Research and writing skills are fundamental to our discipline’s theoretical and empirical work, and mastering these skills sets students up for success in the workplace and in graduate school. The Political Science Department emphasizes these skills through our department coursework, Writing in the Discipline courses and faculty and graduate student mentoring.
Types of Political Science Writing
Reference: Research Papers in Political Science (PDF), Alexander Downes, George Washington University.
Reference: Writing Book Reviews in Political Science, University of Washington.
Reference: Compare/Contrast Papers, University of Washington.
Political Theory Writing
Reference: Writing Political Theory Papers (PDF), University of Washington.
Tips to Improve Writing
- 1. Train yourself to read critically.
Most political science scholarly work follows a similar pattern. In their writing, most scholars: (1) introduce a puzzle or an observation, which leads them to ask a question; (2) build on other scholars’ work to formulate an argument in response to that question; and (3) use evidence — quantitative or qualitative data — to test their argument. The challenge is learning how to pick out these main points, and then keep them straight when reading piles up over the course of a semester.
- 2. Spend 10 minutes analyzing your writing assignment.
Learning how to dissect an assignment prompt will help you develop a clear outline for your paper. Paying attention to the words your professor used in the assignment will clarify your expected motivation in writing the paper, audience, use of evidence, writing style and other technical details. After your initial analysis of the prompt, bring it to the GW Writing Center and talk through your approach with a writing tutor.
- 3. Know your weaknesses; find targeted resources.
- 4. Get feedback along the way.
Along with the GW Writing Center, exchanging essays with a classmate is a good way to get feedback. You can also visit your professor or graduate teaching assistant during office hours, listed on their biography pages.
- 5. Seek out extracurricular writing activities.
Professional Outlets for Writing
Save your term papers and research assignments so you can repurpose them into graduate school applications, journal submissions and writing samples for jobs and fellowships. Undergraduates are encouraged to submit to GW competitions such as the Eckles Prize for Freshman Research Excellence, GW Research Days and the Luther Rice Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Many academic journals based at universities also accept undergraduate submissions.
Faculty and graduate teaching assistants welcome students to visit during office hours and discuss how to revise their writing in preparation for publication or graduate school applications.
Sources and Citations
Political science arguments are based on theoretical work. Testing these arguments requires empirical evidence — information gained through observation or experimentation. Students should know how to use scholarly sources efficiently to gather such information and how to cite sources correctly. The correct citation is not only important for political science writing conventions but so that you can organize information to use in the future.