Writing a political science research paper is inevitable for anyone who takes a course dealing with domestic or international politics, global justice, human rights, and more. Regardless of whether a student is a political science major or only has the discipline for a single term, he/she will be assigned multiple research papers throughout the course. Although news headings may make one think that politics is cryptic and sinuous if not shady, in reality, it is not as unbearable as it seems. If approached with a proper amount of diligence and enthusiasm, political science can be as engaging as watching The House of Cards. It is a good idea to keep in mind that if everyone paid enough attention to it when in college, some of the current leaders would have never been elected.
In other words, no one should treat seemingly dull papers as a necessary evil. Writing them is a first step to make a difference.
One popular misconception is that ‘research’ in research papers means that one is required to gather as much information on the topic as possible and merely throw it together in a more or less coherent way. As a result, students are often tempted to turn their paper into data dumps, where dates/event descriptions/other people’s ideas follow one another without adequate explanations not to mention analysis. It is unlikely that professors doubt their students’ ability to google. What they do want to know is whether one is capable of analyzing the search results critically. Descriptive reporting (the data dump thing) is necessary, but it must only take a part of the research paper, not its entirety.
In reality, a political science research paper is an analytical report with the stress on ‘analytical.’ Facts do not show readers the writer’s proficiency and critical thinking skills. Students have to demonstrate that they are not only familiar with the course materials but also took their time to develop their own ideas. Everyone knows that Syria’s civil war started with the resentment toward Bashar al-Assad’s government. What one has to do is to dig deeper. Why did not the war start until 2011? How does it fit into the general patterns of the Arab Spring? What is the connection between the Syrian war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Why is the international community so unhelpful?
Contrary to popular belief, it is a way easier to compose a political science research paper writing when there is a specific topic/research question assigned. Knowing what to write about allows one to avoid spending time and efforts on searching for an adequate, not over-researched, not under-researched topic. However, more often than not, professors suggest their students choose a research question of their own that would deal with the course readings. In such cases, the broader the course is, the more difficult the task gets. For instance, if one takes ‘Introduction to Political Theory’ or ‘Advanced Comparative Politics’, it normally means that appropriate topic options are almost unlimited.
There are several characteristics of a decent topic for a political science research paper. First of all, it must be not too broad. Ambition is good; however, taking into account that the common length of a research paper has to be about 6-8 pages, it is unlikely that one can write an in-depth analytical paper on global democracy. The focus should be narrowed. Choosing a specific country to analyze the challenges it faces while struggling for democracy will be more manageable. If the course deals with global politics, comparing two different countries is also a good option.
At the same time, an overly narrow topic is also a no-go way. Barack Obama’s protection of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan’s seats in the United States Supreme Court was certainly a notable step towards achieving diversity in American politics. Still, it would not be reasonable to choose this specific accomplishment to write a research paper. What is there to write eight pages about? However, putting Obama’s decision in context to analyze the alarming gender and ethnic uniformity among American politicians is a challenging yet doable research problem. Any topic can be adjusted to take the right place on the scale from ‘too broad’ to ‘too specific.’
Finally, if paper requirements do not say the opposite, one should not limit his/her choice of a topic to the domestic politics alone. Certainly, if the course is called American Federalism, the professor most likely expects students to stick to the United States in the research paper. Otherwise, comparing American political history or current tendencies to those of a different country is more interesting than discussing the United States in a vacuum. Still, there must be a specific issue to compare, for instance, health-care policies.
Most importantly, the topic should be interesting and important for the writer. When a student is personally affected by a certain problem, he/she is invested and more likely to compose a high-quality research paper.
Probably, using high-quality scholarly sources is the most valuable component of a well-written research paper. They are the necessary foundation for the writer’s analysis. Backing up one’s ideas proves expertise. Even though every politics-related course always has an extensive list of reading materials, they are not enough to compose a paper regardless of whether there was a specific topic assigned or not. Students are normally expected to use class readings as a starting point for further independent research.
Once the topic is chosen, one should start searching for books and journal articles to broaden his/her knowledge and develop a deep understanding of the problem. If the topic deals with the current issues, using news articles is also inevitable. However, considering the amount of fake news and filter bubbles one faces these days, students should approach every news website with caution. Well-known and credible ones like BBC News, HuffingtonPost, CNN, and the New York Times are safe options. It is also reasonable to check several news platforms for a specific event report to compare and contrast different opinions. Political writing is doomed to be biased. It is the spot between the two opposite biases where one finds relatively true information.
However, college students cannot manage a political science research paper without consulting relevant books and journal articles written by the authors well-accepted within the academic community. For those, one should choose research databases over Google. University libraries are a perfect place to start. However, online ones are more accessible and easier to operate. Besides, offline libraries are rarely able to fit as many sources as online ones. These are several most credible and extensive academic databases: JSTOR, Academic Search Premier (EBSCO), Web of Science, Project Muse, ProQuest. The majority of articles are not available in full there; however, abstracts give a clear idea of their content. If one understands that a certain article could be helpful, he/she can access it through the college student ID or go to the university library.
Besides, students should take their time to check various political science journals separately. It is impossible to list all of them, but it is certainly helpful to keep in mind:
Finally, there are several websites where students can find useful political science books. Popular Political Science Books section on GoodReads is hardly an appropriate selection; some of the items there belong rather to the popular science genre and will not look good in one’s research paper bibliography. Instead, students should consider such websites as Yale University Press and Oxford University Press.
The process of referencing may appear minuscule as compared to writing a research paper. However, most professors’ grading rubrics show that proper citing is worth many points. The Online Writing Web at Purdue University is the best website to revise one’s referencing skills. There are guides and sample entries for each of the common format styles including MLA, APA, and Chicago.
Also, many databases have a citation generator next to every book/article; it allows students to copy and paste a properly composed bibliography entry for every item they chose to reference.
Regardless of one’s experience, it is not an easy task to keep focused on the topic while writing. Students frequently get carried away, and the paper ends up being written about something that has nothing to do with the chosen subject. To avoid such an outcome, everyone should begin by composing an outline. No need to make it overly detailed or fancy. Unless the professor requires submitting a proposal with a well-developed full-sentence outline, it is primarily Ariadne’s thread for a student to stay on topic.
Once a drafted thesis statement is done, one should make sure that each of the paragraphs supports it. To include one to two rebuttal ones is alright but they should not distract the reader from the paper’s perspective. All paragraphs should have the same structure: a claim (topic sentence) expressing a clear argument – evidence (followed by a proper reference to the source) – analysis – evidence #2 – analysis #2 – concluding sentence/transition to the next paragraph. The second evidence and analysis are optional and depend on whether the writer prefers longer or shorter paragraphs.
A common research paper includes the following:
Not every professor expects his/her students to present an abstract before the research paper. In any case, it is not a difficult task to come up with one. To put it simply, an abstract is a 150-word summary of the entire paper.
The introductory paragraph should let the reader understand what is going to be discussed in the paper without summarizing it. The last sentence is a thesis statement that reflects the paper’s central idea clearly.
The body of a research paper consists of multiple paragraphs. Their number depends on the length of the paper. Again, each of them has to be related to the thesis statement.
The conclusion consists of restating the thesis statement, a brief conclusion of all body paragraphs (one sentence per point/paragraph is enough), and one last thought-provoking sentence to invite the reader to think about the problem discussed in the paper.
Every research paper must have a separate page with a list of the sources cited in the text.
One thing nobody should neglect is proofreading. Once the paper is completed, every student’s duty is to reread it several times and use a grammar checker if possible. Sloppy writing makes the text annoying and difficult to follow. Political science research papers could potentially solve global poverty or find a way to fight corruption. With that in mind, it would be a pity if the lack of proofreading prevented the professor (or other potential audience) from giving the paper justice.
The final political science research paper writing tip is that it is always useful to ask someone to read the paper before submitting it. Since the writer has spent hours if not days composing the research paper, he/she tends to overlook some minor typos or sentences with broken causality. All in all, treating a political science research paper as an actual proposal for the hypothetical government to implement makes the writing process livelier.