The Research Paper

Dr. Bindon    Anthropology    Arts & Sciences    University of Alabama
ANT 475    ANT 476    ANT 570  
Paper Topics     Bibliographic Resources     Formatting rules     Rules for Writing      Citations     Suggested Outline

Paper topics: The most important thing in choosing a paper topic is to make sure that your interest is sufficiently engaged so that you can sustain the effort necessary to produce a work that is satisfying both to you and to your instructor. See some of the papers that have been submitted in the past for an idea of a tiny fraction of possible topics (ANT 475 click hereANT 570 click here).  Be sure to do some library work the first or second week of class and then come in to see me to discuss your choice of topic. Only one person per specific topic will be allowed, so choose early.

Bibliographic Resources:  In choosing a paper topic, it is important to do the preliminary bibliographic research to make sure that you will have enough material to write the paper you wish.  For human biology, there are several important online databases that need to be consulted to find recent, appropriate journal references for your paper.  You should make an exhaustive search of four of these in particular.  These are available through the UA Library web site at:  For an excellent introduction to doing bibliographic research at UA, see Dr. Murphy's Bibliographic Search Strategy.

Expanded Academic ASAP:  Choose this source from UA Library Database page.  This resource is accessible both on campus and from home.  This source has bibliographic, abstract, and full text data on a wide array of periodicals useful for anthropological research.  It can be searched by keywords for subjects, journals, authors, etc.

Academic Search Elite:  Choose this source from UA Library Database page.  This resource is accessible both on campus and from home.  This source has bibliographic, abstract, and full text data on a wide array of periodicals useful for anthropological research.  It can be searched by keywords for subjects, journals, authors, etc.

Web of Science: Choose this source from UA Library Database page and select the "Full Search" database.  This resource is accessible both on campus and from home.  This site offers an online search of the Social Science Citation Index, the Science Citation Index, and the Arts & Humanities Citation Index.  If you have a key source or classic article that you have found on your topic, you can enter the information about this article and see who has published work citing the article.  This way you can work forward from an older piece to newer references.  Abstracts of many of the articles are available.  Full bibliographies are available from all of the articles in the database.

Medline:  This provides the most comprehensive online database of health-related journal articles.  It is available to the public and can be accessed from home or campus without going through the UA Library site.

Interlibrary Loan: After finding a suitable set of references, be sure to check that the journals or books are available at the Library.  If they are unavailable in our library and full text versions are unavailable online, you will want to use our online Interlibrary Loan form at:

Start early on your search so you ensure having sufficient resources for your paper.

Paper: Failure to meet a deadline on the paper will be penalized by reducing the grade on the late element of your paper by one letter grade per weekday. We will follow the Author’s Guide for the American Journal of Physical Anthropology for format and for how to cite references.

Your paper must be submitted as an e-mail attachment, using some version of Word as your word processor or saving your document in a word file format.  This paper will be posted to the web so that other students can critique your work.

Formatting rules

Rules for Writing Research Papers

  1. Make an outline (see a suggestion for the outline) that proceeds logically to make all of your points and stick to this outline.  The outline should take the form of a brief introduction (See #2), a brief statement of any methods you will be using other than literature review, a critical review of the published research that is relevant to your paper, a conclusion where you consider limitations of your study, compare your findings with those of others, and project areas of potential future research based on your findings.  A well organized paper should never contain redundancies or statements about redundancies such as "as mentioned above".  You should use your outline headings as section labels in your paper.

  2. Your introduction should be no more than a couple of paragraphs, usually less than one page, and should end with a concise statement of the purpose of your paper ("The purpose of this paper is to. . . "), and how you intend to accomplish it, following your outline.

  3. Your primary research technique will be a review of the literature on your topic.  If you are culling data from various sources to conduct further statistical or other analyses, be sure to state your criteria for accepting or rejecting data clearly, and provide a full discussion of all of your analytic techniques.

  4. In reviewing the concepts and literature on your topic, be critical.  Simply because something is published, even in refereed sources, does not mean the authors are interpreting their findings correctly.  Examine your sources to make sure the authors are justified in their conclusions.  Consider alternative explanations of the findings if applicable.  It is fine to have an opinion so long as it is based on a reasonable consideration of the available information.
    In reviewing your sources, there are several rules to remember:

    1. DO NOT MAKE UNSUPPORTED ASSERTIONS. This is the most common error made in research papers.  If you wish to make a point, present the evidence, as specifically as possible, that applies to the point, and evaluate its relevance. Use the literature sources you have uncovered. The only statements not attributed to some author or authors should be those based on your own first hand experience, or your conclusions and your criticisms of the published work you are including in your paper.

    2. Present REAL DATA from your studies, do not just discuss what the authors found. E.g., do not say "they ate more meat," say "Aardvark (1992) found Carbon13/Carbon12 isotope ratios of 0.014 in group X and 0.035 in group Y, indicating that group Y ate more meat than group X." Just citing the source is NOT presenting evidence--the evidence is in the source, but you must dig it out and present it.

    3. Appeals to authority do not constitute valid evidence in support of an argument. I.e., statements such as, "most anthropologists agree," "several studies show," or "Dr. Joe Blow of the Harvard School of Public Health says. . . " For this reason, first names and affiliations are inappropriate. Who says it does not count, it is the quality of the evidence--as reviewed by you--that the author presents that counts.

    4. Always go to the original sources. Review articles and texts are good for building your bibliography, but do not trust the authors of these secondary sources to get the facts correct or to interpret them correctly. Encyclopedia articles and popular magazines such as Time, Newsweek, Discover, are NOT appropriate sources for research papers.

    5. Include tables and figures, especially maps for work examining several groups.  Be sure to use proper attribution for these elements with citations including page number, as for direct quotes. When incorporating tables or figures, you need to re-label them with the appropriate table or figure number for your paper, not the number from the original source. Also, make sure the legend or title you put on the table or figure relates to its use in your paper. You MUST refer to and discuss each table or figure in the text of the paper, it is not enough to simply stick it in among the pages.

    6. Use direct quotes only when they are especially pertinent and cover an important point.  Reserve the use of quotation marks for direct quotes.  You must give the page number, for example, (Bindon, 1982:181) for direct quotes. You should keep direct quotes to an absolute minimum in any research paper.

      Sentence structure with quotes: The sentence that includes the quote must be grammatically correct.  Your material will have to be written so as to place the quoted material in appropriate grammatical context.  If this is not possible the quote will have to be edited using [brackets] and/or ellipses ( . . . ) to denote changes.

      Omitting material from a quote:  Ellipses (space period space period space period space) are used to denote the omission of material from a direct quote.  Ellipses are generally not to be used at the beginning or ending of a quote. 

      Long quote format: If the quote is more than one sentence, or more than three text lines, go to long quote format which is indented ½" from left and right margins and is single spaced.  No quotation marks are required, although the citation must go at the end of the last line.  To indent both margins in Word, use the Format, Paragraph menu commands and in the dialog box, under Indentation set both left and right at 0.5".  You can also set the line spacing to single in this dialog box.

      Quoting without noting: If you copy directly from a source without noting that it is a quote and properly referencing it, YOU ARE COMMITTING PLAGIARISM.

      (For more on quotations CLICK HERE)

    7. When not quoting, paraphrase succinctly. It should take you substantially fewer words to get the point across than it did the original author. There is no BS credit in research papers, and in fact, the more irrelevant verbiage I have to wade through to get your point the more annoyed I will be, so include only the most relevant material.

  5. A research paper is not a mystery. Do not introduce critical material at the end of the paper to come to a dramatic conclusion.  We should have all of the relevant information by the time the discussion commences.

  6. Run your spell checker on your document twice before submitting.

  7. Proof READ your document. The spell checker will not pick up missing lines, misspelled words, basic grammar errors, and seriously deficient logic.

  8. Have someone else read your paper. If you have flawed logic embedded in your work, it has been part of your creation process, and you are unlikely to catch it. Let another person help you find the glitches.

  9. Some common grammatical problems:

  1. Make sure all verbs are correct for all subjects (subject-verb agreement). This agreement is most frequently violated for the word "data". Data are plural, datum is singular. You will find data, singular, as an acceptable use in most dictionaries, however, this is a lay or colloquial usage and NOT appropriate for a scientific research paper.  (For More on subject-verb agreement Click Here)

  2. Check on the antecedents to your pronouns. To whom or what does they or it refer? If the antecedent is not the last named group or item, you need to restructure your sentence.  Also be sure to check for singular versus plural agreement between pronouns and antecedents. (For More Click Here)

  3. Use parallel construction, be especially careful when linking series of phrases to use the same construction (verb, noun, modifier, etc.). (For More Click Here)

  4. Punctuation problems include misuse of commas, colons, semicolons, and dashes.Most people misuse semi-colons (;) and dashes (--). Unless you are certain you know how to use these, avoid them by breaking the sentence into smaller, direct and active sentences.  Also, always use two spaces after the punctuation terminating a sentence.  (For More on General Punctuation Click Here) (For More on semi-colons Click Here) (For More on dashes Click Here)

  5. Do not confuse affect and effect. 

  6. Avoid elaborate or any other kind of parenthetical statements. Either find a way to include the comment directly in the text or omit the information. This may take some time and effort on your part! (For More Click Here)

  7. Do not switch verb tense between past and present gratuitously. Be consistent. Since you are working with published results, past tense is usually the most appropriate. 

  8. Do not confuse its, the apostrophe-less possessive form of it, with it's, the contraction of it is, which you should not be using.  Possessive pronouns such as his and hers do not take apostrophes and the same is true of its.  When discussing inanimate objects, it is best to use the "of" form for possessives rather than the apostrophe form; "the back of the house" sounds better than "the house's back," which gives the house human qualities. 

  9. Colloquialisms are not appropriate in a research paper.  Do not use contractions for verb forms (isn't, don't, weren't, etc.) since you are preparing a formal writing project and these are colloquial forms.

  10. Make sure all sentences are sentences, do not leave fragments floating in your text.  A sentence fragment is a piece of a sentence which has been punctuated as if it were a complete sentence. Usually it is a phrase or subordinate clause which has been improperly separated from a main clause.  (For More on Sentence Fragments Click Here)

  11. Sentences can become confusing because of awkward construction, missing words, or simply from being too long.  Avoid sentences that are too long.  The longer the sentence grows the more likely it is that you will screw it up and the more likely it is that your reader will become confused.  If you have a sentence that is running on for several lines, chances are you should go back and rewrite it into a couple of shorter more straight-forward sentences.  Your readers will thank you.  (For More on Writing Sentences Click Here)

  12. Avoid overusing relative pronouns such as which and that. Often they can be eliminated by rewriting the sentence in a more direct manner.

  13. Avoid overusing meaningless qualifiers such as quite, extremely and very. Words such as these have lost their potency through overuse, and have become filler.  Also stay away from phrases like "a great many of . . ." and "a great deal of . . ." and the old standby, "in general".

  14. Avoid ponderous or vague constructions such as despite the fact that, due to the fact that, an aspect of, and the use of.

10. How to Cite References in the Text:

You must cite sources for all information that is not your first-hand research.  Footnotes and endnotes have no place in a biological anthropology research paper.   If the material is important enough to be considered at all, it should be incorporated in the body of the paper.  If it is not important enough to be included in the body of the text it should be omitted anyway! 

The following rules are taken from the Author’s Guide for the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. For more detail please see that source. 

In the body of the text:

        The citation must be incorporated in the sentence.  It comes before the period, not dangling after the punctuation between sentences.  The citation is also part of a long quote, coming inside the punctuation.


. . . Bindon (1994) discussed… or …is discussed (Bindon, 1994a; 1994b)… for a single authored piece--use a, b, etc. for multiple pieces by the same author(s) in a single year

. . . Bindon and Crews (1993) discussed . . .  or . . . is discussed (Bindon and Crews, 1993) . . . for two authors

. . . Bindon et al. (1991) discussed . . . or . . . is discussed (Bindon et al., 1991) . . . for three or more authors

. . . is discussed by many workers (Bindon, 1994; Bindon and Crews, 1993) for a list of citations, they should be arranged in alphabetical order then by date, separating references by semi-colons.

. . . Bindon and Baker (1997) argue for a modification of Bergmann's rule based on the thrifty genotype:

Thus it may be that the relationship of body weight to temperature which Roberts found would closely resemble that found in our more recent results provided corrections were made for the thrifty genotype in some groups which exhibit the unusual ability to gain weight very rapidly in a modernizing context (Bindon and Baker, 1997:209).

For direct quotes the page number must be included following the year and a colon.

11. How to List in the References Cited:

Only list those references that you have actually cited in the body of the paper--not ones you consulted but did not cite.

The name of the author or authors must be included in every reference, not omitted for multiple publications by the same author or authors.

The list of references MUST be double-spaced, in single paragraph form, with the first line hanging (second and subsequent lines indented 1/2" from the left margin).

The list of references must be alphabetized by author name, and multiple sources by the same author or authors should be arranged chronologically.  Multiple publications by the same author in the same year must be designated a, b, etc. in the order they are encountered in the text and listed in the references in the same order.

Bindon JR, and PT Baker. 1997. Bergmann's rule and the thrifty genotype.  American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 104:201-210.

Journal Articles reference format:

Bindon JR. 1994. Some implications of the diet of children in American Samoa. Collegium Anthropologicum, 18:7-15.

Bindon JR, and DE Crews. 1993. Changes in some health status characteristics of American Samoan men: a 12 year follow up study. American Journal of Human Biology, 5:31-38.

Bindon JR, Crews DE, and WW Dressler. 1991. Life style, modernization, and adaptation among Samoans. Collegium Anthropologicum, 15:101-110. 

(Note that et al. is not acceptable in your list of references.)

Chapter in Edited Volume reference format:

Bindon JR. 1997. Coming of age of human adaptation studies in Samoa. In Ulijaszek SJ and Huss-Ashmore RA, editors. Human adaptability: past, present, and future. New York, Oxford University Press. p 126-156.

Bindon JR, and SM Zansky. 1986. Growth and morphology. In Baker PT, Hanna JM, and TS Baker, editors. The changing Samoans: behavior and health in transition. New York: Oxford University Press. p 222-253.

Book reference format:

Dressler WW. 1991. Stress and adaptation in the context of culture: depression in a southern Black community. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Web site:  For a website, the first element would be the individual or registered name (give as much information as possible), the year follows, then city (if applicable/available), the revision date (the revision date must be given), and the URL address. The in-text citation would be (WHO, 1999).

WHO Country Health Information Profile: Samoa. 1999.  Manila, Philippines. (July 1, 1999);

A suggested outline for the research paper

I.                    Introduction

A.     Brief statement of the context of your topic within biological anthropology

B.    Specific statement of purpose, e.g., to examine the impact of socioeconomic modernization on obesity and obesity-related health problems among the Polynesian populations of Fiji and Easter Island

II.                  Literature Review

A.     First area of your focus, e.g., models of adaptation to caloric deprivation

1.      Genetic Models

2.      Developmental Models

3.      Behavioral Models

B.    Second area of focus, e.g., socioeconomic modernization

1.      Generalizations about modernization

2.      Specific conditions

C.    Population or populations that you will deal with in your paper

1.      Background about population(s)—what do we need to know to understand the application of the theoretical models to the population(s)?

III.                Study results

A.     Specific data about the population(s) derived from your literature sources

1.      What is likely to have affected the gene pool

2.      What do we know about growth and development in the population(s)

3.      Diet, activity, and other behavioral data on the population(s)

IV.               Discussion

A.     Limitations or qualifications of your findings: What problems do you see with the data you are using to analyze your results

B.    How do the data you have reviewed agree or conflict with your model

1.      Genetics

2.      Growth and development

3.      Diet, activity, and other behavioral data

C.    Conclusions based on your findings

D.    Suggestions for future research related to this topic

V.    List of References Cited (Alphabetized, format as above)