Writing in the Social Sciences

Graduate Student Resource Center

General Resources
Journal Articles
Dissertations and Theses
Empirical Research on Social Science Writing

General Resources

Professional Writing in Political Science: A Highly Opinionated Essay—Written by James Stimson of UNC, this is a very useful discussion of “how not to have your work rejected because it is dragged down by the quality of your writing.”  Especially useful for course papers and article submissions.

Writing a Research Paper for a Graduate Seminar in Political Science—A solid discussion of various aspects of research papers, specifically course papers.

Preparing a Conference Paper: PowerPoint Presentations in the Social Sciences—This workshop presents techniques for developing an effective 10-20 minute oral/video (e.g., PowerPoint) presentation as typically presented in the social sciences.

A Guide to Writing in Economics—Originally written for undergraduates, but provides a fairly in-depth discussion of the conventions surrounding writing in Economics.

Graduate School from Start to Finish—Compiled by the American Historical Association, this is an extensive list of links to various resources on topics such as funding, researching, and writing.

Blanpain, Kristin. Academic Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences: A Resource for Researchers.
This workbook offers explanations, examples, and exercises designed to help scholars improve the grammar and flow of their writing. It includes discussions of academic style and academic genres (literature reviews, abstracts, research articles, etc.).

Swales, John, and Christine Feak. English in Today’s Research World. 2000.
This textbook-workbook-self-study guide is marketed to all graduate students, though it’s really designed for those who speak English as an additional language. It covers abstracts, dissertation-writing, academic communications, literature reviews, and more.

Journal Articles

Belcher, Wendy Laura. Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks. 2009.
This workbook takes the approach to scheduling and work style that productivity scholars recommend and tailors its advice to the specificity of the journal article for humanities and social scientists. It is helpful on several fronts: first, in breaking down the process of writing the article into manageable parts and second, in explaining several other genres that graduate students need to be aware of, particularly the abstract.


The Art of Writing Proposals—Written by Adam Przeworski and Frank Salomon, an excellent discussion of the spoken and unspoken expectations for social science proposals posted on the Social Science Research Council website.  Much of the information is applicable to social science writing in general.

Dissertation Proposal Workshop—Created by the International Institute at Berkeley, a detailed guide to research proposal writing that covers topics from individual proposal sections to general writing style.  It also has links to examples of successful proposals.  Again, much of the information is applicable to social science writing in general.

 Writing a Proposal for an Empirical Social Science Dissertation—A brief guide to the process of writing a dissertation proposal, by John S. Odell.

Show Me the Money: Grant Writing Tips for Graduate Students—Published in the Association of Psychological Science Observer, this piece contains tips on effective grant-writing strategies and a useful list of links.

Writing Grants and Fellowship Applications—Recorded GWC workshops on writing fellowship and grant applications. Some offer more general strategies, while others cover specific fellowships like the NSF graduate research fellowship and the NSF dissertation improvement grant.

Dissertations and Theses

ProQuest Digital Dissertations Online—This site has full-text links to most recent dissertations.  You can search by author, keywords, subfield, advisor, etc.  Looking through several dissertations, preferably by former students of your advisor, can provide a wealth of information about the practical expectations for dissertations and theses.

Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or DissertationCompiled by Joe Levine, a list (with short reviews) of books that are written for dissertation writers.

Lovitts, B. E., & Wert, E. L.  (2008). Developing Quality Dissertations in the Social Sciences: A Graduate Student’s Guide to Achieving Excellence. Stylus Publishing.
A concise booklet designed to define and explain expectations for dissertations in the social sciences.

Bolker, Joan. Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis. 1998.
This is one of several “write your dissertation” guides on the market, and it’s one of relatively few that gears itself toward writers of all disciplines. Bolker here is part career counselor, part writing coach, and part therapist. She seems particularly interested in the ways that graduate students block themselves from completing the dissertation through fear, ambivalence, procrastination, etc. Recommended as a general reference on the dissertation process, although some issues might require more specialized help for individual writers.

Clark, Irene L. Writing the Successful Thesis and Dissertation: Entering the Conversation. 2006.
This title is regarded by many in composition studies as the best book on dissertation writing. Some of the writing strategies may be oriented more towards the humanities and social sciences, but the book offers excellent advice on writing process issues that is helpful to graduate students in all fields.

Zerubavel, Eviatar. The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books. 1999.
Working from the premise that "It is methodicalness and routinization. . . that help us produce theses, dissertations, and books," (3), this short book presents a detailed process for coming up with a realistic writing schedule and deadlines. Zerubavel explains management strategies for long writing projects: scheduling regular writing time, making outlines, setting realistic expectations, adhering to deadlines, etc.

Empirical Research on Social Science Writing

These journal articles present empirical research on the behaviors associated with productive writing.

Torrance, M., Thomas, G. V., & Robinson, E. J. (1994). The writing strategies of graduate research students in the social sciences. Higher Education, 27 (3), 379-392. Available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3448190

Lavelle, E., & Bushrow, K. (2007). Writing approaches of graduate students. Educational Psychology, 27 (6), 807-822. Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01443410701366001


This page was created by Jessica Preece. To suggest a resource or report a broken link, email the GWC at gwc@gsa.asucla.ucla.edu.