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Anthropology: Student's Practical Guide to Writing Papers: What IS an anthropology paper?

What is a term paper?

An anthropology term paper is

  • a library research paper
  • written from an anthropological perspective
  • on a topic approved by your instructor
  • uses scholarly books and journal articles written by anthropologists
  • cites sources in an approved style
  • use a writing style that is unambiguous and expository

An anthropology term paper is a library research paper, written from an anthropological perspective, on a topic approved by your instructor.  The paper requires that you use the anthropological "literature" -- the writings of anthropologists published in scholarly books and journal articles.  The anthropology term paper also requires that you document the sources you've used, using a distinctive citation format. 

You may already have taken a writing course. The skills learned there will be useful in writing papers for anthropology. The ability to organize ideas effectively and express them clearly is an important survival skill in the university environment. Mastering this skill early in your academic career can greatly increase your enjoyment of university life. However, you may find that the writing style required for research papers is not the same as the style you learned in your writing classes. The style for research papers emphasizes the unambiguous, easily understood presentation of information and ideas, rather than the expressive use of evocative, complex, and richly ambiguous imagery and symbolism. In other words, research papers require an expository, not a literary, style.

How is this different from a lab report or the reports I wrote in high school?

A term paper is not a "report" of the kind often assigned in high schools, which meekly repeats information found in one or two sources. Nor is a library research paper similar to a lab report, or a report on the results of an experiment. It is never merely the presentation of a set of data. Writing a term paper requires a good deal more intellectual involvement and commitment than writing a report does. Then what is a term paper? Like a report, a library research paper presents data and ideas (which are, however, typically drawn from several sources). Unlike a report, a research paper presents your analysis and interpretation of the data and ideas found in a survey of the anthropological literature relevant to the topic of your paper. Analysis is the process of organizing and summarizing the data and ideas in order to answer a question. Interpretation refers to a discussion of the meaning and implications of your answers for the issues, ideas, and problems that your paper addresses.

Information about image: By National Photo Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.