Appendix 3: Writing guidelines

In writing theses and coursework, the following conventions and guidelines may be adopted as standard in anthropology today:


  1. The Oxford dictionary for writers and editors and Hart’s rules give appropriate guidance on spellings and other detailed aspects of the editing and preparation of manuscripts in UK English. American spellings and punctuation are acceptable, provided consistency is observed throughout (for American English, see the Chicago manual of style).
  2. An abstract of up to 250 words is required for MPhil and MSc theses. A preface is not required, though one may be provided (outside the word count), for example, to record any acknowledgements.
  3. Although there is no rule for master’s theses, double-sided printing using double-spacing is recommended. Doctoral theses should be double-spaced (main text), with notes and set-off quotes single-spaced. Theses should be paginated throughout.
  4. Times New Roman or similar is a good choice for the main typeface. There is rarely any need to mix typefaces. The main text and bibliography should be 12 point in size, set-off quotes 11 point, footnotes or endnotes 10 point. Your word-processing program will probably automatically set footnotes or endnotes in a smaller type size than the main text.
  5. Single quotation marks should be used for quotations, double quotation marks reserved for quotations within quotations. This applies whether the quoted material is from published sources or from field notes, and whether a single word or phrase, or one or more complete sentences. The convention that has grown up of using double quote marks for quoted words and single quote marks for glosses etc. is best avoided, especially as publishers still tend to prefer the former system.
  6. Longer quotations of more than about five lines should be set off from the main text in 11 point type size and indented. They should not be preceded or followed by quote marks, though these should be used within the set-off quote if required (e.g. for a quote within the set-off quote). If a set-off quotation has a reference, it should be placed in brackets after the final full stop, and not have a full stop of its own.
  7. Quotations should normally be in ordinary type, not italics, except for original emphasis or your own special emphasis. The origin of any emphases in quoted passages should be indicated (e.g. ‘emphasis in the original’, versus ‘my emphasis’).
  8. The omission of words from a quotation should be indicated by three points (four at the end of a sentence). Matter you yourself have added to a quotation should be placed in square brackets.
  9. Italics should be used for foreign words cited singly or in small groups, but not for longer quotations that consist of continuous text (which should be treated like ordinary quotations in English). Italics should also be used for book or journal titles cited in the text, but article titles should be in ordinary type within single quote marks.
  10. Exceptions to 9) include names of rituals and organisations, and personal names: even if in a foreign language, these tend to be treated as proper nouns in English, i.e. put in ordinary type with an initial capital letter. In general, any foreign word which would, if in English, be considered a proper noun should treated as if it were English.
  11. Footnotes are preferable to endnotes, the latter being subject to restrictions on their use under the Examination Regulations (q.v.). Footnotes should be kept to a minimum and should normally consist of supplementary text, not of references alone, though references belonging to the text of the footnote itself should, of course, be inserted.
  12. Footnotes should be in 10-point type size (NB: your word-processing program may well automatically set a smaller type size than the main text).
  13. Footnote or endnote numbers in the text should be in superscript: this is usually done automatically by word-processing programs. They should come after any nearby punctuation (full stops, commas, etc.).
  14. All pages of the main text should be numbered using arabic numerals. Roman numbers may (but need not) be used for front matter (generally up to and including the contents page).
  15. Section headings should be carefully and consistently distinguished from one another according to their position in what is basically a hierarchical schema (of sections, sub-sections etc.) by differential numbering and/or lettering, different type sizes or type styles (bold, underlining, italics etc.), though not normally different typefaces. The device ‘1., 1.1., 1.1.1.’, etc., is sometimes useful (see, e.g., JASO 1986, pp. 87 ff.). Although there is an increasing tendency among publishers not to number sections, sub-sections, etc. within a chapter, numbering does make cross-referencing easier.


  1. The ‘Harvard’ system of listing full references in the bibliography and placing only short references in the text, usually in parentheses [e.g. (Smith 2000: 10), where 2000 is the date of publication and 10 the page number], is now standard in anthropology. If no date is given, put ‘n.d.’
  2. Short references should not have commas within them, and the page number is best preceded by a colon rather than a comma: thus ‘Smith 2000: 10’ is clearer than ‘Smith, 2000, 10’.
  3. A number of short references may, however, be separated by commas if without page numbers (e.g. Smith 2000, Jones 2005, Brown 2007); if page numbers are given, then it is clearer to separate such references with semi-colons (e.g. Smith 2000: 10; Jones 2005: 20; Brown 2007: 50).
  4. In the text, the abbreviation ‘et al.’ (note position of full stop!) is used for multi-author references with more than two authors, the first author’s name coming beforehand: e.g. ‘Smith, Jones and Brown 2000’ can be cited as ‘Smith et al. 2000’ (no commas needed, NB). Do not use in the bibliography at the end, but give all names, however many. Do not use for only two authors, but give both names in such cases: e.g. ‘Smith and Jones 2000’.
  5. ‘Ibid.’ (= ibidem, ‘the same’) may be used in textual references to indicate a repeat reference (with or without a fresh page number), but should be used with care, as it may confuse the reader. For example, if a completely different reference is introduced in the intervening passage in a subsequent draft, the ‘ibid.’ will automatically be read as referring to it and not the previous reference. ‘Op. cit.’ (= ‘in the place cited’) is now virtually redundant in anthropology to indicate a repeated reference to a previously cited work. In general, publishers now prefer to avoid both abbreviations.
  6. With page numbers, ‘ff.’ = ‘pages following’, ‘f.’ = ‘page following’. However, it is generally clearer to give the full page span in all cases. The equivalent ‘et seq.’ for ‘ff.’ is now virtually redundant in anthropology.
  7. Page numbers should always be given for direct quotations from another work. Their omission in other cases is often justified (e.g. to cite a work in general terms), but it may also be taken to reflect laziness on the part of the author.
  8. References alone should not normally be put in footnotes, unless there are many that have to be listed together. References should, however, be included in footnotes if they are integral to the text of the footnote.
  9. The full form of all references should be listed at the end of the text in a bibliography in alphabetical order of author’s surname or equivalent identifier (e.g. issuing organization or title of work if no author is given). 
  10. Normally in the bibliography the author’s surname is given first, in full, followed by initials or first names, then the publication date with a full stop. After that comes the title, and, in the case of an article, the title of the book (with editors’ names) or journal in which the article appears.
  11. For articles in journals alone, give the volume number, issue or part number (if any) and page numbers for the article (insert all these at the end, after journal title). Page numbers are not normally required for articles in edited books.
  12. Titles should be in italics in the case of self-standing published items (books, journal titles); but in ordinary type, with or without quotation marks (the latter increasingly being preferred), in the case of articles in journals or in edited volumes. Unpublished theses are best given in ordinary type without quotation marks.
  13. Titles need no longer have initial capital letters for all words, only for the first word of a title (not of a sub-title if preceded by a colon) and wherever they would be required in normal text. The older convention of having initial capitals for all the important words of a title is still valid – indeed, it remains obligatory for journal titles – though it is becoming less popular for titles of books, book chapters and articles. Whichever method is used, it should be used consistently.
  14. Archival references (as distinct from published ones) have their own conventions; see the standard guides mentioned above for detailed advice. You don’t normally need to list your own field notes as references, nor to put ‘personal communication’ to reference informants’ statements, though the latter should be used to cite unpublished information imparted informally by a colleague.
  15. Web sources should consist of the full URL, author and title if known or appropriate, and date accessed (to take account of web updates). These are best placed in footnotes. If there are many, a separate bibliographical list may be provided.
  16. The above is a reasonable and relatively economical method of dealing with presentational issues, but variations may be encountered that are equally valid. Whichever method you choose, be consistent over details and do not deviate markedly from accepted conventions without good reason (such reasons may need specific justification).