6- Drafting Your Ethnographic Essay

Chap­ter 6 pro­vides a step-by-step process for devel­op­ing, writ­ing, and revis­ing your ethno­graph­ic research essay.

Finding a Focus, Choosing a Controlling Idea for Your Research

The first step in find­ing a focus is to read through all of your field­notes two times. As you read, notice when and where you become par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in what you have writ­ten. Cir­cle, mark or note these pas­sages in some way. Write a brief sum­ma­ry of each idea/passage on a sep­a­rate sheet. After you iden­ti­fy what inter­ests you most, move on to search for pat­terns that will lead you to focus.  You can fol­low the step-by step-process below as a path to cre­ate a kind of umbrel­la or guid­ing focus state­ment for your essay:

  1. Read through the list you com­piled from your field­notes and iden­ti­fy which parts of your field­notes inter­est and engage you most. Look at the larg­er arc. Are most of your points tak­en from your thoughts and feel­ings or are you more inter­est­ed in the analy­sis obser­va­tion?
  2. Search for pat­terns in your list, and make a new list of those pat­terns. Keep an eye out for things that strike you as mean­ing­ful and inter­est­ing and that hap­pen again and again.  As you explore pat­terns, also look for things con­nect­ed to those pat­terns.  Find pat­terns with­in pat­terns. how do you con­nect ideas with lan­guage?  Do you seem to repeat­ed­ly use the same phras­es?  When and with respect to what obser­va­tions?  This may help iden­ti­fy rel­e­vant pat­ters of obser­va­tion.
  3. From your list of pat­terns and con­nec­tions, select the ONE larg­er idea/pattern that inter­ests you most. You know you’re on to some­thing if you find a pat­tern and can see how it con­nects to oth­er obser­va­tions you’ve made dur­ing your research and /or to what oth­er schol­ars or writ­ers have said.
  4. Take that one inter­est­ing idea/pattern and devel­op an “umbrel­la” state­ment or a broad focus state­ment. You can start, for draft­ing pur­pos­es, with some­thing as sim­ple as “In this paper, I will…(discuss, explore, explain, ana­lyze, etc.).”  Here you are artic­u­lat­ing the big idea for your essay. You can always return to the state­ment to make is more sophis­ti­cat­ed in the con­text of a focus para­graph lat­er,
  5. Expand that state­ment by break­ing the pat­tern that you are focus­ing on into any num­ber of sup­port­ing obser­va­tions. Fol­low your ini­tial broad or umbrel­la focus state­ment with that break down. “First, I will….Second…Third….” with each of those state­ments spec­i­fy­ing the sup­port­ing mate­r­i­al. These first, sec­ond, and third state­ments pro­vide the frame­work for the body sec­tions of your research essay.

As you exam­ine pat­terns you find in your own com­pre­hen­sive obser­va­tion list and look for an idea, theme, or metaphor to con­nect them, keep in mind the ways in which a focus moves from obser­va­tions to a more devel­oped dis­cus­sion of the ideas you note.  As you con­nect the dots of your pat­tern, you may begin to under­stand where your essay could “land,” which impli­ca­tions become most com­pelling to you, and which ele­ments for dis­cus­sion could make clear the com­plex­i­ty of real­i­ty and truth.  When you iden­ti­fy some of these more pow­er­ful ele­ments, take the time to write about any con­nec­tions you see between those pat­terns or expand on any unfin­ished thoughts. From this list, you need to choose the idea/pattern that inter­ests you most, that you think you can real­ly write about, and that you can sup­port with oth­er obser­va­tions from your notes. You have found your focus!