Anthropology Term Paper Assignment

Throughout the course, the bulk of your work from week to week has revolved around introducing you to an eclectic mix of materials in a very fast survey of some of the areas within anthropology.  One method of assessing your understanding has been the quizzes and the less frequent unit exams which are based on objective multiple choice questions.  By the end of the course though, you should be able to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the topics we’ve been covering by preparing a formal research paper about a topic of interest to you.  The term paper assignment, therefore, is a capstone to the course that allows you to do several things:
1)       Demonstrate that you can identify and discuss at length a topic of anthropological interest specific to this course’s focus. 
2)       Demonstrate appropriate skill in identifying and using resources appropriate to preparing a paper for a college course.
3)       Apply critical thinking skills to evaluating a research question and its possible answers.
4)       Synthesize the foundation work done in the course with additional research to create a paper that explores a topic at deeper depth than what the course did.
5)       Apply what you have learned in the course during the selection and interpretation of outside resources (e.g. books, journals, and Internet media) and then the development and presentation of an arguable thesis in the paper.
      Let’s get the bad news out of the way first – what makes a BAD topic that will likely cause a lower grade?  First and foremost, papers that are merely descriptive in nature are the worst offenders here.  Anyone taking a college level course should be able to pick a generic topic, find three to five sources on it, and complete a paper summarizing what they read.  In fact, a student completing this type of paper doesn’t even need to understand the topic to complete the assignment!  For example, a paper that starts out with “The goal of this paper is to explain the differences between the Hawaiian and Eskimo kinship systems” won’t get you very far.  Similarly, a paper in physical anthropology that describes the methods of dating archaeologically recovered materials one after another won’t earn high marks either.
      The second common way to ensure a low grade is to pick a paper that is off topic.  Anthropology is about people – human biological and/or cultural evolution and/or variation must be at the cornerstone of your term paper’s foundation.  There are some gray areas, to be sure – especially in physical anthropology where we spend a lot of time with primates.  A paper about the evolution of bacterial antibiotic resistance would not be appropriate despite the fact that we discussed evolution in the course.  There must be a decidedly human element to the paper.  Another closely related way to be considered off topic is to submit a paper about a subject outside the focus of the course – i.e. handing in a paper about religious ceremonies in a bioanthropology course or a paper about ancient toolmaking in a religions course.  If you are in doubt about what would be an appropriate topic, clear it with the instructor first.
      The third but less common way to sink a paper with regard to topic is to pick something that will run too long or too short.  The standard range for papers in this class is an average of about five pages with a range of four full pages to six full pages, plus cover page and references (12 point font, 1 inch margins).  This gives you a limited amount of time to set up a topic, present your findings, and conclude.  Thus, tackling something that is VERY deep will make your paper run long and something too simplistic will cause you to run under.  A good rule of thumb is that you should not be wondering how to make your paper longer – you should be worried about how to squeeze it all in under six full pages.  One way to do this is to consider only an aspect of the topic, but attack that aspect with all your might.  For instance, if you decide that your topic is “Marriage” and your question is “Why do some societies/cultures allow same-sex marriages while others don’t?” you may wish to narrow that after doing some research to “What do societies that have historically allowed same-sex marriage have in common with one another’s religions that makes them permissive of the practice while other societies are not”.  This allows you to pick one part of society – religion – and explore it in some depth with regard to its effect on your topic without making you feel obligated to talk about all of the other parts of society since you just cannot fit it all into six pages.  Given that one of the goals of this assignment is to have you show mastery of the terminology and concepts we’ve discussed in the course, I’d rather see you show mastery over a smaller portion than try to hit me with a little bit of everything.
      There is no set topic or list of topics for this paper.  Choose something we’ve discussed in the course that you were interested in, would like to learn more about, or that generated some questions you felt we left unanswered.  Then, develop one or more questions about the topic.  Some questions are better than others.  Good questions will not be answerable in just a few sentences; they should be more in-depth questions that will require analysis, comparisons, and eventually taking a stand on an answer of some sort.  Next, research that question and evaluate some possible answers to it.  For example, in a cultural anthropology course, a good question might be “Is there a relationship between the type of political organization a society has and the type of religion they practice?”  The simple answer to this of course, will probably be a yes or no, but what makes this a good topic is that it requires you to understand and be able to identify political organizations and types of religion, think about them, discuss them in your narrative, research some examples, and argue which side you found the greatest evidence to support.  In a physical anthropology course, a good question might be something like “There are many possible phylogenies (family trees) suggested for the relationship of modern humans to australopithecines.  Which seems to be the most valid and why?”  This is a good question because it requires you to understand and explain the various family trees suggested, analyze the faults of each, decide which you like best, and defend it with evidence!  A good rule of thumb here is to try to phrase your research question as a “why” or “how” as opposed to a “who”, “what”, “where”, or “when”.  The first two lend themselves much more to analysis and thought than the other four which are easily answered and without argument most of the time.
Your paper grades will be based on the rubric available in the class, so for specific areas of interest I direct you there.  But some highlights include:
1)   Topic Choice. The topic selected must be related to the course and use a solid thesis statement.
2)   A Thorough Handling of the Topic.  Leave no stone unturned in your exploration
3)   Good Faith in Format.  Don’t cut corners.  Pay attention to the format requirements of APA style. 
4)   Communication of Ideas and Information.  Write in clear, concise terms, being sure that technical phrases are used properly.  If you try to use words you don’t know, chances are I will see it
5)   Mechanics.  Avoid sentence fragments, misspellings, grammatical errors, and even typos.   
6)   References.  Your paper should have APA format citations in the body and on a complete works cited page.
7)   Plagiarism. If you cheat, you will fail the assignment with a zero. Cheating includes copying another student’s work and turning it in as your own, resubmitting a paper you used in another class, quoting or paraphrasing ANY PORTION of a published source verbatim without citing due credit, and stealing someone else’s ideas and presenting them as your own.  Pay attention to this!!!!!
1)       Remember, there are no late papers accepted.
2)       Be sure to start the bibliographic search early. Avoid popular secondary sources, such as a dictionaries, encyclopedias/Wikipedia, and ESPECIALLY avoid overusing websites like they were the plague.
3)       Utilize primary sources and reputable scholarly journals whenever possible – this is college after all.
4)       Avoid using long quotations. These are considered fluff and filler by most professionals.  If a quotation is essential to conveying the meaning the original author intended, then limit it to a brief section.  Quoted sections are not considered part of page requirements; a five-page paper with quotes may run six or seven.
5)       Proofread  the final draft to catch those sneaky typos and mis-spellings like “there” and “their”. 
6)       Avoid using “man” or “mankind” in your writings.  “Humans”, “people”, or other such terms are preferred. Also avoid using “human race” (this is a contradiction in biological terms).
7)       When using scientific names, be sure to use the standard format, that is, capitalize the first letter of the genus, the other letters are small, including all those in the species name. Both genus and species names are underlined or italicized. For example, Homo sapiens or Homo sapiens.  To avoid having to rewrite that every time, it is customary to shorten the genus slightly after it has been established exactly what organism is being talked about, such as in the bacteria Escherichia coli being shortened to E. coli or E. coli.
8)       Avoid using “first person” and personal anecdotes.  They are to be evidence-based, not just your opinion. 
9)       Try reading the paper aloud.  You’d be surprised how many mistakes make themselves clear when you read them in a speaking voice (especially if you can con someone into listening). 
10)   When in doubt, ask for help.  Bring rough drafts to writing workshops, your English faculty, or me.

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