- phase completed
- phase in-progress
Anthropology, an undergraduate program within the College of Liberal Arts, with 19 faculty and more than 150 undergraduate majors, combines the natural sciences, social sciences, and human studies to study who we are and how we came to be. Through the curriculum, students learn to think critically and develop sophisticated understandings of human similarities and differences.
Writing in Anthropology
The Anthropology faculty generated the following description in response to the question, “What characterizes academic and professional communication in this discipline?"
Anthropology has always been a multidiscipline in that its practitioners span the hard sciences, social sciences, humanities, and critical theory. Anthropological writing is informed by all studies of human condition and expression –without restrictions on cultural origin – but also encompasses the breadth of species and depth of time framed by humanity’s prehistoric and contemporary relatives. Hence, the ontological and epistemological landscapes encountered within different subdisciplines of anthropology are quite distinct. Nevertheless, there are several characteristics of writing common to all anthropologists, reflective of both the historical inertia of the field as well as the nature of the evidence we collect.
At its core anthropological writing is descriptive, conveying complex subject matter in ways that allow the reader to experience a situation, see patterns and relationships, visualize an object or artifact. The primary data of anthropological discourse are most often distal to the reader’s experience, and hence accurate and detailed description is the necessary foundation upon which arguments are propagated. Anthropological writing is also analytical in nature, emphasizing the logical examination of subjects often through the juxtaposition of ideas, behaviors, artifacts or even species. Finally, anthropological writing is interpretive. It situates evidence within specific contexts – cultural, geographic, temporal, phylogenetic – and seeks to understand how each context, individually or in combination, interacts with both the primary data as well as current and previous observers.
Writing Abilities Expected of Anthropology Majors
The Anthropology faculty generated the following list in response to the question, “With which writing abilities should students in this unit’s major(s) graduate?”
Students should be able to...
- articulate specific, relevant, and compelling research questions and theses that are appropriately scaled to the assignment.
- situate their writing within the broader questions and themes of the discipline.
- weave analyses of direct, specific data into a coherent text that directly addresses the thesis/research question.
- convey observations in specific, accurate, and rich detail.
- contrast and synthesize multiple lines of evidence.
- strategically employ figures and tables to enhance argumentation.
- cite sources appropriately, distinguishing primary sources from general knowledge.
- draw specific conclusions based on a thorough assessment of the strengths and limitations of evidence and alternate interpretations.
- recognize the impact of assumptions and biases.
- engage ambiguity and uncertainty.
- formulate and express independent ideas that deeply interrogate the literature.
- utilize correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation to reinforce the intellectual content of their writing.
- recognize and write to multiple anthropological genres.
- engage in recursive writing processes involving self-assessment of drafts and revision.
Menu of Grading Criteria Used in Anthropology Courses
The Anthropology faculty developed the following menu of grading criteria that provides both concrete direction to student writers as well as a solid foundation from which faculty can substantively advance writing tuition.
- articulates a specific and compelling research question and/or thesis that engages the reader and is directly relevant to the discipline.
- articulates a thesis or research question that is appropriately scaled to the size and time-frame given for the assignment.
- situates writing within the field so that the reader can connect the work to relevant previous research.
- exhibits a coherent underlying structure that is organized to effectively and directly address the thesis/research question.
- conveys observations using specific, accurate, and rich details, such that the reader can envision the situation or object.
- brings multiple lines of evidence into dialogue to convey the strength of support for specific ideas, arguments or conclusions.
- integrates relevant figures and tables with the writing, citing them appropriately in the text, to enhance or substantiate the argument.
- uses citations appropriately by documenting sources of each unit of knowledge or information, including using multiple citations for ideas/evidence found in more than one place.
- clearly differentiates conclusions based on ethnographic, experimental, or observational data from those derived from the literature or considered to be general knowledge.
- draws specific conclusions based on considerations of the strengths and limitations of evidence.
- contributes to a broader anthropological dialogue by putting thesis/research question into discussion with relevant disciplinary theories, ideas, and perspectives.
- explicitly addresses how the author’s assumptions/biases relate to the thesis or results with regard to alternative interpretations.
- engages ambiguity and uncertainty such that multiple, even contrasting, possible interpretations interact rather than compete to provide explanations.
- includes fresh insights, ideas, or conclusions that are informed by the literature but original to the writer.
- utilizes grammar, spelling, and punctuation that allows information, ideas, and reasoning to communicate directly and easily to readers.
- is written in a consistent anthropological genre and/or style that is appropriate to the topic and material.
- in its multiple drafts, evidences thoughtful and substantive revisions that address all of the feedback provided by the instructor and apply that feedback to further revisions of the entire text.
Highlights from the Writing Plan
Anthropology’s first-edition Writing Plan (2017-18) focused on two core action items: (1) developing five-minute workshop materials to address common writing issues for students at the 3000 level; and (2) establishing a more formal and structured process to facilitate the writing process and writing instruction for students on their senior research projects.
For its second-edition Writing Plan (2018-2020), Anthropology focused on three initiatives to improve writing instruction at the undergraduate level. First, the department held three workshops to help faculty develop grading rubrics for specific assignments in their courses. Second, the department began developing a Canvas site for the organization, maintenance, and dissemination of WEC instructional materials. Third and most prominently, Anthropology piloted an independent, research-based capstone course, which the department has subsequently funded and will continue to offer to graduating students every semester.
For its current, third-edition Writing Plan, approved by the Campus Writing Board in Fall 2020, Anthropology continues to focus on supporting writing in capstone courses with particular attention given to assisting students who are pursuing their capstone within an upper-division course. With the support of a WEC Research Assistant, working closely with faculty and graduate instructors, the department is developing writing resources that are available on the Canvas site established during the previous Writing Plan. To ensure that these writing materials and resources remain relevant and timely, the department will periodically survey faculty and students with the intent of ensuring that the Canvas site is not merely a static archive but a living platform for developing, sharing, critiquing, and archiving writing resources.