We surveyed 83 syllabi for general education courses in the social sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill, all of which require at least 10 pages of written work. Based on our survey, we found that students in the social sciences most often write:
- Analytical and argumentative research papers, usually just called “research papers,” which require students to use a theory or concept to interpret an idea or question, often based on a course reading. These assignments require students to synthesize course material, apply concepts, and interpret ideas.
- Genres that require students to investigate a question or issue first, and then draw conclusions based on the research or analysis — not genres requiring students to choose a thesis first, then defend it, as in first year composition genres.
- Reviews of previous research, either as a standalone assignment or as part of a research paper
- Genres familiar to academic researchers: conference papers, conference posters, research proposals
- Policy-related genres: forecast reports, policy briefs, white papers, or policy/recommendation reports that apply research to propose solutions to a problem or suggest future courses of action
- Reports of primary research, such as interview reports or field observation report
- Oral presentations of research findings
In short, research dominates social science writing, and the genres are professional or academic in nature, in contrast to the primarily literary and journalistic genres taught in many first year writing courses and featured in most textbooks.