were two authors of the publication, both should be listed, for example, (Secord and Backman 1974). If there were three, all should be mentioned the first time the publication is cited, for example, (Tom, Dick, and Harry [1800] 1956). Subsequent citations give the first author followed by "et al.": (Tom et al. [1800] 1956). If there were four or more authors, all citations, including the first, should use the “et al.” form. Note that these examples illustrate another rule: if the copy of a book you are citing is a re-publication or translation, give the date of the original publication in square brackets, followed by the publication date of the copy of the book you actually used. If you use several sources in the same citation, separate the sources with semicolons, for example, Many social psychologists have studied love (Berscheid and Walster 1973; Duck 2006; Walster 1971). If you have used the author's name in your text when discussing whatever it is you borrowed from the author, it is sufficient to put only the date in parentheses: Backman (1991) suggests that…. To specify page numbers, follow the date with a colon, then the page or pages. If you have already given the date before a quote, follow the quote with the page number or page numbers in parentheses, preceded by "p." or "pp.": Marx and Engels's ([1848] 1972) famous cry is, "WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!" (p. 362). In the case of block quotes, capitalize “P.” or “Pp.” and do not put a period after the closing parenthesis.
Reference section. All citations that appear in the text must be spelled out in full in the reference section, which occupies a separate section at the end of your paper. Unless the section is very short (one or two items), it should begin on a new page. The section title is REFERENCES. The reference section contains ONLY items explicitly cited in the paper. If you want to include items you read but did not cite directly in the paper's text, append a "RELATED READING" section.
References in the reference section are alphabetized by the authors' last names. References to works by the same author(s) appear in order from oldest to most recent. There are four main types of items in sociological reference sections: journal articles, books, chapters or articles in books that are edited collections of works by various authors, and references from the internet. The format for each is illustrated below:
Earl, Jennifer, Sarah A. Soule, and John D. McCarthy. 2003. "Protest Under Fire? Explaining the Policing of Protest." American Sociological Review 68(4):581-606.

Goffman, Erving. 1963. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. [1848] 1972. "Manifesto of the Communist Party." Pp. 331-62 in The Marx Engels Reader, edited by R.C. Tucker. New York: W.W. Norton.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. 2004. Table DP-1. Profile of General Demographic Characteristics. Census 2000 Summary file 1 (SF-1) 100-Percent Data. Census Tract 26.09, Washoe County, Nevada. Washington, DC: US Bureau of the Census. Retrieved February 4, 2004 (http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/QTTable?_bm=y&-context=qt&-qr_name=DEC_2000_SF1_U_DP1&-ds_name=DEC_2000_SF1_U&-CONTEXT=qt&-tree_id=4001&-all_geo_types=N&-geo_id=14000US32031002609&-format=&-_lang=en).
Note such details in the examples as that full first names are used for authors but not editors; that book and journal title are in italics (alternatively, they can be underlined) but article and chapter titles are in quotes; that following the title of a journal is the volume number, followed the issue number in parentheses, followed by a colon, the first page of the article, a dash, and the last page of the article; that the city of the publisher precedes the publisher's name; that the URL for the internet site comes last and is in parentheses; and that second and subsequent lines of each reference are indented about two spaces (0.2 inches). The latter feature, called a "hanging indent," can readily be accomplished on most word processors but may require using some settings or commands you are not familiar with.
Further notes on internet material. Entries in the reference section for sources on the internet can be difficult because the proper information is sometimes virtually impossible to find. The information you need, of course, is the author, date of “publication,” title, site location, site producer or owner, retrieval date, and URL, in that order. Authors and titles are sometimes difficult to determine for internet sources. If more specific author information is not available, use the owner of the site as the author. If the owner and the author are the same, you may omit the producer name. You may have to use the header at the top of the screen as the title. Location is often impossible to determine. When you are copying information from the internet, remember to record the date and the URL. Trying to type the URL is an invitation to disaster: when possible, highlight it in the address portion of the web screen and copy it with the computer's Copy functions.
Virtually everything you read -- the newspaper, your textbooks, magazines -- is broken into sections by headlines, chapter titles, section and subsection headings, or similar devices. Except for very short pieces, your writing should be no exception. Sociological papers typically use up to three levels of sectioning. Major sections are generally marked by a heading in all caps that occupies a separate line. It may be either pushed all the way to the left or be centered. Subsection headings, too, are on separate lines. The heading has its first word capitalized and is underlined or italicized and all the way to the left. Subsubsections, if needed, are marked by an underlined or italicized heading at the beginning of a paragraph, followed by a period. These formats are illustrated throughout this document.
There are many conventions and rules that apply to technical sociological writing. Some are rather arbitrary (like much English spelling or the order of information presented in a reference), while others have substantive importance. Most are the same rules that apply to any formal writing in English. Violation of these rules is at best distracting and at worst actively ruptures communication of your message. Violations undermine perceptions of your competence and suggest that you did not treat your writing very seriously (and why then should the reader?). Indeed, many employers consciously begin their evaluations of potential employees by looking for errors in grammar, spelling, or typography in the candidates' resumes, weeding out those who don’t care or don't know how to be careful.
Particularly glaring signs of carelessness are spelling errors, particularly now that word processors can detect most errors. If you are among the legion of bright but spelling-impaired people, do not turn in anything whose spelling you have not double checked. Unfortunately, some common errors will slip through the word processor. Do not confuse its and it's. This is far and away the error I see most commonly, even sometimes in national newspapers and magazines. Its is a possessive and need not be avoided. It's is a contraction of it is. Since contractions generally do not belong in serious writing, all your it'ses should be changed to its or it is. Make sure that the itses that remain are really possessives and not contractions in disguise. You can use the Find function of your word processor to help you review all of your itses and it'ses. Other potential confusions to avoid include their, there, and they're; your and you're; and principle and principal.
Sentence Structure
As Harrington (n.d.) put it,
A sentence must have a subject and a predicate. Yes, I know that one or the other of those can be "understood," and therefore not visible to the reader, but the purpose of expository writing is to clarify, not to leave things "understood." Understand? (p. 3)
Sentences lacking a subject or predicate are called "fragments." Sentences containing multiple subjects or predicates without proper use of conjunctions or punctuation are called "run-ons" or "enjambments." Fragments and run-ons in a paper are particularly serious mechanical flaws. Often fragments, run-ons, and other problems with sentence structure are compounded by poor punctuation. Most modern word processors have grammar checkers. Sadly, these do not work nearly as well as their spelling checkers.
Layout refers to how your text is placed on the paper. Are the margins and line spacing appropriate? Are tables set up properly? Formal papers need to leave room for comments or corrections. Hence they should be double-spaced with at least one inch margins. Though most professional style sheets require that tables, too, be double-spaced, I do not mind if tables are single-spaced. Avoid widows (when the last line of a paragraph appears by itself at the top of a page) and orphans (when the first line of a paragraph appears by itself as the last line on a page). This is usually a matter that you can leave to the word processing program. However, one kind of orphan is often missed by such programs. This is when a section heading or subheading is the last line on a page. You may have to do a little extra work to avoid those.
Pages should be numbered. I prefer them numbered in the middle of the bottom of the page. The numbering should start with page one on the first page after the title page. You may also include your name in a header or footer.
Inserting page numbers with Word. To insert page numbers after the title page in a Word document, do the following. 1) Instead of putting a page break at the bottom of the title page, use Insert to insert a Break. 2) After the break, click on Insert, then Page Numbers. 3) In the Page Numbers box, select bottom of the page for the Position, select center for the Alignment, and click on Format …. 4) In the Page Number Format box, click on Start at and then set the start to 1. Click on OK a couple of times, and you should have the numbering set the way you (and I) want it.
Title page. Papers need title pages. The title page needs to include only the title, your name, the course number, and the date.
One of the most common complaints of people who review professional manuscripts (Sternberg 2003) and professors who grade student papers is that authors often appear to have failed to proofread their work. Please proofread. If you find a few errors on a printed copy of your paper, feel free to pencil in corrections. If you have many errors, correct them on the computer and print the paper again.
In compositional terms, "style" refers to, among other things, the tone, vividness, precision, and liveliness of your writing. It also reflects the ways in which you use the ideas of others and give them credit for their ideas. It often reflects your mode of argumentation. Mechanically style derives from your vocabulary, your use of examples, passive vs. active voice, and sentence variety. It also relates to consistency in word and sentence use. Though in general your tone should not be too informal, there is no reason that your prose cannot be sprightly and interesting; after all, it is sociology you are writing!
You should at all times be aware of what you are trying to say. You need to help your readers be similarly aware. At the level of the paragraph, strong topic sentences are as important to writers, helping them to focus on their message, as they are to readers, helping them to identify the message. At larger levels, introductory and summary paragraphs and sections serve similar functions. Introductions and summaries should be repetitive in the sense that they repeat in compressed form the arguments sandwiched between them. Repetition helps people remember your message.
Evidence and its quality are important in sociology papers. One indicator of the quality of your evidence is its source. This is one reason that references are so important. It is also one reason that the active voice is generally preferred over the passive voice. The passive voice is too often used (as in this sentence) to hide who did, said, or thought something. You can use the Find function of your word processor to locate passive constructions by searching for to be verb forms (for example, is, are, were, was, be, or especially been). Passive constructions can be effective, so they don't have to be completely eliminated. However, it is always a good idea to see if you can strengthen a clause in the passive voice by using the active voice instead.
The most important part of any paper is its content, its message. I hope you have invested a great deal of time in your paper. I assume you want your message to be clear and you want your message to be understood. My main purpose in writing all this is to show you some tools to maximize the understandability of your work among sociologically trained readers. A secondary purpose is to give you some idea of what I'm looking for as a relatively sophisticated reader who also will be grading your paper. With any luck there is nothing new to you in what I have written. In that case, let it stand as reinforcement of important principles. In any case, you can use it as a reference when polishing your sociological productions.
American Psychological Association. 2001. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 5th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

American Sociological Association. 2007. American Sociological Association Style Guide. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association.

Harrington, J.W. n.d. "Style Sheet." Unpublished paper, Department of Geography, SUNY at Buffalo.

Sternberg, Robert J. 2003. The Psychologist’s Companion: A Guide to Scientific Writing for Students and Researchers. 4th ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Becker, Howard S. 1986. Writing for the Social Sciences. Chicago, IL: University

      of Chicago Press.

Leach, Chris. 2003. “Guidelines for Data Presentation.” Pp. 142-64 in The Psychologist’s Companion: A Guide to Scientific Writing for Students and Researchers, 4th ed., by R.J. Sternberg. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. [Note that this reference does not say “Edited by R.J. Sternberg …” because Leach’s contribution is a chapter in a book otherwise written by, not edited by, R.J. Sternberg.]

The Sociology Writing Group. 1998. A Guide to Writing Sociology Papers. 4th ed.
      New York: St. Martin's Press.

The University of Chicago Press. 2003. The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th ed.

      Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

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