Writer's WebTips to Guide the Writing Process
by Miles McKemy

Writing in Anthropology requires close analysis of sources and proper citation to give credit to referenced authors. Still, there is generally more freedom of personal expression in analytical anthropology papers than in those of other disciplines. Professors want to see their students engage with research and explore their own opinions throughout the process. This incorporation of individual voice may create issues that students do not know how to address. The following tips provide some key points to keep in mind while writing an anthropological paper in order to maintain some clarity and organization to one's thoughts and make the revision process a bit easier.

Take thorough research notes

Taking careful research notes from the outset can save a lot of valuable writing time. Repeatedly flipping through pages of text or revisiting online sources is inefficient, so taking time to jot notes the first time will cut down on the amount of time spent finding reference material. A good way to glean the important information from a scientific journal is to ask yourself specific questions while you are writing-- see Dr. Bishop's "Questions About a Journal Article" for more detailed information.


As with most academic essays, pre-writing in some form is encouraged. Different students prefer different methods, but brainstorming is usually a helpful way to get ideas down on paper, regardless of whether they actually make it into the paper. Outlines, or basic "skeletons" of the paper, help when planning out the paper's organization before detail, support, and style are added.

Create a clear thesis

A clear thesis is an essential component of analytical papers that attempts to identify precisely what will be discussed in the body of the paper. It is important to revisit the thesis statement throughout the paper's development, as it will likely need to be changed in some way as more ideas are realized in the writing process and others originally included in the thesis may become less prominent.

Establish voice

Anthropology generally allows for a writer to bring more of his or her own opinions and voice into a paper than many other disciplines would permit. It is typically allowed and encouraged to incorporate a first-person perspective ("I," "we," etc.), whereas many courses strictly limit voice to the third-person perspective ("he," "she," "they," etc.). Whichever style of voice the writer may choose, however, it is important to use it consistently and avoid changing perspectives throughout. Additionally, many readers would prefer the writer to limit his or her use of passive voice, as it is not as direct and precise as active voice.

Cite sources carefully

It is crucial for writers to properly cite the reference materials they have used and give credit to those for borrowed ideas or data. Plagiarism is not acceptable in any academic field. For assistance, see the American Anthropological Association Style Guide.

Prepare drafts and discuss with professors

Preparing rough drafts before the final draft is due and discussing these drafts with the professor can help a writer identify issues with his or her paper early in the writing process and keep the paper moving in a successful direction. Many professors are willing to read over a rough draft, introductory paragraph, or thesis statement and give feedback or advice to their students.

Be aware of language

One of the writer's main goals when presenting an anthropological paper is to make his argument as clearly and effectively as possible. Therefore, it is helpful to be aware of language choice throughout the entire paper. Repetitive word usage, incorrect grammar, or overuse of "big" words and terms with which many readers are unfamiliar with will weaken the paper's argument.



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