6.7 What You’ll (Probably) Be Writing

Natalie Boldt and Loren Gaudet

The kinds of writing you’ll be asked to do while working or studying in the social sciences will vary by course and instructor. We’ve covered some of the most common sub-genres of academic writing in Chapter 2:

In what follows, we’ll outline a few more additional assignments that you might find yourself faced with.


A precis is a specific type of summary that maintains the language and structure of the original source (usually an academic article or book). The University of Guelph has an excellent resource on writing a precis. We have summarized some of the main points for you here. The purpose of a precis is to present a shortened version of a source while emphasizing key words, concepts, or data. This may sound a lot like summary writing (see Chapter 2.6)—and there are similarities here!—but the main difference is that a precis uses the language and structure of the original, while in summaries and paraphrases you use your own words as much as possible. While your instructor will have their own requirements for this kind of writing, a general guideline is that a precis should be no more than one-third the length of the original text. Think of the precis as offering a condensed version of a text for its original intended audience.

Research Brief

A research brief is also a kind of concise summary, but in this genre, the research is adapted, or translated, for a more general audience. Research briefs are usually written for non-academics: policymakers, analysts, or other public-facing figures. The purpose of a research brief is to share research and its relevance to policy in accessible, non-specialized language. For more detailed information on the genre, the University of Edinburgh has a helpful guide on how to write a brief, including prompts, a suggested structure, and practical tips.

Journal Entries or Reflection Papers

In many courses in the social sciences, instructors will ask students to write short reflections—often called journal entries—on the reading(s) assigned for the week. This sub-genre of writing is an excellent tool for facilitating reflection, as it invites you to think about and compare issues, experiences, and course readings in order to make connections between theory (the concepts), and practice (how we might apply the concepts to research, thinking, or real life).[1]

One of the most important elements in crafting a strong journal entry is making sure that you understand the prompt: what are you being asked to reflect on? Does the prompt ask you to compare/contrast, analyze, describe, or ask a question? What readings are you expected to draw on? Once you have a sense of the prompt itself, then work on crafting a response that fulfills these requirements. Consider drafting some initial reactions and responses, and making connections to other readings or events, and then choose to write about the ideas that best address the prompt.

Journal entries are also incredibly useful documents when it comes to preparing a final paper or studying for a final exam. By keeping journal entries, you have a record of your reactions and responses to assigned reading and connections that you’ve made between readings (and sometimes between courses!). If you keep your journal entries, you can use them to generate ideas for final papers or to review for your final exams.

  1. For an excellent overview of journal entries, see this guide to common assignments from Walden University.


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Why Write? A Guide for Students in Canada 2nd Edition Copyright © 2022 by Natalie Boldt and Loren Gaudet is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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