When we talk about politics, everyone seems to have a strong opinion. Whether they come from the right or the left or the middle, dispassionate debate is rarely achievable. How then is it possible to analyze these activities impartially? The most reliable way is to use the scientific method to examine how the political world functions outside of the classroom. Students and scholars can accomplish this by studying the politics and policies of government on a state, national, and even on a global level.
Any student who majors in political science at college will be asked to write numerous research papers
. Perhaps the biggest challenge of penning these papers is to select relevant and compelling questions to answer. The point of these questions is always to acquire new knowledge to solve practical problems in the field. When it comes to politics, a student might pose questions that deal with large government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and government pensions. Why these programs? Because it's always advisable to investigate issues that have an impact on most of us, rather than those that only affect a few.
With that said, it is important not to confuse your topic with your queries. In other words, never start researching a topic before you have narrowed it down to a point where you have a clear and succinct question you need to answer. Always remember that research must solve problems to be considered useful, which is why it is often best to focus on questions that have not be adequately addressed, or about which there remains a great deal of controversy. Fortunately for poli sci students, there is no shortage of controversy in the world of politics.
As you might guessed from the name, all research papers require research. The amount of time you must spend in the library or on the internet depends on the type of project you select or are assigned. Some questions require enormous amounts of evidence and data to address, while others are answered with practical theories, for which there is little empirical or hard evidence. Either way, you must always use sources that help you answer your questions and can be confirmed.
Types of sources
Because the research is obviously crucial, it is imperative that you find out which types of sources your instructor expects you to use before you begin. If you are high school student, your teacher may insist that you use materials that he/she has provided, since research papers will undoubtedly be new to you. But for more experienced students, outside research is almost always required. What's the difference?
There's a reason your teacher handed out a reading list at the start of the school year. These are the materials you must use if your teacher tells you that you cannot examine any outside sources when writing your research paper
. Select materials that can help your answer your research question without any additional investigation. If necessary, look over you class notes that dealt with the text in question.
More often than not, whether you're a high school or college student, you will be permitted, even encouraged to use sources that are not part of the class readings. For a subject like political science, on which there are literally thousands of years of accumulated knowledge, the topic may be overwhelming. So, if you don't know where to start, do not hesitate to ask your teacher or professor for advice. It is a common dilemma, and one that cannot be solved with further research.
As an expert in the field, your instructor will point you in the right direction. He/she will help you find the most relevant and dependable general sources for your topic. Then once you locate a few reputable sources, you can narrow your search to include more specific data, evidence, and expert opinions.
As fast and convenient as it may be, you should not overuse internet sources. Contemporary educators may enjoy their smartphones and tablets just as much as the rest of us, but when it comes to serious research, they want to know for certain that each source can be verified. This isn't always possible on the internet, where opinion is as common as fact. Books, on the other hand, cite sources that can be confirmed by noted scholars in the field.
No, we're not saying that you should eschew internet sources entirely. But educators tend to look at papers that are supported entirely by virtual sources more critically. Some assume, rightly or wrongly, that the author may have been a bit lazy by failing to include a single print source, since finding sources online is so much quicker and easier. Therefore, it is never a good idea to include too many internet sources. A few is fine, but more than that could cost you, especially with serious academics.
Which to choose
If you do use internet sources, make sure that they appeared originally on a database or a verified website. Never use a quote or statistic that was cited in a blog or on a personal website, since it's unlikely they can be traced back to a verifiable source. This goes double in the tendentious world of politics, where passionate folks seem to simply make stuff up to serve their own ends.
Record all citations
The investigative phase of the average research paper can last for weeks, even months. In this time, you will likely encounter hundreds of legitimate sources that you may or may not choose to use in your paper. Make sure you record all source information that is needed to locate a particular book, magazine, or website. Better yet, simply prepare your citations as you do your research! No, you won't end up using all of them, but it will give you all the options you need to write a great paper