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Advanced Writing: Social Sciences

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30 August 2014


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"HOW TO WRITE LIKE A SOCIAL SCIENTIST"

Rule 1. Never use a short word when you can think of a long one.

Never say "now" but "currently." It is not "soon" but "presently." You did not have "enough" but a "sufficiency." Never do you come to the "end" but to the "termination." This rule is basic.

Rule 2. Never us one word when you can use two or more.

Eschew "probably." Write, "it is probable," and raise this to "it is not improbable." Then you'll be able to parlay "probably" into "available evidence would tend to indicate that it is not unreasonable to suppose."

Rule 3. Put one-syllable thought into polysyllabic terms.

Instead of observing that a work force might be bigger and better, write, "In addition to quantitative enlargement, it is not improbable that there is need also for qualitative improvement in the personnel of the service." If you have discovered that musicians out of practice can't hold jobs, report that "the fact of rapid deterioration of musical skill when not in use soon converts the employed into the unemployable." Resist the impulse to say that much of men's clothing is machine made. Put it thus: "Nearly all operations in the industry lend themselves to performance by machine, and all grades of men's clothing sold in significant quantity involve a very substantial amount of machine work."

Rule 4. Put the obvious in terms of the unintelligible.

When you write that "the product of the activity of janitors is expended in the identical locality in which that activity takes place," your lay reader is in for a time of it. After an hour's puzzlement, he may conclude that janitor's sweepings are thrown on the town dump. See what you can do with this: "Each article sent to the cleaner is handled separately." You become a member of the guild in good standing if you put it like this: "Within the cleaning plant proper the business of industry involves several well-defined processes, which, from the economic point of view, may be characterized simply by saying that most of them require separate handling of each individual garment or piece of material to be cleaned."

Rule 5. Announce what you are going to say before you say it.

This pitcher's wind-up technique before hurling towards – not at – home plate has two varieties. First is the quick wind-up: "In the following sections the policies of the administration will be considered." Then you become strong enough for the contortionist wind-up: "Perhaps more important, therefore, than the question of what standards are in a particular case, there are the questions of the extent of observance of these standards are the methods of their enforcement." Also, you can play with reversing Rule 5 and say what you have said after you have said it.

Rule 6. Defend your style as "scientific."

Look down on – not up to – clear, simple English. Sneer at it as "popular." Scorn it as "journalistic." Explain your failure to put more mental sweat into your writing on the ground that "the social scientists who want to be scientific believe that we can have scientific description of human behavior and trustworthy predictions in the scientific sense only as we build adequate taxonomic systems for observable phenomena and symbolic systems for the manipulation of ideal and abstract entitles."

"THE TROUBLE WITH SOCIAL SCIENCE DOES NOT LIE IN ITS SPECIAL VOCABULARY. THOSE WORKS ARE DOUBTLESS CHOSEN WITH GREAT CARE. THE TROUBLE IS THAT TOO FEW SOCIAL SCIENTISTS TAKE ENOUGH CARE WITH WORDS OUTSIDE THEIR SPECIAL VOCABULARIES."

-- Samuel T. Williamson 1949

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