Politics Research Paper Outline

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Constructing an Argument

When asked to give advice about writing political science papers, Professor Ellen Andersen explained that most papers written for political sciences classes are arguments. “However,” she said, “do not write a persuasive essay about your opinion on the subject. Instead, take evidence and use it to support an academic argument. Use this academic argument to show your learning. Do not decide on an argument you want to make and then make it, regardless of what the evidence says. Be sure to engage with the other side of the debate honestly. Rather than dismissing it, think about it. That is how real growth happens.” For most assignments, you can follow a very basic format for an academic argument. Begin the process by finding trustworthy information. Then explore your material and orgranize your thoughts in a manner that works best for you. You can then start to construct your thesis statement.

The basic format of a political science essay
  1. Introduction
    1. The Introduction should articulate a clear argument and outline the paper’s structure explicitly. It can be a couple of sentences or a couple of paragraphs, or even a couple of pages for a really long paper. Make sure that your thesis responds to all aspects of the assignment.
    2. To show how your argument builds on previous research on your topic, include a literature review. You can do this as part of your introduction, in a section immediately following your introduction, or within each of your body sections, whichever seems most appropriate for your paper.
  2. Body Sections
    1. You can have as many body sections as you need.
    2. Body sections just mean you’re making a point about one aspect of your topic. They can have just one paragraph or as many as you need to make your point. For example, if you’re talking about the process of a bill becoming a law, you’re going to have subtopics within those over-arching sections, like what happens in the House, what happens in the Senate, and then what happens when they both finally agree on a version of the bill-and that's okay. Just be aware of staying on-topic and transitioning smoothly from one to the next.
    3. How to set up your body paragraphs
      1. Small thesis: what is this paragraph about? It should be your starter sentence, and also tie neatly into the last sentence (flow is important)!
      2. Evidence and analysis. The important thing to remember here is that you're not going “Quote 1,” “Quote 2,” “Quote 3,” and then analysis of quote 2, analysis of quote 3. You should be giving your evidence and analyzing it as you go; tell us what it means that the House is mad about an amendment the Senate added to a bill before you assault us with a quote about how the President feels.
      3. Summarizing/transition sentence. Finish up what you're saying, and then in the same sentence or another sentence, explain the train of thought that leads to your next point/paragraph.
  3. Conclusion
    1. Your conclusion should tie back to your thesis, but do not just restate your thesis.
      1. Before writing your conclusion, take this opportunity to review your essay. Does your essay follow your thesis statement? Have you created an argument and provided evidence that supports this thesis? If yes, then go on to write your conclusion. If no, consider changing your thesis (and revising as appropriate).
      2. Be careful that the restatement of the thesis doesn't seem like you're copying and pasting your thesis statement from the introduction. Your conclusion needs to be the summation of your entire essay; it’s your chance to state your point strongly and tie up any loose ends.
      3. Do not introduce new figures or statistics or evidence to prove your point. You should be done with introducing information. Now you're telling us what it means, why it's significant on a broader scale or in a bigger picture, and why we should care.

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Outlining, Grouping, Mind mapping, Free writing… Organize your thoughts!

Conceptual and factual knowledge is essential in a political science paper–interesting metaphors, grand generalizations, and a lot of “BS” will not lead to a smart paper (and will be quickly recognized by your professor). The key is to develop a solid argument with supportive evidence. It is also essential that you understand your argument in order to convincingly and eloquently present it to the reader–if you're not sure, the reader won’t be either!

There are many different ways to go about organizing a paper. To perfect that crucial organization element, consider using one of the four common approaches illustrated below. Each example is for an essay exploring connections between political power and power over the media.

  • Make an outline! Outlines can tell you how organized your paper is, where there are holes in your argument that require more research, or where information may need to be cut.
    See Detailed Outline.
  • If you don't like the strict formatting of an outline, try organizing your thoughts through bulleted lists.
    See Bulleted List
  • If you like diagrams, consider drawing a mind map or web that shows the connections between your ideas.
    See Mind Map/Web
  • If you're more of a puzzler, try writing your information on separate note cards and then rearranging them to physically build a picture of your argument. This can also be done electronically by typing up all of your information and then rearranging it on a computer.
    See Notecard Puzzle
  • If you don't yet know what sections to break your paper into, try starting with a free write that focuses on the prompt. You can see what ideas you have and start to find some connections between them.

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Write a Thesis Statement!
A thesis is…
  • …an arguable statement that will serve as a condensed version of the argument that you make in the paper.
  • not a factual statement about your topic.
  • …your opportunity to make an assertive claim that you will then back up using your collected evidence in your body paragraphs. In essence, it will provide a “roadmap” for the rest of the paper.
  • …not necessarily just one sentence.
How do I construct my thesis statement?
  1. After having organized all of the information that you consider pertinent to the prompt, you will have likely noticed some form of argument that all your information is building to. Investigate this further and determine if there is some sort of claim that your evidence naturally points to.
    1. If you did not see a natural argument emerging, dig further, rearrange your information to see if something else emerges, or consider doing more research that would provide you with more information on the topic.
  2. Pull out the key ideas from the argument that you begin to see forming and write down what you think you could argue. Remember that a thesis can be rewritten many, many times and what you write down first is in no way set in stone. In fact, you should spend some time rewriting and reevaluating your thesis in order to see if the claim you are making is really what you want to say.
    1. You may feel more comfortable writing out your claims and information first and then seeing where the essay takes you. In this case, it may work better for you to come up with a simple thesis first, without tinkering heavily with the meaning or the wording. However, it is important to return to your preliminary thesis after having written the entire paper in order to refine it and ensure its essence is still true to the paper.

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Finding Trustworthy Information

Evidence and information combine to form the backbone of a Political Science essay, as these crucial pieces support your thesis and all of the claims you make therein. When your paper uses accurate and carefully selected facts, your argument becomes harder to debunk and proves to your professor that you understand the material as well as the research process. Sadly, certain people stand to gain from pushing false information on the generally uninformed and careless public. The following suggestions should help you find objective and truthful evidence in your research process.

  • Start looking for information early - when you have an idea of your topic
    • Looking for evidence at the last minute can lead to decreased standards and pulling questionable facts from untrustworthy sources
  • Use the library’s available resources - particularly the online databases - rather than Google
    • These databases contain vast amounts of published information, usually written by experts in the field
  • Be on the lookout for signs of deceit in a source, such as
    • Overgeneralizations
    • Making things sound scarier or worse than they actually are
    • Presenting ideas/data that seem too good to be true
    • Results that have not been replicated, or seem like standalone occurrences
    • The group that publishes/conducts a study benefiting greatly from the results (potential bias/impartiality)
      • For example, if the NRA funded a study showing how gun ownership is tied to economic prosperity, they would gain members and donations – thus, we should make sure they’re being impartial in their research methods
  • Analyze evidence skeptically, but not cynically
    • Look thoroughly at evidence from research sources and only use that piece of information if everything seems to check out and doesn’t leave you feeling unsure –- implement a healthy skepticism while looking at facts
    • Avoid becoming a cynic who rejects every piece of information without considering it
      • This makes you just as gullible as someone who accepts everything they read, as people can play upon your inclination to reject facts to spin your understanding of issues in their favor
    • The key distinction is that a skeptic will realize a piece of information is trustworthy, while a cynic will never believe anything, regardless of its veracity

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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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