History in Review
Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article, Second Edition
(Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing)
By Howard S. Becker
University Of Chicago Press, 2007
Reviewed by Herbert White - September 30, 2011
From published authors to novice writers, we have all faced the fear of staring at a blank page or wondering what you should write about. We have all questioned our ability to connect with our audience, and we have all hit road blocks that we think are unpassable. In Writing for Social Scientists, Howard S. Becker examines the various factors that can impede our writing ability, and he offers suggestions and advice on how to deal with these 'problems' and overcome any roadblock that might be encountered along the way.
Writing for Social Scientists was first published in 1986. This review is based upon the second edition of this esteemed work. The book had his origins in the classroom, when Becker was conducting a seminar on writing for a group of grad students, and what began as the note or answer to a question eventually blossomed into this book. Since its publication this book has been a boon to both academic and non-academic writers.
Becker is a sociologist, and in some regards he has applied a sociological slant to this book. For instance he is much more concerned with how (such as do you use a pencil, a typewriter, or a computer) and why (an academic requirement, personal enjoyment, to share your love of a given subject, etc...) people write, than upon the actual technical aspects of writing. While he does cover some technical aspects of writing, this is more of a book on how to get started and keep writing, than a how-to book on writing itself. For those looking for such a book, Becker lists many excellent books that will guide you through everything from formatting your manuscript to the rules of grammar. In addition, this is not just a book for sociologist, it is a book for anyone who has ever stared at a blank piece of paper and started to sweat! Becker explores what motivates people to write, and what holds them back from starting or completing their work, all with an eye toward helping the reader to overcome the difficulties that they face before and during the writing process.
This book will help you ignore your fears, academic politics, and worries about word choice and get down to the real task at hand - actually writing. Once you have written your article, book, or dissertation, you can then go back and edit it to correct, well, anything that needs correcting. You will likely find, as many writers do, that once they have overcome the hurdle of actually getting the words on the paper, revising and editing the material to meet whatever requirements the piece needs to meet is really a breeze compared to the actual writing. You will also find that ignoring the technical minutia of the writing process is rather freeing. Granted, eventually you will need to tackle all those pesky details, but by doing it after you have already done the actual writing, you will find your writing sessions much less intimidating, stressful, and that much of the pressure that you might feel to 'produce' is relieved. Becker will even help you to let go of your work once it is finished. After all there is such a thing as too much editing, too much revision, and too much tweaking. At some point you much declare your work finished, and put it in the hands of a publisher.
From start to finish, Writing for Social Scientists provides a wealth of information and inspiration for writers of every ilk. While geared toward nonfiction writers, most of the information in this book can be applied to works of fiction as well. In short, this is an excellent book that should be in every high school and college library and which should be read by anyone who has ever had a problem putting word to paper, no matter what the cause of that problem.
Destination Dissertation, by Sonja K. Foss and William Waters.
A step-by-step guide to writing your dissertation that takes you through the entire process in a mere 29 steps.
Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books, by William Germano.
This book will help you to find the right academic publisher, evaluate a contract, handle the review process, and, finally, emerge as a published author.
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