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From Notes to Narrative

Writing Ethnographies That Everyone Can Read

Ethnography centers on the culture of everyday life. So it is ironic that most scholars who do research on the intimate experiences of ordinary people write their books in a style that those people cannot understand. In recent years, the ethnographic method has spread from its original home in cultural anthropology to fields such as sociology, marketing, media studies, law, criminology, education, cultural studies, history, geography, and political science.  Yet, while more and more students and practitioners are learning how to write ethnographies, there is little or no training on how to write ethnographies well.

 From Notes to Narrative picks up where methodological training leaves off.  Kristen Ghodsee, an award-winning ethnographer, addresses common issues that arise in ethnographic writing. Ghodsee works through sentence-level details, such as word choice and structure. She also tackles bigger-picture elements, such as how to incorporate theory and ethnographic details, how to effectively deploy dialogue, and how to avoid distracting elements such as long block quotations and in-text citations. She includes excerpts and examples from model ethnographies. The book concludes with a bibliography of other useful writing guides and nearly one hundred examples of eminently readable ethnographic books.


“In these troubling times, it is the obligation of social scientists to produce knowledge that confronts social and political complexity with a clarity and verve that promotes the common good. Through enviably crisp and concise prose, Ghodsee crafts a variety of chapters, some conceptual (“Choose a Subject You Love,” “Integrate Your Theory”), some more practical (“Embrace Dialogue,” “Master Good Grammar and Syntax”), that show us how to write compelling ethnographic narratives. What’s more, Ghodsee provides well-integrated examples from ethnographic texts that are models of ‘how it is done.’ Given the challenges of our times, this work should be required reading for all social scientists.”

Paul Stoller, author of Yaya’s Story: The Quest for Well-Being in the World

"Ethnography lives and dies in its writing. Wide-eyed graduate students and field-wary scholars alike will find useful tips in From Notes to Narrative. There are valuable strategies within these pages, for every stage of the process, and sparkling examples all along the way."

Jonathan R. Wynn, author of Music/City: American Festivals and Placemaking in Austin, Nashville, and Newport

“Thank you, Kristen Ghodsee, for offering an absolutely essential guide to ethnographic writing. I fervently hope From Notes to Narrative will be read by every aspiring ethnographic writer, and, most of all, that its lessons will be put into practice. I can’t wait to read the books that will come from this book!”

Ruth Behar, author of Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys

Table of Contents

Introduction: Why Write Clearly?

1.         Choose a Subject You Love
2.         Put Yourself into the Data
3.         Incorporate Ethnographic Detail
4.         Describe Places and Events
5.         Integrate Your Theory
6.         Embrace Dialogue
7.         Include Images
8.         Minimize Scientism
9.         Unclutter Your Prose
10.       Master Good Grammar and Syntax
11.       Revise!
12.       Find Your Process


Suggested Reading and Bibliography

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