Science Fair Project Research Paper Ideas For Anthropology

Your project must fall into one of the categories below.

Be sure to clearly state your research topic and category in your submission materials.

Please note that subtopic include, but are not limited to, those listed here.

Example topics from previous INSPIRE contestants are available on the Winners page.

Your submission MUST belong in one of the following categories:



Subtopics (including but not limited to)

Example Research Projects


Comparative study of human cultures; how customary ideas, actions, and institutions shape individual and collective experience

Cultural, physical, linguistic, and medical anthropology; archaeology

  • Comparing nationalism in republics and monarchies
  • Treatment of HIV/AIDS in West Africa

Comparative Media Studies

The study of how media technologies and their uses can enrich the lives of individuals locally, nationally, and globally

Mass media, cultural studies, digital media, film theory, games

  • Media production and influences in North Korea
  • Bollywood's influence on the Indian social context
  • Impact of electronic, video and mobile games on social development of teenagers

Art and Architecture

The study of works of art and architecture and critical engagement with their social, political, and material contexts

Museum and exhibition studies, art and gender, aesthetic philosophy, modes of creative production, new technologies in art and architecture, monuments, man-made landscapes, patronage and audience, production of space, design across scales
  • Historical debates about polychrome sculpture in ancient Greece
  • Graphic techniques in Soviet propaganda posters
  • Expressions of nationalism in Le Corbusier's plans for Chandigarh

Cultural Studies

Focused on the political dynamics of culture and its historical foundations, conflicts, defining traits, aesthetics, and practices.

Can focus on a particular medium or message: ideology, social class, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, popular culture, etc.

  • Comparison of the use of gestures across various cultures
  • Race in comparative perspective
  • Social movements: Rethinking globalization


The study of the behavior of individuals, groups, and organizations when they use scarce resources to achieve desired ends

Microeconomics, macroeconomics, game theory, international economics, labor, laws and policies, natural resources; behavioral, environmental, and cultural aspects of economics

  • Why unions still matter: The effects of unionization on the distribution of employee earnings
  • Factors influencing the economic recession of 2008
  • Trafficking networks and the Mexican drug war


The study of the past and how it relates to humans; specifically, the analysis of a sequence of past events, and the determination of their causes and effects

Military, cultural, economic, environmental, gender, and public history

  • French politics and theater of the 17th and 18th centuries
  • Russian and Soviet history


The study of the rules underlying the structure of language, and what they reveal about the general principles that determine the development of language in the individual and species

Phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, psycholinguistics, speech science and technology

  • Locality and feature specificity in OCP effects: Evidence from Aymara, Dutch, and Javanese
  • German particles, modality, and the semantics of imperatives


The study of written work

Fiction, non-fiction, novel, short story, genres: romance, mystery, etc.

  • Biblical allusions present in modern literature
  • Common themes in English Renaissance literature
  • Travel writing and cultural encounters


The study of general and fundamental problems, using a critical, systematic approach and rational argument

Epistemology, logic, metaphysics, ethics and political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind

  • Can science explain consciousness?
  • Is morality objective?
  • Do you know that you are not dreaming?

Political Science

The study of national, state, and local government, politics, and policies.

Political theory, comparative politics, public administration, international relations, public law, political methodology

  • Trends in voter turnout since the 1980's
  • Is representative democracy the best form of government? 

Music Research

Understanding how music functions, has changed over time, and affects and is affected by the cultures in which it is made

Music history, music in culture (ethnomusicology), music theory and analysis, perception/cognition of music, music technology

  • Folk performance in Cincinnati today
  • Unusual key changes in the early works of Gustav Holst
  • Studying the average time to learn notation software

Science, Technology and Society

The study of how science and technology affect and express human values, politics, and culture

Bioethics; science and politics; history of science and technology; science, innovation, and regulation; science, technology and identity; technology and privacy

  • Technology in American history
  • Human-machine interactions
  • Self representation in social media
  • Drugs, politics, and culture

Women’s and Gender Studies

The study of women, gender, and sexuality in intersection with race, ethnicity, religion, and class

Women and development, gender and technology, gender and media, psychology of sex and gender, gender equity, social policy, reproductive rights and technology, gender and sexual identity

  • Characteristics of global female leaders in the 21st century
  • Comparing workplace and social policies in different countries
  • The history of industrialization and changing gender roles

Key Info

  • As you do your research, follow your background research plan and take notes from your sources of information. These notes will help you write a better summary.

  • The purpose of your research paper is to give you the information to understand why your experiment turns out the way it does. The research paper should include:

    • The history of similar experiments or inventions
    • Definitions of all important words and concepts that describe your experiment
    • Answers to all your background research plan questions
    • Mathematical formulas, if any, that you will need to describe the results of your experiment

  • For every fact or picture in your research paper you should follow it with a citation telling the reader where you found the information. A citation is just the name of the author and the date of the publication placed in parentheses like this: (Author, date). This is called a reference citation when using APA format and parenthetical reference when using the MLA format. Its purpose is to document a source briefly, clearly, and accurately.

  • If you copy text from one of your sources, then place it in quotation marks in addition to following it with a citation. Be sure you understand and avoid plagiarism! Do not copy another person's work and call it your own. Always give credit where credit is due!

  • Most teachers want a research paper to have these sections, in order:

    • Title page (with the title of your project, your name, and the date)
    • Your report
    • Bibliography
    • Check with your teacher for additional requirements such as page numbers and a table of contents


Year after year, students find that the report called the research paper is the part of the science fair project where they learn the most. So, take it from those who preceded you, the research paper you are preparing to write is super valuable.

What Is a Research Paper?

The short answer is that the research paper is a report summarizing the answers to the research questions you generated in your background research plan. It's a review of the relevant publications (books, magazines, websites) discussing the topic you want to investigate.

The long answer is that the research paper summarizes the theory behind your experiment. Science fair judges like to see that you understand why your experiment turns out the way it does. You do library and Internet research so that you can make a prediction of what will occur in your experiment, and then whether that prediction is right or wrong, you will have the knowledge to understand what caused the behavior you observed.

From a practical perspective, the research paper also discusses the techniques and equipment that are appropriate for investigating your topic. Some methods and techniques are more reliable because they have been used many times. Can you use a procedure for your science fair project that is similar to an experiment that has been done before? If you can obtain this information, your project will be more successful. As they say, you don't want to reinvent the wheel!

If these reasons sound to you like the reasons we gave for doing background research, you're right! The research paper is simply the "write-up" of that research.

Special Information to Include in Your Research Paper

Many science experiments can be explained using mathematics. As you write your research paper, you'll want to make sure that you include as much relevant math as you understand. If a simple equation describes aspects of your science fair project, include it.

Writing the Research Paper

Note Taking

As you read the information in your bibliography, you'll want to take notes. Some teachers recommend taking notes on note cards. Each card contains the source at the top, with key points listed or quoted underneath. Others prefer typing notes directly into a word processor. No matter how you take notes, be sure to keep track of the sources for all your key facts.

How to Organize Your Research Paper

The best way to speed your writing is to do a little planning. Before starting to write, think about the best order to discuss the major sections of your report. Generally, you will want to begin with your science fair project question so that the reader will know the purpose of your paper. What should come next? Ask yourself what information the reader needs to learn first in order to understand the rest of the paper. A typical organization might look like this:

  • Your science fair project question or topic
  • Definitions of all important words, concepts, and equations that describe your experiment
  • The history of similar experiments
  • Answers to your background research questions

When and How to Footnote or Reference Sources

When you write your research paper you might want to copy words, pictures, diagrams, or ideas from one of your sources. It is OK to copy such information as long as you reference it with a citation. If the information is a phrase, sentence, or paragraph, then you should also put it in quotation marks. A citation and quotation marks tell the reader who actually wrote the information.

For a science fair project, a reference citation (also known as author-date citation) is an accepted way to reference information you copy. Citation referencing is easy. Simply put the author's last name, the year of publication, and page number (if needed) in parentheses after the information you copy. Place the reference citation at the end of the sentence but before the final period.

Make sure that the source for every citation item copied appears in your bibliography.

Reference Citation Format

Type of Citation Parenthetical Reference
MLA Format (Author - page)
Reference Citation
APA Format (Author - date)*
Work by a single author(Bloggs 37) (Bloggs, 2002)
Direct quote of work by single author (Bloggs 37) (Bloggs, 2002, p. 37)
Work by two authors (Bloggs and Smith 37) (Bloggs & Smith, 2002)
Work by three to five authors
(first time)
(Kernis, Cornell, Sun, Berry, and Harlow 183-185) (Kernis, Cornell, Sun, Berry, & Harlow, 1993)
Work by three to five authors
(subsequent times)
(Kernis et al., 1993)
Work by six or more author (Harris et al. 99) (Harris et al., 2001)
Two or more works by the same author in the same year (use lower-case letters to order the entries in bibliography) (Berndt, 1981a)
(Berndt, 1981b)
Two or more works by the same author (Berndt, Shortened First Book Title 221) then
(Berndt, Shortened 2nd Book Title 68)
Two or more works in the same parentheses (Berndt 221; Harlow 99) (Berndt, 2002; Harlow, 1983)
Authors with same last name (E. Johnson 99) (E. Johnson, 2001; L. Johnson, 1998)
Work does not have an author, cite the source by its title (Book Title 44) or
(Shortened Book Title 44)
(Book Title, 2005) or
("Article Title", 2004)
Work has unknown author and date ("Article Title", n.d.)
* APA Note: If you are directly quoting from a work, you will need to include the author, year of publication, and the page number for the reference (preceded by "p.").

Examples of Reference Citations using APA Format

Below are examples of how reference citations would look in your paper using the APA format.

"If you copy a sentence from a book or magazine article by a single author, the reference will look like this. A comma separates the page number (or numbers) from the year" (Bloggs, 2002, p. 37).

"If you copy a sentence from a book or magazine article by more than one author, the reference will look like this" (Bloggs & Smith, 2002, p. 37).

"Sometimes the author will have two publications in your bibliography for just one year. In that case, the first publication would have an 'a' after the publication year, the second a 'b', and so on. The reference will look like this" (Nguyen, 2000b).

"When the author is unknown, the text reference for such an entry may substitute the title, or a shortened version of the title for the author" (The Chicago Manual, 1993).

"For reference citations, only direct quotes need page numbers" (Han, 1995).

"Some sources will not have dates" (Blecker, n.d.).

Credit Where Credit Is Due!

When you work hard to write something, you don't want your friends to loaf and just copy it. Every author feels the same way.

Plagiarism is when someone copies the words, pictures, diagrams, or ideas of someone else and presents them as his or her own. When you find information in a book, on the Internet, or from some other source, you MUST give the author of that information credit in a citation. If you copy a sentence or paragraph exactly, you should also use quotation marks around the text.

The surprising thing to many students is how easy it is for parents, teachers, and science fair judges to detect and prove plagiarism. So, don't go there, and don't make us try to hunt you down!

Research Paper Checklist

What Makes a Good Research Paper?For a Good Research Paper, You Should Answer "Yes" to Every Question
Have you defined all important terms?Yes / No
Have you clearly answered all your research questions?Yes / No
Does your background research enable you to make a prediction of what will occur in your experiment? Will you have the knowledge to understand what causes the behavior you observe?Yes / No
Have you included all the relevant math that you understand?Yes / No
Have you referenced all information copied from another source and put any phrases, sentences, or paragraphs you copied in quotation marks?Yes / No
If you are doing an engineering or programming project, have you defined your target user and answered questions about user needs, products that meet similar needs, design criteria, and important design tradeoffs?Yes / No

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