How to Write Modern Social Science

Experiment 1 Stage 2 — Aayush Patel

Stage 1 Summary

                For my experimentation processes this semester, I have chosen to revisit a personal free-write piece from my junior year of high school that analyzed the historical consequences of having a “money-based” society and addressed whether a society without any concept of money was feasible. Because this piece was a free-write and my teacher had let us essentially ramble, there is no clear genre that I intended to replicate for this piece. However, my natural free-write tendencies led to this paper becoming more of a social/philosophical narrative argument with some signs of a research paper. And I’ll be honest, I thought I was hot shit in high school and my writing reflected that. I can just remember my arrogance as I wrote this paper and marveled at the beauty of my own philosophical thoughts. Now that I look back on it with a more humble outlook, I still think “DAMN I’M GOOD!” Just kidding. I really need to filter out my arrogance in this free write because it smells loud. That is only partially related to the genre experiment, but mostly a personal thing I want to improve on. In general, I’m really interested in seeing how my personality change in the last 3 years is reflected in this experimentation process.

Ultimately, I have the opportunity to transform this paper into any genre I want because the topic of a moneyless society can be tackled in so many variations, which is a blessing and a curse. For this first experiment, I want to experiment with modern research papers that present social research with a blend of objective and subjective arguments (think Freakonomics). This task will require me to conduct academic research on my topic and also find a unique balance between an academic tone and argumentation.


How to Present Modern Social Science

Since the 2000s, the social science genre has spiked as a result of a movement to incorporate authorial perspective in presenting research within these fields (economics, sociology, psychology, history, etc.). I believe that Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point has likely lead this movement. These authors unique ability to present social research in an attention-grabbing and creative way has inspired researchers to rethink how they present their information. Their success in challenging societal misconceptions about real estate agents, sumo wrestlers, drug dealers, crime reduction policies, suicide, and abortion all within three-hundred page books is directly related with their success in incorporating their own perspectives with their research. Dubner and Gladwell excel at storytelling, drawing comparisons, and identifying real examples of their research’s conclusions about society. There’s no wonder that the Freakonomics podcast is now one of the most popular podcasts in the world, with Dubner in high demand by University seminars around the world (He was Michigan last year). The success of this social science presentation format has continued even into more current times. A look at the NYTimes Bestsellers list features dozens of books written by scientists and researchers, something that would not be possible if these individuals continued writing boring academic papers alone. Angela Duckworth, the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, entered the bestsellers list by presenting research on mental toughness and the importance of persistence towards personal goals. However, she supplements on concrete research with examples of how industry leaders, successful millionaires, and professional athletes all incorporate her work in their daily lives. This influence has even trickled into the more general science field. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry simplifies exactly what I am claiming about this genre transformation. The title alone suggests that a complex and dense subject matter like astrophysics will be presented “for people in a hurry”. This means limited jargon, less math, and most importantly, Tyson’s own perspective on his information. The global success of all of these novels suggest that the trend towards concise information and narrative tones in research is still continuing.

Here are some common themes in successful social science novels:

  • Select a general societal theme to emphasize and wrap your research around these themes. Freakonomics essentially focuses on incentives and the importance of analyzing hidden factors in social issues. Incentives are addressed by comparing real estate agents and sumo wrestlers. Hidden factors are discussed by analyzing the relationship between abortion and a reduction in crime. In other words, come up with things that sound flashy and will make your reader feel like they acquired specialized knowledge (even though they are just learning examples of general knowledge). You can trick your audience into thinking that they learned more than they actually did if you follow this essential rule.


  • Build on sub-themes over the course of the book to make audiences feel like the information is becoming more specialized as the book progresses. Gladwell chooses three laws of epidemics during the first part of his novel and briefly describes each of these laws. However, he chooses to present these three rules in an order of simple to most complex in order to make the audience feel like his research is becoming more scientific over the course of the novel. The idea of few people having a lot of social influence is simple, but the Power of Context (discussed towards the end of the book) is not. If your book isn’t getting more difficult to understand over the course, you’re kind of insulting your audience’s intelligence. Reward them for making it to chapter 10 by teaching them more complex ideas.


  • Avoid academic jargon if possible. Explain in simple terms and concrete examples if you are going to use jargon. The main reason modern social science is thriving is because authors have learned how to make knowledge more understandable and have distanced themselves from esoteric language. If your table of contents seems to be focused on too much jargon, you’ll scare readers away before they begin. The more simple your language, the larger your audience. This does not mean you sacrifice your academic integrity or dumb down your work (not entirely). Just build up topics slowly and provide common examples of principles and theories related to your field.


  • Stay away from getting too detailed about the empirical methods and math that were used to draw the social conclusions your research leads to. Readers who care will stick to academic journals anyways. Yeah, math is probably essential in defending your discoveries. But the average global audience will probably shed a tear if you try mentioning some calculus or your extremely complex empirical methods with little footnotes everywhere. Leave all this stuff for the actual academic publications. If readers are more interested into the method behind the madness then they’ll seek out the finer details on their own. Just focus on your themes and takeaways if you want to keep your readers awake by the end of chapter 1.



  • Provide your own concerns and feelings about your research to show the audience your human side. Nobody likes reading textbooks, so don’t write a textbook. You can still be your usual self and maintain your academic integrity. Loosen things up with personal anecdotes, humor (even though you’re probably not funny if you do research), and emotional responses to the case studies you decide to address.


Good Luck and Welcome to the genre Bandwagon!



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