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How to Write a Research Paper from a Sociological Perspective

Choosing a Social Phenomenon and Framing a Central Question

Sometimes in university it feels like you are just “jumping through hoops”: doing assignments or quizzes or writing exercises just to keep you busy. I hope this assignment is one that you find more meaningful. The idea is to help you think about a topic you care about from a sociological perspective, to challenge your preconceptions, and to grow and learn a little bit along the way.

First, think about a subject – a social phenomenon – that you care about. Maybe it’s sports, or your relationship with your extended family, or television, or politics. Keep it focused – for example, not just “sports” but “hockey in Canada;” not just “television” but “reality TV shows.” Next, form a central question related to your subject that you will try to answer in your paper. Framing your paper around a question helps to keep you focused.
Here are some possible preliminary research questions:
The pandemic from a sociological perspective. COVID-19 is a “natural” phenomenon with profound sociological elements. It is passed from one person to another through social connections; some social groups are more likely to be harmed by the virus than others; some jurisdictions have been more effective at controlling the virus than others.

What are some of the most important sociological aspects of the pandemic?
Many critics argue that there is a homelessness crisis in Canada – especially in the Lower Mainland. What are some of the sociological causes of homelessness? What are some potential solutions? Why does homelessness persist?
First Nations in British Columbia are negotiating treaties with government over who will control land and resources. What is the social context behind this process? Why are treaties still being negotiated hundreds of years after the first contact between Indigenous people and European settlers?
Are trade unions positive or negative influences on Canadian society? Why do people join unions? What social role do they play today, and how has that changed over time?

Is religious belief becoming stronger or weaker in Canadian society? What are the sociological factors that explain the change?
Sexual harassment in the workplace has become a widely-discussed issue. According to sociological research, how common is the problem? What are some of the causes?
What are some of the possible solutions?
Blacklivesmatter became a popular social media hashtag, and social movement, in the wake of the high-profile killings of African-American men by police officers. Beyond the individual stories, what are the sociological factors behind the movement? What might such a movement achieve? Does “#Blacklivesmatter” apply in the Canadian context?
These topics are just SUGGESTIONS. If you have another idea for a research paper, please let me know by email, and we can talk about how you might approach it. Next, try to analyze the issue using your “sociological imagination.” “Analyze” literally means to take something to pieces; your sociological imagination is the quality of mind that links the micro (personal or individual) with the macro (historical or structural).
Here are some POSSIBLE questions you might ask. You won’t have the space to ask all of them – this is just to get you started thinking about the topic in a sociological way.
What social groups are involved?
What social structures are involved? Try to think of the wide range of related structures. For example, if you are talking about Canadian high school education, perhaps the social structure of economic class has some sort of influence, or racial inequality.
How would the different theoretical traditions in sociology approach this topic? For example, a conflict theorist might ask: What inequalities of power are involved? What are these inequalities based upon? Is wealth or bureaucratic power important to this
topic? A feminist sociologist might ask: how do women and men experience this phenomenon differently?
How has this phenomenon changed over time?
Is this phenomenon treated differently in other cultures? What does this tell us?
Does the social phenomenon have a net positive or negative effect on society? How might it be changed for the better? 

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