Welcome to English 127: Research Writing for the Social Sciences.
This is the second in the required sequence of composition courses for the AA degree at GRC. ENGL 127 is one of three courses that fulfills the requirement. ENGL 126 is Research Writing for the Humanities and ENGL 128 is Research Writing for Science, Engineering and Business. All three courses focus on writing and research, as well as understanding, incorporating, interpreting, and evaluating other people's writing; formulating research questions and conducting research; and producing well-organized essays that allow you to present the results and interpretation of your research and related issues.
Taking an online course can be both exciting as well as frightening. Taking an online writing course may appear to complicate matters even further, but there are in fact many positive aspects. Since virtually all of the communication in this course is in written form, you will certainly do a lot of writing! We will work towards building a vibrant "writing community" through our interaction with the textbooks and assignments, but most of all with each other.
The majority of the course consists of various informal and formal assignments to allow you to produce your three formal essays on a social science topic of your own choice (with instructor approval). You will write all three papers on the same topic, though the way you narrow it will evolve during the quarter. Review the Research Topics page for further discussion; this page also includes a list of "Prohibited Topics." The three papers are all related to one another: The Background Essay and the Literature Review both build towards the Final Research Article; in fact, you will include revised versions of these two earlier essays in your final paper, which is why you should not panic about the 12-15 page length requirement for the FRA.
We will also have assignments based on readings from our two required textbooks: Rereading America (anthology of readings) and The Craft of Research (reference book on academic argumentation and the research process).
You will post informal assignments to the online discussion forum, covering concepts and skills such as summary, quotation, APA documentation style (American Psychological Association), research questions, research methods, evidence and support, audience, etc., along with specific preparatory writing for each of the major essays. See the Assignments webpage for further explanation and details.
Because this is an "advanced" writing course, it presumes that you have already had instruction and practice in the basics of college-level composition. Therefore, this course will not teach you grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. This does not mean that you are not allowed to make mistakes in grammar and punctuation or that your sentences and paragraphs must be perfectly developed from the outset. Rather, it is up to you to take responsibility for this level of your writing by proofreading your work carefully; consulting your writing handbook when you have a question or when a mistake has been marked on one of your assignments; visiting the GRC Writing Center (RLC 173, may not be open during summer quarters) to work with a trained writing tutor; or asking specific questions in an email to me if you remain confused.
Although I will presume that you may have had some instruction and practice in other college-composition areas relevant to ENGL 127 as well, this course will provide further instruction in the skills, concepts, formats, and tools related to the following: the writing process; reading and evaluating academic articles; critical thinking; the elements of academic argument; essay organization; topic selection and narrowing; a consideration of audience and purpose; incorporating quotations and citing sources; producing a bibliography; and library and internet research; among other areas.
This quarter I want you to "try on" the identity of "researcher," in addition to the identity of "writer." Explore the responsibilities, the rewards, the challenges, the privileges, the hard work, and the pleasures of each of these identities.
ACADEMIC DISCIPLINES: WHAT ARE THE SOCIAL SCIENCES?
Given that you have chosen ENGL 127 (Research Writing for the Social Sciences), it is helpful to consider how ENGL 127 may be distinguished from ENGL 126 (Writing for the Humanities) and ENGL 128 (Research Writing for Science, Engineering and Business). Consider the range of academic "disciplines" (subject areas) covered by each of these broad groupings (note that ENGL 128 groups together an unusually large set of disciplines):
This extensive grid represents how (most of) human knowledge has been arranged and classified. We call the various subject areas "disciplines" because key traditions, concepts, texts, thinkers, assumptions, methods, questions, and interpretive (theoretical) frameworks have developed for each of them over the decades (or centuries, in some cases). A student pursuing an undergraduate (B.A. or B.S.) or graduate (M.A., M.S., or Ph.D.) or professional (M.D., J.D., MSW, MBA, MPA, etc.) degree in any of these disciplines would be expected to gain familiarity with the basic texts, key thinkers, main theories and interpretations, seminal studies, etc. in the field. See Social Science Disciplines for a further discussion.
Social Sciences vs./and Humanities: While there is considerable overlap between the humanities and social sciences since both areas are concerned with the rigorous exploration and development of knowledge about human beings and society, there are some notable differences in terms of objects of study, emphasis, methods, and assumptions. Social science seeks to gather and interpret new data according to academically sound research methods. While we will discuss questions of objectivity and bias in greater detail later in the quarter, it is safe to say that the majority of social scientists strive for "objectivity," that is, that others should be able to reproduce or observe the same data if they follow the same research methods, and that interpretations should be based on commonly accepted evaluations of evidence, assumptions and theoretical frameworks. Scholarly writing in the social sciences demands clarity, logical classification, a narrowing of focus, and interpretations based on observable evidence rather than opinion or feeling.
The humanities, on the other hand, do not just say that "anything goes" or that any interpretation is as good as another, but they are more skeptical about the claims of objectivity and are more interested in the range of possible interpretations. Moreover, the humanities often will examine already existing cultural texts and artifacts (e.g., literature, philosophy, popular culture, the arts) in order to see what we can learn about human beings, their identities and emotions, their relationships to the world, nature, the divine, themselves, each other, etc. Scholarly writing in the humanities revels in complexity, originality, unexpected connections and echoes, defying common sense, and multiple meanings. While humanities scholars also see themselves trafficking in "truth" through the careful reading or experience of texts and artifacts, reflection, and suddenly bestowed insights (epiphanies), they do not expect that other scholars, thinkers or students would come up with the same interpretations by remaining objective or following the scientific method.
I should note here that there is a significant minority of social scientists who are critical of the claims of objectivity since they argue that knowledge production is always impacted by those who are seeking to produce it, which they do not necessarily regard as a bad thing. Rather than trying to come up with conclusions or frameworks that make claims of scientific truth (i.e., truth that is not dependent on the observer or investigator), these social scientists seek to produce "situated knowledges," that is, systems of information and understanding that are produced out of particular contexts by particular parties (individuals or communities) for particular purposes. I will leave it to you to decide which forms or modes of knowledge you regard as most valuable, whether personally or publicly, as well as how we should see the balance between the humanities and social sciences. Obviously, this course is asking you to focus on critical reading, research methods, and writing in the social sciences, but it is useful to be aware of the tensions and overlap between the social sciences and the humanities that I have described.
Course Website: I have tried to make the organization of this course website fairly simple and straightforward. On the left bar of every page, you will find navigation buttons that will take you to the key areas of the website: Schedule, Canvas Forum, Syllabus, Questions (a course map with links to the major assignment and other course handouts), etc. Browse through the website to get an idea of the course content, but don't allow yourself to feel too overwhelmed by the amount of material; it'll make much more sense if you read it as we go along! However, make sure you read the Syllabus page thoroughly since that page represents our contract and sets out the course policies.
The most important page on this website is the Schedule page. Here, you will get an overview of the major assignments and due dates for the entire quarter. From this page, you will also be able to go to the schedule page for each individual week. The link for each week's schedule will become live towards the end of the previous week; for example the Week 2 schedule will become live towards the end of Week 1 (around Wednesday or Thursday).
Turning in Assignments: All assignments will be posted to CANVAS. Informal responses (such as partial drafts or reading responses) will be posted to Discussion forums. Major assignments, including final drafts of the three major papers, will be uploaded via the link for that particular assignment. See the Format Instructions page for more detail about sending attachments and formatting your formal essays.
Feedback and Grades: You will receive individualized feedback and letter grades on the final drafts of your Background Essay and Literature Review. Make sure you click on your assignment file to see my marginal comments in addition to my final comment. You will also receive a letter grade for your Peer Reviews and for your final Course & Self Assessment. See the Forum page for an explanation of how you accumulate points for your informal writing assignments, reading responses, exploratory or preparatory writing, and drafts. Again, remember that you get full credit simply for doing the forum assignments on time (and as long as they are complete). I read through the class's forum postings, but I do not comment on each individual posting.
ONLINE COURSE CHECKLIST