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Different topic interpretations

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Three different students spent some time analysing the divorce essay topic. Below is each of their interpretations of the topic.

After reading each, decide whether you think it is a reasonable interpretation of the topic.

Student 1

This essay topic is about divorce in Western countries. I would look in detail at statistics for divorce in various countries. I would then focus on the effects of divorce, as discussed by various sociologists. I would describe the effects divorce is thought to have on parents and on children. Then I would consider what social policy solutions there are for the problems arising from divorce.

Does this seem a reasonable interpretation?

Student 2

For this essay I would focus on why rates of divorce have increased in Western countries. To answer this question, I would give my own critical explanation, focusing on what I know from experience are the reasons why couples choose to divorce. I would then interview a number of divorced people I know asking them what the reasons were for the breakdown of their marriage. I would then consider current social policies relating to divorce and find out how well the people I interview have coped since they were divorced.

Does this seem a reasonable interpretation?

Student 3

This topic states that divorce has risen in Western countries. First I would want to find out if this is the case by looking at statistics from a number of countries. Assuming that the proposition is true, I would then look at a variety of accounts given by sociologists for this increase. For each of these, I would consider how adequate an explanation it is. The topic seems to imply that rising divorce is a phenomenon that needs to be addressed by policy makers. I would then think about what sort of social policy positions might follow on from each explanation.

Does this seem a reasonable interpretation?

Having read the three interpretations, in your opinion, which seems the 'most' reasonable interpretation?

Student 1 Student 2 Student 3

The problem with this interpretation is that it focuses not on explanations for rising divorce, but on its effects. Whilst this may be an interesting area to explore, it is not what is being asked for in this essay topic.

The second student's interpretation is valid insofar as it focuses on explanations. The problem however, is whose explanations will be considered. The student states that he will give a 'critical explanation' based on his own knowledge and experience. This suggests some confusion about the term critical analysis. In the context of this essay, the critical analysis required would be of the reading that students do in relation to the topic, i.e. the explanations of different sociologists. In other words, the lecturer will be interested not so much in what students personally think are the reasons for divorce; rather they will want to know what students think about what they have read on the subject. This principle is broadly true of many university writing tasks.

Furthermore, the student intends to 'interview a number of divorced people' for the essay. Whilst in another context this could be an interesting project, primary research of this kind is not normally required in an undergraduate essay, unless specified. This type of research is more likely to come later in a course (say final year or honours), after students have received some training in the discipline's research methods.

Of the three interpretations, Student 3's would be closest to what is required.

The student is proposing to comment on the adequacy of a range of sociological explanations for divorce (critical analysis) and then to consider what types of social policy would follow on from her explanations (implications).

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