Most of you need to work on narrowing your research question and developing a testable thesis. Dont

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Most of you need to work on narrowing your research question and developing a testable thesis. Dont try to tackle huge questions about why the Vietnam War went on for so long, or whether 9/11 was used to justify invading Iraq. There are a dozen good answers to each of these questions and there are thousands of books and articles already devoted to the subject. Narrowing the topic will mean an easier time with the research and a better end product.

Pick a topic youre interested in and want to learn about. Dont write a paper you think you already know the answer to. You dont need to prove a thesis. You need to test it and argue for it. Thats the point of doing research. Not being entirely right doesnt mean the paper is a failure (though dont try to test an un-testable or altogether obvious thesis – e.g. Ronald Reagan was a bit of a moron, George W. Bush was a bit of a moron, therefore US foreign policy was bad during their administrations).

Im happy to go over this with you in office hours or by email. But I encourage you all to use the following template and send it or bring it to me before you start writing.

A research paper should start with an observation of an interesting or puzzling phenomenon. For example, isnt it interesting that after Obama set a red line on the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime then didnt follow through on his threat Russia invaded Crimea and entered the Syrian civil war on Assads side? Seems like there might be a credibility issue. I bet JFK would have done things differently. Then again it was the Cold War and we knew who the bad guys were. And Vietnam and Iraq II hadnt happened yet. (Dont write like this, use academic writing).
A good research question should ask something about variation and cause/effect relationships based on that research question. Does the material credibility of a threat affect the persuasiveness of US foreign policy? OR Does domestic war weariness affect the credibility of a threat?
The thesis statement then tries to answer the question about the puzzling observation. I argue that US foreign policy can only dispel belligerent actors if matched by a verifiable military presence. OR Domestic distaste for war undermines the credibility of a US threat.
NOTE: the way I frame the thesis has different implications for the theory I use. One is more IR / Security Studies and the other is more Comparative / Domestic Politics.

Then you move on to case studies. I investigate my thesis about threat credibility by comparing the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kosovo, and Syria, specifically looking at the way that X did Y.
You need a theoretical frame for your argument. There is a tremendous amount of research to draw on, particularly about US foreign policy. In fact the most Political Science is written about American politics. For example, I situate my paper in the research on domestic political opinion and US foreign policy (see below).
Work with this template, write a strong one-page outline and Ill give you feedback on it. The outline will help a lot when you sit down to write your paper this weekend.

Other general instructions

Youre not writing a five paragraph essay; double space; number your pages; no fancy cover pages; put your name on your paper; include a word count on the first page; dont play with the font or margins to make it seem longer; use proper citation; dont cite Wikipedia, RT, or Vice; never start a paper with the sentence “In an increasingly globalized world”.

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