Department of Political Science, Queens College

Writing Political Science Papers: Some Useful Guidelines
Peter Liberman, Dept. of Political Science, Queens College, October 2006

A good paper informs and persuades; to do this it must be logically organized, clearly argued, and well documented. Good writing is hard work, but following the rules of thumb below will help you to write better papers and to do so more efficiently.

Format and Grammar
15. Avoid convoluted, run-on, pretentious sentences that are hard to understand and could be written much more straightforwardly.  You will be able to say more in less space if you minimize unnecessary prepositional clauses, obvious or meaningless comments (e.g., “It is important to bear in mind that...”), and passive voice constructions (e.g., use “Hillary kicked Bill” rather than “Bill was kicked by Hillary”).

16. Use correct grammar and spelling. This is not an old-fashioned, pedantic requirement. Errors here can muddle the clarity of your argument, and also can lead readers to wonder if you might have been as sloppy in your research and analysis as with your grammar and spelling. With the advent of word-processing spell-check programs, moreover, there is no excuse for bad spelling.

17. Use a simple format.  All papers should be typed, double-spaced, paginated (i.e., use page numbers), and be printed with normal type-fonts and margins. Do not include extra spacing between paragraphs, as this wastes space and suggests to your professor that you are padding the paper to get to the assigned page length. Staple papers together--folders and covers are unnecessary and cumbersome.  Always keep an extra copy of the paper, on disk or paper, in case the professor loses it (we're not called “absent minded” for nothing).

18. Use standard citation formats. When citing in footnotes, use the same format as the first footnote below the first time you cite a source.[1]  For subsequent citations to the same source, use abbreviated citations (see the examples in the footnote to this sentence).[2]  A somewhat easier citation method is to provide a parenthetical reference at the end of a sentence (Snyder 1991, 42).  If you use parenthetical references, though, you must provide complete citations for every work cited in a bibliography at the end of the paper.

[1]Theresa Pelton Johnson, “Writing for International Security:  A Contributor’s Guide,” International Security (Fall 1991), p. 171;  William Strunk Jr. and E.B.White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed. (New York:  MacMillan, 1979).
[2]Johnson, "Writing for International Security," pp. 172-78;  Strunk and White, Elements of Style, p. 48.