This brief guide offers you a few ways to improve your academic writing skills, especially if this is the first time writing an anthropology paper.
Some ideas in this guide were adapted from a useful book you may wish to consult: Lee Cuba, A Short Guide to Writing About Social Science (1993, 2nd edition, Harper Collins College Publishers, N.Y.).
You may also wish to consult with Skidmore's Writing Center's or The Skidmore All-College Writing Board's websites.
Read through the entire assignment before writing. If you do not understand the assignment, ask your instructor for clarification.
Pay attention to each part of the assignment to know how many issues you need to address to receive full credit.
Read each assignment carefully, and make sure you understand the key words in the assignment. If the assignment asks you to "analyze," "comment," "reflect," "identify," "describe,"
etc., you need to provide a clear and specific analysis, commentary, reflection, description, etc.
Identify and underline the major subjects of the assignment.
Prepare a brief outline of each part of the assignment before writing your essay.
Follow directions about the format of the essay.
You must provide a bibliography for all the sources that you used to prepare the essay. You must also cite each source that you used in the text of the essay. Failure to cite or adequately quote a sources is considered plagiarism and may result in zero credit for the essay. Check out How to cite sources in anthropology.
Many students think quotes are useful, and they can be. Be cautious, however, when you use quotes. Instructors are more interested in how you write an essay in your own words, not in how you collect quotes. They want to know what you think. It is often possible to write a good essay with minimal quotes from the readings or other sources. If you use a quotation, make sure you use it to make a point and explain why you are using the quote. At the end of the quote, simply put in parenthesis the author's last name, year of publication, a colon, and the page number, for example '(Cuba 1993: 86)'. You should cite the title of films but you don't need to cite lectures or discussions.
To write a good essay, you often have to revise all or part of the paper several times. As The Skidmore All-College Writing Board notes, revision is "an essential stage in the writing process. Revision requires the writer to re-see components of his/her paper as well as to reconceptualize the content and structure of the essay in response to a reader's comments. Revision typically involves adding, deleting, and reorganizing material (global revision) and editing (surface-level revision)." [Skidmore All-College Writing Board's website, Commenting on Student Papers, "Terms for Responding to Students Writing."]
To receive full credit for answering an essay question, pay attention to the following points:
Audience: Would your essay be understandable to another student at this level who is interested in the topic, but not enrolled in the course? Instructors are usually more interested to see how you write an essay that might be interesting to people outside the course. Don't think you have to write the essay for the professor, and don't assume that the reader will have seen the same films or read the same books as you. Those grading your work are trying to see how you might write about social and cultural issues after you leave the course.
Read point 1 again and make sure you understand it!
Have you included: A title that reflects your thesis statement? An introduction with a clear thesis statement? A body composed of paragraphs with topic sentences and appropriate transitions? Interesting conclusions? A bibliography?
Have you provided a clear, logical, and well-organized discussion of the general issues involved? Are your points clear and precise? Does it have an explicit overall development and direction?
Do your arguments in different parts of the essay fit together and seem consistent with each other? Is the essay coherent?
Always provide evidence to support your assertions, observations, arguments, ideas, etc. Students tend to lose points for not adequately supporting their assertions with evidence.
Have you demonstrated your understanding of the issue's significance for the course subject matter? How well do you understand and appreciate the complexity of the issues you are addressing?
Have you addressed each part of the assignment guidelines? You do not necessarily have to answer an essay question in the same order as listed on a handout.
Have you used clearly relevant examples, concepts, categories, positions, arguments, evidence, etc. that have been included in course readings and films and that have been brought out in class and come up in discussions?
Could another student think of something obvious that you missed?
For each concept, have you stated what you mean by the concept (for example, provide your understanding of "culture," "tradition," "indigenous," etc.).
Have you avoided unnecessary use of the passive voice? Have you avoided wordiness?
Below are a list of terms and definitions professors use when commenting on your papers. This list is taken from The Skidmore All-College Writing Board's website (for an expanded list of terms, see their website and the section on Commenting on Student Papers, Terms for Responding to Students Writing).
Thesis Statement: the controlling idea of an essay which presents the topic and the writer's perspective on that subject. An explicit statement, it focuses and limits the topic and usually occurs at the beginning of the paper. The thesis statement often contains an organizing principle for the paper. The thesis statement is the essential structural component of the academic paper.
Topic Sentence: the sentence that controls the focus and direction for the paragraph.
Organization: the overall map of a paper that governs the logical arrangement of ideas. Some discipline-based writings may have prescribed forms of organization; a clear sense of organization is another defining characteristic of academic writing.
Development: the elaboration of ideas implicit in the thesis statement or topic sentences providing depth and momentum for a paper. It includes the presentation and explication of specific details and supporting evidence such as quotations, statistics, and other pertinent material.
Coherence: the unity and interconnectedness among ideas in a paragraph or a paper that gives meaning to a text.
Transition: overt stylistic devices (words, sentences, and short paragraphs) linking sentences and paragraphs. Effective use of transitions contributes to the overall coherence of a paper.
Consistency: avoiding unnecessary shifts in tone, voice, tense, and style.
Conclusions: the closure of a paper that synthesizes and extends the main point of the paper. More than merely a summary, the conclusion asserts the significance of the paper and brings a sense of completion to the discussion.
ADDITIONAL REFERENCE WORKSReturn to contents
It is advisable to use several reference works when surveying the literature in preparation for a research paper. And remember that indexes and bibliographies organized by geographical areas index sources that focus on particular subjects (such as culture and personality or political systems), and the "subject" indexes will include sources that focus on ethnographic areas.
This is not an exhaustive list of reference works useful in anthropological research. I have tried here to list only the ones you will probably find most useful. There are many other useful reference sources. Try browsing in the reference area sometime to get a feel for the diversity of available reference works.13 There is a list available in the reference area devoted just to reference works in anthropology, and there are similar lists for other subjects as well.
Obviously, if you have any questions or problems, consult your librarian.
Cultural Anthropology: A Guide to Reference and Information Sources. 1991. Guide to reference literature in cultural anthropology, as well as libraries, publishers and organizations.
Introduction to Library Research in Anthropology. 1991. Guide to research tools, library services and the mechanics of term paper writing in anthropology.
The Social Sciences: A Cross Disciplinary Guide to Selected Sources. 1989. Consult the "Anthropology" chapter for an annotated list of recent reference sources in anthropology.
Sources of Information in the Social Sciences. 3rd ed. 1986. The "Anthropology" chapter contains an exhaustive annotated bibliography of the literature of this field. [probably] Available at the Reference Desk.
International Bibliography of the Social Sciences--Anthropology. 1955-91+ This has an author-subject index at the back of each volume. It breaks the discipline into sub-areas in a "clasification scheme"-- for example, General Studies, Materials and Methods, Ethnographic Studies (by area), Social Organization (by area and by institution and type of behavior, e.g., sexual relations, inter- racial and inter-ethnic relations). The IBSS also includes bibliographies in political science, economics, and sociology. The anthropology part covers archeology and physical anthropology as well as cultural and social anthropology.
DICTIONARIES AND ENCYCLOPEDIAS
Dictionary of Anthropology. 1986. Covers 1100 terms, theoretical concepts, and biographical profiles in social and cultural anthropology. Includes bibliography.
Dictionary of Concepts in Cultural Anthropology. 1991. Contains definitions, historical origins and developments, and bibliographic references for 80 key concepts in cultural anthropology.
Dictionary of Concepts in Physical Anthropology. 1991. Consists of brief definitions, historical origins and developments, and sources of additional information for concepts in physical anthropology.
Encyclopedia of Anthropology, 1976 This is really a dictionary rather than an encyclopedia.
Encyclopedia of Evolution: Humanity's Search for its Origins. 1990. Popular encyclopedia containing 600+ articles on evolution and its impact on society, from Bonzo to biogenetic law and from "Planet of the Apes" to plate tectonics.
Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition. vol 1-4 Covers most major aspects of Islamic history and religion.
Encyclopedia of Human Evolution and Prehistory. 1988. Covers 1200+ topics in human evolution. Contains photographs, drawings and charts. Entries include bibliographies.
Encyclopedia of World Cultures. 10 vols.[in progress] 1991- . Ten-volume encyclopedia, arranged by geographic region, provides descriptive summaries on world cultures.
International Dictionary of Anthropologists. 1991. Biographical dictionary of anthropologists born prior to 1920. The scope is worldwide.
International Encyclopedia of Psychiatry, Psychology, Psychoanalysis, and Neurology, 1977 Volume 12 is the index volume. The articles are signed and have reference lists. The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences would also be useful in doing research in psychological anthropology.
Women Anthropologists: A Biographical Dictionary. 1988. Biographical profiles of women anthropologists born between 1836 and 1934. Profiles include a selected bibliography of works by or about each individual.
INDEXES AND ABSTRACTS
Abstracts in Anthropology. 1970 - . Abstracts are brief summaries of the contents of a publication and index journal articles in a subject arrangement. Abstracts, unlike book reviews, are non-evaluative. Most social sciences have their own abstracts. You may also find Psychological Abstracts and Sociological Abstracts useful. Divided into four sections: archaeology, physical anthropology, linguistics, and cultural anthropology. Does not index book reviews.
Africa Bibliography. 1984 - . Index to articles, books and essays. Arranged by region and country, following a general section. Consult the social and cultural anthropology/sociology and anthropology/ archaeology/prehistory subject headings.
Alternative Press Index. 1970 - . Index to alternative and radical publications. Consult this index for articles on Australian aborigines, native Americans and other groups.
Index America: History and Life. 1964 - . Table This work indexes and abstracts periodical articles in the field of North American history and culture. Includes articles on native American history, prehistory and culture. Includes book reviews.
Anthropological Index to Current Periodicals in the Museum of Mankind Library. 1980 - . Indexes more than 600 periodicals in a geographical arrangement, subdivided by general, physical anthropology, archaeology, cultural anthropology, ethnography, and linguistics. No subject index. Annual author index published separately. Does not index book reviews.
Anthropological Literature: An Index to Periodical Articles and Essays. 1979 - . Indexes over 1000 periodicals and 150 edited books from materials received at Harvard's Tozzer Library. Does not index book reviews.
Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts. 1987 - . Index to journal articles in the applied social sciences. Includes social and cultural anthropology, archaeology, linguistics and physical anthropology.
Index Arts and Humanities Citation Index. 1975 - . Table Provides author, subject and citation access to the literature in folklore, linguistics and archaeology. Includes book reviews.
A Current Bibliography on African Affairs. 1962 - . Quarterly index to books, articles, government documents and visual aids, arranged by general subject or geographical area.
Geographical Abstracts: Human Geography. 1989 - . Index to 1000 geographical journals, books, proceedings, reports, theses and dissertations covering the literature of human geography. Classified subject arrangement.
Handbook of Latin American Studies, 1935- Publishes separate volumes on humanities and social sciences. Annotated.
Handbook of Middle American Indians. 16 vols. 1964-1976. Contains essays on the ethnography, archaeology, physical anthropology and social anthropology of the Indians of Middle America. Updated by recent supplements.
Handbook of North American Indians. 20 vols. [in progress] 1978 - . When completed, this work will be the standard source of information on the prehistory, history and cultures of the native peoples of North America north of Mexico. Each volume contains essays on specific aspects of Native American life with an extensive bibliography and detailed index.
Handbook of Social and Cultural Anthropology. 1973. Surveys the state of knowledge and reviews research in the various branches of anthropology.
Handbook of South American Indians. 7 vols. 1946-1959. Survey of tribes of South America, with emphasis on the European contact period.
Medical Anthropology: A Handbook of Theory and Method. 1990. Presents the state of the art in medical anthropology, core theoretical issues, ethnomedicine, biomedicine, health issues in human populations, methodology and policy issues.
Anthropological Bibliographies: A Selected Guide. 1981. Extensive list of bibliographies arranged geographically with a final section of topical bibliographies.
Anthropological Fieldwork: An Annotated Bibliography. 1988. Contains 700 entries on anthropological fieldwork from the early twentieth century to 1986. Includes geographical and subject indexes.
A Bibliography of Contemporary North American Indians: Selected and Partially Annotated with Study Guide. 1976 Organized by topics--for example, the anthropology of development, culture and personality.
Cumulative Bibliography of African Studies. 1973 This is a reproduction of the author and subject catalog of the IAI. Subject headings are organized under geographical Folio areas. It has a table of contents. The IAI has several other bibliographies which might be useful.
Cumulative Bibliography of Asian Studies. 1941- These are two titles in the same continuous series. Broken down by topic and country, they cover an extraordinarily large range of publications and therefore runs four or five years behind (i.e., volume covering 1986 was published in 1991).
Ecce Homo: An Annotated Bibliographic History of Physical Anthropology. 1986. Contains 2340 references from ancient times to on the history of physical anthropology. Arranged chronologically.
Ethnographic Bibliography of North America. 4th edition, 1975 (supplement 1990) Organized by areas. It has 40,000 entries on articles and books, and covers the field through 1972, supplement takes it through the 1980s.
Ethnographic Bibliography of South America. 1963 Organized by area, then by tribe. Has tribal index.
The History of Anthropology: A Research Bibliography. 1977. Contains more than 2400 entries on the development of anthropology as a science and profession.
Index Islamicus: A Catalogue of Articles in Periodicals and Other Collective Publications. 1958-85. Organized by subject and by area. Includes section on ethnology and anthropology (more current supplements issued periodically)
Modern Chinese Society: An Analytical Bibliography. 1973 Good source for older work, but much new research has been conducted since it came out.
Native American Basketry: An Annotated Bibliography. 1988. Comprehensive bibliography includes books, articles, theses, dissertations and newspaper articles. Organized by culture area. Contains author and subject indexes.
Pacific Bibliography: Printed Materials Relating to the Native Peoples of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. 1965. 2nd ed. This has author, subject, and group indexes.
The Social System and Culture of Modern India: A Research Bibliography. 1975 Organized by subjects--covers sociology and social and cultural anthropology, although all of the subject headings refer to "sociology."
YEARBOOKS AND REVIEW LITERATURE
Annual Review of Anthropology. 1972- This gives critical reviews of recent research in selected areas of anthropology, such as political and economic anthropology, symbolic studies, culture change, and area studies. The biblio- graphies for each article are generally quite extensive.
Reviews in Anthropology. 1974 - . Quarterly journal which publishes long reviews on important new publications in anthropology.
Atlas of Mankind. 1982. Contains general background information on peoples of the world, including issues such as migration, race, kinship, language, and environment.
Atlas of World Cultures: A Geographical Guide to Ethnographic Literature. 1989. Geographical guide to ethnographic books, articles, reports, archaeological materials, maps and atlases for 3500+ cultures.
Cultural Atlas of China. 1983. Visual representation of the culture history of China, with maps, photographs, tables and text. There are similar volumes on Africa and Japan.
AAA Guide. Current year. Describes anthropology departments in 485 institutions, lists American Anthropological Association members, recent PhD dissertations in anthropology, and student statistics.
Biographical Directory of Anthropologists Born Before 1920. 1988 Entries include biographical data, major contributions, and published sources of biographical information.
MELVYL, ROGER, and the web(this section by Jim Moore, 1998)
Return to contents
ROGER seems to be where most students begin their online research; this is a great resource and has an easy-to-use interface, but has a critical limitation: it only covers BOOKS.
Now, at first you might think, well, duh--libraries house books, I'm looking for books, so like what's the limitation line all about? It's about periodicals. Using ROGER, you can locate which library subscribes to which journal, which is useful, but now what? To find an article on a particular topic, what do you do? You bag ROGER, that's what.
[Jan. 2001 update: The new millennium has brought changes to the system, and the rate of change is increasing. Much of the following is based on the "old" 1998 MELVYL interface (which is still available); resources today are vastly greater. Start your online library search for journals at the California Digital Library (http://www.dbs.cdlib.org/. The pull-down menu asks you to select a database. If you are looking for a book, choose MELVYL; for a bioanthro article my suggestion is start with Current Contents. Experiment! The Really Cool Thing is that if you are logging on from a campus computer, for many journals you can read/download the entire article online! Save yourself that trip over to BioMed or SIO... DO skim through the rest of this, though; the exact commands and interfaces change, but the search strategies do not.