Using skills practiced in the Literature review, the student will prepare an Outline essay, which involves developing the essential elements of a good essay in outline form. The Outline essay will involve choosing one of the Outline essay topics, or proposing a topic based on a lecture topic or reading in our unit outline, and preparing an introduction (approximately one page), an outline of evidence and how the argument would be structured (citing the sources), conclusion which discusses the implications, reservations and importance of the argument and a references cited list. The whole document should be less than four pages.
Your introduction and conclusion NEED TO BE DOUBLE SPACED. Your outline and bibliography can be SINGLE-SPACED, but put an extra space in where necessary to make it more readable. The key is readability, but the text portions (intro and conclusion) have to be double-spaced in case we need to write something on your copy.
Topics provided below are general guides; students are encouraged to refine them and make them more specific, as will be clear from the list of topics. A good outline essay will have its own sense of argument. In addition, if a student has a special interest in a topic not listed, but linked to the topics in the Unit Outline, that student is encouraged to propose the topic to the tutor or unit convenor. The only time that we will discourage a topic is if we think that it is unsuitable and will not provide an opportunity to produce a strong Outline essay.
Steps in a producing an outline essay:
1) Choose a topic and start conducting research. Use the same approach from the literature review: locate good sources from peer reviewed journals, read them, see what sources they cite or what has been written since on the same subject (use Web of Science or other academic data base).
2) Start writing immediately! Students often think that they should only write at the end, but this can often be a disaster and form of procrastination. Write something after you read anything interesting.
3) As you go, prepare your bibliography and start arranging your outline page. The outline page should, by the end, but a series of key points, numbered, with a brief note of supporting material (short quotes from authors, citations of the key texts, several facts that would go with the key point if you were to write it up as a paragraph). It must include citations.
Key points are like paragraphs in the body of an essay. So each key point is the collection of material that you think would make a good paragraph. I would expect at least 4 but probably no more than 7 or 8 key points in your outline.
4) Once you’ve finished with the outline and already have a pretty good bibliography, write the introduction and conclusion. For the introduction, you need to focus on ‘the hook,’ the thing that draws your reader in and presents the key question, debate or problem you will be discussing. That is, you need to put the key over-arching issue up in the very first long paragraph, giving the reader some sense of why it’s important.
5) Proofread! When you proofread, reading OUT LOUD is the best way to do it. Cut out things that sound weird, catch yourself repeating words, and trim flabby writing (most essays read smarter when they are shorter). If you can’t successfully read something out loud, it’s not well written; it might be overly convoluted, fragmented, or just a run-on sentence. See the ‘writing advice’ sheet posted in handouts for the most common writing problems. Presentation MATTERS in this assessment as in everything in life, and the last 10% of effort can translate into a major difference in your final mark, just like the last 100m of a race can lead to a big difference in the outcome. If you get lazy at the very end or don’t give yourself enough time, it’s like putting your resume together and then not caring how it prints out, or preparing for a job interview and then showing up late.
Writing a good introduction
The best way to start an essay is quickly, not to waffle around or present sweeping, overly-broad statements. Bad introductions tend to be padded, overly vague, and don’t get to the point until the very end. If you’re in the habit of writing your introduction first, you need to get in the habit of going back and fixing it at the end. It’s normal to write vaguely at first, but you want to replace this before you turn it in for assessment.
A BAD introduction might start something like, ‘Since time immemorial, humans have wondered what makes humans human. They’ve thought about it, sometimes they’ve gone for a walk to think about it, and they’ve even done anthropology. The dictionary defines “anthropology” as…’ That’s a BAD introduction. It’s too vague, wastes our time, doesn’t actually get to the subject, and frustrates the reader.
A GOOD introduction dives right in, it doesn’t waffle around or make vague statements. A good introduction doesn’t just summarize the essay (it can, but doesn’t have to summarize), but it DOES give the reader a sense of the argument or debate or central question of the essay. For example:
‘The advent of genetic sequencing presented new evidence about the old question in paleoanthropology: “Did neandertals become extinct, or did some of human ancestors interbreed with them?” The earliest research on mitochondrial DNA suggested that neandertals died out, leaving no trace in modern populations, but other forms of evidence have supported the opposite argument, that we are, at least in part, their descendants.” OR
‘The fortuitous discovery of the Laetoli footprints provided clear evidence that 3.5 million years ago, hominins were walking upright. Although the discovery helped anthropologists to demonstrate that bipedalism was ancient, however, the footprints did not clarify why humans walked upright. The discovery of the remains of Ardipithecus, in contrast, suggests that we need to understand bipedalism, not as an adaptation, but as an exaptation.’
In other words, a good introduction is dynamic and engaging by fronting the central question of the essay. It says, if you like this idea or want to know more, keep reading! You can use a (short) story to get people engaged as long as the story presents the key question or debate, but you don’t have to use a story.
Writing a conclusion:
A good conclusion acts like a summary, but it isn’t written like one. DO NOT sit down and write, ‘First, I showed that… Then, I discussed…’ BORING! Instead, when you finish, ask yourself, ‘If a person only reads two paragraphs in my essay, the introdution and the conclusion, what do I want them to take away from it?’ Then, write. When you finish that, ask yourself, ‘Why the h*** should anyone care about this?’ Then, write.
With those notes, you should be able to craft a great conclusion. A good conclusion gives a strong sense of the central argument or thesis of the essay, and it also gives a sense of the significance of the argument, or why anyone should care. A good conclusion makes people go, ‘Yeah, I see that now!’ and ‘Wow, now that I think about it, this matters!’ It doesn’t make people go, ‘oh, god, I’ve already read this.’
Choosing good sources:
Students sometimes have trouble figuring out which pieces are reputable and can be trusted, and which can’t be. The gold standard for the best research appears in peer-reviewed journals (those which only publish articles after review by other scholars) and in books published by the strongest university presses (rule of thumb: if you haven’t heard of the university, it may not be the strongest press). There are exceptions, but these are generally the best sources to go on. One way to know that you’re NOT dealing with a strong source is that the writer is not referencing their sources; an article without a good references list and either in-text citations or footnotes is almost certainly not one of the best sources.
Try to get some variety in your sources so that you don’t wind up only working with one person’s opinions (unless that’s your specific goal). For example, if you keep finding the same author writing about a topic, consider finding someone who disagrees, to see if the counter-arguments are strong. You may be surprised how some people will continue to drum on about something when other researchers have punched huge holes in their arguments, sometimes continuing with a controversial theory for years.
Also considering getting a variety of journals; focus on peer-review, but don’t just quote from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sometimes journals can get in a rut as well, and really interesting, challenging stuff has to come from other journals.
In general, though, remember that these essays are practice for developing your research skills and we want you to demonstrate these skills, not simply choose the easiest, first things you find. If we see a pattern that looks lazy or overly hasty, this will not look good for the assessment.
Integrating your sources into your argument
When working with research, students tend to commit two opposite errors; either they 1) don’t make much reference to their sources and don’t let the reader know how the argument is supported, or 2) just life whole sections either with or without attribution. Both of these are a problem, and both are pretty obvious when we see them (although we’re certainly fallible as markers).
Study how other people, whose writing you like, work with their sources and use them. For example, if there’s a good article in the reader, notice how the author talks about other people’s ideas, especially if it’s an article from a good journal (Scientific American, for example, is a bit more popular and doesn’t do this well, even though it’s nice writing). Don’t be afraid of referring to authors by their names in the text (you can usually just use last names) and also think about quoting just phrases or terms when they’re particularly good (just put the citation at the end of the sentence).
But make sure you understand something that you’re quoting. Often, students will quote paragraphs from a text and then not explain them or tie them into their argument. Sometimes, the paragraph will even say something different to, tangential from, or even opposed to what the student seems to be arguing. This is one of the dangers of over-quoting; make sure that you control the ideas.
Submission and return:
Please pick up a cover form from and submit your essay to the Faculty of Arts Student Centre, W6A Level 1, Foyer of Ground Floor.
The essay is due Wednesday 27 October during Week 11 (this is changed from outline!).
Every effort will be made to return these prior to the final exam; a posting will be made when they are available on the Blackboard unit, and they will be available to be picked up from the Arts Student Centre.
Always keep a copy of your work to avoid any problems if the essay gets misplaced.
For the six assessment criteria, see the last section of the unit outline, Writing Anthropology Essays, and the assessment rubrics, which will be available online.
Why we’re doing this:
Research skills are an essential part of any university education. Whether you’re going into commerce or government or law or engineering or management, you’re going to come across questions that force you to go look for answers. We want you to learn how to do this, how to assess sources of information or arguments, and how to report your findings. Even if your job title does not say, ‘researcher,’ you’re likely to find that you will want to have these skills, to be able to up-skill yourself and teach yourself about new subjects.
The essay outline format makes you do the research work, and to focus on the key areas of introducing the concepts and discussing significance, without making your mark just about your writing skills. One danger with essays is that people with good writing skills often get high marks, even though their research skills do not improve. In contrast, if people have a hard time with writing, they can get marked down for their writing even though they’ve done the crucial legwork and understand the sources.
Although this essay outline does not do away entirely with either problem, it makes your mark more contingent upon your research skills and doesn’t force you to spend the majority of your time on the finer points of writing. Collecting material, arranging it into an outline of a single page, allows you to concentrate on the material and it’s organization, not the final form or polishing.
Outline essay and literature review topics
Please note that the literature review target article must be published in 2021 or 2022 (the last two years). Your outline essay should also include some sources from 2021 or 2022.
With all of these questions, you are not expected to answer every part. They are intended to provoke you to think about the material and for you to make conclusions about the significance of research. Most of these questions are too long and complex for you to attempt to fully answer all parts of it, so you will need to choose and make the arguments and discussions that you think are most interesting and effective. You do not need to recopy the question: just use the question title.
1. Denisovan or Neandertal DNA: Geneticist Svante Pääbo won the 2022 Nobel Prize for his efforts to recover DNA from ancient humans and to trace our genetic history. He has published more than a dozen articles in the last year alone, and over eighty in the last five. Choose one of his recent articles on either Denisovans or Neanderthals as a target article to discuss how genetic evidence is changing our understanding of human origins. How does this genetic evidence contribute to our understanding of contemporary human populations? How is our understanding of Homo sapiens as a ‘species’ disrupted by the genetic evidence?
2. Burial: In his 2011 book, The Palaeolithic Origins of Human Burial, Paul Pettitt observes that only select people were buried with lavish grave goods while most people were not buried at all. If archaeological evidence reveals a relative absence of paleolithic graves without lavish grave goods, then what kinds of hypotheses can we entertain about burial? What kinds of assumption about human burial can we call into question? Pettitt's book has been cited almost 300 times since 2017. Choose an article from these citing articles as your target article and discuss what conservative conclusions we might be able to make about early human burial.
3. Bipedalism: Increased terrestrial life selecting for habitual bipedalism is one of many incomplete hypotheses that partially explain why humans have become obligate bipeds. What are some of the competing and complementary theories of bipedalism? What does each theory or one theory in particular contribute to our understanding of how bipedalism was selected? What is the evidence supporting the theories you discuss? Why is our existing origin story of bipedalism incomplete?
4. Agricultural revolution: Yuval Noah Harari has forwarded an alluring reframing of the Agricultural Revolution by prompting people to imagine this significant shift from the viewpoint of wheat. Harari argues that wheat domesticated Homo sapiens. Wheat, Harari suggests, manipulated humans to clear stones as well as undesirable plants from fields in order to provide exclusive landscape for its Wheat offspring. David Graeber and David Graeber, in their recent book, The Dawn of Everything, criticise this 'just-so' story claiming, ‘Once again, we’re back in the Garden of Eden. Except now, it’s not a wily serpent who tricks humanity into sampling the forbidden fruit of knowledge. It’s the fruit itself (i.e. the cereal grains).’ What are some of the recent findings that are challenging older understandings of the Agricultural Revolution? How is our understanding of the Agricultural Revolution becoming more complex, rich, and nuanced? What data could help fill the gaps in our knowledge?
5. Indigenous Australians: Genetic evidence reveals that Aboriginal people have independently inhabited the Australian continent for more than 50,000 years. To determine the timeline of inhabitation of Australia, what forms of evidence have been found? How are theorists piecing together the data to form an understanding of early Australian Aboriginals? Which hypotheses about the origins of the first Australians have been discarded and which have been sustained?
6. Human migration evidence: New research is contributing significantly to our understanding of human migrations, including to the Americas and to the islands of the Pacific, in part by drawing on many different strains of evidence, some of them quite subtle and surprising. Find a recent article discussing genetic, archaeological, biological, or other evidence of early human migrations. Which theories to the author see their evidence as confirming or refuting? How do they account for competing information or arguments? What questions do they argue are incomplete? Trace how theories about human arrivals to same area over time (that is, multiple scientific researchers over time) have changed as new evidence has become available.
7. Diet: Human coprolite analysis from the archaeological remains of our earliest ancestors reveals a varied diet that even included insects. While insects might rate poorly on a food neophobia scale today, insects may have been an important source of nutrition. What evidence is there for the role of diet and dietary change in human evolution? Which specific dietary changes among our ancestors do researchers pinpoint as instrumental to the emergence of modern humans? How do evolutionary theorists argue that one or more of these changes played a role in human evolution?
8. Niche construction: Different sources of evidence contribute to our understanding of how humans have shaped their environments, including archaeological evidence of the way humans transformed the plants, animals and landscapes around them. Choose a recent article on the topic of how humans have changed or are changing the environment and discuss how these changes might have affected or are likely to affect human evolution.
9. Homo naledi: Homo naledi was first discovered in 2013, and the excavation of H. naledi remains have been some of the most publicly available palaeoanthropology research ever shared widely. How have recent discoveries about H. naledi influenced our account of human evolution? Why is H. naledi significant or controversial? What new discoveries have shaped our understanding of hominin development in the last half million years?
10. Evolution and social life: New discoveries in neuroscience, child development, and paleo-archaeology sometimes affect our understanding of early hominin social life, family structure, childbirth, or child rearing. Drawing on recent research, how is our understanding of early hominin social life affected by our research on our origins? What are some of the dangers about drawing on evolutionary evidence to theorise about human reproductive strategies, early social life, or contemporary issues?