Universität Bielefeld

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Recommendations Below

With our page we are trying to give you as many pinpointed recommendations as possible to help you ultimately complete an academic paper. We do our best to keep brief and concise, so that you can quickly (again) resume reading and writing on your own.

If you’d prefer a more comprehensive guide, there is always the option of using the relevnt monographs on how to do academic work. But beware! The market for self-help literature on the issue of how to best work academically is virtually unlimited.

Yet if you set two criteria for the search for appropriate reading, the selection becomes a great deal less daunting. First, ask yourself whether the book actually contains practical tips on as many aspects of working academically as possible. Fortunately, in this regard the situation is favourable. We recommend the excellent brochure "Tipps zu Studientechniken und Lernmethoden" issued by the Student Advising and Counselling (ZSB) centre of Bielefeld University (external link).

Also unconditionally worth reading for students in all phases of qualification are:

Frank, A., S. Haacke & S. Lahm, 2013: "Schlüsselkompetenzen: Schreiben in Studium und Beruf". Stuttgart; Weimar: J.B. Metzler.

Kruse, O., 2010: "Lesen und Schreiben: Der richtige Umgang mit Texten im Studium". Stuttgart: UTB.

It is also crucial that a self-help book be relevant to your actual field of study. Does it explain how to develop a sociological question? At what point sociological theories and methods should be deployed, and which function each of them has? How best to depict one’s own discovery so that it can be understood most easily? – Here, too, the list of literature has become quite extensive. For beginners, we warmly recommend a short book published in summer 2016:

Strulik, T., 2016: Schreiben im Soziologiestudium. Tipps und Übungen zum Einstieg in das Denk- und Schreibkollektiv „Soziologie“. Leverkusen: UTB.

For advanced students, we still suggest reading

Becker, H., 1986: Writing for social scientists. How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

It is worth reading the review by Alexander Engemann to get a good impression of what to expect from Becker’s book (PDF).

 

Not scientific enough?

We often hear from students who worry that their work “is not scientific enough”. We get this response especially when we ask why their ideas for term papers, but also their completed texts, are so teeming with theoretical concepts that it is not clear what object they are investigating, nor around what question they are orienting their writing. It soon becomes clear that they are mistaking “scientificity” with including as much “theory” as possible, and making it sound as complicated as possible.

If one follows the British social scientist Michael Billig (2013) on this point, then the students in question are in ‘good company’. He criticizes that sociological texts waste far too many complicated words for facts that can be expressed much more simply. His thesis is that the sorry efforts he identifies are ultimately ‘overcompensations’. By including a great number of foreign terms and theoretical concepts in their texts, the authors disguise the fact that they did not actually find out anything new (Billig 2013: 51).

But wouldn’t you rather avoid any suspicion that you are trying to distract from your own lack of knowledge? The solution is to aspire instead to being understood. “Making your work clearer involves considerations of audience”, Howard Becker (1986: 18) emphasizes. Even supposed super-scholars do not enjoy reading things that are written unintelligibly. Maybe it would be worth trying to follow five simple writing rules (Reiter 2011: 45-61)?

  1. Use plain words and concrete terms.
  2. Be stingy with words.
  3. Favour verbs and forgo noun constructs.
  4. Keep sentence structure clear.
  5. Dispense with stylized whims.

Then you can certainly enjoy turning to the tow monographs below:

Billig, M., 2013: Learn to Write Badly: How to Succeed in the Social Sciences. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Groebner, V., 2011: Wissenschaftssprache. Eine Gebrauchsanweisung. Konstanz: Konstanz University Press.

 

Literature Used

Becker, H., 1986: Writing for social scientists. How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Billig, M., 2013: Learn to Write Badly: How to Succeed in the Social Sciences. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Reiter, M., 2011: Schreibtipps für Studierende. Stuttgart: Schäffer-Poeschel.

 

Quick links to more

"Tipps zu Studientechniken und Lernmethoden" brochure from the Zentrale Studienberatung of Bielefeld University (ZSB): external link

Alexander Engemann on Howard Becker’s Writing for social scientists: PDF