the academic’s guide to writing online

The greatest sin a sociologist could commit is being boring… okay okay, abusing human subjects is the greatest sin, but being boring isn’t far behind. Sociology is, for a lack of a better word, sexy. No one storms out of actuary sciences class in a huff, but our students find our classes so emotional, so compelling, so challenging that they literally can not stand it and they run away.

On the four year anniversary of SociologySource.org I want to tell you what I’ve learned about making sociology accessible to the masses. Throughout all of my teaching, all of my work on SociologyInFocus.com, and the one-off projects I’ve done like the “Doing Nothing” video, I’ve been thinking really hard about and trying to develop my skills at communicating highly complex ideas with language that anyone could understand.

the academic’s guide to writing online

Download PDF Version of Guide

This is a guide for how to write so that your scholarly work finds an audience. This isn’t advice for how to write to get published in a top journal, in fact this might be the exact opposite of that advice. Ultimately, writing for social media is writing for a public audience. Therefore, it’s an act of public scholarship.

talk to me! – acknowledge the reader.

EXAMPLE: Many scholars today argue that when sharing your ideas with your audience the use of the third grammatical person places distance between the two parties whereas employing the first and second person delivers a reading experience that is superior in it’s intimacy with the reader

  • Talk to your reader. Write as if your reader is in the room with you.
  • Alternate your writing between the first person, “my research finds…” and the second, “your students will love…”
  • Ditch the authoritative third person voice as it is often the coward’s crutch. It’s the bravado we use when we fear that what we say won’t be taken seriously.[1]

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who is the public face of sociology?

The 101 class is the public face of our discipline. Every year there are roughly a million students in the United States who take Soc 101, that is, if my publisher friends’ estimates are to be believed. For the overwhelming majority of Americans, 101 will be their only exposure to our discipline. Sure, they might hear about our research findings in the media, but chances are they’ll have no idea that it was a sociologist who produced the research.

So, who’s teaching the 101 courses at your institution? In many places 101 is taught by a hodgepodge of grad students, adjuncts, lecturers, and assistant professors.[1] In every one of these situations we position on the front lines our least experienced educators (many of whom have never received any formalized training on pedagogy). Now, don’t let me be misunderstood. I reject the idea that years of experience correlates with excellence in the classroom. I’ve been cutting my grass since I was 10, but I’ve always done the bare minimum to avoid the ridicule of my neighbors. My neighbor’s yard, on the other hand, is the stuff that would make the angels cry. Wisdom in the classroom certainly has its advantages, but an inexperienced teacher who is passionate and focused on honing their craft can quickly make up for a lack of experience.

How do the faculty in your department think about 101? Is it something to be avoided like the plague? Is it a hazing ritual that you put newbs through so that senior faculty can get to teach their “real classes” (i.e. their upper division classes within their area of interest)?

Why Does It Matter Who Teaches 101

First, it matters because the introductory classes serve as the on ramp to the major. As reported by InsideHigherEd.com in their forth coming book How College Works, Chambliss and Takacs find that,

Undergraduates are significantly more likely to major in a field if they have an inspiring and caring faculty member in their introduction to the field. And they are equally likely to write off a field based on a single negative experience with a professor.

Second, it matters because of Krulak’s law which posits, “The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.”[2] Put simply, if the 101 class is the frontline of sociology, then the 101 teacher is the ambassador for us all.

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teaching deviance by doing nothing


Below is a guest post from Nathan Palmer, creator of www.SociologySource.com a site focused on spreading ideas and resources for teaching sociology.

Want to teach your students about norms, deviance, and the social construction of reality in a way that they’ll never forget? Try Doing Nothing, literally. Have your students silently stand in a public place for 15 minutes with absolutely no expression on their face. If anyone approaches them they are to reply to any and all questions by saying, “I am doing nothing.”

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making social facts easy to understand

Below is a guest post from Nathan Palmer, creator of www.SociologySource.com a site focused on spreading ideas and resources for teaching sociology.

“Uh Professor, I think you are way off on this one. I know what your sociology research tells you, but people round here aren’t like that.”

Teaching students to see beyond the individual and at the sociological level is really hard. Especially in the United States we overvalue anecdotal personal experiences & undervalue empirical social facts. Worse yet, when student’s lived experiences differ from what sociological research finds, they believe that their lived experience invalidates the sociological research. So how can we get our students to see at the sociological level? Easy. Just put it in terms they understand.

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