Writing An Ethnographic Essay

What Is The Proper Ethnographic Research Paper Structure

Writing an ethnographic research paper won’t be easy. It’s not the paper itself that will give you the most trouble, but the research involved. Ethnography relies on personal experiences and any research of this kind will include plenty of interviews. You will also need to corroborate the information you glean from them by providing factual evidence from various official reports and other documents.

The paper itself should have the following structure:

  1. Introduction.
  2. In this part of the paper, you introduce your thesis statement, which is the central idea of the whole project. You also need to provide a short overview of the things readers should expect to see in the essay.

  3. Methodology.
  4. This section must explain how exactly you conducted your research. List all the tools you used and tell your readers why you choose them. Your methodology has to be detailed, and even the number of people you questioned needs to be mentioned. Your main goal is to describe your research in such a way that any reader who wishes to verify the information you used won’t have any trouble finding it.

  5. Presentation and analysis of collected data.
  6. Start with presenting the data collected during your research. Remember that all the important facts need to be presented in a logical order that will highlight connection between them. Once the data is presented, you need to analyze and most importantly interpret it. Be sure to provide your criteria for interpretation beforehand so that your readers will understand your thinking. When you build your presentation, you will need to use some very specific examples to prove every point you make. As presentation and interpretation are in essence two different parts of your paper, they must follow the same pattern.

  7. Conclusion.
  8. In the final paragraph of your research paper, you need to reiterate the most important points. Try to present them in an original way so that your conclusion doesn’t look like a reversed introduction. You must also explain how your research affects the field of study as a whole. However, be careful not to introduce any new ideas in this final section.

When you choose the topic for an ethnographic research project, your main consideration should be the availability of data. You need to be sure that there is enough information available to you. Otherwise, you won’t be able to create a strong educational essay and the project will be considered a failure. Therefore, you should do some preliminary research before you make the final decision on your topic.

Chapter 6 provides a step-by-step process for developing, writing, and revising your ethnographic research essay.

Finding a Focus, Choosing a Controlling Idea for Your Research

The first step in finding a focus is to read through all of your fieldnotes two times. As you read, notice when and where you become particularly interested in what you have written. Circle, mark or note these passages in some way. Write a brief summary of each idea/passage on a separate sheet. After you identify what interests you most, move on to search for patterns that will lead you to focus.  You can follow the step-by step-process below as a path to create a kind of umbrella or guiding focus statement for your essay:

  1. Read through the list you compiled from your fieldnotes and identify which parts of your fieldnotes interest and engage you most. Look at the larger arc. Are most of your points taken from your thoughts and feelings or are you more interested in the analysis observation?
  2. Search for patterns in your list, and make a new list of those patterns. Keep an eye out for things that strike you as meaningful and interesting and that happen again and again.  As you explore patterns, also look for things connected to those patterns.  Find patterns within patterns. how do you connect ideas with language?  Do you seem to repeatedly use the same phrases?  When and with respect to what observations?  This may help identify relevant patters of observation.
  3. From your list of patterns and connections, select the ONE larger idea/pattern that interests you most. You know you’re on to something if you find a pattern and can see how it connects to other observations you’ve made during your research and /or to what other scholars or writers have said.
  4. Take that one interesting idea/pattern and develop an “umbrella” statement or a broad focus statement. You can start, for drafting purposes, with something as simple as “In this paper, I will…(discuss, explore, explain, analyze, etc.).”  Here you are articulating the big idea for your essay. You can always return to the statement to make is more sophisticated in the context of a focus paragraph later,
  5. Expand that statement by breaking the pattern that you are focusing on into any number of supporting observations. Follow your initial broad or umbrella focus statement with that break down. “First, I will….Second…Third….” with each of those statements specifying the supporting material. These first, second, and third statements provide the framework for the body sections of your research essay.

As you examine patterns you find in your own comprehensive observation list and look for an idea, theme, or metaphor to connect them, keep in mind the ways in which a focus moves from observations to a more developed discussion of the ideas you note.  As you connect the dots of your pattern, you may begin to understand where your essay could “land,” which implications become most compelling to you, and which elements for discussion could make clear the complexity of reality and truth.  When you identify some of these more powerful elements, take the time to write about any connections you see between those patterns or expand on any unfinished thoughts. From this list, you need to choose the idea/pattern that interests you most, that you think you can really write about, and that you can support with other observations from your notes. You have found your focus!


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