How to Write a Political Science Research Paper

How to Write a Political Science Research Paper

I. Choose a paper topic

  1. Find an event or topic related to this course that interests you.
  • Investigate the library’s resources and other available resources. If you choose to investigate a topic for which you must rely intensely on inter-library loans, you may not receive enough material in time to accomplish your research. You need to find an area in which there is available material. If you find there is not enough material on your topic, choose a different topic and begin a fresh search to see if you can successfully finish the research for your paper on your fresh topic.
  • Read generally in the topic area of your choice.
  • Style a precise question that you wish to research. The question that you ask is your research question. The aim of your research paper is to provide an reaction to your research question. NOTE. To be a question, your research question must end with a question mark.
  • Your question might be something like: Under what conditions will x occur? What are the causes of x? What are the consequences of x and y? How did x alter the outcome of y? You want to avoid asking self evident questions such as, “Will war in country x contort development?” Obviously war affects a country’s development and you do not need to do research to persuade the reader of this. Also, such a question is too broad for a focused research paper. “Development” is too encompassing a concept. You could not in a single paper analyze all of the effects of war on the development of an entire country.

    II. Develop a research design

  • To do this you must think through what you need to know in order to response your research question. What specific data would be helpful in answering your question? Which actors are involved? What outer and/or domestic events might affect the topic you are studying? Where will you get the data you need?
  • III. Develop a thesis

  • You must suggest a thesis in the introduction of your paper. After researching your material, you will response your research question. The response to your research question will form the basis of your thesis. The thesis is the argument that you will make in your paper. Presenting your reaction to the research question is the reason why you write the paper. You write the paper to coax your reader that your reaction is correct. You must provide the reader with evidence you discovered in your research to persuade the reader that your response is correct. You must anticipate alternative answers to your question and refute them. You must explain why your reaction is better.
  • Note that if you announce to your reader in your introduction that you “propose to explore” your topic, you admit that you have not thought long and hard enough about your topic to make a statement or suggest an argument about some aspect of the topic. If you are still “exploring your topic” when you are writing your paper and you cannot even form a question and suggest and response – you will be graded accordingly.
  • IV. Make decent citations for all data used in the paper. All papers must have references

    and a bibliography.

  • Go after the citation style used in the American Political Science Review. (The APSR is the preeminent journal for political scientists.) You can find hard copies of the APSR in the periodicals section of the Bailey-Howe library (on the 2nd floor). You can find electronic copies of the journal by going to the library webpage then select “General Reference” then select “Journals and Magazines” then select “JSTOR” then come in JSTOR and select “browse the journal” then select “political science” then select “American Political Science Review” then choose a volume and an issue and finally… select “view article”. Alternatively, you can go after the style of footnotes introduced in the Chicago Manual of Style .
  • You will see that the APSR uses parenthetical references to the author and the date in the assets of the text. Then the finish citation for each reference is listed in alphabetical order in the bibliography.
  • Plagiarized papers will be reported to the Committee on Academic Honesty. Below you will find an example of plagiarism that you must not repeat.
  • General X believed that … (no footnote or parenthetical reference).
  • If you have interviewed General X, you must footnote the date and place of your interview. If you have not personally interviewed General X, then the only way that you can know what he believed is from reading someone else’s work. You may not take credit for the work someone else did. You must cite your source.
  • If, however, you think General X should have thought that, or most likely thought that, but you have no evidence and no sources, you may not write such a statement in a scholarly paper. In this case, no one cares what you think General X should have thought. Your assertion that the General thought something without suggesting any evidence is merely a figment of your imagination. Do not attempt to suggest that figments of your imagination are the result of scholarly research.
  • You cannot submit a “paper” that is merely a string of quotes from various sources. When you write a paper, your thesis (the argument you make to response your research question) should reflect your own (original) thinking. You should arrive at your thesis as a result of piecing together the evidence/data you have compiled. You must do the work for your paper. You must evaluate, analyze, and suggest judgments on the evidence you suggest – and your evaluations must be based on the accumulated evidence, not wishful thinking.
  • Your sources must be varied. Reading several Internet pages does not constitute careful, scholarly research. Your research sources should include scholarly, journalistic, and primary materials.
  • Scholarly sources include books and journal articles. You can search for books related to your topic on Voyager at Only reading books, however, is not good enough. Books often take much longer than journal articles to publish and therefore the information found in books is frequently less current than the information found in journal articles. The best way to find journal articles is through “ArticleFirst”. To access “ArticleFirst” go to the library webpage then select “General Reference” then select “Journals and Magazines” then select “ArticleFirst”. Then search for journal articles related to your research question.
  • Journalistic sources include the LADB, newspapers, and magazines. Newspapers such as the Fresh York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist are all good sources for international news. If you can read the language of the country you are studying, then consult the major newspapers from that country on the Internet.
  • Primary materials include official documents, government hearings, treaties, State Department bulletins, speeches, memoirs, interviews, World Bank and International Monetary Fund statistics, government statistics. A good source for Statisctical data on Latin America is The Statistical Abstract of Latin America available in the reference section of the Bailey/Howe Library call number HA935.S79. Also check out the World Development Indicators (available on Sage under “Find Articles and More” then “Alphabetical List of Databases” *NOTE: you must be in the library to access this database).
  • The reference librarians are a good resource and you should consult them for questions about sources.
  • V. Write the paper

  • Proofread the paper. Rewrite the paper. Ask your roomie to proofread the paper. Rewrite the paper again. Ask your mom to proofread the paper. Rewrite it again. The more times you proofread and rewrite the paper, the better the paper will be and the higher your grade will be.
  • Reminisce, for your paper, you need to add something to the work of other authors, you should not just repeat someone else’s thesis.
  • Organize your paper in the following way:
  • Introduction. Begin the paper by identifying your research question. Then explain why your question is significant. Suggest your thesis – a quick version of your reaction to the research question (one or two sentences).
  • Literature Review. Discuss the existing scholarly literature that relates to your question and explain why the existing literature does not adequately address the question you pose, thus telling the reader why your research had to be conducted and why your paper must be read if the reader is interested in the response to your significant question.
  • Data. Present your evidence so that it supports your thesis (that is the reaction to your research question)
  • Conclusion. Summarize your findings and restate your thesis, which answers your research question. Do not add fresh information in the conclusion – all evidence should be in the Data section.
  • You may not write “this year …” or “this week…” You must specify particular dates. A reader should understand your time framework whatever date they happen to read your paper.
  • * To write a sophisticated paper, you should conduct your research in light of the significant theories of political science. You might ask a question and suggest an response that either confirms or disconfirms a theory in the discipline. You might research a question and detect that there does not exist any good theory in the field to suggest insight into your research question. In this case, you might analyze the existing literature and explain how your research offers a hypothesis to explain why some phenomena occur.

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