How to Read and Write in Political Science

Reading 101

  1. You are not reading if you do not have a pen in your hand. An active reader is someone who is thinking about what the author is saying and responding to the arguments being put forward as they read along.
  2. Sometimes it is best to read an article or chapter in its entirety first and then close the book and jot down one's own thoughts on the author's argument, the material and the perspective being presented.
  3. Upon completion of reading, try to answer the following questions:
  • What is the author's main thesis or argument? What are they trying to say?
  • What are the key findings of the book?
  • What sources does the author rely on? Are they balanced?
  • Does the author exhibit a particular bias or impart certain values?
  • Can you think of any counter arguments that challenge the book's main premise? What author's exist that challenge this particular viewpoint?
  • Do you find the author's arguments convincing? Why or why not?
    How to Write a Paper in Political Science

Where to Start?

Now that you have finished doing the readings you may have many different ideas floating about your head when you need to begin to construct an essay. The challenge is constructing your own argument. You may feel that someone else does a better job and that your work won't be as good. This is simply not true. You must give it your best shot – but where do you start?

Begin with a simple outline (refer to how to structure a paper handout below).

Your outline begins when you put away all the articles you have read and formulate a simple question. Then, provide an answer to that question and outline your reasons for your answer. Remember that the purpose of the paper is to demonstrate your understanding of the concepts and your ability to express yourself clearly.

Think about how you can best defend your position. What arguments can you make? What are the counter-arguments and how can you deconstruct them or prove them inefficient? What are the flaws you see? What are the strengths?

Now, begin to write. Use your own words and write down your thoughts on the topic. Try to write an entire draft without referring back to what you have read but rather on the notes you wrote while/after reading.

Your essay must begin with a thesis statement that indicates what you intend to demonstrate. Select two or three important themes and develop them in some detail. Work with in a specific time frame. It is unlikely you will be able to address all of the possible issues in a brief essay so be sure to select your themes carefully, explore them in some detail and then bring them together in the form of a modest conclusion or conclusions.

Then, turn to the sources you have read to support your own ideas and position. Draw on their ideas to strengthen your own arguments. Cite these sources and document your findings. Remember that throwing lots of material and citations into a poorly-organized paper will hurt more than it helps.

To avoid charges of plagiarism, familiarize yourself with the Department's policies on improper practices and conduct. Keep all notes and early drafts for insurance purposes should the need arise for research clarification. Students are urged to take the on-line Academic Integrity Tutorial which is very helpful and can be found at:

Read over and review the essay. Pay close attention to the coherence of your argument. Be sure you have addressed counter arguments. Double check that you have cited all the sources used and are using proper citation style. Finally, look at paragraphing and grammar for proper style, format and spelling. Remember, each paragraph should contain a beginning, middle and end and should be built around one main idea.

Ensure your paper is printed, double-spaced and with standard margins. Make certain it meets required word/page length and is neither too short nor too long, including notes and bibliography.

Congratulations – you have made an original, independent and unique contribution to the study of political science.

Essay/Research Paper Style Sheet

Constructing an Outline:


Introduction: Introduce topic

Question: What is the question you are going to answer?

Thesis: What is answer to question you posed/hypothesis you will test?
This paper will argue THAT _________ because...............

Map: To prove this, this paper will consider (a) (b) and (c)


Part I: A 3 pgs


Part II: B 3 pgs


Part III: C 3 pgs


  • CONCLUSION: 2 pgs
    summarize key points and conclude argument (do not introduce a new idea here!)