Author: Karen Strier
Description: Focusing on the point, structure, audience, topic, and format for course papers, anthropologist Karen Strier advises her students about writing the one and five-page papers for her writing-intensive senior seminar.

Writing Assignments in Anthropology 490

This is a writing intensive course, which means frequent writing assignments, lots of feedback, opportunities to work on both the content of your papers and how you communicate your knowledge and ideas in writing. The writing assignments are intended to fulfill the assumption that “writing facilitates learning.” I think you will enjoy them.

There will be two different kinds of writing assignments, 1-page papers and 5-page papers. They are due in an alternating sequence (1-5-1-5-1-5). You will always have at least a week between when you get feedback on your last paper and when you must turn in your next paper. The idea of having multiple short papers, instead of one long paper, is to encourage you to think more deeply than you otherwise might about a variety of different topics, and then to provide an opportunity for you to translate your thoughts into good writing.

There is a big difference between what you can accomplish as an author of a 1-page versus a 5-page paper. There are also some differences in format and in how the assignments will be evaluated. Both types of assignments must be:

  • Typed, double-spaced, in 12 point font, with at least one-inch margins;
  • Within the designated page limits;
  • Paginated, with page numbers in the upper right hand of all pages beyond the first page;
  • Turned in at the beginning of class on the day they are due;
  • Spell-checked and edited for grammar.


The point: We will be reading and discussing a lot of different kinds of material about apes and humans during this semester. The material can be approached in many different ways, depending on our interests and backgrounds. Writing these short papers will help you to capture the new ideas and information you encounter. Some topics will stimulate you to want to learn more about them. If that happens, you can use the 1-page papers to describe what you have in mind, and then pursue it for the next 5-page paper. Other topics will surprise or distress you, and the 1-page papers are good places to articulate your reactions.

The structure:
You will need the first sentence to state what it is you are writing about. You may need a few sentences to fill in the background, and to state where you plan to go with that, or what you find intriguing or controversial about the topic. Think of it this way: The opening sentence defines your topic, and the background sentences provide the context for how you plan to pursue or discuss your topic. For example:

Gibbons are one of the few primates, and the only apes, that live in pairbonded family groups. Pairbonded gibbons were thought to mate monogamously, and to cooperate in the mutual care and defense of their offspring. Yet, recent evidence of extra-pair copulations among wild gibbons suggests that gibbon social and mating systems may be more similar to those of other polygamous apes than their pairbonded societies implied. (…THEN YOU WOULD GO ON TO EXPLAIN HOW THIS WORKS AND WHY IT IS IMPORTANT).

Your topic:
You can use any topic covered in the readings or in class as the starting point for these papers. The 1-page papers do not require you to incorporate articles other than those that are assigned. But, they should demonstrate that you are making connections among the readings and integrating them with our discussions and with other knowledge you have in this and related fields.

Your audience: Imagine that you are having a conversation with me or someone else you would like to impress. But, be sure to use facts to make your points, instead of personal views or opinions.

Format: Be sure to put your name and the date on the upper-right corner of the page. You do not need a title. If you refer to an article in our Reader, be sure to mention the author’s last name and the year of publication when you mention the work. If you refer to any articles and authors other than those in our Reader, you should also provide complete bibliographic information to the source. See how to refer to sources in the text of your papers and in the References Cited section below. The Refences Cited section belongs on a separate sheet of paper.


The point: These papers are intended to take you beyond what we cover in the reading assignments and discussions. You will get a framework from these readings and discussions, but there won’t be time for us to fill in all of the possible gaps. With your 5-page papers, you can elaborate on topics that interest you, or search for the interesting angles in topics that are new. You can follow-up on one of your 1-page paper topics, or you can pursue a completely different topic. One way to develop these papers is to set up a comparison between alternative data sets or views, and then examine each side of the controversy. Another way is to connect different topics in an original way. You will want to avoid merely summarizing what is covered in the articles, and instead focus on putting the ideas together. You will need to dedicate some additional reading and research time for these papers, and you should plan on revising and rewriting these papers before you hand them in. Honing your papers will help you hone your ideas and your ability to communicate them. We will dedicate part of our class time on May 1st, before the last 5-page paper is due (on May 8th) for peer-review revisions. I will tell you more about this process in class.

The structure
: With 5-pages to work with, you will need to think about a longer, more detailed introduction. It will follow the same format as your 1-page paper, but the topic you explore will be more complicated. For example, in your 1-page paper you might pursue the question of whether gibbons are monogamous or not, and refer to the kinds of information you might need to respond to this question. In your 5-page paper, you would then track down the information, and along the way, you may uncover some additional information that you hadn’t thought would be important. You may find it useful to use subheadings to divide your paper into sections. Be sure to include a concluding paragraph. All references must be cited with author’s last name and year in the text, and the full citation in the References Cited section of your paper. References do not count in the 5-pages of text.

Your topic: As with the 1-page papers, you can use any topic covered in the readings or in class as the starting point for these papers. Here, however, you are required to incorporate articles beyond those that are assigned. You can compare and contrast the assigned readings and those you discover on your own, but here you have new information to present as well as your ideas.

Your audience: The length and greater formality of these papers make them less like a conversation, and more like a presentation. So, it might help to imagine that you are responsible for teaching your reader about the topic. Assume that I don’t know the articles about which you are writing, but that I might want to tell other classes about them. What would I need to know about them? As with the 1-page papers, be sure to use facts to make your points, instead of personal views or opinions.

Format: You will need a title, so you should add a cover page that also includes your name. You will also need to provide complete bibliographic information for any literature you cite, including articles from the Reader. Neither the cover page nor the Reference Cited section count in the 5-page limit.


In the text of your papers, you must be sure to credit all authors’ of the publications you cite. Avoid direct quotes as much as possible. Use the following format for citations in the text:

When there is just one author: chimpanzees (Wrangham, 2000)

When there are two authors: chimpanzees and bonobos (Wrangham and White, 1996)

When there are more than two authors: gorillas (Wrangham, et al., 1999)

When you mention the author by name in your text:

According to Wrangham (2000), chimpanzees…

When you use a direct, verbatim quote*:

Wrangham (2000, p. 1) suggests “that chimpanzees…:

*Direct quotes involve using the author’s exact words, and should not be used unless absolutely necessary. It is more common for authors to paraphrase their sources, and then reference the source by author’s name and publication date in the text.

Your 5-page papers must include a final section, References Cited. This is an alphabetized list of all of the publications to which you refer in your papers, including any that come from our Reader. Follow the format shown for articles in your syllabus to this course.


Web sites are fine places for general information, but you can’t rely exclusively on them because they are not peer-reviewed for quality of information. Use them to find the names of authors who work on particular topics, and then go to the primary, peer-reviewed sources.

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