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EDUC.7130: Research Writing in Social Sciences

Why do Journals Reject Articles?

A common reason cited is that the article had no argument.

About the Argument

From University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

"The first thing to remember in writing a sociological argument is to be as clear as possible in stating your thesis. Of course, that is true in all papers, but there are a couple of pitfalls common to sociology that you should be aware of and avoid at all cost. As previously defined, sociology is the study of the interaction between individuals and larger social forces. Different traditions within sociology tend to favor one side of the equation over the other, with some focusing on the agency of individual actors and others on structural factors. The danger is that you may go too far in either of these directions and thus lose the complexity of sociological thinking. Although this mistake can manifest itself in any number of ways, three types of flawed arguments are particularly common: 

► The “individual argument” generally takes this form: “The individual is free to make choices, and any outcomes can be explained exclusively through the study of his or her ideas and decisions.” While it is of course true that we all make our own choices, we must also keep in mind that, to paraphrase Marx, we make these choices under circumstances given to us by the structures of society. Therefore, it is important to investigate what conditions made these choices possible in the first place, as well as what allows some individuals to successfully act on their choices while others cannot.
►The “human nature argument” seeks to explain social behavior through a quasi-biological argument about humans, and often takes a form such as: “Humans are by nature X, therefore it is not surprising that Y.” While sociologists disagree over whether a universal human nature even exists, they all agree that it is not an acceptable basis of explanation. Instead, sociology demands that you question why we call some behavior natural, and to look into the social factors which have constructed this “natural” state.
►The “society argument” often arises in response to critiques of the above styles of argumentation, and tends to appear in a form such as: “Society made me do it.” Students often think that this is a good sociological argument, since it uses society as the basis for explanation. However, the problem is that the use of the broad concept “society” masks the real workings of the situation, making it next to impossible to build a strong case. This is an example of reification, which is when we turn processes into things. Society is really a process, made up of ongoing interactions at multiple levels of size and complexity, and to turn it into a monolithic thing is to lose all that complexity. People make decisions and choices. Some groups and individuals benefit, while others do not. Identifying these intermediate levels is the basis of sociological analysis.

Although each of these three arguments seems quite different, they all share one common feature: they assume exactly what they need to be explaining. They are excellent starting points, but lousy conclusions.

What is the Argument?

The argument is another way to describe your thesis, and should clearly answer these questions:

  • What was I studying?
  • Why was this topic important to investigate?
  • What did we know about this topic before I did this study?
  • How will this study advance new knowledge or new ways of understanding?

The argument will grow naturally out of your literature review. In making an argument you need to summarize the research of others, but for your own purposes, and these purposes must be clear to any reader.