Imagine that it is now six weeks into the semester. You are taking a heavy course load: genetics, organic chemistry, math, and an anthropology class for which you are supposed to write a fifteen page term paper.
You have not even started the paper somehow you have not managed to find the time for it. Other things always seemed more important or more fun. But you can’t put it off any longer. You have to start right now. You have to get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible and obviously you don’t want to suffer any more than is necessary. Also, you don’t want to take any chances with your GPA, so you want to write a good paper. But the whole project seems confusing, dreary, and a little overwhelming.
It doesn’t have to be that bad. That is what this Guide is all about making the writing of anthropology term papers easier.
There are ways to save time and effort. There are procedures and strategies that enable you to negotiate the necessary but often tedious process of finding the material you need in the library quickly and effectively. After finding the material you need, it is important to know the best way of organizing it in your paper. Learning these techniques and skills frees you to concentrate on the quality of the paper or maybe on the beach.
This Guide is no substitute for your own effort and commitment. (Obviously we are not about to recommend that you wait six weeks to begin your paper.) Certainly there is no way to guarantee success or scholarly ecstasy; writing a term paper may never be as much fun as mountain climbing, or reading Russian novels, or whatever your idea of fun is. And there is no final or definitive answer to the question of what a professor wants in a paper. But this Guide will inform you of some of the basic features of an anthropology paper which you can be sure your professor will want you to know. And it shows you how to make your paper a more polished and expert product.
What is an anthropology term paper? It is a library research paper, written from an anthropological perspective, on a topic approved by your instructor. The anthropology paper has a distinctive citation format, also used by several other social sciences, and requires that you use the anthropological “literature” in Geisel Library.
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 probably did not learn the citation and bibliographic format used by anthropologists. One of the goals of the Guide is to introduce you to that format. A word of warning: you should set aside any ideas you have about using footnotes for documentation. (Documentation refers to methods of acknowledging the use of someone else’s work.) You may also 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.
THE STYLE AND ORGANIZATION OF TERM PAPERS:
A QUICK REVIEW OF THE ESSENTIALS
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.
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* Marshall Sahlins embodies the modern history of anthropology. From early work on “stone age economics” to a brilliant theory on who killed Captain Cook to a recent, revolutionary approach to kinship, he has repeatedly reset the agenda for the discipline. A one-time colleague of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Sahlins looks back on decades of studies of Oceanic societies and shares insights into his unparalleled career. The University of Chicago scholar, rabble-rouser, campus activist, and inventor of the teach-in holds forth on his home turf. He will be joined in conversation by CHF’s Marilynn Thoma Endowed Chair for Artistic Leadership and UChicago anthropology PhD Matti Bunzl.
This program was recorded on October 26, 2014 as part of the 25th Anniversary Chicago Humanities Festival, Journeys: http://chf.to/2014Journeys
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Marshall Sahlins: Anthropology