How to Write an Informative Essay in Anthropology: a Complete and Comprehensive Guide

Writing guide
Posted on October 16, 2019

Even at a glance, an informative essay seems to be a peculiar type of academic assignment. When we work on written assignments in high school in college, we usually have to express our opinions, prove points and overcome potential opposition. One’s ability to present facts in a fashion that supports a particular point of view is among the most valued skills a student can have. However, when you deal with an informative essay, you have to throw it out the window, as the purpose of such a text is not to persuade or prove, but to inform and educate the audience on a topic. You have to step aside from any preconceptions you may have about the subject matter and view it strictly objectively, without following any opinion you may have.
This is not as easy a task as you can imagine, as everything we do, say and write is to a certain extent colored by our opinions and feelings. It may be a particularly difficult thing to do when related to anthropology, due to the specifics of this discipline. You see, anthropology is not an exact science by any approximation. There are very few issues related to it that are resolved in any satisfactory fashion – choose any topic, and you will see at least half a dozen points of view opposing each other and offering their own explanations of the same phenomenon. This means that writing about any subject dealing with anthropology depends on carefully navigating many mutually exclusive schools of thought and finding your own way of evaluating what you see.

This is why we have prepared this guide. By following it, you will be able to keep clear of most common mistakes associated with this sort of academic work, and emerge with good results no matter how complex your assignment is.

How to Write an Informative Essay in Anthropology: Making First Steps

1. Understand the Purpose of an Informative Essay

Before you proceed, make sure you understand the purpose of the assignment you are working on. You have to forget your own thoughts on the subject for now and dedicate your work to exploring and presenting other people’s thoughts and objective information about it. You have to find all possible information about the topic in question and present it aside from criticism, evaluation, argument or interpretation.

2. Choose the Topic

The choice of topic is probably even more important for an informative essay than for most other types of academic assignments. The reason is simple – you have to maintain balance between choosing a topic that does not need any explanation or in-depth factual analysis to be properly understood and selecting a subject matter that cannot be satisfactorily explored and explained within the confines of a relatively short essay.
This means that the topic you end up with should be both sufficiently well explored and present enough possibilities for additional explanation to warrant an essay. You should choose something along these lines:

  • Belief in Magical Practices and the Supernatural across the Ages;
  • Marriage Rituals in Native American Cultures;
  • Relationships between Art and Anthropology as Perceived in European and Asian Cultures;
  • Common and Distinctive Features of Gangs, College Fraternities and Secret Societies;
  • Social Media and Its Influence on Interpersonal Relationships in the West and in Asia.

3. Gather Your Sources

Anthropology thrives on the analysis of varying and often directly opposite points of view. In fact, new advances are often based on the careful analysis and juxtaposition of different interpretations and presentations of social acts. Unlike exact sciences, anthropology cannot be perceived as a unified body of research. It is more of a continuous, ongoing creation of new results based on conclusions by previous researches, with new ones often being at odds with what is offered by their predecessors. This means that you have to be particularly careful when choosing the sources for your work. You cannot afford to only use the evidence that supports the point of view supported by you, as you can be easily accused of subjectivity. Still, you can be selective enough to stick to the materials that prove theories and ideas that are supported by sufficiently authoritative researchers, excluding some of the more marginal ideas (because including them will take too much space).

The best place to start your search for information is to use online academic databases and search engines. Some of them are universal and cover many different disciplines (e.g., Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic, EBSCO, etc.). These are particularly useful when you need multidisciplinary sources. Others deal specifically with anthropology (e.g., Anthropological Index Online or Anthropological Literature). Start with looking for sources containing the keywords related to your topic, then proceed to look for additional information in their bibliographical sections and among other works by the authors who prove to be useful authorities on your subject.

4. Analyze the Sources as a Part of a Bigger Picture

You will not get far in your analysis if you simply retell what you read in a random selection of sources. This means that both your selection of authors to quote and rely on and their interpretation should take into account a certain bigger picture to begin with. You may present authorities supporting different and sometimes opposing points of view, but with their help, you should be able to build a complete picture of the existing body of research related to the problem, with the commonly accepted theories, marginal hypotheses and scholars that offer suggestions that fall out of the boundaries of accepted schools of thought.

5. Evaluate Your Sources

Not all sources are equally useful for your essay, especially in a discipline like anthropology. As anthropology has very few issues that are completely and unequivocally resolved, there is tremendous potential for tendentious interpretations and bias. It is always a good idea to study the sources you use carefully before putting any trust into them, but it is especially true in this case.

You can evaluate a source of information according to five criteria:

  • Authority – who is the author and what are his/her credentials? Does he/she has education or experience relevant for the topic discussed? Is he/she often cited in other bibliographies?
  • Accuracy/Quality – does the source provide specific information? Are all measurements and observations accurate? Is it possible to verify the claims made by the author? Does the author explain his/her research well enough for it to be reproduced? Does he/she use reliable sources of information? What do other authorities say about this source and its author?
  • Objectivity – is the author biased? Does he/she have an agenda (obvious or hidden)? Does the source provide multiple points of view? Does the author use emotionally charged language?
  • Currency – when was the source published? Did the topic see any major developments and breakthroughs since then?
  • Coverage – does the source adequately cover the topic? How does it compare with other sources? Are any questions left unanswered?

How to Write an Informative Essay in Anthropology

1. Prepare an Outline before Writing

Before you proceed with the writing per se, prepare the outline of your essay. An outline is a detailed plan of your paper – in it you write every section of your essay and jot down what you intend to say in each of them: how to grasp the reader’s attention in the beginning, what points to mention in the body of the essay and so on. Feel free to do it in as much or as little detail as you are comfortable with – the important thing here is not to follow a particular approach but to create a tool that will help you with your writing.

2. Provide Multiple Points of View

As we already mentioned, anthropology is a discipline where most issues are open for interpretation. There are few topics the majority of scholars would agree upon. This means that providing information about a subject is impossible without mentioning some viewpoints held by the authoritative authors. Even if you are inclined to share one of them, you cannot afford to limit your coverage to it alone, for you will certainly be accused of bias. Choose the most important points of view and include them into your essay.

3. Keep It Relevant

Anthropology is closely intertwined with a variety of other disciplines, such as sociology, philosophy and political science. However, while resorting to them in your essay can provide an unusual and interesting angle, it is very easy to go off on a tangent and include information that is not immediately relevant for the topic under discussion. Make sure everything you say is immediately relevant for the topic.

4. Show That You Are in the Know

The trustworthiness of an anthropology essay depends on how well-read you are, probably more so than with any other discipline. You are expected to not just be well-informed about the topic you discuss, but also about what other authorities say about it and related subjects. Make sure you show off your erudition. Depending on the size of your essay, you should cite at least six or seven sources by different authors, preferably expressing different points of view.

5. But Do not Just Repeat What You Have Read

However, what we just said does not mean that your essay should be nothing more than a collection of quotations. Far from it – knowledge of the existing body of research is important but not sufficient. Direct quotations should occupy only a small portion of your essay, a little more can be dedicated to retelling the existing points of view. In an informative essay, you are not expected to come up with any insights of your own, but you should evaluate the existing works on the subject and make conclusions about what they mean for the issue in question. Analyze them and decide for yourself which of them you believe to be more relevant than the others.

How to Write an Informative Essay in Anthropology: Finishing Touches

1. Check the Organization of Your Essay

Before you proceed to proofread the spelling and grammar of your essay, spend some time focusing on its structure. If you do it in the opposite order and end up making significant changes, the effort you put into polishing grammar and orthography will be wasted. Make sure that:

  • Each section logically follows from the previous one. Connect them using transition words and phrases;
  • You bring up your sources where it is appropriate. Do not put quotations just to show that you use a sufficient number of sources;
  • Each paragraph is dedicated to a single specific topic. If you cover more than one point per paragraph, the essay ends up looking messy and disorganized;
  • Introduction and conclusion are integral parts of the essay and are not just attached to it for the sake of appearance. Introduction should foreshadow the contents of the body and the conclusions you make; conclusion should refer to what you mentioned in the introduction.

2. Check the Terminology

Due to the somewhat fluid and vague nature of anthropology, different scholars (especially if they support opposing points of view) may disagree on the use and meaning of certain terms. Check if this is the case, decide how you intend to use these words and expressions and make sure you point it out in the essay.

3. Check the Equilibrium between Abstraction and Concreteness

Anthropology is all about maintaining the balance between getting too deep into the realm of pure theorizing and flooding the reader with facts, statistics and details. Make sure you do not go too far into either direction, and that both the factual information and opinions you present support each other.

4. Clean up Your Writing

As any scholarly text, an anthropology essay should be as clear and easy to understand as possible. Therefore:

  • Cut the flab. Remove any unnecessary words, phrases and sentences. If something is not immediately needed to express what you want to say, you can do without it. The more concise your essay is, the better;
  • Remove ambiguities. When rereading your essay, ask yourself, “If it were the first time I read it, would I understand it?” Avoid words and expressions with unclear meanings. Do not trust the reader to understand what you mean from context. If it is not clear what a pronoun refers to, use a noun instead and do not be afraid of tautology. Ask somebody to read your essay and ask him/her if everything is clear.

5. Proofread

Finally, correct grammar and spelling mistakes. You may use online spellchecking tools, but do not put too much trust into them – they by no means replace an experienced human proofreader. If you know yourself to be prone to particular mistakes, make a list of them and pay special attention to them when proofreading.
Writing an informative essay on anthropology is, of course, challenging – but we believe that with the help of this guide you will be able to successfully beat it!

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