Faculty Pages:



Discipline Information:
for Anth. Major

List of Anth. classes at UMM

Careers in Anthropology

Why study Anthropology?

Other Info:
Field School Experience

AAA Guide to Anthropology

Anthropology Resources
on the WWW


Latin American Area Studies

Native American Studies



  The essays in my courses are take-home, open book essays. I believe that this better allows students to explore the material and develop their ideas than in-class essays where they must write under pressure. Since you are expected to keep up with the re adings and because you have access to the textbooks and ample time for composing, I expect essays written for my classes to be of first-rate quality.

Reading: Writing good essays requires conceptual reading. Read for meaning, look for the broad ideas and themes, and read critically. Ask yourself what are the connections between the substantive material and the concepts or theories. Avoid reading for pure description or memorization--you cannot fake analytic reading in your essays.

Formatting: From years of experience reading essays, the length I have determined for essays is appropriate to adequately cover the material. Essays that are less than the required length generally fall short of what I expect in a response. I have less of a problem with essays that go over the required length. To keep student papers comparable in length, your margins should be 1" or less, using a font of 11 or 12. Number each question answered (using corresponding numbers for the question) and number your pages. Make sure your printer formats the pages correctly. Do not begin your essay half-way down the page and please leave off plastic and other types of covers. When there are many essays to evaluate, reading papers with print that is barely visible is difficult. Use a printer that prints clearly; if your printer does not print clearly, print the entire document in bold. Never wait until the night before an essay is due to print it. Over the years I have seen too many papers that cannot be printed due to faulty printers or disks. Always keep a backup disk and allow yourself time to locate alternate printers, if necessary. Please collate the pages in order and staple them in the upper left corner.

Strategies: My essay questions are often preceded by introductory comments. Take these seriously, the ideas expressed in them should be responded to in your essay. The actual questions (sometimes there are choices, so read the instructions carefully to complete the essay questions correctly) often include or suggest certain topics for you to cover. Keep in mind that these are only guidelines and should not necessarily pose a limitation on what you write about. The nature of the question may require you to bring in additional material that you are expected to have a handle on. Try to make your essay as comprehensive as you can.

There are certain strategies that I have seen over the years that I think detract from a good essay. One of these is to include dictionary definitions in the essay-don’t! College level classes incorporate complex material that is not adequately presented in Webster’s or whatever other dictionary. Address concepts and ideas based on what you have learned from the class. Also to be avoided is repetition of sections of the questions-this uses up valuable space that is better used by elaborating your own ideas. Sometimes a question will ask you to respond to a series of concepts or topics. Avoid composing your essay by stating, "the first one is…", …"the second one is…", and so forth. These concepts may have no logical order to them! I think the use of quotes from a text are fine and often enhance your essay-always note the page number for direct quotes-but avoid very lengthy ones or too many quotes. I am more interested in what you think. One of the strategies that most detracts from a good paper is the "laundry list approach." Analyze and discuss the topics without giving me lists of items. The latter simply employs copying terms form a book and tells me little of what you know about those terms. The more you express your own ideas on a subject, and the less you paraphrase or simply describe ideas, the better the paper.

Writing: Essays should reflect college-level writing. Compose your essays in a scholarly fashion. Express your ideas clearly and precisely. You may have knowledge about a subject, but do not assume that the reader possesses the same knowledge-explain what you mean. If you use a new term learned in the course, don’t assume I know that you understand the meaning. Explain the meaning of the term.

Learn to select the most important ideas and focus on them-you cannot cover everything in an essay. Therefore, leave out less significant aspects of the topic. Looking at the bigger picture will help you to do this. Obviously, there are differences in the way essays are evaluated for introductory (cultural anthropology, physical anthropology) and upper division courses (Latin American topics courses, theory). In the introductory courses you will want to both examine the broader significance of the issues, but also give me enough detail that I can determine that you read all the material. For upper division courses you can focus more on the bigger issues. Nonetheless, any essay should demonstrate thorough command of the material. Trying to compose an essay based on superficial reading of the texts or reading of selected parts will severely impinge on your grade, as the essay questions are constructed to require you to integrate various portions of the text.

It is essential to learn to express yourself concisely and succinctly. Revise your papers to give more power to each sentence, rather than ramble on and on to express your ideas. One of the most important criteria I use in evaluating papers is how well you synthesize the material. Does the essay make connections between a point made in lecture and material in the textbook? How does a video you might have viewed in class apply to the textbook, or to lecture? Videos are not for your entertainment, but used as a learning device. Don't just drop the name of a video in your essay, but explain how it relates to the other material. Does the essay make connections between these different media (lecture, text, course packet, class discussion, videos)? Can you apply the theories learned to case studies or actual events presented in the text? The more analytic the paper, and the less descriptive the paper, the higher grade you will receive. Description is easy-it simply involves transfer of information from text to paper. Analysis is more challenging and forces you to expand your intellectual skills-which is what you are here for. When addressing a concept or event, always explain its significance. By doing so, you show not mere recognition of the material, but your understanding of it.

It is essential in college writing to write complete, grammatically correct sentences. Always proofread your entire paper to ensure that it is readable. Sentences are stronger when you use active, rather than passive verbs (instead of "the revolt was waged by the villagers" use "the villagers waged a revolt"). You should both spell-check and proof your paper for spelling errors. These are common errors and words and that I frequently see interchanged:

“To” in place of “too” and vice versa (“to” indicates direction, “too” means “also”).

“There” in place of “their” and vice versa (“there” indicates place; “their” indicates possession).

“Hear” in place of “here” and vice versa (“hear” refers to audio transmission; “here” indicates place)

“Affect” in place of “effect” and vice versa (“affect” means to influence; “effect” is the result).

“Accept” in place of “except” and vice versa (“accept” is to receive or agree; “except“ indicates exclusion).

Always make your verbs agree with your nouns. Use the correct tense for verbs.

Misuse of apostrophes: they must be used when you are showing possession (society’s); they must not be used when you are indicating plural (societies).

When using proper names from lecture or text, please spell them correctly.

Avoid gendered language: “man” (use “humans”); “mankind” (use “humankind”); “his,” “he,” etc. (use “his” or “hers,” “he” or “she”, or “s/he” where both genders are being considered); juxtaposing “men” and “girls” and so forth. Use gender neutral lang uage.

Grading: Remember that your essay will be evaluated against essays written by other students in the class. Put forth the effort to present your very best work. The first criteria for evaluation is where the essay belongs-

A: does the essay represent excellent work, well beyond the expectations for quality and content?

B: is the essay of good quality, above expectations for quality and content?

C: is the essay consistent with expectations, i.e., what is expected for quality and content?

D: is the essay below expectations for quality and content?

F: does the essay fail to meet expectations for quality and content?

Within each of these categories, essays will be compared with other essays and ranked.

Remember, that the effort you put into your essay is critical and will be evaluated accordingly.

Occasionally extra tips on writing particular essays may be included on the web page that corresponds to the course.


The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.