Teaching Autoethnography

11. Putting It All Together


Now that students have finished the research for the final project, they need options for putting it all together. As in every other paper they have written this semester, they are a large part of the paper and will use their own experiences, gathered observation, interviews and reflection to create their narratives. In identifying themselves as both members and observers of a subculture, students should communicate a message about the subculture to an outside audience. To be successful, his message should be layered and make use of multiple themes, claims and subtext.

Have students consider the readings they completed and the writing they shared over the semester; any of these pieces can serve as a model for the final format. This is an extended exploration that will add elements to previously practiced forms. This final product’s look is dependent upon the nature of the information they have collected. This work should happen in weeks fourteen and fifteen.

When to Quote, When to Paraphrase from Interviews

One of the first things you can practice when assembling your paper is how to excerpt and interpret texts. This is an essential skill as we begin to incorporate voices more specifically in our larger formal writing assignment.

For our purposes, quoting means taking language directly from the text or interview and including it in a piece of writing you have created. Use MLA or other appropriate citation methods to give credit to the author of the language you are excerpting.

You quote for a number of different reasons. Most notably the reason you quote is that the speaker or author has articulated a concept in a specific way that helps you understand a point you otherwise could not understand. For this reason, the author or speaker’s language is intrinsic to the point and thus you need to quote it directly.

When you are reading the texts you have gathered and reviewing your interviews, you will have to make choices about when you think the author’s language is important to the point and when you can make a valid argument by summarizing and rearticulating this language yourself.

This is where paraphrasing comes in. To paraphrase is to take an author’s idea—still giving credit using appropriate MLA or other citation methods—and put it completely in your own words. This is a useful practice if you want to demonstrate your understanding or interpretation of an author’s point but you don’t think the precise language of the quote is necessary to its meaning.

Whenever you include a quote or paraphrase in the text you are writing, it is important to fully interpret the quote or idea and make sure the reader will know what it means and how it is of value. A quote or paraphrase should never be any longer than is necessary to support the views that you want to explain. The reason for this is that you must be sure to address all language and claims the quote makes in your own interpretation of it.

You should introduce the content of the quote before you bring it into the text. In addition, you will need to explain the quote’s relevance to the surrounding argument.

Observations as Frames and Introductions

Observations can be used in a number of very important ways in final papers. A good observation can act as an introduction that brings the reader into the subculture. Observations can also frame an entire narrative, providing important details and jumping-off points for exploration of subthemes. Sometimes a good observation can conclude your narrative and provide a lovely replacement for a summary.

Observational detail about interviewees can help to contextualize the information you gather in your interview. Also, artifact, space and event analysis can all be used as devices to structure a final narrative and as ways to fill in important information about your chosen subculture.

Drafting Your Final Autoethnography Assignment

When trying to incorporate your research into a final paper, it is important to realize that you will not be using all of it. As in our essays earlier in the semester, you will be drawing on important pieces of it to make your larger arguments (parts of the observation, pieces of the interview, etc.). You should not try to use all of the information you gathered in the final paper. Any kind of personal and qualitative writing is about making choices and creating narratives and subtext while maintaining your own voice as a participant-observer.

The most important thing to do is to find common threads in your research, identify your main themes and use the information you have gathered, combined with your own narrative understanding or experience, to create your final piece.

Your final paper will end up being roughly six to ten pages long, given the amount of data you have collected. It is important to ask questions as you go through this final drafting process, so please feel free to contact me at any point about concerns and ideas.

When transcribing interviews, please include only your questions and the full responses that will appear as quotes or paraphrases in your final paper. Since transcribing is time-consuming, this will be the most efficient use of your time. I ask you to attach these documents as well as the observations you completed to the final paper.

You will be asked to present your findings and read a brief piece of your project on the last day of class.



The final assembly of the paper will be a challenging process for everyone. I encourage you to allot at least six weeks in your syllabus for successful completion of the final papers from start to finish. Students will need one-on-one attention to work through specific questions, so in those six weeks I encourage setting up individual meetings and making sure students have peer groups in class that they can trust to assist them in the final stages of writing.


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