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Writing Guide

Writing Overview

Note: Most of the stylistic recommendations are based American Sociological Association’s Style Guide and the Chicago Manual of Style.

Writing Tips

  • Try to use the active voice instead of passive voice when possible by eliminating: is, am, was, were, be, being, and been.
  • Do not use contractions in academic writing.
  • Gendered language should be avoided unless specific to the topic. For example, mankind or manpower. Use nongendered language such as individual, people, or humanity.
  • Vary sentence length and structure, this makes your writing easier to read and more engaging.
  • Avoid run-on sentences.
  • Avoid wordy phrases. Short and precise language is preferred. Typically, the words “most”, “much”, and “very” are unnecessary. For example,
    • “as a result,” “due to the fact that” = because
    • “through the use of” = by, using, or with
    • “in regards to” = about
    • “time and time again” = repeatedly
    • “actual fact” = fact
    • More can be found on the following sites:
  • Names: The first time a person’s name is mentioned, write it out completely. Next time, refer to them by their last name. For example, Karl Marx said “yada, yada, yada.” Next time it will be: Marx stated that “yada, yada, yada.”
  • Abbreviations: Words should be fully spelled out with the abbreviation put in (parenthesis). Then use the abbreviation each subsequent time.
    • University of Wollongong (UOW)
    • violence against women (VAW)
  • Read your writing aloud, or have another person or a computer program read your writing to you, to find mistakes and determine where commas and pauses should go.
  • Buy and use a style guide:
    1. APA Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
    2. The Chicago Manual of Style
    3. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
    4. A Sociology Writer’s Guide
    5. The Purdue Online Writing Lab
  • Take a writing course. Improving your writing will help you at university and in the job market.


  • Know the difference between:
    • a, an, and
    • their, there, and they’re
    • to, too, and two
    • Additional Information:
  • Commonly confused words:
  • Be mindful of run-on sentences and unnecessary capitalization.
  • Plural = are, singular = is
  • Numbers:
    • Spell out numbers one through nine.
    • Use numerals for numbers 10 and above.
      • Also first, second, and third but 10th, 11th, and 50th.
    • Do not start a sentence with numerals.
      • Incorrect: 52% of make believe Australians like Tim Tams.
      • Correct: Over half (52%) of make believe Australians like Tim Tams.
    • Dates: Apostrophes should not be used on dates. For example, 1970s instead of 1970’s.
  • Possession:
    • An apostrophe must be used before an extra “s” to indicate possession.
      • student’s not students; mother’s, not mothers; society’s, not societies
      • This is Bob’s sociology book.
    • If a word is plural, the apostrophe goes after the “s”:
      • students’ books or fathers’
      • The workers’ rights.
  • Difference between affect and effect: A simple way to remember is the phrase cause and effect. The cause is the affect or an affect causes an effect. Affect is typically a verb and effect is typically a noun. Remember, cause (affect) and effect. Another way to remember is affect comes first in the alphabet and therefore must come before effect.
    • Learning will affect students.
    • Learning had an effect on students.


  • Acronyms: British English typically does not capitalize the entire word, referred to as capital case.
    • Nasa/NASA
    • Nato/NATO
    • Unicef/UNICEF
  • Contractions: British English typically does not use full stops (called periods in American English)
    • Avenue: Ave/Ave.
    • Doctor: Dr/Dr.
    • Street: St/St.
  • List of abbreviations commonly used in sociology.


  • British English typically uses single quotation marks (‘), but American English uses double quotation marks (“). British English does not put the full stop inside a quotation unless it is part of the original quote, while American English typically does. However, both alternate quote marks when there is a quotation within a quotation.

Basic Academic Essay Format

  • Introduction
    • State thesis:
      • The question you intend to answer or statement you intend to prove.
      • Should be one sentence.
    • Preview essay by highlighting the key points you will make in your subject sentences.
  • Paragraph 1
    • Subject Sentence
    • Support
    • Support
    • Support
    • Summarizing sentence, leading to next paragraph.
  • Paragraph 2
    • Subject Sentence
    • Support
    • Support
    • Support
    • Summarizing sentence, leading to next paragraph.
  • Paragraph 3
    • Subject Sentence
    • Support
    • Support
    • Support
    • Summarizing sentence, leading to next paragraph.
  • Conclusion
    • Summarize your points.
    • Never introduce new information into the conclusion


  • Create a template for papers in various citation formats such as APA and MLA. Then, start each paper using to the template to save time.
  • Consistent formatting is key; use the same font and font size throughout your work.
  • Use indents or spaces to separate paragraphs.


Quoting and Citation

Proper quoting and citing is required to avoid plagiarism. Choose sources carefully, they must be academic and peer reviewed.


  • Do not italicize; put them in “quotation marks” or ‘inverted commas’.
  • All direct quotes require a page number, paraphrasing does not.
  • Quotes should not be put in italics.
  • A quote by someone other than the text author, must be attributed to the original author.
  • Full stop goes after citation. ‘You are not reading this sentence’ (Bell 2016).
  • Quotes should seamlessly blend into the writing.

Citing and Source Selection

  • There are many different citation systems in use (e.g., Harvard and MLA). Learn which ones you have to use for each class.
  • Only use academically peer-reviewed sources.
    • The UOW library has an extensive selection of academic databases.
    • You can also start your search with Google Scholar.
  • When in doubt, cite it.
  • The period or full stop comes after the citation.
    • Incorrect: ‘Blah, blah, blah’. (Bell 2016).
    • Correct: ‘Blah, blah, blah’ (Bell 2016).
  • Guides to referencing: Deakin University and Purdue University

Citation Software

Use citation software to track references, such as Endnote. Most of these programs provide the same functionality but work slightly different.

  • Endnote
  • RefWorks
  • Mendeley
    • Similar to Endnote with a Microsoft Word add-on to auto-create bibliographies.
    • Excellent for annotating PDFs and sharing data.
  • Zotero
    • Free and open source, has a stand-alone program and imbeds in your browser to automatically create citations and save PDFs.
    • Similar to Endnote, Zotero has an add-on for Microsoft Word that auto-creates bibliographies.
  • Native Microsoft Word reference function.
    • You can install Microsoft Office on up to five devices with your student account.
    • You can improve the native spellchecker in MS Word by going to File > Options > Proofing > Writing Style > and selecting Grammar and Style
  • Comparison of Reference Management Software
  • You may also want to look into Evernote and Scrivener. While not citation programs, they can assist you in writing and collecting data.

Additional Resources


Works Consulted

Clanchy, John, and Brigid Ballard. 1997. Essay Writing for Students: A Practical Guide. 3rd ed. Melbourne, Australia: Longman.

University of Chicago Press. 2010. The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. 16th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Yellin, Linda L. 2008. A Sociology Writer’s Guide. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.