William A. Johnson, Jr., Richard P. Rettig, Gregory M. Scott, and Stephen M. Garrison. The Sociology Student Writer's Manual. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998 (250 pages). $31.32
A struggle for those of us teaching introductory sociology courses is to balance teaching sociology with the task of also teaching students how to write and do research. The demands of larger classes mean that instructors, especially of first year courses, have little time to assist students with their writing skills. The Sociology Student Writer's Manual manages the task of helping students to learn to write sociologically. The level is suitable for college and university students in first and second year courses. However, its flaws severely limit its utility in Canadian lecture halls.
In its examples, quotations, excerpts, and names (of fictional students and faculty), the manual has an American Midwest flavour -- not surprising given the authors all teach in central Oaklahoma. Consequently, the volume fails to reflect the multicultural nature of Canada, and indeed of the United States, as well as the international nature of sociology. For example, the Introduction, Chapter One and Chapter Three all begin with quotations from the Bible. Quotations from non-Western literatures, such as the Koran and Buddhist writings, would certainly strengthen the manual.
In choosing quotations the authors miss a wonderful opportunity to bolster the sociological content of the manual. When the authors illustrate competent writing and the citation of sources in the early chapters, they too often rely on quotations from U.S. presidents, rather than selecting excerpts from classical sociologists - Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Parsons, Goffman, Michels, DuBois, and others - that would enhance the value of the manual as a guide to sociology. There is a distinct avoidance of excerpts from works dealing with racism, class conflict, and other social problems, pointing to a limited conception of sociology that is unlikely to serve students well.
The second half of the book takes students through the research process: finding a topic, conducting research (including using the Web), and writing different types of papers such as book reviews, case studies, and survey papers. This is the strongest part of the book: clearly written, with many examples, and pitched just right for first year students. However, the section on the student citation system (pages 90-99) is unnecessary, since students have enough difficulty referencing sources without having to learn yet another citation system. The short section on plagiarism (pages 110-111) in chapter five needs to be expanded to educate students about it seriousness.
There are no Canadian references in the book and although the extensive list of journals (pages 131-141) contains many Canadian journals, it fails to include the Canadian Journal of Sociology. As such, the manual can only be recommended for use in conjunction with a Canadian introductory text by instructors willing to compensate for the authors' blinkered view of sociology.
In summary, The Sociology Student Writer's Manual is capable of helping first and second year students to write strong papers. However, in its second objective - helping students learn about sociology - it is wanting, especially for Canadian undergraduates. One wishes for a Canadian version of the manual.
Dept. of Sociology
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