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Analytical Essay Political Science

How to Write a Political Analysis Paper

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Political science requires good analytical skills as well as extensive knowledge in world history and international relations. But whatever you know about history, it is never enough if you want to write an excellent political analysis paper. You should start from the premise that politics does not consist merely of human actions and interaction, but it also involves rational planning, motives, principles and beliefs. This makes it a very special sphere for research; on one hand, it is not regulated by natural laws, but on the other hand, it is still subjected to some regularities - international treaties, for example. Hence, you cannot explain a certain political process as you wish but you should rather search for the causes and factors for it to happen.

How to write a political analysis paper – 8 useful tips

1. Definition

A political analysis paper aims at answering a given question concerning a certain political process, event, as well as at predicting future developments. Such a paper could also analyze an event or process from the past; hence, it does not necessarily deal with present situations and cases.

The political sphere comprises both internal politics and international relations. Therefore, your paper could deal either with the internal politics of a given country (for example, party system or form of government), or with its foreign policy (relations with certain countries or with international institutions).

2. Method

The method you need to employ is analysis, this is: to take the given process and to examine its different aspects. An analysis must examine it in detail, including causes, motives, factors, and results of the analyzed process.

Of course, you have also to collect the necessary data and information, otherwise you cannot write a good political analysis paper. Without empirical data your paper would be merely an essay. Do not forget that the level of such a paper is more advanced than a high-school English essay.

3. Topic and research question

Now you need to specify the topic of your paper. Remember: topic and title are not the same but are interconnected. Your topic could be the party system of the United States. The precise title will be as follows: “Ideological principles embodied in the party system in the United States.” You can also add a specific decade or century to it in the form of subtitle. Now you have to formulate a research question, for instance: “Does the party system in the United States reflect any political principle, and what is this principle?”

Advice: avoid too abstract titles. Try to reduce your title to something particular which could easily be examined (also empirically). Then the research question will be formulated easily as well.

4. Preliminary research

This research is preliminary because you do it when you do not have any clue about your thesis. In order to formulate a good thesis, you need to read some literature. You should start from the most general books - encyclopedias, textbooks, etc. Then you can check the titles included in their bibliographies and choose the most recent. It is important to refer to recent research because it sheds light to new issues and theories.

Another way to do this research is to enter some online databases and search by keywords (“party system”, for instance). Choose the titles which correspond to your topic and approach. Try to avoid authors that are discredited or are not well-known.

Now you have to narrow down your research. Choose twenty or twenty-five (for example) titles and read them one by one. This is the substantial research.

5. Substantial research

During this stage of research you have to find important ideas in order to formulate your theoretical framework. Read about, let’s say, the history of the party system in England and how it was changed upon American ground. Then read about the legal issues which the founders of the United States had to meet. Then you can read about the fundamental principles of democracy and check if they are present in the American party system.

After reading these materials, you must answer questions such as:

  • What is the process you analyze? How to define it precisely?
  • What are its causes and factors?
  • How has the process changed over time?
  • Which is the main theory which explains the process in question?
  • Which is the main opponent of this theory and what it asserts?

And finally, you must be able to formulate a thesis.

6. Thesis

It is the central idea which elucidates the given process or event. Your thesis has to be concise and relevant to the topic. You cannot write the thesis which includes new ideas (that are not discussed in the paper). Your thesis formulation will probably be changed several times. This is normal - the more information you gain, the more likely it is to influence your point of view expressed in the paper.

7. Impartiality

An analysis paper must not manifest your personal feelings, attitudes, etc. It does not deal with what is wrong and what is right, but rather with a process and its causes and/or results. Unlike political essays, here you have to avoid any impartiality. Try to be objective! This means that you must refer only to reliable literature, and not to sensational press or to forum publications.

Another important thing: use your critical thinking skills. Always ask if the information you have gained is reliable and objective. Ask who and why has published it. Search for other points of view which do not harmonize with your own.

8. Quotations and references

There is one basic rule regarding quotations: do not quote too much and too often. Your instructor will probably assign you a number of titles which you need to refer to (ten, fifteen, or more). You are not obliged to quote from all of them! You can merely paraphrase given assertions instead of quoting them. Still, you can quote but not as often as to irritate the reader. Remember that you are not writing an exposition essay but an analysis paper!


Note: the length of the following sections of your essay is only an example.

Title: “Ideological principles embodied in the party system in the United States.”

(Introduction- one page long) Ideology is a coherent group of philosophical ideas aiming at influencing or changing the society. Political ideology thus concerns the main principles, beliefs, convictions of a given party or political movement.

(Main part. Thesis - up to five lines). The party system of the United States is based upon the principles of the centralized representative democracy. These principles constitute the ideology upon which this country was built.

(Main part. Argument 1- two pages long). The first main ideological principle is liberalism borrowed from English political thought and modified by T. Paine and T. Jefferson. (here you should refer to original sources as well as to their interpretation by renowned researchers).

(Main part. Argument 2 - two pages long). The second fundamental principle is pluralism, or the possibility to express one’s own opinion and to vote according to it. (additional definition) Party pluralism means also the legal right of anyone to establish a party without being persecuted for this. (here you should again refer to reliable sources - for example the history of the American party system).

(Conclusion - one page long) The existence of both these principles could be proved throughout the history of the United States. Still there could be other principles found, such as religious pluralism and Puritan ethics. (with this assertion you point to some possibilities for further research).

Having written your essay, you have to revise it carefully. Read it first to find logical incoherence and contradictions (including vague definitions). Then review it again and check grammar and style. You should also check the sources of your quotations - check particularly the page numbers referred to in your paper. Then you are ready to submit the paper. If your instructor notices a serious flaw in the text you will have to re-write it, or edit the particular section of it. At any rate, writing a political analysis paper is a hard task and requires substantial time, so do be in a hurry - write carefully!

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Constructing an Argument

When asked to give advice about writing political science papers, Professor Ellen Andersen explained that most papers written for political sciences classes are arguments. “However,” she said, “do not write a persuasive essay about your opinion on the subject. Instead, take evidence and use it to support an academic argument. Use this academic argument to show your learning. Do not decide on an argument you want to make and then make it, regardless of what the evidence says. Be sure to engage with the other side of the debate honestly. Rather than dismissing it, think about it. That is how real growth happens.” For most assignments, you can follow a very basic format for an academic argument. Begin the process by finding trustworthy information. Then explore your material and orgranize your thoughts in a manner that works best for you. You can then start to construct your thesis statement.

The basic format of a political science essay
  1. Introduction
    1. The Introduction should articulate a clear argument and outline the paper’s structure explicitly. It can be a couple of sentences or a couple of paragraphs, or even a couple of pages for a really long paper. Make sure that your thesis responds to all aspects of the assignment.
    2. To show how your argument builds on previous research on your topic, include a literature review. You can do this as part of your introduction, in a section immediately following your introduction, or within each of your body sections, whichever seems most appropriate for your paper.
  2. Body Sections
    1. You can have as many body sections as you need.
    2. Body sections just mean you’re making a point about one aspect of your topic. They can have just one paragraph or as many as you need to make your point. For example, if you’re talking about the process of a bill becoming a law, you’re going to have subtopics within those over-arching sections, like what happens in the House, what happens in the Senate, and then what happens when they both finally agree on a version of the bill-and that's okay. Just be aware of staying on-topic and transitioning smoothly from one to the next.
    3. How to set up your body paragraphs
      1. Small thesis: what is this paragraph about? It should be your starter sentence, and also tie neatly into the last sentence (flow is important)!
      2. Evidence and analysis. The important thing to remember here is that you're not going “Quote 1,” “Quote 2,” “Quote 3,” and then analysis of quote 2, analysis of quote 3. You should be giving your evidence and analyzing it as you go; tell us what it means that the House is mad about an amendment the Senate added to a bill before you assault us with a quote about how the President feels.
      3. Summarizing/transition sentence. Finish up what you're saying, and then in the same sentence or another sentence, explain the train of thought that leads to your next point/paragraph.
  3. Conclusion
    1. Your conclusion should tie back to your thesis, but do not just restate your thesis.
      1. Before writing your conclusion, take this opportunity to review your essay. Does your essay follow your thesis statement? Have you created an argument and provided evidence that supports this thesis? If yes, then go on to write your conclusion. If no, consider changing your thesis (and revising as appropriate).
      2. Be careful that the restatement of the thesis doesn't seem like you're copying and pasting your thesis statement from the introduction. Your conclusion needs to be the summation of your entire essay; it’s your chance to state your point strongly and tie up any loose ends.
      3. Do not introduce new figures or statistics or evidence to prove your point. You should be done with introducing information. Now you're telling us what it means, why it's significant on a broader scale or in a bigger picture, and why we should care.

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Outlining, Grouping, Mind mapping, Free writing… Organize your thoughts!

Conceptual and factual knowledge is essential in a political science paper–interesting metaphors, grand generalizations, and a lot of “BS” will not lead to a smart paper (and will be quickly recognized by your professor). The key is to develop a solid argument with supportive evidence. It is also essential that you understand your argument in order to convincingly and eloquently present it to the reader–if you're not sure, the reader won’t be either!

There are many different ways to go about organizing a paper. To perfect that crucial organization element, consider using one of the four common approaches illustrated below. Each example is for an essay exploring connections between political power and power over the media.

  • Make an outline! Outlines can tell you how organized your paper is, where there are holes in your argument that require more research, or where information may need to be cut.
    See Detailed Outline.
  • If you don't like the strict formatting of an outline, try organizing your thoughts through bulleted lists.
    See Bulleted List
  • If you like diagrams, consider drawing a mind map or web that shows the connections between your ideas.
    See Mind Map/Web
  • If you're more of a puzzler, try writing your information on separate note cards and then rearranging them to physically build a picture of your argument. This can also be done electronically by typing up all of your information and then rearranging it on a computer.
    See Notecard Puzzle
  • If you don't yet know what sections to break your paper into, try starting with a free write that focuses on the prompt. You can see what ideas you have and start to find some connections between them.

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Write a Thesis Statement!
A thesis is…
  • …an arguable statement that will serve as a condensed version of the argument that you make in the paper.
  • not a factual statement about your topic.
  • …your opportunity to make an assertive claim that you will then back up using your collected evidence in your body paragraphs. In essence, it will provide a “roadmap” for the rest of the paper.
  • …not necessarily just one sentence.
How do I construct my thesis statement?
  1. After having organized all of the information that you consider pertinent to the prompt, you will have likely noticed some form of argument that all your information is building to. Investigate this further and determine if there is some sort of claim that your evidence naturally points to.
    1. If you did not see a natural argument emerging, dig further, rearrange your information to see if something else emerges, or consider doing more research that would provide you with more information on the topic.
  2. Pull out the key ideas from the argument that you begin to see forming and write down what you think you could argue. Remember that a thesis can be rewritten many, many times and what you write down first is in no way set in stone. In fact, you should spend some time rewriting and reevaluating your thesis in order to see if the claim you are making is really what you want to say.
    1. You may feel more comfortable writing out your claims and information first and then seeing where the essay takes you. In this case, it may work better for you to come up with a simple thesis first, without tinkering heavily with the meaning or the wording. However, it is important to return to your preliminary thesis after having written the entire paper in order to refine it and ensure its essence is still true to the paper.

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Finding Trustworthy Information

Evidence and information combine to form the backbone of a Political Science essay, as these crucial pieces support your thesis and all of the claims you make therein. When your paper uses accurate and carefully selected facts, your argument becomes harder to debunk and proves to your professor that you understand the material as well as the research process. Sadly, certain people stand to gain from pushing false information on the generally uninformed and careless public. The following suggestions should help you find objective and truthful evidence in your research process.

  • Start looking for information early - when you have an idea of your topic
    • Looking for evidence at the last minute can lead to decreased standards and pulling questionable facts from untrustworthy sources
  • Use the library’s available resources - particularly the online databases - rather than Google
    • These databases contain vast amounts of published information, usually written by experts in the field
  • Be on the lookout for signs of deceit in a source, such as
    • Overgeneralizations
    • Making things sound scarier or worse than they actually are
    • Presenting ideas/data that seem too good to be true
    • Results that have not been replicated, or seem like standalone occurrences
    • The group that publishes/conducts a study benefiting greatly from the results (potential bias/impartiality)
      • For example, if the NRA funded a study showing how gun ownership is tied to economic prosperity, they would gain members and donations – thus, we should make sure they’re being impartial in their research methods
  • Analyze evidence skeptically, but not cynically
    • Look thoroughly at evidence from research sources and only use that piece of information if everything seems to check out and doesn’t leave you feeling unsure –- implement a healthy skepticism while looking at facts
    • Avoid becoming a cynic who rejects every piece of information without considering it
      • This makes you just as gullible as someone who accepts everything they read, as people can play upon your inclination to reject facts to spin your understanding of issues in their favor
    • The key distinction is that a skeptic will realize a piece of information is trustworthy, while a cynic will never believe anything, regardless of its veracity

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