What does ‘critical’ mean in social science writing, and how can I be critical in my essay?

When you study sociology, or indeed most other social or political sciences, you will often come across the idea of a critical analysis, a critical approach, critical thinking, a critical awareness, or simply critique. Indeed, the title of this website is a play on it. But while the concept of critical seems to be omnipresent in the social sciences, there is not always much of an explanation of what it actually means. This blogpost attempts such an explanation, and makes suggestions for how to integrate critical-related skills into your essay writing practice. I suggest two components for this, a common-sense-plus element, and a social-science-proper component.

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Can I use non-academic sources in my essay?

One issue that can be confusing in social science essay writing is whether or not, and under what circumstances, you can use non-peer-reviewed, non-academic sources such as news articles, blogs, podcasts or youtube videos. Your lecturers and tutors are quick to point out that you shouldn’t, but then there always seem to be exceptions. This blog post looks in more detail at what these exceptions are, how to make use of them, and what pitfalls to avoid.

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How many sources should I use in my essay?

Possibly the most frequently asked question when it comes to social science essay writing (certainly in first and second year courses) is how many sources should be used in an essay. This is a very legitimate question, especially if you don’t have much essay writing experience to start with. But the answer is not very straightforward. It depends. Rather than providing a fixed number, this blog post lays out what it depends on, and what kinds of parameters play a role in determining the number of readings.

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Turkeys are smarter than you think

Turkeys don’t have the best reputation. Like other Galliformes, they are often considered not to be particularly intelligent. And it doesn’t help that they lack a certain ‘cuteness’ factor, which humans tend to associate with other kinds of animals. However, as the excerpt below from the rather brilliant documentary ‘My Life as a Turkey’ by the naturalist and wildlife artist Joe Hutto shows, this is a misconception. By learning to communicate with wild turkeys, he discovered that the animals are quite a bit smarter than their reputation might suggest. And if I may add, surprisingly cute! A short clip at 2:50 mins, the embedded video connects you to BBC Earth’s youtube channel: