Writing in political science is rooted in the scientific method to the extent that it emphasizes objectivity, logical consistency, and dispassionate analysis of a topic. The command of facts and the force of an argument ought to drive a paper rather than attempts to persuade the reader using flowery language, overly-elegant prose, or moral claims. Writers should strive to express their arguments as concisely and clearly as possible so that the reader should not struggle to grasp the central points. Convoluted language and poor diction can distort and detract from an argument. In order to ensure clarity, it is important to carefully define terms that are relevant to a paper’s central concepts. For example, someone writing on the impact of oil on democracy must define ‘democracy’ in a way that allows the term to be empirically measured or tested. Organizing the paper into chapters or sections whose titles clearly delineate the topics (such as case studies, or theories) about to be discussed can provide additional clarity for the reader and can help writers structure their thoughts and ideas. It is also useful to present the answers to a paper’s central questions early in the paper. A political science paper is not a mystery novel and expressing key ideas and arguments at the outset can serve as a useful guide for readers for what to look for and expect.
The following are a series of sources that can serve as good guides for political science writing and rhetoric:
- Essay-Writing Guide for Political Scientists by UC Berkeley Graduate Students and Michael Nelson (PDF)
- Writing a Political Science Essay by Charles King, Georgetown University
- Suggestions for Writing Essays and Research Papers by Erica Chenoweth, Wesleyan University
- Politics and the English Language by George Orwell
- George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing by George Orwell
- Writing in Political Science by the Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Joshua Sowin’s A Guide to Writing Well found via Lifehack.org.
- 5 steps to writing an effective paragraph from Getting Things Done in Academica
- Writing Political Science Papers: Some Useful Guidelines by Peter Liberman, Queens College
One of the biggest pitfalls in political science writing is the issue of plagiarism. Plagiarism is considered the cardinal sin of academia and can be avoided only through rigorous and thorough citation. Failing to cite any idea, argument or phrase, whether directly quoted or not, constitutes plagiarism. Committing plagiarism is an express violation of the Wesleyan Honor Code which all Wesleyan students are committed to abide by: Wesleyan’s plagiarism policy. Wesleyan’s Writing Workshop provides additional guidelines as to what constitutes plagiarism and when citations ought to be used.
Wesleyan offers a number of resources to assist students throughout the writing process. In addition to working with professors, students may utilize the Writing Workshop, which provides writing tutors to assist students in writing and editing their papers. Additionally, the Writing Mentor program offers one on one tutoring with another student throughout the course of a semester. For students working on semester or year-long research projects, it may be useful to form peer editing groups in order to periodically get feedback from people engaging in a similar research process.
- Becker, Howard S. 1986. Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
- Cuba, Lee. 2002. A Short Guide to Writing about Social Science, Fourth Edition. New York: Longman.
- Scott, Gregory M. and Stephen M. Garrison. 1998. The Political Science Student Writer’s Manual, Second Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.
- Schmidt, Diane E. 2009. Writing in Political Science: A Practical Guide, 4th edition. New York: Longman.
- Turabian, Kate L. 1996. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Sixth Edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Contributor: Nicholas Quah