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How to write an ethnography effectively

Basics that will help you learn how to write an ethnography

Ethnography is a social science research method which relies on personal experiences within a culture or a subject group. Various institutions have their own guidelines on how to write an ethnography but generally, it follows a standard format which entails proper analysis and evaluation. And before jumping into learning how to write an ethnography, it is wise to understand the concept of ethnography. The term ethnography originated from Greek. It is a combination of two words which are ethos which means people and grapho which means to write. Ethnography is defined as a branch of cultural anthropology that follows a systematic way of learning about the life of ethnic groups of inhabitants, their belief and culture and the community where they live in. The person who studies ethnography is known as an ethnographer.

An ethnographer is required to live with the community members for some time as part of his learning. He has to scrutinize and observe the attitude, lifestyle and behavior of the people in that community and also talk to informants of that community. After that, with guidelines on how to write an ethnography, he will then put together and summarize his findings in a report. This report is the one referred to as ethnography. Ethnography can either be interpretive, descriptive or inclusive of the community social phenomena, rituals and daily life.

The nature of ethnographic writing

All ethnographers probably start the task of writing an ethnography with the feeling that it is too early to start hence no need of learning how to write an ethnography. Ethnography often leads to a profound awareness that a certain cultural meaning system is almost inexhaustibly rich. You may know a lot about a cultural scene, but with ethnography, you discover how much more there is to learn about. It is good to recognize that what you write is real of every ethnographic description: it is incomplete, and will always stand in need of revision. Many ethnographers can do well if they set aside the feelings that writing is premature and start to learn how to write an ethnography sooner rather than later. When writing an ethnography, you will discover a hidden store of knowledge acquired during the research process.

One of the best ways to learn how to write an ethnography is to read other ethnographies. Choose those that talk about the meaning of another culture and those that are written in a way that brings life to a society thus making you understand the people and their lifestyle. If you read properly written ethnographies, you will know how to write an ethnography effectively on your own.

When learning how to write an ethnography description, there are various levels that you must keep in mind and consciously use them to improve the communicative power of translation. The first level is the universal statements which include all statements about human beings, their culture, behavior or environmental situation. Universal statements are all encompassing statements and they include things that occur universally which can be included in ethnographies. The second level is a cross cultural descriptive statement. This includes statements about two or more communities, assertions that are true for some communities but not necessarily for all communities. The third level is the general statement about a cultural group. The fourth level is the general statements about a particular cultural scene, the fifth level is cultural domain specific statements and the sixth level is the specific incident elements.


Steps followed in writing an ethnography

After understanding the basics of how to write an ethnography, it is time now to write the actual ethnography. The first step is to select an audience. The audience influences all aspects of your ethnography. Any type of writing is an act of communication between people and in that sense, it is the same as talking. When talking to someone, there are innumerable cues which remind you that your audience is present. You need to select your audience, identify it clearly, and keep it in mind throughout your ethnography writing. If you are writing for a specific magazine or journal, you must carefully scrutinize past issues of the journal in order to determine the style of writing. You will, in fact, be discovering the type of audience that such a journal is written for. If you intend to write a book-length ethnography, your audience can be the general republic, students or any other group.

The second step in writing ethnography is selecting a thesis. For you to communicate with your audience, you must have something to say. Most of the time, ethnographic descriptions appear to be like meandering conversations which do not have a destination. Although it can be of interest to you, such writing cannot hold the attention of many. A thesis is the central message of the point you want to make. You can get a thesis from many sources. For example, the main themes that you discover during the ethnographic research are possible theses. Another thesis for your ethnography can come from the overall goals of the ethnography and another one can come from the literature of the social sciences. Once you select your thesis, it is good to state it briefly, like in a single sentence, and place it before you as a continuous reminder as you write. This helps to organize your ethnography paper and integrate it around a major idea. It also helps readers to grasp the meanings of the culture in a way that simple listings of domains and their meanings will not.

The third step in ethnographic writing is making a list of topics and preparing an outline. All ethnographies deal with only selected aspects of a culture and you will use only a section of the material you collected. In this step, you will review the notes that you had compiled in the field and the cultural inventory you made and list topics that you feel should be included in your final description. The topics include an introduction and a conclusion. Once you have listed them, you can make an outline based on your thesis. This will divide up your actual ethnography writing into sections that can be done as a separate unit. The fourth step in writing an ethnography is to write a draft of every section. A draft is intended to be unpolished. The main roadblock for many writers is the desire to revise as they write. Constant revision slows the writing process and takes away from the free flow of communication.

The fifth step in writing your ethnography is to revise your outline and create subheadings. Many at times the outline from which one writes changes while writing is going on. Once you have prepared a draft for each section, it is a good idea to prepare a new outline where you will rearrange the sections appropriately. You can use subheadings to give your readers a clue to the structure of the ethnography and also to act as transitions from one section to the other. Native folk terms may be used as subheadings in ethnography as they will help in creating a view that reflects the cultural knowledge of your informants. The sixth step is the editing of the draft. At this point, you will be having a rough draft of your ethnography, a moderately clear outline and a number of subheadings that you will use throughout the ethnography. Now it is time to go through it with the aim of improving the details of writing. Go through every section while keeping the entire description in mind. At this stage, it is also useful to ask a friend to go through the draft and make general comments. An outside perspective is very useful in making improvements that will improve the communicative power of your description.

The seventh step is writing the introduction and the conclusion. When you get to this stage, your ethnography will have taken on substantial form and you can write your introduction and conclusion in a more effective way. Some writers who find it better when they write an introduction at the beginning of the ethnography, but save the conclusion until the end. In either case, this is the time to review both the conclusion and the introduction and revise them to fit your ethnography. The final step is to reread your manuscript. This will entail reading you ethnography to check if you have used enough examples and find out if there are places where general statements have made your ethnography too dense and determine if you can insert extended examples in such sections in order to improve your content.

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