How to Write a Political Science Research Paper
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 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.
Read generally in the topic area of your choice.
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.
a research design
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?
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.
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
citations for all data used in the paper.All
papers must have references
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
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 Style http://www.wisc.edu/writetest/Handbook/DocChicago.html
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.
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 offering any evidence
is merely a figment of your imagination. Do
not try to suggest that figments of your imagination are the result of
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Remember, 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:
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).
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.
your evidence so that it supports your thesis (that is the answer to your
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
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
* 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.