Social Anthropology Essay

Writing an academic essay: Anthropology (esp. for first year students).

Firstly, you are expected to read widely in preparation for your essay, both set or recommended sources, as well as conducting your own research. You need to read with a critical mindset. You should focus on academic sources (e.g. use the WSU Library for books and journals – many via databases and online access - but you might also find case studies and empirical examples online (e.g. media reports, scholarly online debates (websites). It is always a good practice to check with your tutor, lecturer, and/or unit coordinator if you are not sure about the relevance or appropriateness of a sources you wish to draw on.

Much anthropology consists of arguments about how to interpret social and cultural facts and factors – think here construct, critical debate and exchange of different views – and such argument tend to advance the development of anthropological contribution to the understanding of humans and their cultures (as in other social sciences). Think about anthropology as an ongoing, dialectical (exchange of ideas) production.

Keep in mind that anthropological inquiry and studies do not find ‘absolute answers’ and there are no absolute authorities on any of the issues we study and debate. Hence, think about your essay as work which does not only demonstrate factual knowledge (i.e. where people live, what they mostly eat, the percentage who practice particular religion, etc.), but also demonstrates you capacity to outline, compare, and contrast different arguments (explanations) and counter- arguments for the particular problems/issues you are concentrating on.

Read the following in conjunction with the Essay Marking criteria for Assessment 2 in 102344 Different Ways of Being in the World: Introduction to Social Anthropology.

  1. Answer question: The content of your essay should be relevant to the question or problem you've selected. Don't include material not directly related to it.
  2. Well-informed: Your essay should be well-informed. Read as widely as Note the requirements for minimum number of sources. Keep in mind that your sources can be a well balanced combination of academic and empirical sources.
  3. Your own thinking and your own words: Familiarity with the literature is essential but not sufficient. Your essay must be based on your own thinking. Only a minor part should be direct quotations (ca. 10%). Extensive quotation or paraphrase isn't acceptable, as it doesn't evidence your thinking about your reading. We don't expect you to come up with original insights at this stage of your studies. But we do expect a serious effort to evaluate how the readings bear on the One way to proceed is by comparing and contrasting the work of different writers. Consider the implications of the arguments and data used by one author for other works you are also referring to in your essay. Think for yourself and say what you think – make sure to substantiate your thoughts by reference to your sources.
  4. Structure: Your essay should be constructed in a way that shows the logical steps in your argument, with data from various sources being brought in as appropriate. Remember that paragraphs are the organisational 'building blocks' of an essay and that each paragraph should have a main idea or theme – only one theme! Good structure can only be achieved by careful planning and frequent re-reading and revision of your writing as you Authors who haven't taken the trouble to review and revise their essays before submitting seldom succeed.
    • Begin with an introduction that foreshadows your
  • Develop your discussion progressively and coherently. Ensure that sentences and paragraphs follow logically from one another.
  • Your conclusion should draw together the threads of your argument and present a final answer to or assessment of the problem.
  • If there seems to be disagreement in the literature about the meaning of certain terms, mention this and state how you intend to use the term(s). Choose an appropriate place to define terms - usually where the particular term is first mentioned. Dictionary definitions are often inadequate when it comes to specialist concepts. Use a definition from the literature by preference.
  1. A balance between abstraction and concreteness: The essential point of writing an essay is to consider caregully the relationship between abstractions/theories/analysis and facts/empirical examples. A descriptive account simply of what the people of this or that society, community, culture, do may qualify as interesting information, but it doesn't rise to the level of critical anthropology. Conversely, a statement of opinions, theories or abstractions unsupported by reasoning and factual evidence similarly Concentrate on balancing the two. KEEP IN MIND! Critical analysis is something we need to develop (it is not innate), so take your time.
  2. Expression: Take special care to express your ideas as clearly and concisely as possible. Write complete sentences and keep them as short and succinct as We are interested in what you know and think, and will not penalise occasional errors in expression. The best way to find out whether your essay is well-written is to have someone read it. An alternative is to read it aloud to yourself. This can help you to recognise the syntactically awkward bits, and it may help you to see the mis-spellings and other errors.
  3. Referencing: Never quote or use an author's work in any way without acknowledging it. You must always indicate where in the literature you obtained the facts, concepts and points of view which you discuss in your When quoting an author verbatim always show this with quotation marks and a citation. You must also indicate where a summary of someone else's work or ideas ends and your own discussion is resumed.

Use the Harvard Reference System. If you are used to another reference system, consult the unit coordinator about using that system. You will find full guidelines for the Harvard Reference System on the WSU Library Homepage (a link to the system).

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