The goal for anthropology students writing essays, just as it is for those in sociology, is to be able to engage with the disciplinary traditions and offer new insight going forward. When you write, instead of writing a descriptive narrative, you will be able to articulate and sustain an argument by drawing upon a relevant body of theory and literature to support the position you have taken.
When writing an essay from a disciplinary-based perspective, it is important to consider your audience. In most cases, it will consist of your professor, a graduate teaching assistant, or perhaps a peer; each will have varying degrees of socialization into the discipline.
With this in mind, particularly at the senior undergraduate level, it is crucial to be able to go on and connect your chosen topic and formulated thesis with an appropriate theoretical perspective (or perspectives) grounded in the tradition of your respective discipline.
Likewise, you should also discuss the methodology deployed in your study (or that of those you are examining if you are undergoing a secondary analysis of the existing literature). Theory and methodology reflect the lenses and techniques researchers draw upon in order to go about uncovering and making sense of what they study. Good research makes this clear and allows conclusions drawn to be considered as outcomes of reasoned inquiry rather than speculative opinion.
More often than not, the most significant piece of writing you will be asked to undertake in sociology and anthropology at the undergraduate level is the argumentative essay, or thesis-based paper.
There are of course many other genres of writing that you will likely come across throughout your program, and many of these, too, will require the development of an argument. If you move on to graduate studies, you will soon realize how argumentative essays are the basic building blocks for longer, more complex and sophisticated endeavours.
The ability to write a thesis-based paper is an important skill to develop and essential for producing any kind of scholarly work across all the disciplines. The reason for this, of course, is that in university you are expected to articulate and defend a credible position, idea or insight –be it empirically or theoretically based— rather than regurgitate passively the ideas of others. This is what makes academic writing different from many other genres. To complicate matters further, each discipline has developed its own unique body of theory, methodology, relevant vocabulary and even appropriate referencing format, all of which has an important impact on how you go about constructing an argument.
Before moving on to discuss some helpful insights for improving disciplinary specific writing skills, it is perhaps useful to recap quickly some of the fundamentals of essay writing. You may also find it useful to go over some of our other guides, including:
Generally speaking, the thesis statement is the single most important component of the argumentative essay. Without one, your paper lacks a point of view and sense of direction, and because of this, does not have a rationale or purpose for existing. Another way to think about this is to consider your thesis as the centralizing focus of the paper. The thesis brings coherence to the various lines of reasoning introduced throughout the text. Once you have a clear sense of purpose and direction, you are well poised to begin crafting your essay according to the conventions of your respective discipline.
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