220 American Government and Politics
Spring, 2001

Kenneth Janda, Instructor


The Paper Headings and What They Head
The Problem

Begin by stating briefly the topic you have chosen and your reason for believing it is worthy of study. Suppose, for example, you seek to understand how nations differ in the extent of citizen involvement in politics. You should begin your report by discussing the relevance of political participation to government in general and to American government in particular. You need not write a dissertation on the implications of political participation,but you should provide a setting in which you can place your research. Similarly,if you decided to study how public opinion toward abortion differs across nations, you should begin your report by discussing the politics of abortion in the U.S.

The Challenge of Democracy offers ample discussion about abortion in Chapters 5, 14, and 16. A good approach is to quote material from Challenge or Citizen Politics (or both) to serve as a launching pad for your inquiry. Although it is not necessary to earn an "A," you can also add to the scholarly quality of your paper by citing one or more outside studies or publications relevant to your research.

Any studies you mention should be scholarly: That excludes such sources as People and Reader's Digest---and even Time or Newsweek. Most scholarly citations are to books, government documents, and articles in professional journals. The "Selected Readings" at the end of each chapter in The Challenge of Democracy is a good source of relevant books and documents. Scholarly articles might better be obtained from citations in Citizen Politics.

Some professional journals (such as The American Political Science Review) are pretty dense for students (and often for faculty too!). Other journals, however, frequently contain articles of value to studentsd oing research on American government. Examples of such journals are American Politics Quarterly, The Journal of Politics, Legislative Studies Quarterly, Presidential Studies Quarterly, and Public Opinion.

If you use any published sources in your research (including Challenge and Citizen Politics), cite them properly in your paper. If you are unsure of the proper form, you may wish to consult a standard book on writing style. One such source is Turabian's A Manual for Writers. It describes the literary form for citing references in footnotes at the bottom of apage and the simpler "scientific" style of making short references to sources within parentheses in the text itself--like this: (Turabian, 1973:181-182).

When you use the scientific style, you must also include a bibliography to give your reader complete bibliographic information about the works you cite in the body of your paper. The works must be listed alphabetically by author. The year of publication should follow the name of the author to help the reader distinguish among multiple works by the same author. Here is an example of the basic format:

Turabian, Kate L. 1973. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Whatever bibliographic style you use to cite your outside sources, your objective is to permit other readers to check your sources of information. Therefore, be thorough and precise when you document your sources. It is no crime to quote exactly what someone else has written--as long as you enclose the passage in quotation marks or set it off from your text by starting it on a new line and indenting it (never both) and attribute the quotation to the author, citing source and page.

After you have defined the research problem, you are ready to discuss the methodological aspects of your research.

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Methodology and Theory

In this section of your paper, describe how you designed your research to examine your problem. Indicate here the nature and source of your data. Write as if someone other than your instructor were reading the paper. Do not assume that the reader knows you are using the 1990-91 World Values data as reported in Dalton; state it. After all, the limitations of the data limited what you could research, so you might as well establish the limits of your liability.

Also use this section to explain your choice of variables. In some cases, you will have found variables that fit perfectly with your topic. For example, if you were seeking to explain the relationship between citizens' belief in God and their level of education, the data provides precisely the variables that you need. In other cases, the available variables may not have been exactly what you wanted, and you had to make do with less-than-perfect choices.

For instance, assume you wanted to study the relationship between attitudes toward women's rights and urbanization. The Citizen data set does contain a variable for "town size," but it does not contain a single variable on attitudes toward women's rights. However, it does have other variables on similar opinions. Therefore, you have had to use them instead. You have little choice but to explain briefly the problem of fit and your choices of variables for analysis. You should also discuss in this section any variables for which you had to control while you studied the main relationship of interest to you.

You should prepare hypotheses to guide your research. A hypothesis is simply a bold assertion of an expected relationship. Here are two examples:

H. 1: Citizens in nations other than the U.S. show greater support for equalizing income levels, and this holds across various levels of income within each country.

H. 2: In each country, greater levels of education produce more support for environmental issues.

Hypotheses should be stated as bluntly as possible. The ideal quality of a hypothesis is falsifiability. If the reader can quickly see what evidence is required to disprove the hypothesis, it has been properly stated.

The idea of falsifiability may be hard for you to accept if your usual practice has been to shape your writing to conform to whatever the facts turn out to be. Many students are cautious rather than bold and have cultivatedt he art of being "concretely vague," producing statements whose prize quality is being unfalsifiable. If that description fits your writing, you need to shift your style and expose your assertions to disproof!

The reason for the shift is to improve understanding. Francis Bacon, a noted English philosopher, said that truth emerges more clearly from error than from confusion. If you boldly assert that Democrats favor more spending for social welfare than Republicans but your data show otherwise, the clarity of your assertion forces you to confront your misunderstanding. However,if you say, more vaguely, that Democrats and Republicans have "different" attitudes toward spending for social welfare, you can accept evidence that Republicans show more support for social spending without being forced to reexamine your thinking. So the premium is on falsifiability in formulating hypotheses.

Accordingly, there is also a premium on explicitness in stating hypotheses. One way to be explicit is to formalize your hypotheses by distinguishing them from the rest of the text. You can do this by underlining each hypothesis or by placing each hypothesis on a separate line. (We used both techniques to distinguish our two sample hypotheses.) A third technique, which is especially useful when you have several hypotheses, is to number your hypotheses (for example, H. 1, H. 2, etc.) and to refer to them by number in your section on data analysis.

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Data Analysis

This section analyzes the data produced by your research. Include in this section the tables reporting the data that bear on your research question or on your hypotheses. In most cases, you will construct many more tables with Crosstabs than you will choose to include in the paper. The reader does not need to peer into all the blind alleys that you investigated in the course of your research! In the data analysis section, perhaps more than in any other, you should develop a strategy of presentation. You should not present one table after another; you should give some thought to sparking the reader's interest in your research.

One way to begin is by presenting a broad overview of the relationship and then introduce each of your control variables in turn to see whether the overall relationship is altered by the controls. Let's consider an example.

Suppose your hypothesis is that Americans are more strongly opposed to abortion than citizens in the U.K., France, and Germany. You should begin with a table that crosstabulates ABORTION by NATION.

Let's say that Crosstabs supports your hypothesis when you examinet he percentages across columns. Why should citizens in the U.S. differ from those elsewhere? Perhaps the explanation lies in the relationship between attitudes toward abortion and religiosity. You could run another table with three variables: ABORTION by PIOUS by NATION, which employs NATION as a 3rd (control) variable. This command will produce five distinct tables, one each for the U.S., U.K., Franc, and the two Germanies. By generating separate tables for each country, Crosstabs allows you to compare the effects of religiosity on attitudes toward abortion for each group of citizens.

You can print out the tables you create using the print option in doit. You can also "select" the tables on the hardin screen and dump them into your word processor. [Note: Be sure to use the right font when you do this.]

Try to keep your tables free from distracting information. Indeed , SPSS often gives you (the researcher) more information than you should report to your reader. For example, the SPSS command that I suggested prints both the number of cases and the percentages in each cell. But as you have seen in reading Dalton, most tables report only percentages. If the table gives the numbers of cases, it usuually only gives the total number of cases on which the cell entries are based. (See Table 6.1 on page 115 of Dalton.)

The simplest way to include tables in your paper is to group them all at the end, but the reader is more likely to look at the tables if you insert each one on the page that immediately follows the page on which it is mentioned. Numbering your tables is important, for it gives you a way to refer to them in your text.

You can write, for example: "Table 1 shows the relationship between attitudes toward abortion and religiosity across all nations."

If your tables are not numbered, your reader will have trouble finding the table that you are discussing. If a table is important enough to include in the paper, it is important enough to be mentioned in the text. So, two useful rules are (1) number and give a formal title to every table accompanying your paper, and (2) refer to every table in your text.

When you refer to a table, let the percentages in the table speak for themselves. Do not bore the reader by restating in ponderous prose whatis communicated efficiently in a tabulation. Your job as writer is to point out only the key findings. The data are in the table; the text should draw conclusions or summarize the findings.

During the research process, every researcher generates more tables than are actually used in a final study. That's normal. When you decide which tables you want to report in you paper, prepare them carefully to communicate the points that you want to make. The Dalton book provides various examples of how to report your data, so consult it for ideas. Concerning the topic discussed above--ABORTION by PIOUS by NATION--I've provided one example that's easily done on a word processor using the Courier font.

Finally, avoid using in your paper the short names that SPSS uses to refer to variables. Those labels are convenient for the computer analysis, but they convey little meaning to the outside reader, who is your principal audience. Instead, use more literary terms for your variables: "religiosity" instead of PIOUS, and "attitudes toward abortion" rather than ABORTION. Using pleasing language in your text makes for more pleasant reading.

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Summary and Conclusion

In the final section, you should return to the problem you described at the beginning of the paper. This section provides the link between your narrow data analysis and the broader concerns with which you began. You might start by summarizing the results of your crosstabulations and determining whether your research supported or contradicted your expectations.

If your expectations were supported, how strong were the observed relationships? Were they clear and consistent or only partially supportive? If your research failed to meet your expectations, what are the possible causes of failure? Do you now doubt the thinking with which you began? Were there too many confounding variables that proved too difficult to control? Were the data inadequate in themselves, or were there problems in the way the variables were measured? If you see weaknesses in your research, here is the place to comment and perhaps to make suggestions about future research.

By this time, you should realize that your study can be likened to a laboratory experiment in a chemistry course: Developing a way of thinking about research is more important than the actual findings. Each new study that you undertake should benefit from this model of learning through original research in American government and politics.

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