Research Papers

Writing a class research paper

Writing a research paper is one of the most important things you can do as a student. The skills involved–including writing, critical thinking, research strategies, time management–are all likely to be useful after college.  This website is intended to facilitate your learning of these key skills.  On this page, you can find  a quick guide to the core steps in the research and writing process, and ideas of where to go for information on more advanced skills.

The Quick Guide


What type of question are you asking?

Resources on this Website
Explanatory Why did Obama win the Presidency in 2008? Why is Ghana a successful democracy? Most of the website is geared towards helping students answer precisely these questions. Some good places to start:Formulating and Extracting Hypotheses, Causality
Descriptive What is the nature of nationalism in Russia? One of your main tasks will be to Collect Data.
Policy What should be the United States’ Middle East policy? Should the United States support the creation of a World Environmental Organization? Policy Papers
Political Theory Is equality or freedom more important to democracy? What difference does it make in reading ancient political theory for contemporary purposes that it was written in the context of Greek city states or the Roman Empire rather than a system of large sovereign states? Political Theory

What types of answers to your question are worth evaluating?


Key Resources:

Formulating/Extraction Hypotheses


Collect Data!

Key Resources:

Collecting Data, Using the Library


What type of information will you use?

Resources on this Website
Numbers and Statistics! I want to understand trade and investment between China and Africa. Analyzing Quantitative Data, Statistics
Historical Texts I want to understand the emergence of the modern conservative movement in the United States. Analyzing Qualitative Data, Using the Library
Personal Interviews I want to understand how other college students form their political beliefs. Analyzing Qualitative Data, Ethics,

How many cases will you examine?

Examples Resources on this Website
A lot! I want to look at patterns of variation in gun control legislation across all 50 states. Sampling and Case Selection, Analyzing Quantitative Data, Statistics
A few I want to compare democracy in Germany, France, and Italy. Sampling and Case Selection, Comparative Method and Case Studies
One I want to understand President Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq. Sampling and Case Selection, Comparative Method and Case Studies
I don’t know Sampling and Case Selection

Begin Writing!

Key Resources:


  • Write an Outline
  • Write a Rough Draft. Make sure you are using the appropriate citations. (Follow any specific instructions your Professor provides.)
  • Seek Feedback on your Draft.  Use our “Peer Editing Worksheet” to help you assess your work.
  • Revise

Turn it in! You are done!

Next steps for the more advanced research paper writers

If you have a decent amount of experience with writing political science research papers and wish to further refine your argumentative and analytical skills, you might want to consider investigating the nature of experimentation in general as well as identify and embellish analytical concepts that may be present in your paper but you were not aware of. As such, with this website you should

  • Think more critically about how the knowledge you run into in your books is created. Therefore, you should check out the Experiments and Quasi-Experiments, Comparative Methods and Case Studies, and Concepts and Measurements sections.
  • Head over to the Process-Tracing, Scenario-Building, Historical Analysis, and Counterfactuals
    sections to introduce yourself to these slightly more advanced concepts.

Regardless of what you plan to do it is always important to be in touch with your primary advisor and/or course instructor.  They may have advice or instructions that vary from those presented here.  This website is meant to be used as a general guide, to supplement — not replace — what they provide.