Political Science Project Research Paper

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Research Papers

Social science research papers combine the presentation of both argument and evidence in response to a core question. It is common for such papers to have a literature review that considers the work others have done to address the core subject.

Generic Research Paper Outline Example

There are many ways to structure a research paper. This is just one.

I. Introduction

State the core question; Tell the reader the significance of the question; Provide a brief version of your answer to the question; Provide an overview of the rest of the paper.

II. Theoretical Framework/Literature Review

Provide an overview of the possible explanations for your question. Include consideration of the broader literature that addresses your subject. Address your method for approaching the question.

III. Case Study (or Case Studies)

Apply the theoretical framework to one or more cases. This could involve multiple separate major sections of a research paper.

[IV.] Conclusion

Return to your core question. Summarize your core argument and findings. Discuss the broader implications or prospects for future research.

Policy Papers

One purpose of a policy paper is to make a prescription for future policies. The following is an example of how to structure such a paper.

Generic Policy Paper Outline Example

I. Introduction

State the core question; Tell the reader the significance of the question; Provide a brief version of your answer to the question; Provide an overview of the rest of the paper.

II. Criteria and Goals for the Policy

Provide clear and measurable criteria for assessing the success of a policy choice.

III…  Policy Choices

State specific policy choices. Apply all identified criteria to each policy choice.

[IV.] Conclusion

Return to your core question. Summarize your policy recommendation and findings. Discuss the broader implications or prospects for future research.

Theses and Long Projects

It goes without saying that there is no simple formula on how to optimally structure your work. Different analyses demand different frames of presentation, and the wealth of the structure types available are limited only by how creative a writer can be with his or her analytical and writing style. Still, there are a couple of key tenets that can (and probably should) be considered when addressing this crucial step to producing your research work.

First, you should always remember that when it comes to structure, the central consideration should be answering the question of: What is the best and most effective way of getting my reader to know exactly what is going on, or to buy what I’m trying to say?

Second, give some thought to the kind of analysis you’re doing. A study chasing a trend throughout history would probably do well by divvying chapters up according to time periods, or yaers. An analysis comparing and contrasting a controlled event throughout various geographic locations could benefit from having chapters go by regions. Your organization could also be more atypical than that: chapters can be broken down based on concepts (with countries or time periods being held constant), or divided according to key individuals and organizations.

Third, a chapter should capture and put forward one complete overarching component of your argument, as each section within the chapter covers a smaller potion of that overaching component. It’s more or less a follow-through on the basic idea of arguments, in that each argument can be broken down into smaller pieces which are integral or concretely supportive of the whole. Think about it as somewhat equivalent to the biological levels of organization of living things:

A collection of cells is a tissue. A collection of tissues is an organ. A collection of organs is an organ system. A collection of organ systems is an organism.

The composition of an argument – especially when we think of it in terms of an extended written arugment – very much echo these biological levels of organization. When considering how the table of contents of your thesis is going to look like, perhaps think of it this way.

Examples

The following are some examples of theses organizations, represented by central arguments and table of contents:

“Stemming the Nuclear Tide: Coercive Diplomacy and US Nonproliferation Efforts, 1964-Present.”

By: Nicholas LeSuer Miller, Class of 2009.

Thesis: “By examining the universe of cases since the Chinese test where the U.S. has made an effort to halt a state’s nuclear weapons program, and analyzing these cases within the broader theory of coercive diplomacy, this work seeks to explain why the U.S. has succeeded in certain non-proliferation efforts and failed in others.” (p. 6)

Table of Contents:

    1. Introduction
    2. Pakistan: Looking the Other Way
    3. South Korea: Coercing a Cold War Ally
    4. Israel: Half-Hearted Diplomacy
    5. Taiwan: Persistence Pays Off
    6. South Africa: Too Little Too Late
    7. Libya: Unsolicited Success
    8. India: Nonproliferation Policy Paralysis
    9. North Korea: Failure at Every Turn
    10. Findings and Implications.

This thesis has a very straightforward and clear approach; because this writer’s analysis focuses on country-specific differences regarding a common controlled event/concept (in this case, American non-proliferation efforts), it makes perfect structural and argumentative sense to manage chapters by countries.

The same principle can be applied to temporal comparisons or between concepts and events – essentially anything that has a clear and definitive conceptual quality.

“Organizing African Unity: a Pan-African Project.”

By: Kathryn Hana Cragg, Class of 2008.

Thesis: “This paper examines the history of continental cooperation, focusing on a comparative analysis of the OAU and the AU. It will argue that a particular set of domestic and international factors interplayed to create the OAU in 1963. As a result of historical divisions from the colonial age, the paper contends that the OAU suffered from regional and historic divisions from its inception.” (p. 5)

Table of Contents:

    1. Introduction
    2. Chapter 1 – Explaining African Alignment
      • Introduction
      • Part I – Traditional International Relations Perspectives
      • Part II -African Cooperation: A Unique Experience
      • Part III – New Outlooks on Third World Alignment
      • Conclusion
    3. Chapter 2 – The Beginnings of Cooperation – A Newly Independent Africa
      • Nkrumah’s Beginnings
      • The Conferences of Independent African States
      • The Brazzaville-Casablanca Split
      • Congolese Civil War
      • The Monrovia Block
      • Unity Revisited
    4. Chapter 3 – The Organization of African Unity
      • Conference at Addis Ababa
      • The Charter of OAU
      • Structure of OAU
      • Responsibilities of the OAU
      • Factors in the Formation of the OAU
      • History and Downfall of the OAU
      • Conclusion
    5. Chapter 4 – The Birth of the African Union
      • Introduction
      • OAU Legacy and a Culture of Change
      • South African Foreign Policy: The African Renaissance and NEPAD
      • Obasanjo’s Reform Package and the Creation of the AU
      • Colonel Muammer Gaddafi and Libyan Integration
      • Objective and Principles of the CA
      • Structure of the AU
      • The AU – A Security Community?
    6. Conclusion.

This thesis follows a slightly more complex strategy. The writer began by laying a conceptual foundation with her initial chapter – a solid idea if one is tackling a particularly conceptually messy phenomena (that is, of course, not to say that nuclear non-proliferation efforts are not conceptually messy). The analysis then progressed on a somewhat temporal route, breaking down large sections according to “eras” linearly along the time-line. Notice, however, the fact while the writer divided the sections by time-line, she wrote the subsections by mixing both particular events and theoretical discussions. Once again, go with what best and most effectively presents your argument.

“Rethinking Repression: Exploring the Effectiveness of Counterterrorism in Spain.”

By: Evan James Perkoski.

Thesis: “I argue that legal, nonviolent forms of counterterrorism are the most effectiveat reducing the frequency of terrorist attacks.” (p. 4)  “The goal of this thesis is to provide a quantitative assessment of the relative ability of counterterrorist tactics to reduce the likelihood of terrorist incidents.” (p. 5)

Table of Contents:

    1. Chapter 1: Introduction
      • Central Question
      • Significant of the Study
      • Research Design
      • Why Spain?
      • The First Step: Defining Terrorism
      • Implications of the Study
      • Thesis Layout
    2. Chapter 2: Literature Review and Extant Findings
      • What defines effective counterterrorism?
      • Understanding Counterterrorism
      • The Options: What do Government have to choose from?
      • Repressive Policies
      • Conciliatory Policies
      • Legal Reform and Restriction
      • Indiscriminate vs. Discriminate Actions
      • Additional Policy Concerns: Group Motivations, Structural Factors, Institutional Restrains, and Information Asymmetries.
      • Problems with previous studies of counterterrorism
    3. Chapter 3: Spanish Counterterrorist Policies, 1970-2004.
      • Research Design
      • Introduction to Series Hazard Modeling
      • Results
      • Conclusions
      • Study Limitations and Further Research
    4. Chapter 4: Spanish Counterterrorist Tactics, 1988-1992.
      • Rationale for Choosing 1988-1992
      • Event Data and TABARI
      • Research Design
      • Results
      • Conclusions
      • Study Limitations
    5. Chapter Five: Overall Findings and Conclusions
      • Using Politics to Deter Political Violence
      • Violence: A Viable Option to Fight Terrorism?
      • Restricting Terrorists to Deter Terrorism
      • Effectiveness of Policy Combinations
      • Discriminate vs. Indiscriminate Actions
      • Theoretical Contributions and Policy Implications
      • Conclusion
    6. References

As opposed to the earlier two examples, this thesis specifically raises and examines the effectiveness of a self-conceived (or observed) theory. To this end, the writer looks first at presenting and arguing for all aspects of the theory, which can be seen with the first chapter. It is worth noting that many qualifications goes into his discussion, explaining just about every major choice he makes with respect to his model.

This work also has the added complication of being a predominantly quantitative analysis. As such, it is proper that a good number of sections were dedicated to exposition, analysis, and discussion of the techniques that he used, including even the software involved.

The meat of the research here lies in the third and fourth chapters, which examines policies and tactics respectively. In similar theses, these would be the case study analysis sections, where the theory proposed earlier is applied and interacted with studied events or occurrences.

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How to Write a Political Science Research Paper

Click here to access Scott Schaffer's page on information resources at Bailey/Howe Library for POLS 174.

I.Choose a paper topic

  1. Find an event or topic related to this course that interests you.

  1.  Investigate the library’s resources and other available resources. If you choose to investigate a topic for which you must rely heavily on inter-library loans, you may not receive enough material in time to complete 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 new search to see if you can successfully complete the research for your paper on your new topic.

  1. Read generally in the topic area of your choice. 

  1. Fashion a precise question that you wish to research. The question that you ask is your research question. The goal of your research paper is to provide an answer 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 distort 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

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

III.Develop a thesis

  1. You must offer a thesis in the introduction of your paper. After researching your material, you will answer your research question. The answer 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 answer to the research question is the reason why you write the paper. You write the paper to convince your reader that your answer is correct. You must provide the reader with evidence you discovered in your research to persuade the reader that your answer is correct. You must anticipate alternative answers to your question and refute them. You must explain why your answer is better. 

  1. 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 offer 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 offer and answer – you will be graded accordingly. 

IV.Make proper citations for all data used in the paper.All papers must have references

and a bibliography.

  1. Follow 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 second floor). You can find electronic copies of the journal by going to the library webpage http://sageunix.uvm.edu/Collections/ then select “General Reference” then select “Journals and Magazines” then select “JSTOR” then enter 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 follow the style of footnotes presented in the Chicago Manual of Stylehttp://www.wisc.edu/writetest/Handbook/DocChicago.html .

  1. You will see that the APSR uses parenthetical references to the author and the date in the body of the text. Then the complete citation for each reference is listed in alphabetical order in the bibliography. 

  1. Plagiarized papers will be reported to the Committee on Academic Honesty. Below you will find an example of plagiarism that you must not repeat. 

    1. General X believed that … (no footnote or parenthetical reference).
    2. 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.
    3. 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 offering any evidence is merely a figment of your imagination. Do not try to suggest that figments of your imagination are the result of scholarly research.
    4. 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 answer 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 offer judgments on the evidence you offer – and your evaluations must be based on the accumulated evidence, not wishful thinking.

  1. 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. 
    1. Scholarly sources include books and journal articles. You can search for books related to your topic on Voyager at http://voyager.uvm.edu/. 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 http://sageunix.uvm.edu/Collections/ then select “General Reference” then select “Journals and Magazines” then select “ArticleFirst”. Then search for journal articles related to your research question. 
    2. Journalistic sources include the LADB, newspapers, and magazines. Newspapers such as the New 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.
    3. 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). 
    4. The reference librarians are a good resource and you should consult them for questions about sources. 

V.Write the paper

  1. Proofread the paper. Rewrite the paper. Ask your roommate 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.

  1. Remember, for your paper, you need to add something to the work of other authors, you should not just repeat someone else’s thesis.

  1. Organize your paper in the following way:
    1. Introduction: Begin the paper by identifying your research question. Then explain why your question is important. Offer your thesis – a quick version of your answer to the research question (one or two sentences). 
    2. Literature Review: Discuss the existing scholarly literature that relates to your question and explain why the existing literature does not sufficiently 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 answer to your important question. 
    3. Data: Present your evidence so that it supports your thesis (that is the answer to your research question)
    4. Conclusion: Summarize your findings and restate your thesis, which answers your research question. Do not add new information in the conclusion – all evidence should be in the Data section. 

  1. You may not write “this year …” or “this week…” You must specify particular dates. A reader should understand your time frame whatever date they happen to read your paper.

* To write a sophisticated paper, you should conduct your research in light of the important theories of political science.You might ask a question and offer an answer that either confirms or disconfirms a theory in the discipline.You might research a question and discover that there does not exist any good theory in the field to offer 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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