Context-Focused Project Guidelines

Part 1: Conducting the Fieldwork

Step 1: Choosing a Topic

First, you will need to choose a folk group with whom you want to conduct fieldwork. You do not have to be a member of this group. Folk groups are semi-permanent groups and members interact with each other over a period of time. Your folk group may be based on occupation, age, region/where they live, ethnicity, family, gender, a group with a set of common interests, or, most likely some combination of the above. It may also be simply a group of friends. Your folk group may be based on other factors as well.

Once you have decided on your folk group, you will need to decide what kind of genre or tradition belonging to the group you want to document. You may already know before you begin your fieldwork what you are interested in. For example, your folk group may be particularly jovial and tell a lot of jokes. Perhaps they are somewhat intellectual and tell riddles. They may value wit and use a lot of clever insults, retorts, and comebacks. Or, they may simply be good liars. Remember too that folklore is not always verbal in nature. Perhaps your group specializes in pranks, or maybe they have a specialized set of gestures. Look at Dundes' list of folklore genres to get some ideas; however, you do not need to limit yourself to this list. If you do not know prior to beginning your fieldwork what folklore your group performs, you may need to spend several sessions simply observing and listening in order to get ideas. Look for moments in conversation or other forms of social interaction when people begin to "perform" in some way. Also, look for moments of performance as well as what groups "specialize" in, or the ways they are "artistic." In other words, What unwritten traditions make this group a group?

Step 2: Documentation

The way in which you document folklore depends somewhat on your group and your material. The most common way to document folklore is with a tape recorder. A 60 minute tape is preferred (30 minutes a side). Put your name, date of documentation, course number, instructor's name, title of paper, and informant(s) name(s) on the tape. Fieldwork tapes should be handed in with the final paper. Be sure to remove the re-write tabs at the top of your tape when you are finished documenting, so that you can not re-record over your fieldwork. If, for some reason, you are unable to tape record because of particular circumstances, you will need to document your folklore in some other way, which must be approved by your instructor.

Part 2: Turning your Raw Fieldwork into Data

Now that you have done your fieldwork, the next step is to turn your data into a well-written, interesting and informative semester paper. This guideline is designed to help you do that. Your approach to your material, however, will greatly depend on what you decide to document. Therefore, the following are suggestions and are not set in stone. You must decide how to best make these guidelines fit your specific project.

Step 1:

You should have in your hands one 60 minute cassette or videotape. Listen to your tape/review your videotape. You will probably need to do this more than once. Take notes as you review, jotting down the most interesting parts. Where do people get really excited? Where do they start to perform? Can you identify any specific folklore genres? If not, where do people start getting creative or artistic? Note where these performances occur on your tape.

Step 2:

Once you have decided which parts of your tape you are going to focus on, you will need to transcribe the folklore text. "Transcription" means writing down people's words exactly as they were spoken. Additionally, you may want to transcribe what people say before and after the folklore performance as a way to examine social context. Note: Transcription is very time-consuming. All transcriptions should be done at least one week before you begin to write your paper.

Step 3:

Your paper should examine one or two of the four different kinds of context discussed this semester as they relate to your folklore event. Examining these different contexts will help you answer the question: "What is the function (often there is more than one) of the folklore you document?" Your thesis statement will be your answer to this question. Underline your thesis statement in your paper. Your answer should be based on an analysis of the relationship between your folklore text and the context(s) that seem most applicable. A second way to discover your answer is to ask yourself, "What is this person/group trying to communicate?"

Part 3: Writing the Paper

The final semester paper is an interpretive document based on our fieldwork. Although the organization of your particular paper depends on what you documented, most papers will consist of the following parts:


Consists of introductory remarks about folklore and your topic specifically. Ideally is a single paragraph. Your thesis statement should somehow answer the following questions: "What is the function (or functions) of the folklore I have documented for this particular group?" Your thesis statement should be the last sentence of the introduction. Please underline your thesis statement.

Introduction to Folk Group and Folklore

General information about your folk group: for example, who they are, what they do, how you know them, how long you have known them. Why are they a folk group? Are you a member of this group? Also contains description of what you documented--what kinds of genres or what kinds of event? Why did you choose this? How or Why is this folklore? How did you document? What was your approach? When did you do it Who was involved? What was their reaction? Did any problems arise? How did these difficulties affect your project? What was going on at the time you documented? Note: These are only sample questions, please don't try to answer all of them.

Fieldwork Data: Text and Context

This section presents your folklore fieldwork. It will consist mainly of part of your transcription(s), along with commentary and information unavailable from the transcripts. You may organize this section any way you like. One option is to first present your folklore text(s) and then describe the context you have chosen to focus on. A second option is to present the text and context as a whole. In either case, there will be important contextual information that is not on your tape. Therefore, you will need to supplement your transcripts with this information. Remember that you must focus on one of the following kinds of context: social, cultural, individual, or comparative.

Analysis (Approximately 2-3 pages)

Your analysis should be a detailed examination of the interrelationship between text and context as documented in the previous section of your paper. Analysis entails breaking things apart and putting them back together to get new information. What does one say about the other? How do they relate? What do you learn about the function of this folklore from examining it? This section should be detailed and refer to the specifics of your fieldwork. It will demonstrate to the reader the function(s) of folklore in your particular fieldwork setting and show how you arrived at your thesis statement.


The conclusion should summarize what you have done and what your conclusions are. A sophisticated conclusion also discusses questions that have arisen directly as the result of your work. In other words, if you were going to do a larger project on this same topic, what questions do you have or think might be interesting to address? Why did they come up?


You will most likely have some kind appendix to your paper, in the form of transcriptions, photographs, or other fieldwork materials. This material goes at the end of your paper.


In ethnographic fieldwork projects, it is acceptable to use "I" when writing your paper. It is, however, never acceptable to use "you."

Part 4: Formatting the Final Paper

Frequently Asked Questions

  • All papers must be accompanied by a cover page that includes: title of paper, student name, date, course name/number, and instructor name.
  • Papers are to be 5-8 pages in length, excluding the bibliography.
  • All papers must be typed, double-spaced, in a 12 point standard (i.e., nothing cute or extra large) font.
  • Standard 1" margins on all sides.
  • Photos, transcriptions, drawings, and other additional support materials should be placed in an Appendix.
  • Final papers, unless otherwise noted, will be added to the FOLK COLLECTION 8: USU in USU's Special Collections & Archives.
  • All papers (collections) submitted to the Fife Folklore Archives must be places in a 3" side bound report cover.
  • Release forms (for your informants and for yourself, as the collector) must accompany your paper.
  • Documentary materials (taped, video, CD-ROM, etc.) must accompany your final paper.
  • Transcriptions should be single spaced, both in the Appendix and final paper.
  • Spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. counts.

Formatting Citations

Reference to titles of articles must be enclosed in quotation marks, followed by the publication date in parenthesis. Titles of articles should follow capitalization standards for titles. For example: Rosemary Levy Zumwalt notes in "The Complexity of Children's Folklore" (1995) that there are differences between what she calls the ideal little girl and the actual child saying the rhymes.

Reference to titles of books must be underlined and followed by the publication date in parenthesis. Titles of books should follow capitalization standards for titles. For example: In Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts (1995), Josepha Sherman writes that children's folklore can be considered subversive.

Direct quotes from a book or an article should include the author's name, along with the date of the publication and the page number enclosed within parenthesis. For example: Sue Samuelson writes that "children are very concerned with issues of contamination" (1980:199).

Indirect quotes, ideas, etc. from a book or an article that you use or paraphrase still need to be attributed to the author--otherwise, it's plagiarism. After you use an idea, cite the author's last name, publication date, and if necessary, the page number in parenthesis. For example: Children worry about catching disease Samuelson 1980: 199).