9 uses of “the ways in which” that should be replaced by “how”

Searching through sociology for the ways in which is literally like shooting ducks in a barrel (easy).

Shooting Ducks in a Barrel

For this post I made sure to include some giants in the field, and major journals, to underscore the ways in which this problem is not limited to the over-wrought fringe.

The “how” rule is not universally applicable. In some cases “the ways” would be a better replacement. But in these 9 examples “how” is enough.

Reproducing Stories: Strategic Narratives of Teen Pregnancy and Motherhood

Within this narrative, there is no space for negotiating or even acknowledging the ways in which poverty, racism, and sexism affect the lives of young mothers.

Social Network Analysis: An Introduction

… her research showed the importance of ties across kin groups and households and the ways in which the strength of membership within families varied…

The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis

Whereas economists and political scientists offer functional explanations of the ways in which institutions represent efficient solutions to problems of governance, sociologists reject functional explanations and focus instead on the ways in which institutions complicate and constitute the paths by which solutions are sought.

The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love, and Eroticism in Modern Societies

She found major differences between the ways in which the boys discussed sex (they did not often speak of love) in the course of her lengthy interviews with them and the responses of the girls.

Practicing Intersectionality in Sociological Research: A Critical Analysis of Inclusions, Interactions, and Institutions in the Study of Inequalities

A good example of this can be found in Hays’s (2003) discussion of the ways in which college students are prone to the drug use and sexual activity that are so strongly condemned among poor teens.

The Division of Labor in Society (Introduction)

The new introduction to this edition takes a different tack, focusing on the ways in which this work is of present-day sociological interest.

Video Game Culture, Contentious Masculinities, and Reproducing Racialized Social Class Divisions in Middle School*

Recent feminist theorizing on relations between gender and technology emphasizes the ways in which the two mutually shape each other.

Pattern Variables Revisited: A Response to Robert Dubin

The Editor’s invitation to comment on his paper has given me the opportunity to work out an overdue clarification of the ways in which Model II builds on and goes beyond, rather than replaces, Model I.

Gastronationalism: Food Traditions and Authenticity Politics in the European Union

I use Brubaker’s (1996:10) broad definition of nationalism — a set of idioms, practices, and possibilities available in cultural and political life, delimited by social or physical boundaries — to consider the ways in which a nation’s people are defined, or self-define, as a distinct group.

*This was one of eight pieces in the Summer 2014 issue of Signs that came up in my search. For a previous criticism of the writing in Signs, see this post.

10 thoughts on “9 uses of “the ways in which” that should be replaced by “how”

  1. This problem is related to another problem that I often find in my first drafts and is especially common in social science writing: “the ways in which x is related to y”. “is related to” or “affects” or “the relationship between x and y” is doubly evil because a) it doesn’t tell the reader in which direction x and y are related (does more x lead to more or less y?) and b) it avoids the active voice of people doing something. Sometimes you have to tolerate one or both of these evils, but I find at least half the time I can re-write the sentence so that somebody is doing something, often to somebody else.


    1. Sometimes “the ways” is really an indirect way of saying there is more than one way, which “how” cannot convey. So there may be a good reason for “the ways” which there isn’t for the singular “the way in which.” On the other hand, using that plural is sometimes just a puffery smokescreen to say, “this is all very complicated — trust me, there are lots of ways, the multilayered surface of which I have only begun to scratch.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That was my thought. If the writer is talking about how a singular mechanism brings about an outcome, “how” is appropriate. If there are multiple mechanisms, “the ways in which” seems better.


  2. Here is what is funny to me about getting called out here – I looked back at drafts after Ted alerted me – is that I first used ‘how’ in the sentence in question. It got changed late in the revising/editing process, because someone reading it said – and rightly so – that because gastronationalism is one of multiple ways that people self-define or are externally defined as a group…. so I should use ‘the ways in which’ instead.


  3. Thanks so much for this post. I teach in academia and as soon as I hear someone say “the ways in which,” I immediately know the following things:
    1) They are not poets, nor do they have much of an imagination at all.
    2) Their thinking is calcified.
    3) They are insecure, and unconsciously feel the need to use stilted language to appear “smart,” because they do not actually feel smart.
    4) They are probably politically conservative, at best centrist. Progressives are open-minded and creative; to use the phrase “the ways in which,” one must be arrested in development.

    Thanks again for your great post. And anytime you head someone use this phrase, run!


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