We strongly suggest that authors read the open-access article titled “Tell the Story: How to Write for American Ethnologist.” The article develops at much greater length the themes summarized here and provides additional advice about writing a successful submission. Following the suggestions made in the article and below will greatly increase the possibility that your manuscript will be accepted.


The journal aims to be accessible to a broad readership that spans all of social and cultural anthropology. Authors must therefore write in clear and precise prose, avoiding unnecessary jargon and taking care to explain unfamiliar concepts.


Authors should avoid using metacommunicative frames such as “In this article, I argue,” “I describe,” “I maintain,” and the like. Simply state your ideas upfront. Likewise, such statements as “This article contributes to a growing body of anthropological scholarship” should be substituted with explicit statements of your theoretical contribution. Moreover, ideas should be the backbone of your arguments, rather than authors, publications, “literatures,” or “research.” These issues are particularly relevant in your abstract, where self-referential “noise” takes up valuable space.

Title and abstract

The title and abstract are two of the manuscript’s most important elements, for two reasons: reviewers use them to decide whether to review the manuscript, and, after publication, they are the only part of the article that is freely available online. Moreover, search engines use the title and abstract, along with the keywords, to locate the article. Writing a good title and abstract therefore greatly increases the article’s chances of being viewed and cited. Titles that are “cute” or based on inside jokes can be self-defeating.

Constructing a clear descriptive title and subtitle

Search engines use the title and subtitle to identify all the important words that define an article’s topic. This is why it is crucial to write a clear, accurate title and subtitle that include search terms readers are likely to use when researching a particular topic. To further broaden the article’s reach, write your titles so as to be understandable to readers outside the discipline.

Constructing a clear and engaging abstract

Readers use the abstract to decide whether to read the article. In some cases scholars will cite an article having read only the abstract. Thus, an abstract should be clear, engaging, and precise, and it should explicitly state the article’s original contribution. The abstract can use words and short phrases from the article but should, if possible, avoid repeating whole passages.

Carefully selecting keywords

Keywords enhance the article’s online discoverability. They should be drawn from the title, subtitle, and abstract, and should be terms that perform an important analytic function in the article.

The following are examples of well-written titles and abstracts, along with well-chosen keywords:

There might be blood: Oil, humility, and the cosmopolitics of a Cofán petro-being

A central directive of recent writings on cosmopolitics and ontology is that critically minded anthropologists should “humble” themselves and view their subjects’ statements as propositions that disclose multiple real worlds. An exploration of Cofán people’s uncertainty regarding the idea that oil is the blood of a sacred mythological being—a position that romanticizing Westerners repeatedly attribute to them—calls into question the implications of the call for anthropological humility. Cofán discussions of oil’s sanguinary nature demonstrate that the best way to comprehend the intellectual agency of our collaborators is to acknowledge, rather than ignore, the social, pragmatic, and epistemological contours of their discourse, cosmological or otherwise. [cosmopolitics, ontology, oil, indigeneity, Cofán, Ecuador, Amazonia]

The makeup of destiny: Predestination and the labor of hope in a Moroccan emigrant town

As young women in a Moroccan emigrant town search for suitable husbands, they frame seemingly irreverent practices such as using makeup and premarital romances as ways to precipitate their unknown conjugal destinies. This complex “labor of hope” flows from the Islamic precept of predestination, which, far from being a fatalistic backdrop to social life, compels people to act in the human world in view of a future that has already been divinely determined. Here, destiny effectively “folds” Islam into the very texture of mundane practices that, on the surface, may seem not just distant from Islam but even antithetical to it. This phenomenon obliges us to recast Max Weber's argument on predestination and action, as well as to reconsider current anthropological debates on “everyday Islam.” [destiny, migration, hope, courtship, future, Islam, Morocco]