What kinds of writing assignments can I expect in Political Science classes?

Writing assignments vary considerably from professor to professor. Most Political Science classes have a variety of writing assignments, including essay exams (in-class or take-home). Writing assignments tend to be used more extensively in writing-intensive courses and upper-division courses, where almost all professors require research papers. The following list will give you a sense of the kinds of assignments you might receive in undergraduate courses:

  • Research papers (ranging from 10-25 pages); some professors others require a rough draft to be turned in well before the paper is due.
  • Short papers (3-6 pp.)
  • Reading response papers
  • Essay exams
What qualities are especially valued in an outstanding Political Science paper?

Some professors will give you a list of evaluation criteria. If your professor offers one of these, follow it carefully. Otherwise, please pay attention to the following:

  • Thesis statement and conclusion
  • An introduction that provides readers with a clear statement of purpose and indicates where the paper is going
  • Clear organizational framework (with subheadings as needed)
  • Grasp of relevant theory
  • Research effort, including thorough overview of principal works in the secondary literature
  • Coherent arguments
  • Points elaborated with substantive support
  • Terms defined
  • Creativity and original thinking (e.g., hypotheses; interpretation of evidence)
  • Evidence of a sophisticated understanding of the topic
  • A genuine attempt to present and analyze ALL sides of an issue fairly
  • Good citations
  • Relevance to the issues raised by the course
  • Knowledge of cases and relevant data
  • Clarity of expression
  • Standard English, grammatical correctness
What kinds of evidence (argumentation) do Political Science professors recognize as valid in the work they assign?

In general, good papers in Political Science classes will use evidence from (a) facts or arguments from assigned readings or class discussions, and (b) academic journals and books, not popular magazines or superficial Internet sources. Most professors value a combination of primary and secondary sources on these papers.

What citation conventions will I be expected to use in Political Science papers?

Although the professors responding to the surveys indicated flexibility about citation styles, there is a preference for an author-date-page system of parenthetical citations that are keyed to an accompanying list of references. Two good systems are, one, the American Political Science Association style, which is based on the second, the Chicago Manual's author-date system. Above all, be consistent! You should check with your instructor for specific requirements. The most important factor to remember is giving enough information in the citation so that your professors will be able to find the sources you use. Avoid any appearance of plagiarism by giving complete citations.

Special requirements for Political Science papers.
  • Many professors cite plagiarism as a major concern. Do everything you can to present your work in the best light and avoid any appearance of academic dishonesty.
  • Paraphrases and direct quotes must be cited by page numbers; ideas, arguments, even facts-including statistics-that that are not general knowledge within the course must also be referenced to the source you are using.
  • Use scholarly journal articles and scholarly books as your main sources. Only very minor use of textbooks (our own or other textbooks) is permitted. Newspapers and popular periodicals are to usually to be avoided. In some classes, the only Internet sources permitted are on-line journals.
  • Remember that in academic papers, reflections on opinions and feelings are inferior to an analytic argument. Don't write "I feel" when you really mean "I think", and don't use elaborately incorrect grammar to avoid the use of the personal pronoun "I".
  • Proofread carefully to avoid grammatical errors and the appearance of laziness and sloppiness.
  • Pay attention to formatting, using page numbers, double spaced paragraphs, proper margins, and the like. Pay attention to your professor's requirements!
  • Do use tables when appropriate for presenting data effectively. (If you aren't sure, check with your instructor.) Be sure you CITE your tables - don't just cut and paste them from someone else's work with little or no explanation of what they're doing in your paper and where they came from.

Adapted from the Marquette University Political Science Department's Writing web page.