Ethnographic writing may include writing ethnography assignments, ethnographic essays, or ethnographic research papers. In this article we will guide you how to write an ethnography paper – all types for college and graduate level students. We will also discuss how to conduct an ethnographic research study.
Ethnographic research is one of the most important branches of anthropology . It is a type of research that focuses on understanding how society functions by studying its members within their natural environment. Most often it is carried out in natural settings rather than laboratories for obvious reasons: researchers are able to observe human behaviors more closely when they are not artificially confined to a certain space or time.
Let first define ethnography and related terms.
What is ethnography?
Ethnography is a research method that can be used to explore people’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings about the world around them. Ethnographers look closely at their subjects’ behaviors and interactions with one another. They might observe how people communicate or examine how they work together, share tasks, resolve conflicts, etc. The ethnographer also listens carefully to the people they are studying so that they can describe their perception of what is happening. They might ask questions, take notes, and/or use recording devices to document specific incidents or longer interactions.
Ethnographers work with either a participant observer focus (participants are active participants in the research) or an outsider perspective (researchers are simply observers of the group). In either case, ethnographers try to build a solid rapport with those they are studying. It is important that participants feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with the researcher.
Ethnography as a method has been around for many years. Anthropologists have used ethnography to study people’s beliefs and customs in far-flung places. Marketers, political scientists, leaders in education and healthcare, journalists, sociologists, and many others have used ethnography to study human behavior – both their own behaviors as well as those of people they are interested in learning more about (e.g., the customers who use their product or service, children who attend school, patients, etc.).
The purposes of ethnography.
There are many potential reasons for conducting an ethnographic study including:
- To explain how events and/or people may be connected to certain outcomes
- To understand the dynamics within a group or culture
- To promote understanding about one’s own cultural practices or those of others from different cultures
- To assess the impact that a program or policy might have on a particular community (e.g., could it negatively impact self-esteem?).
Ethnography can help us better understand why we think and behave the way we do. It also helps us become more culturally aware so we can work together more effectively. Ethnography has proven to be particularly when studying groups such as children, people from diverse cultures, and those impacted by a program or policy.
Writing Ethnography: Tips for an Effective Ethnography Paper
When preparing to write your ethnographic research paper, consider the following tips:
- Conduct research of existing studies on the topic you plan to explore. This will allow you understand what has already been done in this area of inquiry and identify any new knowledge that needs to be added., As well, knowing what others have contributed can help you avoid duplication of efforts and lift some of the “fear” about conducting this type of study which is often accompanied by information overload. It also gives you an idea about the field – what questions are still unanswered and what gaps exist.
- Conduct your own pilot study or focus group to test out your hypotheses, answer some of your research questions (e.g., about the kinds of questions you want to ask), and/or try out a few methods for collecting data (e.g., asking open-ended questions, recording observations in real time, etc.). You may also learn more about ethics as well as discover whether those you are studying might feel exploited by the researcher (and how such issues might be addressed). The pilot study can help you refine your topic and become familiar with its context as well as give you insight into any potential obstacles that may have been overlooked.
- Write a detailed research proposal so others will know exactly what you plan to do and how you plan to go about it. Doing so will help you get the green light for your study, ensure that you have sufficient resources to conduct your research, and may give you an opportunity to secure funding or other material assistance (e.g., access to equipment or software, recruited participants).
- Use both primary and secondary data when conducting your ethnographic research. Primary data are those collected by the researcher through observations in real time, interviews, focus groups , etc. These types of data are considered “first-hand” information because they were collected firsthand by the researcher rather than gathered from a third party (which is referred to as secondary data ). Secondary sources might include published studies/articles which can give us an idea of how others have conducted their ethnographic research.
- Conduct your study using either a retrospective or prospective design . A retrospective design is one in which the researcher looks back on the past (e.g., what influenced you to buy that particular brand of cereal) whereas a prospective design is where the researcher collects data about an ongoing event (e.g., what influences children’s food choices at school). The choice between these two will depend upon whether you are looking for people’s memories of how things transpired (retrospective) or want to find out how something is actually happening (prospective).
- Consider adopting multiple sites and perspectives throughout your paper by using embedded case studies and/or vettes (i.e., short, focused ethnographic accounts). Doing so will allow you to develop a more contextualized understanding of your research topic. It can also help you answer questions about how different aspects of the phenomenon being studied are shaped by context.
- Take participant notes during each phase of your ethnographic study, which will assist in clarifying observations, looking for patterns in data , and providing an audit trail for your research. Participant notes are particularly helpful when writing fieldnotes because they provide a kind of “diary” that is reflective in nature – allowing you to record what was observed at the time it occurred (i.e., in real time) rather than trying to remember after the fact . This way, what initially appears random may later be interpreted as emerging patterns when systematically reviewed by the researcher. Participant notes also help you to avoid preconceived notions (which can become evident when re-reading fieldnotes) and capture relevant thoughts, feelings , etc., which may be important for your analysis .
- Conducting participant observation is one of the most common research methods used in ethnographic studies. Participant observers are expected to remain unbiased, invisible , and silent during data collection rather than disrupting their surroundings or relationship with participants through either overt attention or self-disclosure. There are several ways that the researcher can ensure that he/she is remaining neutral : taking copious but impersonal notes ; never initiating interaction with others; making sure not to give off any clues about his/her personal or professional life; and observing from a distance. In addition, there are some practical things to keep in mind when conducting participant observation: you will need to establish rapport with participants so that they feel comfortable opening up to you; you shouldn’t disappear right before your study begins or immediately after it ends because people might wonder where you went and/or be offended about the sudden departure; and if in doubt , do not hesitate to contact your advisor .
- When writing an ethnography paper, include a section that summarizes the approach taken in order for readers to get a sense of how your research question was investigated (i.e., the journey ). This section is typically titled “From X To Y” where X refers to what exists at the beginning of your study, and Y refers to what exists at the end. For example, “From Hard Power To Soft Power” or “From Public To Private.”
- You should begin writing an ethnography paper by first identifying one or more research questions . Your choice of research question(s) should be driven by your interests as well as any hypotheses you have regarding the phenomenon being studied. For instance, if you are interested in understanding how people negotiate via technology (e.g., text messaging), then you may initially want to examine how gender differences play out during online chat sessions. However, if this initial topic doesn’t provide you with enough information about negotiation practices (e.g., because participants don’t mention gender-related issues or because you are more interested in how people communicate online vs. the negotiation process itself), then you will need to revise your research question(s) accordingly (e.g., “How do people negotiate via text messaging?”).
- When writing an ethnography paper, it is best if you include concrete details throughout your analysis . You can do this by either directly quoting or paraphrasing participants’ words, including full sentences from fieldnotes/transcripts , and/or giving specific examples that illustrate a particular aspect of the phenomenon being studied. This will help readers get a sense of what your everyday reality was like during data collection, which may be particularly important for them to understand considering that they were not present while you did the work.
- It is important for ethnography papers to make a connection between the participants and larger issues . In order to do this effectively, you will need to think about how your specific research site connects with other sites/contexts. For instance, let’s say that you conducted an ethnography on parenting practices in New York City. If you find that a lot of parents enroll their kids into sports activities then you could explore how this practice may reflect broader changes that have taken place with regards to work and family life during the past few decades.
Main Parts of an Ethnography Paper
An ethnography is a research study that tries to understand the way that people think and behave in their everyday lives. In order to do this, researchers typically spend time with a group of people in order to get a sense of how they live and what they’re interested in.
There are several parts of an ethnography paper which are:
- Introduction – Background information, Thesis statement.
- Literature review – review of the existing literature.
- Methodology – Data collection methods.
- Data analysis
- Conclusions and suggestions.
The introduction provides background information on the issue being written about. This section should be written clearly and directly, with no jargon. It is the first section that the reader will encounter, so it must immediately engage them. Also, consider writing about what would interest people not working in your specific subfield.
A good ethnography introduction includes two main elements:
- A thesis statement that presents an argument; and
- An explanation of why this topic is important to investigate.
If you are able to state your argument as a question, then so much the better (e.g., “What do young children learn from playing video games?” or “How have digital technologies influenced how people negotiate?”).
Here’s an example of a thesis statement for an ethnography paper :
“This paper explores what happens when people with mobility-related disabilities use smart technologies when they search for accessible transportation options in their daily lives.”
Here’s another example of a thesis statement for an ethnography paper :
“My study examines how families use social media to share selfies with each other and what effect, if any, this has on parent-child relationships.”
Ethnography – Background Information
The next part of an ethnography paper is the background section. This provides the reader with information that will give them context about exactly what your research project investigates. To write this section effectively, you need to provide information that is relevant to your specific argument or hypothesis. In doing this, it helps to consider these questions: “What prior theories/research does my study build on?” and “What are the limitations of prior research/theories that I am exploring in my study?”
Also, consider providing information about the geographical location where your research took place. This is especially important if there are cultural norms or practices described in your writing that could be unfamiliar to some readers.
The literature review part of an ethnography paper provides a summary of what has been written previously about the topic you’re investigating. It also allows you to explain how your own research contributes to our understanding of this issue. To write this section effectively, consider these questions: “Who are the researchers who have written about my topic before?” and “What arguments do they make?”
The next two parts of an ethnography paper are the research methodology and findings. The methodology includes information on how the ethnographer gathered data, including the limitations and biases in this process. Data collection is where you describe how and what research data you collected during your ethnography (i.e., what did you actually observe and what did people say to you/write down?).
Ethnography – Research Findings
The final section of an ethnography paper is the presentation of your actual data (key words, quotes, illustrations, etc.). This can take many forms including tables, charts, photographs or diagrams. When writing this section remember to keep it as clear and concise as possible. You should not present large amounts of unnecessary data that does not relate directly to your argument. It’s helpful to consider how you might explain what you’ve found through a presentation at a conference for non-specialists in your sub-field.
An Ethnography Conclusion
A good conclusion for an ethnographic paper will do these things:
- Conclude the argument presented in your thesis statement;
- Give some context for how your study fits into the larger body of research on this topic;
- Be written clearly and directly with no jargon. The language should be accessible to a non-specialist audience.
Steps to write an ethnography paper
Here are core 11 steps in conducting an ethnographic research study and writing a perfect ethnographic report for your study.
Step 1. Choose a good topic:
The first step is to pick a topic for your paper. You should choose an issue that you want to explore and that has not been covered in depth in the existing literature. Topic ideas may include:
What children learn from video gaming, digital technologies and how they’ve influenced people’s relationships and negotiating styles.
How mobility-related disabilities affect people’s daily lives when trying to find transportation options.
The interaction between social media and family relationships such as what power it provides to parents and children, the benefits of parenting via social media, and its role in strengthening families.
Step 2. Develop a thesis statement
The second step is to develop a thesis statement for your paper. Your thesis statement is your argument; it should describe what you are exploring in your research (i.e., what question or problem are you trying to answer). It’s not necessary to state the actual questions at this point, but rather identify the main idea of your argument.
Step 3. Conduct literature review
Next, conduct a literature review by reading about existing theories and research around the topic that will help provide context for your argument. You can choose any articles or books that suit your specific requirements, but most often students read articles from peer-reviewed journals because they tend to be more comprehensive than other sources. References cited in these articles may also be useful for further exploration on this topic so keep track of any relevant information that you find.
Step 4. Develop research questions/hypotheses when necessary
If your paper requires hypotheses or specific questions to be answered, develop these here. You should list any hypothesis that you want to test in the experiment, and describe why the question is important and how it builds on existing literature. It’s important to note that a hypothesis should be a single claim, not several claims joined by “and” or “or”.
Step 5. Choose a qualitative method for data collection
The next step in writing an ethnography paper is choosing a method of data collection appropriate for your topic and argument. Ethnographic researchers collect data through observation – by talking to people, through photographs or videos, or from artifacts such as drawings.
Step 6. Find an appropriate research site
You should find a site for your observations, interviews or other data collection. This can be your first choice of research sites, but if it doesn’t work out you may have to choose another. It’s important to note that many ethnographic studies involve spending extensive time at the research site observing and interviewing participants; this may require moving away from home or taking time off school to conduct fieldwork (for example). Think carefully about how much time and energy this will take before choosing your study site! Your study should be carried out in a location where you can observe people participating in whatever activity is central to your research question; i.e., someone playing video games, talking on their mobile phone, or taking the bus/train to work.
Step 7. Gain approval from research site
Once you’ve chosen a site for your study, you should discuss your plans with the people in charge and get their approval (to ensure that they will cooperate). You’ll also need to get written permission from them to use quotes and other data collected during your observations; it’s important to be completely transparent about this since most people will not want you using their name in your paper without prior approval – even if you anonymize all of the details! Anonymizing participant information is especially important when working with minors who are participating in online activities.
Step 8. Plan data collection schedule & roles
Plan out dates for conducting data collection, and who will do what at each observation session. Once you have approval from the research site it’s a good idea to circulate a preliminary schedule with them so that they can give their input on your proposed dates for observations. If possible, try to collect observational data around the same time of day if this makes sense – e.g., everyday at 2pm or every Wednesday from 10am-12pm etc. It’s also important to clarify which students should be interviewed and when these interviews will take place so there is no overlap in scheduling with observation sessions.
Step 9. Conduct Data Collection
Once you’ve finalized your plan, you should start conducting data collection! You’ll need to go into the field and conduct observations, make recordings, take photographs or videos, and interview participants. You can also collect artifacts if they are important to your study (e.g., a student’s phone during an observation session).
Step 10. Analyze Data
This step in writing an ethnography paper is where you analyze the data that was collected throughout the research process. It’s not always necessary to conduct analysis in this step; some researchers only finalize their analysis after they’re sure that all of their data collection is complete (to avoid altering responses by asking follow up questions later on) – but it’s usually best to let your readers know when you’ve completed data collection and how/when you analyzed the data for your paper! Analysis should be related directly to the research question that you posed in step 1 of writing an ethnography paper.
Step 11. A write up of your findings
The final component of writing an ethnography paper is the write-up – this section should include all of your findings and discussion related to each specific research site. You should also reference any relevant articles or theories that are tied back into the context of your study (and provide full citations for these references). It’s important to think about how your research fits into existing literature on the topic; if possible, refer to previous studies that examined similar phenomena at different times or in different places (this will help validate/replicate your own work) – e.g., other studies on playing video games, chatting online, or taking public transit.
Ethnographic research examples
When conducting an ethnographic study, here are some ethnographic research examples to consider:
- Develop a research plan that includes fieldwork, interviews and observation of the population. Collect data on the behavior, beliefs and attitudes of people in a community.
- Create an ethnographic research design. The study may explore issues such as culture, economics or biology from the point of view of people who live within a particular area or region. For example, some researchers have attempted to define culture by taking into account lifestyle aspects such as eating, drinking and holiday rituals. Ethnographers approach cultural lifestyles with respect for tradition while focusing on changes that occur over time due to economic influences or other factors. This type of ethnographic research attempts to determine what is unique about life in various areas around the world. Other types of ethnographic study may focus on specific topics such as the study of language, kinship or politics.
- Conduct an ethnographic study about a community in your area. For example, some communities may have problems that you can explore using this type of research approach. For example, various countries that are experiencing political change may be affected by violence, ethnic cleansing and other issues after years of oppression under ruling regimes. Area studies provide new opportunities for ethnographers who look at how people living in certain areas perceive themselves; their culture; and how they interact with members of their community. Areas studied could include urban areas, isolated rural regions or areas where indigenous people strive to maintain traditional lifestyles while dealing with outside influences on their way of life.
Ethnography is very descriptive, but can also be explanatory. It is part of social science research which helps us to understand how people live, interact and construct meaning. Through ethnography, we are able to see the perspectives of different groups of people across society. When doing an ethnography you have to be extremely watchful for bias or personal views that you have on the topic that may influence your judgement on what you are witnessing – it is important not to assume anything! If you are studying a group of people it is good practice to always give them the right to remove themselves from the situation if they wish, this should be explained at the beginning so there are no surprises later on in your research. This article aims to explain some key things about carrying out an ethnographic study. It will give you an idea of what is involved, the skills required and how to make sure your findings are accurate and credible.
Ethnography is concerned with studying people in their natural setting, over a period of time through participant observation. These observations may be written up into field notes or into journals to provide accounts of daily life that can then be used as individual pieces for contextual analysis. The focus here is on ‘bricolage’, using multiple sources so as to produce accounts which are full and rich rather than simply relying on one method alone. Ethnographers rely heavily on observation but do not discount other information gathering techniques such as interviews, questionnaires or discourse analysis where appropriate.
The practice of ethnography has frequently been considered an observational method though this may be restricted. Hence, it should not simply equate to methods of data collection or analysis, but mean observation in the widest sense, including what is collected through other means. This includes thoughts and feelings as much as social interactions between members of specific groups within a community under study. It also requires a detailed interest in processes and events so that they can be understood in their own terms rather than simply being classified according to externally imposed disciplines such as economics or politics. Ethnographers often seek out intensive long-term relationships with informants so that they can understand interpersonal aspects and how this relates to wider social structures.
Ethnographic research is most frequently conducted by anthropologists, sociologists and social scientists though it is not limited to these.
Ethnographic research allows an in-depth understanding of a particular group or community, allowing us to see things from their perspective. This is particularly useful for gaining information about specific groups that are often marginalised, such as immigrants within host countries, subcultures within urban centres or ethnic minorities living predominantly outside ‘majority’ cultures.
The approach can provide vital opportunities for the exchange of ideas by improving knowledge between individuals who have little exposure to one another’s lives or way of thinking. It also enables members of different communities to understand each other better so they don’t have preconceptions which may lead to conflict. Ethnographic research can be used in various academic disciplines including education, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies and psychology. It not only contributes to our understanding of particular groups but can also be highly useful for marketing purposes as well as for medical research and healthcare services – the list is endless!
Ethnographic research requires a high level of both organisational and observational skills. As with any research project there needs to be a clear purpose and set objectives which you must explain clearly in your introductory section. This should include what you would like to find out, why it is important to know this information (or how it will benefit others) and the methods you intend to use including who or what is involved; where, when and how long; as well as ethical considerations such as whether informed consent was obtained from those involved. Ethnographic studies are particularly useful for exploring everyday life, including the topic of health and illness.
Ethnographers are often interested in how societies function, focusing on the way that people communicate with each other about their lives. As a result there is usually some account given to social structure – that is to say how groups within society relate to one another through social institutions such as family, education or work. Understanding this adds depth to what might otherwise be considered as separate domains or activities if they were studied independently. For example, daily routine can be better understood when ethnographers consider it in relation to wider issues such as transport links, travel time between work/home/shopping facilities etc., types of establishments visited (for leisure or shopping), reasons for visiting and so on.
Ethnographers typically conduct research over a significant length of time, often employing diary-keeping techniques in order to record changes and developments as they occur. It is also useful to think about ways that you can help the groups you are studying by participating in their activities rather than just observing them or asking questions – for example taking part in cultural events such as festivals, dance styles etc., sharing tasks such as childcare with indigenous women, working alongside labourers perhaps visiting your GP surgery with friends/neighbours/acquaintances who might otherwise not have access to healthcare services…
Four key points:
- Ethnographic research involves a detailed study of social groups or communities which requires a high level of both organisational and observational skills.
- Ethnographers are usually interested in how societies function, focusing on the way that people communicate with each other about their lives.
- It is useful to consider social structure which can be better understood when ethnographers consider it in relation to wider issues such as transport links, travel time between work/home/shopping facilities etc., types of establishments visited (for leisure or shopping), reasons for visiting and so on.
- Ethnographers typically conduct research over a significant length of time, often employing diary-keeping techniques in order to record changes and developments as they occur. It is also useful to think about ways that you can help the groups you are studying by participating in their activities rather than just observing them or asking questions.
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Ethnographic research is a type of qualitative, inductive research approach in which the researcher studies a group of people to uncover their beliefs and behaviours. Ethnography papers are a unique form of academic writing that require you to explore someone’s culture.
Writing an ethnographic research paper may seem simple enough, but actually requires special attention and knowledge about how this type of project should be carried out successfully… To write an outstanding paper on ethnography, follow these steps:
- Find some interesting topic for your ethnographic term paper;
- Start with general idea of what will be included into your work;
- Write down sub-topics related to the main topic;
- Make a list of sources you will use for your paper;
- Compose the draft.
Though ethnography is an intensive form of participant observation, it can also be used to study non-humans. Researchers often think of animals as ‘cultural’ in some sense, because they are adept at passing on information about their species through social learning – but humans are not the only animals that pass on culture…
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Since anthropology is all about studying different cultures around the world, it would make sense to say that ethnography research papers are one of the most common forms of academic writing in the field. While there are many branches within anthropology, ethology or cultural studies , ethnography focuses on people’s culture in particular. For example, an ethnography may look at aspects of people’s life, including their diet , social behavior , religious beliefs etc…
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