How to write a political science paper

by Gavin Meichelbock

Politics is complicated, but political science papers do not have to be.

The Peer Learning Facilitators at the University of California Los Angeles’ Undergraduate Writing Center, or UWC, are here to help students construct their political analyses or proposals. One such facilitator is Ixchel Aguilar-Moore. She is a third-year student majoring in global studies with minors in geography and Spanish. With all of her work studying the formation of the world and its culture, coupled with her two years of working at the UWC, she is just the person to help with writing a political science paper.

Aguilar-Moore said political science papers will usually focus on a policy proposal, a political theory and/or an analysis of a policy. The first step when writing is to take a stance on the prompt. Once the student takes their side in the debate, they will build their thesis around it with their claim, evidence and significance. When choosing a stance, it is important to not let the grade influence which side a student takes, Aguilar-Moore said.

“If you have a well-argued paper and you provide evidence… I have never seen anyone come in who … did bad because [their] professor doesn’t agree with [their] political beliefs” Aguilar Moore said.

According to Aguilar-Moore, The “hook” of a political science paper is merely a simple statement about the issue and why it is important. The purpose of the hook and introductory paragraph is to set up the thesis. The thesis is simply the main points or pieces of evidence the student wants to talk about in their paper, with each of the claims in the thesis representing a different body paragraph. When developing the argument in the body paragraphs, Aguilar-Moore uses the acronym AXES.

The “A,” stands for “assertion” and is the topic sentence. The “X” stands for “eXample.” This is where students put their statistics, sources or any other form of evidence. To find evidence, students should first look at the course reading, said Aguilar-Moore. She suggests that when trying to find supporting evidence in dense political papers, do not quote giant chunks of the paper. Instead, focus on keywords and short phrases that stand out; this will help students understand what they are reading.

The “E” in AXES stands for “explanation,” and is where students explain what their evidence means. Aguilar-Moore said the explanation should tie into class topics. According to her, drawing connections between real-world examples and class topics is the best way to analyze subjects that might seem unrelated. The second part of the analysis is the “significance” and is represented by “S.” Aguilar-Moore noticed that significance is the most important part of the analysis and is often missed by most students.

“It’s fine to say … this is important as long as you follow it up with some explanation as to why that is,” said Aguilar-Moore. “Significance is when you’re going a little beyond [the explanation] and thinking about what makes it important, what makes it significant.”

An inclusion that elevates a political science paper is the counterargument. Aguilar-Moore noted that making sure the opposing side is well-researched and represented in a paper adds complexity by addressing both sides of a contentious argument.

The part most students have difficulty writing is the conclusion. Students should first check with their professors to see what they expect out of a conclusion. If the professor does not specify, there are two ways students can wrap up their paper. The first way, said Aguilar-Moore, is to restate the thesis in a way that is cohesive with the information provided in the body paragraphs. The second and stronger way to write a conclusion is to introduce a new idea at the end of the essay. It is oftentimes better to leave the reader with something new. To do this, Aguilar-Moore suggested students draw from the significance set-up in the thesis and body paragraphs. This will leave the reader with something new to walk away with.

Another major problem students face when writing political science papers is worrying if their claims are perfect. The point of these writing exercises is not to provide the perfect solution to a political issue, said Aguilar-Moore, but to show how a person would argue their side or support their proposal. Students should not freak out about if they have the right ideas to solve global issues, but should instead focus on if their reasoning provides strong enough evidence to support it.

“You’re probably not going to be the one to figure out how to denuclearize North Korea, and that’s okay,” Aguilar-Moore said. “As long as you are confident in your policy and you lay it out with evidence and strong connections to class topics … you will usually get a good grade.”

For more help on how to write argumentative essays, click here. To book an in-person or Zoom appointment with the UWC, click here.

Featured Image via Adobe Stock

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