Writing an Abstract: General Guidelines for Anthropology Projects

Professor Michael C. Ennis-McMillan
Anthropology Department
Skidmore College

The NEAA follows the general guidelines for writing abstracts for anthropology projects.  These guidelines have been adapted from recommendations from the American Anthropological Association and Robert Day (1998). 

Your project's title and abstract are important pieces of professional work that you will list on a résumé and that will be viewed by a broad audience.

A good title and abstract summarizes your entire project.  Use this checklist as a guide:

  • The title should describe the contents of your paper in the fewest possible words (typically no more than 14 words);
  • Start the body of the abstract with a broad statement of the social or cultural issue addressed in the paper;
  • Then state the purpose of your project;
  • Describe the methods and, if appropriate, setting;
  • Summarize the results;
  • State the principal conclusions.

This is not an introduction.  The title and abstract together should give the reader an idea of the entire contents of your paper. 

Researchers usually write a preliminary abstract when submitting a paper to present at a conference, but writers often revise and write a final abstract for the final written report, especially for published articles.  Review abstracts of journal articles and identify a model of an abstract that would work for your project. 

Social science abstracts usually summarize the text, which is in present tense.  [“This study examines….”]

Do not give information or conclusions that are not stated in the paper.  Conversely, do not leave out important findings and conclusions stated in the paper.

Do not cite literature in the abstract.

Look at the word limits for particular guidelines.  For conference papers, the abstract typically should not exceed 150 words (or less).  If you can communicate your finds in 100 words, do not use 150.  In a final paper, the abstract is usually double spaced and included on a separate page after the title page.  (Note: These are guidelines for NEAA presentations.  The abstract length and format will vary depending on the conference, sub-field, and type of publication.) 

Reference cited:

Day, Robert A. 1998. How to Write & Publish a Scientific Paper. 5th ed. Phoenix, AZ: The Oryx Press. 

Sample of abstracts of student presentations at the NEAA Annual Meeting, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, 2013

Papers based on study abroad projects:

CHIN, Kathryn B. (Skidmore College) Chinese Imitation Art: Questions of Globalization, Value, and Authenticity in Yunnan Province.  The increase in popularity of Chinese antique and art collecting in recent years has led to an increase in counterfeit production. Accurate reproductions and authenticating narratives have allowed fake items to become “real.” Based on guided conversations, interviews, and general observations conducted in Dali, Yunnan, China in May 2012 and follow up fieldwork in the United States, this project examines perspectives on the forces that drive the increase in counterfeit production. The study presents contrasting perspectives of Chinese and American museum curators, government officials, and antique shop owners, and provides insight into the globalization of imitations and questions about the meaning of “authenticity” and value. Because of the negative stigmas that are usually associated with the Chinese counterfeit market, this study explores a different public perspective on a global issue by reaching out to and collaborating with art historians, policy makers, art collectors, and tourists. [Key words: art, counterfeit objects, China] 

Note:  The paper was the 2013 John Omohundro Undergraduate Paper Prize Winner, and was posted online. Click here to read.

PRIMIANO, Samantha (Skidmore College) Stigma as a Setback for HIV Treatment and Prevention in Cape Town, South Africa.  This study evaluates the effects of stigma on HIV prevention and treatment in South Africa. Primary data was collected over a one-month period in the Bo Kaap of Cape Town and the township of Zwelethemba in Worcester. Through interviews, group discussion, and observations during this period, the project documents ways people perceive stigma as a barrier for HIV control. The study demonstrates the harmful nature of stigma in terms of treating the mental and the physical aspects of HIV infection. The project explores the way that a community thinks about and interacts with the disease. Furthermore, the outcome of the study considers the possibility that reducing stigma could be one of the most essential aspects for controlling HIVand shaping how the public perceives not only those infected, but the disease as well. [Key words: HIV, medical anthropology, stigma, South Africa]

Paper based on a senior project using data from an archaeology research methods course:

GROSS, Sara K. (Skidmore College) Life at the Woodlawn Estate Stables: Making Archaeology Public in Saratoga Springs, NY.  Public archaeology seeks to include community members in the research process so that they engage with archaeology in general as well as local history.  The current project aims to make public the findings based on two field seasons at the Woodlawn Estate Stables, a historical archaeological site on the Skidmore Campus in Saratoga Springs, NY.  The main components of this project are (1) a report in accessible language to distribute to local organizations; (2) an exhibit at a local museum; (3) a public presentation; and (4) guided walkthroughs of the site.  The ultimate goals of the project are to stimulate interest in and respect for archaeology and local history, give community members access to their town's history, and to promote an interdisciplinary approach to the sharing of archaeological information.  This project explores public archaeology's practicability at multi-use, private sites as well as strategies for community collaboration and inclusion.  [Key words: historical archaeology, public archaeology, community collaboration, community engagement]

Paper based on a senior project using ethnographic data collected during the semester:

LOW, Sara Ann (Skidmore College) Me, Myself, and the Orcs: Digisociality and Identity in the Virtual Realm of the U.S. Social reality is increasingly involved in the virtual world. Within massive multiplayer online worlds, virtual space has been made real through the devotion of its users as they form identity, navigate terrain, participate in an established economy, create communities, and converse in a unique esoteric language. Through participation, observation, and collaborative research, this study examines the negotiation of identity among a population of users, gamers, and avatars in the communities of Second Life and World of Warcraft. In a context which demands action and presence, the avatar has become the vessel in which the user carries out these performances and locates the body and the self in digital space. Through real emotions and real sensorial experience, identity is being established in these virtual communities and is maintained and developed through social interaction and culture. The study contributes to the study and public discussion of an emerging demographic in contemporary life. [Key words: virtual reality, avatars, online games]

PAPIERZ, Elizabeth (Skidmore College) “Play out the Play”: Performance and Culture at Home Made Theater in Saratoga Springs, NY.  Theaters provide a space where people create and tell stories about the human condition. Ethnographers of local theater productions explore how performance reflects human behavior and has the power to influence people’s thoughts and ideas. This ethnographic study investigates the culture of theater and the ways theater is created for a local audience. Through participant observation of theater productions and interviews with Home Made Theater managers, directors, and other members, the study delves into the mechanics of performance and the process behind the curtains. The conclusion focuses on how performance reflects human behavior and group values and the ways a theater draws on the local cultural context to create a performance. Using an anthropological lens, this study shows the public the value of a theater culture and the performances it creates in a community. [Key words: performance, ethnography, community collaboration; Upstate New York]

Example of an abstract formatted for a final written paper (key words are optional)

ABSTRACT

CHINESE IMITATION ART: QUESTIONS OF GLOBALIZATION, VALUE, AND AUTHENTICITY IN YUNNAN PROVINCE

By

Kathryn B. Chin

The increase in popularity of Chinese antique and art collecting in recent years has led to an increase in counterfeit production. Accurate reproductions and authenticating narratives have allowed fake items to become “real.” Based on guided conversations, interviews, and general observations conducted in Dali, Yunnan, China in May 2012 and follow up fieldwork in the United States, this project examines perspectives on the forces that drive the increase in counterfeit production. The study presents contrasting perspectives of Chinese and American museum curators, government officials, and antique shop owners, and provides insight into the globalization of imitations and questions about the meaning of “authenticity” and value. Because of the negative stigmas that are usually associated with the Chinese counterfeit market, this study explores a different public perspective on a global issue by reaching out to and collaborating with art historians, policy makers, art collectors, and tourists. [Key words: art, counterfeit objects, China]