How to Write a Dissertation in Anthropology: Complete Guide

Writing guide
Posted on September 2, 2019

Lots of students find writing a dissertation to be one of the most challenging and enjoyable parts of their anthropology course. It allows them to explore specific issues more widely or deeply and contribute to this interesting field of study. But many students also find sustaining a logical argument and maintaining good writing over such a long piece daunting because analyzing diverse material from archival and ethnographic research and finding ways to integrate it requires a lot of time and effort.

To help you cope with such a complex research project, we created for you this ultimate guide to writing a dissertation in anthropology. We will discuss how to write an anthropology dissertation step-by-step and provide you with a short list of interesting research topic ideas. If you face problems with completing any other type of coursework assignments, explore our website where we have lots of full guides to all writing assignments out there.

What Is Dissertation in Anthropology?

Anthropology studies humans, human behavior, and societies in the past and presents. This branch of science studies both the biological features that make us human (such as genetic makeup, evolution, nutritional history, and psychology) and deals with social aspects (such as religion, family, culture, language, and politic).

The goal of writing anthropology dissertation is to give students the opportunity to conduct an original research project. This way, you will be able to gain detailed knowledge of the existing literature, current research, and methods used in your chosen area. Anthropology dissertation is a complex task because it is expected to be a mature and competent piece of writing that embodies the results of significant and original research.

Choosing an Interesting Anthropology Dissertation Topic

There are 4 subfields in anthropology that focus on different topic areas:

  • Sociocultural anthropology studies processes of social transformation and cultural change;
  • Biological anthropology studies different aspects of human evolutionary biology;
  • Archaeology studies material remains of the past cultural systems;
  • Linguistic anthropology studies how people communicate and formulate language.

When choosing a specific topic for your research, you should decide which subfield interests you most of all. For example, if you are interested in biological anthropology, you can write about topics related to human evolution. If you are passionate about sociocultural anthropology, you can focus on such topics as race, gender, and class inequality, family systems and demography, ideology and culture, gender relations or human ecology.

Here are some interesting anthropology dissertation topics ideas to help you get started with your research.

  • Implication of the Politics of Korean Comfort Women for East Asian Relationship;
  • Impact of Colonial Morality on African Women;
  • Linguistic Imperialism in Palestine;
  • CouchSurfing Ethnography;
  • Impact of Adopting Agriculture on Human History;
  • Development of Written Language in Advanced Society;
  • Sports in Modern American Culture;
  • Concepts of Race and Gender in Chinese Biological Anthropology;
  • Biology and Culture in Modern Anthropology;
  • Anthropology of Online Communities;
  • Anthropology of Money;
  • Race and Ethnicity in Medical Anthropology;
  • Anthropology and Global Health;
  • Anthropology and World Culture Theory;
  • Anthropological Interest in Old Age and Aging.

Start with a broad topic and then do a preliminary research using relevant keywords to get a better idea of the existing literature and to identify gaps in the current research. Narrow your topic and formulate the research question. You need to create a research proposal for your dissertation and should make it as detailed as possible because the more care you devote to it, the more you will be able to use it as a resource.

Writing a Research Proposal

A research proposal for field- or library-based dissertation should briefly outline what you want to do, how you are going to do that, and why you think it’s important. Your proposal must also demonstrate that you have done preliminary research and are ready to start an independent research project. You should think about the contribution that your project can make to the anthropological knowledge in the chosen area.

Typically, a research proposal includes such elements as introduction, background (research location and review of the existing literature), methodology, key dates and estimated budget, preliminary list of sources. If you manage to summarize the exact scope of study, it can serve you as a guide when you write the main chapters of your work. After you finish working on your main chapters, you can revise your proposal and use it as an introduction to your project.

Anthropology Dissertation Outline

Effective planning is essential for the success of your anthropology dissertation but actually it should be a continuous process during your writing. All dissertations look the same and include typical types of content. So, in your dissertation, you have to:

  • Formulate a specific research question that your project has to answer;
  • Analyze relevant literature in anthropology that relates to your question;
  • Provide an independent research to address this question;
  • Explain why you chose specific methods for your research;
  • Present your original findings and discuss them.

Before you start writing, draft a plan for your anthropology dissertation. It will serve you as a template and will help you organize your work. The structure of your dissertation may look like this:

  • Introduction includes the research question or the hypothesis and the summary of the key arguments;
  • Literature review contains review of the previous work relevant to your research question;
  • Methodology section explains and justifies your choice of specific methods for doing investigation;
  • Findings section presents key results of your research;
  • Discussion chapter should relate your findings to the theoretical discussion in your literature review;
  • Conclusions wraps up you have presented in your anthropology dissertation and provides recommendations for further research.

Writing a Draft of an Anthropology Dissertation

You should start writing your draft as early as possible and allow a lot of time for revisions after you have shown your first draft to your supervisor. Let’s discuss how to write separate sections.


Abstract is an important element of the dissertation. It’s a brief summary of your research of about 300 words in length. This part of a dissertation is written last when you know exactly what you are summarizing. You need to tell what you did, how you did it and what results of your investigation and implications are.


You should write your introduction in a way as if you are starting a new investigation. You need to provide a context to your topic, giving background information. After that, you should overview key arguments in current research related to your anthropology dissertation topic. Then, you need to identify the gap in the existing literature and formulate your research question or hypothesis that you will investigate in your dissertation. For example, if you are writing a dissertation about career women in modern Japan, your research question may look like this one:

‘Why do Japanese women pursue professional careers and how does that change their personalities?’

Finally, you should briefly outline the structure of your dissertation to give your readers a general idea of what they should expect to read.

Literature Review

When writing this chapter, you need to demonstrate that you know very well how your own piece of research fits into the overall context in your field. You also need to provide reports that critically overview the existing literature. The main thing is to find the gap in the contemporary literature that you would like to address in your dissertation. Your analysis of literature in this chapter should lead to clear statement of a specific problem that you will be addressing. If written correctly, this chapter established a framework in which you will analyze your research findings.


In this chapter, you need to explain how you carried your research and what techniques you used to gathere your data. This section occupies an important place in the whole structure of your anthropology dissertation because you have to present enough information for anyone who will read your dissertation to recreate similar techniques for gathering data to replicate your study. Don’t include any interviews or questionnaires that you have used while conducting your investigation. You just need to explain why you chose to apply some specific technique to collect data.


Don’t confuse your findings with discussion like many students do. You need to present relevant results of your investigation related to your research question. All data must be organized in a logical and coherent way so you should put your research findings in the order that seems reasonable. Often research data can be presented in tables and charts that should be clearly labeled. It’s important to ensure that all data were derived from your research methods and that they fit your hypothesis or research question.


In this chapter, you need to link your findings to the literature review. You should remind your readers once more about the objectives of your anthropology research and analyze the data that are directly relevant to the research question. You can tell what your original research added to the context and it can fill the gap in the existing research. Tell about the limitations of your research and report about the implications of your findings for anthropological theory.


You need to bring together all your work and tell about the extent to which all your objectives have been met. You must tell about the main points as they emerged and explain what they mean for anthropology as a subject. You should tell why your research is important and give some recommendations for further research. Besides, you should include a final paragraph that rounds off your dissertation in anthropology.

Editing and Proofreading Your Anthropology Dissertation

When you complete your first draft, you need to revise it and make changes to improve the content and the logic. You may need to add, delete or reorganize material. Only when you are completely satisfied with the content of your final draft, you should check it for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors and eliminate them. Check all your in-text citations and create a references list.

Here are some tips that will help you effectively revise your anthropology dissertation:

  • Don’t start revising your dissertation that you just finished writing. Take a break and put your paper aside for some time otherwise you may overlook some important issues in it.
  • You may work on the computer if you like but many people prefer to edit and proofread on a printed copy.
  • When revising your content, you need to make sure that your dissertation makes accurate claims, your argument is logical and supported by relevant evidence.
  • Make sure that each paragraph has one main idea and a topic sentence.
  • Look for patterns in your errors and develop special techniques for spotting and fixing such common mistakes.
  • Try to keep editing and proofreading processes separate. When proofreading, use different techniques, for example, read your dissertation backwards, read every sentence separately etc.

Tips on Conventions of Writing Anthropology Dissertation

  • It’s preferable to use active voice but your dissertation can contain both active and passive voices.
  • It’s important to use tenses consistently. Keep in mind that the present tense may convey the idea of false sense of authority.
  • Your anthropology dissertation should be written in an elegant style where you mix complex sentences with shorter sentences.
  • Feel free to use metaphors and other figures of speech but make sure that your writing is clear to your readers.
  • Keep quotes in text to the minimum and always try to explain things using your own words.
  • We strongly recommend that you should avoid long quotations and use your own words for explanation.

We have discussed all the essential steps in writing a dissertation in anthropology. Follow our easy recommendations and proven tips and you are sure to successfully cope with such a lengthy and arduous project and make a great impression on the committee. If you need help with any other academic assignment, check other writing guides on our website.

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