Writing for the Social Sciences using Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches




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Mini Research on Quantitative and
Qualitative Approaches

Prepared by Helen Panagiotopoulos

Social science writing intensive courses
at Bronx Community College are geared towards using rigorous writing to improve
critical thinking skills and to help students understand and retain information
better. This mini research provides a bibliographical resource for faculty teaching
writing intensive courses in the Social Sciences. Using key articles from
sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists, it offers examples of
assignments by scholars who have integrated Writing Across the Curriculum
pedagogy into their courses.

Within the social sciences there is
variation in how information is presented. Acknowledging the differences in
writing conventions across the social sciences, and that some approaches may be
more successful than others in each discipline, this mini research enables
faculty to access information tailored to their discipline, whether
anthropology, sociology, or psychology, and allows them to teach writing using
discipline-specific writing conventions. Given that all social science faculty
at Bronx Community College are grouped into one department, I highlight some of
the different approaches in writing conventions across social science
disciplines, all which may require reading and writing for qualitative and quantitative

I. Writing for disciplines in the social sciences that use
quantitative approaches

Why should writing assignments be incorporated
into the social sciences using quantitative data?

Teaching complex computations is not of
real value when student assignments and exams that require number calculations reflect
various (and often incorrect) responses. Students’ lack of understanding comes
from the ways textbooks and most classroom teaching consists of how to do computations rather than what computations mean. Furthermore, many
classroom exercises ask students to perform the computation rather than explain the results.

In addition to performing correct calculations
in classroom activities or examinations, students majoring in the social
sciences using numbers and statistical analyses will at some point in their
academic life and career need to evaluate quantitative data. They will have to
understand and explain number summaries and demonstrate skepticism about what
number abstracts mean. Students may need to evaluate statistics used by
researchers in their own field, or they might carry out statistical research
and data analysis themselves, which requires data collection, storage, editing,
and analysis. For this reason, spending time on data meaning, evaluation, and interpretation
are important in social science courses that teach numerical, statistical, and
mathematical data sets.

Sample assignments and how to incorporate
writing in the social sciences using quantitative data

Students are often trained to use manipulative
skills and memorization. Instructors incorporating evaluation and
interpretation in quantitative approaches will therefore benefit from integrating
assignments that sharpen skills they never learned in prior courses, ones that deemphasize
mechanics and spend more time on explanation and meaning. One way of doing this
is through in-class sample questions that may appear on a future assignment or
exam. While teaching students to compare and contrast methods, assessments,
uses, and histories of statistical techniques are the long term goals of
writing for courses using numbers and computation, beginning with basic
questions such as, “for the following data, find the mean, mode, and median,
and explain which best describes the
data and why,” or “interpret the slope in y=2
χ+3: how much does y change for a unit
increase in
χ when
χ+3?” are gateways into teaching students
to be better critical and creative thinkers (Hayden 1989).

Furthermore, exam questions that ask
students to explain a process rather
than perform it, help students demonstrate competence and subject mastery in
statistical analyses. Some instructors combine this with journaling. Asking
students to journal on the process of explaining the answer allows for a better
understanding of statistical data and what they mean: why we use them and what
might be some of the benefits and limitations of different quantitative
approaches. For example, Hamilton (2001) recommends the following exercise:

· Write a question on the chalkboard and
ask students to answer the question without consulting any references

· Once responses are written in students’
journals, ask them to exchange papers with their peers

· Ask students to take the papers home,
research the correct answers, and correct and critique their partner’s answer

· Papers are then returned at the next
class period with time allowed for each pair of students to discuss their
reviews with each other

· Ask students to re-write their journal
response with the correct answer. The correct responses are collected by the
instructor and are reviewed for accuracy

Faculty might
incorporate the dialog journal in the student’s total course grade. This
approach to assignments also develops a system where journal partners can help
each other’s intellectual growth.


Boland, Sally. “How I Started Using WAC and Ended Up
Taking Algebra Again: A Review of Useful Works on Writing Across the Curriculum
.” Writing Across the Curriculum. Volume 1,
June (1989): 71-77.

Paul L. “Writing Across the Mathematics Curriculum.”Writing Across the Curriculum.
Volume 1,
June (1989): 10-17.

Gregor. John. “Writing to Learn Economics.” Writing Across the Curriculum. Volume 1,
June (1989): 52-56.

Hamilton, Sharon and Robert
H. Orr
. “Writing to Learn Quantitative Analysis: Doing Numbers with Words
Works!” Writing Across the Curriculum.
Volume 12, May (2001): 49-59.

Hayden, Robert. “Using Writing to Improve Student
Learning of Statistics.” Writing Across
the Curriculum.
Volume 1, June (1989): 3-10.

Lutsky, Neil. “Arguing
with Numbers: Teaching Quantitative Reasoning through Argument and Writing.”
Numeracy Volume 3 Issue 1 (2009): 10-18.

Stromberg, Arnold J., and Subathra Ramanathan. “Easy
Implementation of Writing in Introductory Statistics Courses.” The
American Statistician
50, no. 2 (1996): 159-63.

II. Writing for disciplines in the social sciences that use
qualitative approaches

Incorporating writing exercises into the social sciences
using qualitative data

anthropologists, and psychologists study human behavior and social life.
Incorporating writing assignments into social science disciplines can help students
critical thinking on
various social Issues, examine an issue from social, political, economic
perspective, apply theory, take a position with supporting evidence, or
critique an existing position.

Writing Across the Curriculum pedagogy helps students explain human social
behavior, and how various social groups, such as families, neighborhoods,
cities, or nations, shape people. It also allows us to analyze how the world is
experienced through various lenses based on one’s identity, such as race, gender,
class, religion, or sexual orientation; understand social reproduction (how
groups are created and maintained); recognize and predict social change (social
movements and social transformation); how people’s identifies are formed (and
how they might shift); and grasp how individuals are defined by the group(s) they
belong to. In short, writing intensive courses aid students in identifying connections
among individuals, their stories, and their relations to the wider social world.

Sample assignments and how to incorporate writing in the social sciences
using quantitative data

Various types of writing assignments
help student sharpen their critical thinking and analytical skills. A
literature review, for example, requires students to identify a question or
topic to be investigated, c
onduct library/archival research for
relevant scholarly articles, books, and Internet sites, and create a synthesis
of material to develop a new way of thinking about an topic or offer
suggestions for further research. A quantitative research paper may ask
students to present an issue, question, or hypothesis to be tested, or to
conduct original research that includes analysis of data by comparing the opinions
of social scientists, the public, and the media about an issue; apply
sociological/anthropological theory to current events; analyze historical
changes in interpretive ways, or to conduct ethnographic research such as observational
investigations, participant research, or interviews.

The following simple writing
assignments may be incorporated in the different types of projects listed above
or may be used as preparation for final assignments:

include outlines of the essential elements of a work

bibliographies: use brief sentences to summarize a list of sources

consist of short, concise outlines of main ideas and their relevance to a topic
or issue

Analysis: comprise of summaries, analysis, and evaluation such as explanations
of the main points of a text; a critique of an argument; pointing out the relationships
between evidence and conclusions, among concepts in text, or comparisons to
other texts; and use reasoning to
examine rhetorical strategies to determine how well an author makes their

rely on formulating a research question, outlining a list of methods in which
questions will be answered, and explaining how the data will be analyzed. This requires:

a question and proposing a method of answering the question

a short statement of intent

why the issue or topic is important, how it is relevant to a thesis, and
explaining the hypothesis, methods, and references


Babin, Jane E. and Daniel P. Moore. “An Investigation
of Gender Through Writing.” Writing Across
the Curriculum
Volume 6, August (1999):

C. Karcher
Sociology and Writing
across the Curriculum: An Adaptation of the Sociological Journal Teaching
Vol. 16, No. 2 (Apr., 1988): 168-172.

Giarusso, Roseann, Judith
Richlin-Klonsky, William G. Roy, and Ellen Stenski (The Sociology Writing
Group). A Guide to Writing Sociology
. 6th ed. New York: Worth Publishers (2008).

Herrington, Anne J. “Writing to
Learn: Writing Across the Disciplines.”
College English

43, No. 4 (Apr., 1981): 379-387.

Karcher, Barbara C. “Sociology and Writing across the
Curriculum: An Adaptation of the Sociological Journal.” Teaching
16, no. 2 (1988): 168-72.

Kuiig, John.Novel
Writing Assignments in the Psychology of Learning.”
Writing Across the
Volume 1, June (1989): 66-69.

Miller, Dale T. “Collaborative Writing in Social Psychology:
An Experiment by Miller.” An
Invitation to Social Psychology.
Learning; 1 edition (April 29, 2005

Miller, Robert S. “Collaborative Writing in Social
Psychology: An Experiment
.” Writing Across the Curriculum. Volume 1, June (1989): 95-104.

Sisel. “Writing About Habitus in Introductory to Anthropology.
Habitus and Mental Maps Assignment Handout for Anthropology 112: Principles of

Zehr, David. “Writing in
Psychology Courses.”
Writing Across the Curriculum. Volume 9, August (1998): 7-13.

. “Using Faculty Histories in a History of Psychology
Course.” Writing Across the Curriculum.
Volume 9, August (1998): 47-57.

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