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Types of scholarly writing

As you know, every week you have something to read. We usually call this a “reading,” and that’s fine. But it is also somebody’s “writing.” Scholars usually present their ideas and the results of their research by writing about it. Often their writing is not intended for students (although the truly great scholars are able to explain their ideas in words that anyone can understand, and we do try to find this kind of work for class). But if they weren’t writing for students, what were they trying to do?

It’s useful to learn the different kinds of writing that scholars do so you can be aware of the context in which it is written. (This will be especially relevant for your assignment in Module III.) There are four major types of writing that scholars produce:

  • Monographs. A monograph is a book written by a single author on a single subject. For instance, in this class we read a chapter from a monograph by Piot (1999), entitled Remotely Global: Village Modernity in West Africa. Piot’s book is an example of an ethnography, that is, an extended and ideally comprehensive qualitative description and analysis of a society or a community that the author studied using participant-observation fieldwork.
  • Journal articles. A journal is a periodical publication. Each issue contains, for the most part, articles in which an author presents a new finding or result of their research. For instance, the paper by Cliggett (2003) is an article entitled “Gift Remitting and Alliance Building in Zambian Modernity: Old Answers to Modern Problems” and which appeared in the third issue of the 105th volume of the journal American Anthropologist. A good article in a journal solves a problem in a new and interesting way. Many of the ethnographic case studies we use in this class come from journal articles. They make an argument for a new way of looking at things and support their claim with a concise analysis of selected ethnographic descriptions from their research.
  • Edited volumes. A volume is a book consisting of several chapters each written by different authors in which each presents a different argument or analysis of their research. While the chapters all address the same general topic, theme, or problem, they are meant to be self-contained, much like articles in a journal. For instance, in ANTH 1001 this year, we read a chapter by Sullivan (1994) in a volume entitled Ancient Traditions: Shamanism in Central Asia and the Americas. Often, anthropologists who contribute a chapter to an edited volume will present a single ethnographic case study that is similar to what might appear in a journal article.
  • Theses or dissertations. A student in a postgraduate program will be expected to conduct independent research and the produce a work that presents the results, which is then evaluated by a committee of academics who determine whether or not it has made an original contribution to scholarship (and therefore merits a degree). Many theses and dissertations can be found online, and indeed, they are technically considered to be scholarly publications. Some are quite good actually. Most theses and dissertations go through extensive revisions before the student’s work is published as either a monograph or as other kinds of writing. When you are doing research for assignment in one of your classes and you come across a thesis or dissertation in your research, you may not want to bother with it. Instead, look for other, later work by the same author.


Cliggett, Lisa. 2003. “Gift Remitting and Alliance Building in Zambian Modernity: Old Answers to Modern Problems.” American Anthropologist 105 (3): 543–52. doi:10.1525/aa.2003.105.3.543.

Piot, Charles. 1999. Remotely Global: Village Modernity in West Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sullivan, Lawrence E. 1994. “The Attributes and Power of the Shaman: A General Description of the Ecstatic Care of the Soul.” In Ancient Traditions: Shamanism in Central Asia and the Americas, edited by Gary Seaman and Jane Stevenson Day, 29–45. Niwot: University Press of Colorado.

1002/2020/types-of-pubs.txt · Last modified: 2020/08/18 19:56 by Ryan Schram (admin)