Class Paper Considerations

Let’s say I’m a fresh undergraduate who possesses no working idea of how to write a political science paper. The first thing I would want to look for is answer to the question: “What am I supposed to achieve with this paper?” (Another way of asking this has a slightly negative connotation: “What does my professor expect/want from me with this paper?”) I was looking at the website listed in the Political Theory section, “Guidelines for Writing a Political Theory Essay,” and it generally caters towards that end with its first section. It appears that a substantial amount of information that would be useful for a person in this position would be found in the “Writing” section – specifically things on structure, argument, and logic. I think what should be instilled in the average undergraduate is a couple of values that could be promoted with this website: critical thinking and sustained inquiry. Therefore, we can point to the research question page – I think what has been written in there thus far is a good lesson to learn on how to approach a political science assignment – and maybe something like Proposing Explanation, whatever comes up there. For this demographic, I would leave out stuff like experiments and quasi-experiments, comparative case studies, and most of the collecting data section (i.e., technical, “knowledge creation” stuff), and focus more on “argument-creation” or “argument-assessing” stuff. I would highlight more of Analyzing Quantitative Data, Statistics and Game Theory elements, as well as the Using the Library section.

So to recap: Fresh undergraduates should first learn how to compose/argue the paper, develop the appropriate mindset of critical thinking and inquiry, and then the basic tools of how to inquire and criticize.

More advanced undergraduates who are seeking to develop more nuanced papers should then be pointed to the other, more conceptual (but not technical stuff). Once again, we forget about the collecting data section, but we can begin to point them towards thinking more assertively about how experiments are conducted and how certain conclusions are arrived at more specifically. In this way, better ways of attacking and assessing an argument can be made. We should also point them more towards more abstract concepts like historical analysis, counterfactuals, path dependence, process-tracing and scenario-building. In this way, the overlap and relationship with other social sciences can be brought forward and further exploited (the experience of which would be very beneficial to the student), and – as you mentioned earlier – concepts that have been played with unknowingly by the student can be brought to surface and a conscious attention to interested areas that can be further developed can be cultivated in that student.

To recap: For the somewhat more advanced students (or students who have had some experience with writing political science papers), they should be exposed to further tools that can contribute to their construction of arguments. And because experiments (and quasi-experiments) are largely used by academic to generate knowledge that the undergraduates will absorb to reflect on, they should also be made to think more about experimentation as a concept and a sequential machine, thus allowing them to think deeper about the things they are being fed.

That’s all I got for now.

– NQ