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