How to Write an Anthropology Paper: A Basic Guide

Since 2016, I have been working as an instructional assistant for undergraduate anthropology courses at my (now) alma mater, UNT.  I spend a great amount of time grading student work from anthropology and non-anthropology students alike.

For those who have never taken an anthropology course before, diving into the writing and analysis style of anthropology, especially at a higher level, can be challenging! So I decided to share my guide to anthropology writing on this blog, in order to help any potential anthropology students out there with their university writing assignments.

This is expanded from a document I created while working as an IA for a course during graduate school. I previously posted a version of this on my portfolio blog, but I’m moving it here because I feel it relates to my other posts well. Some sources I used to guide me in creating this document are listed at the end of this post.

 

How to Write for an Anthropology Course

A basic definition of anthropology:

  • The study of humans or humankind
  • The study of human cultures, societies and groups and how they develop and evolve

Important topics in anthropology:

  • Cultural relativism: A person or group’s behavior should be understood and analyzed within the context of their culture, each culture should be studied on its own terms. There are historical and situational reasons behind cultural concepts and behaviors.
  • Ethnocentrism: The belief that one’s own culture is superior to others. Anthropology as a discipline is largely against this point of view.
  • Ethnography: A product of anthropological fieldwork. A type of research and written report that records and analyzes the traits of a certain culture or society. Anthropologists gather data for an ethnography usually through participant observation and interviews.
  • Participant observation: A way of collecting anthropological data by participating in a cultural group’s daily-life activities alongside the people of that group, while observing and recording what you experience

Tips for Anthropological Writing:

  1. To analyze generally means to determine any and all meanings behind a statement, event, concept, or piece of writing. Determine what you believe the meaning(s) of the source are and use textual evidence to support your ideas.
  2. Develop a thesis statement and use evidence from the course readings to support it. Look at all the sources you have available to you and determine the parts of them that support your argument the best, then use those. Don’t worry about including a large number of sources, instead focus on including the most relevant sources to your thesis statement. This tip can be applied to many different college courses as well!
  3. Anthropology is all about interpretation. Include your own opinion and ideas in your writing, but make sure you have sources to back up your knowledge. Say what you think but make sure you also say why you think that way, and use sources from the course material to help you. As always, make sure to properly cite your sources.
  4. Look at both sides of the argument while forming the evidence for your side. Try to imagine how someone with an opposite point of view would respond to your statements and use those ideas to make your argument stronger.
  5. It is best to avoid superlative statements when writing for anthropology courses. Superlative statements are those that use words/phrases like “best” “worst” “always” “never” “everyone” or “nobody.” Human culture rarely exists in black and white, so don’t write about it that way. You can point out common patterns in culture (that is largely what anthropology is about!), but be sure to label them as just that, patterns, not the undisputed truth. There is always an exception, and those exceptions can be important aspects of what makes a culture the way it is.

 

Some sources that I consulted to help make this document:

http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/anthropology/

http://writingproject.fas.harvard.edu/files/hwp/files/anthropology_writing_guide_2010.pdf

http://anthropology.unt.edu/

 

Feel free to visit my other posts in the category “anthropology” for more information on the discipline and its main concepts.

Happy paper writing!

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