B20 American Government and Politics
Spring, 1999
Ideas and Help on Research Paper

New: Writing Tips for Nortyhwestern students

Go here for the "Miss Butler Lite" rules of grammar.

Trouble Coming up with a Topic?

The term paper assignment requires you to frame a topic from your reading of the Drew book. The challenge of defining a research topic is part of learning about American politics. I provide an example below and have discussed others in class. One of your classmates, Audrey Kim, generated a slew of possibilities:
  • "Barbour and Reed felt that Dole was in an untenable position. He was reluctant. But they had to get him off the floor of the Senate, get him to stop using the symbols and the language of Washington. The language and symbolism were inconsistent with 'changing America.' Staying in his role had him thinking minutiae, details. That's why legislators make poor Presidential candidates." (p. 90)
  • "...motivating these [interest] groups and getting enough turnout was the heart of the matter..." (p. 92)
  • "It's always Medicare and the issue du jour. "(p. 101)
  • "Ralph Reed's problem. . .was that while he was trying in one form or another to give Dole some room on abortion, he couldn't be caught out by the other pro-life leaders, or accused by his own constituency of selling out." (p. 106)
  • "[measuring the relative popularity of well-known figures]...Gingrich ranked close to the bottom...Colin Powell was on top by far." (p. 59)
  • "Grover [Norquist] is a microcosm of the conservative movement. Every battle we've been through for the last ten years, Grover's been part of...Now we're a real movement." (p. 79)

Audrey selected still a different quotation for her paper. If you can't come up with something on your own, you might pick through her extras.

Guide to Paper Content and Format

The course syllabus says this about the course paper, worth 20 points:

Each student must write a paper of 5 to 7 double-spaced pages (no less than 5, no more than 7). Your paper must be based on a specific sentence or passage quoted from the Drew book. For example, take main thesis of her book as stated on page 1:
Activist conservative groups in 1996 saw Pat Buchanan "as an obstacle in the path of their most important goal: maintaining Republican control of the House of Representatives. To these groups, maintaining that control was far more important than who won the Presidential election."

Your task would be to explain and analyze that statement using more general concepts. For example, what values were the Republicans pursuing? Why did they view the House as more important than the presidency in pursuing them? Did the groups cooperate in pursuing their common goal? If so, How?

Perhaps you like the paper-writing phase of research; maybe you dread it. The difference usually hinges on whether you regard yourself as a "good writer"-as determined by grades earned on countless other writing assignments. Students who do well in creative writing may find a research paper more challenging; others rarely applauded for clever turns of phrase may receive compliments on their clarity of expression. Writing a research reportcan be a challenge for students who excel at writing essays and an opportunity to shine for those who do not ordinarily "write well." You can improve your writing performance by paying close attention to these suggestions for reporting your research.

The watchword for this type of writing is structure. The format of your paper should reveal the structure of your thinking. Devices such as paragraphing, headings, indentation, and enumeration actually help your reader see the major points you want to make. If you tend to string sentences together without organizing your thoughts into paragraphs, you are not helping him or her to make sense of your writing. As a rule of thumb, if you type a full page (double spaced) without indenting for a new paragraph, you almost certainly have run one thought into another and have missed an opportunity to differentiate your ideas.

Headings can convey the major topics discussed in your paper. A research report typically contains four basic components:

1. The Topic: Statement or passage in Drew that stimulated the research

2. Methodology: How you designed the research to illuminate the topic

3. Analysis: Report and interpret the information you generated

4. Summary and conclusion: Discuss your paper's findings and value

The Topic (worth 3 points)

Your paper should demonstrate an ability to interpret the politics of personalities and events through analytical concepts of political science. Elizabeth Drew's, Whatever It Takes: The Real Struggle for Political Power in America, is an engaging journalistic report on individuals, groups, and political forces that fought the 1996 campaign. You must work at linking Drew's observations to our analytical concepts. Above all, your paper should show that your thinking is informed from taking this course.

You might begin by quoting a sentence or passage in Drew's book that drew your interest and launched your study. Did she claim something that you are trying to verify? Does she discuss a political process or activity that you plan to illustrate in a different setting? Did she allude to a person or group that you think it important to know more about? Whatever the question that attracts you, try first to put it in the context of the major concepts of The Challenge of Democracy--the values of freedom--order--equality and the majoritarian and pluralist views of democracy. If those don't fit your topic, consider using other concepts in the book--e.g., political socialization, elite rule, federalism, political participation, presidential popularity--or from my lectures--e.g., interest aggregation and articulation, centralization of power, representing v. policymaking functions.

Although not necessary to earn an "A," you can 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'sDigest-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. Two major outside sources, Congressional Quarterly Weekly Reports and The National Journal, are shelved in the Reference Room. These weekly publications are devoted to U.S. politics and both are well-indexed. Past issues of CQ Weekly Reports are compiled annually into Congressional Quarterly Almanac. All of these sources are well know to librarians, and the person staff can direct your to them if you need help.

If you use any published sources in your research (including Challenge and the Washington journals), cite them properly in your paper. If you are unsure of the proper form, you may wish to consult a standard book on writingstyle. One such source is Turabian's A Manual for Writers. It describes the literary form for citing references in footnotes at the bottom of a page 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 documenting 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. (Look below for help in citing electronic sources, such as Internet sites.)

Methodology (worth 5 points)

In this section of your paper, describe how you designed your research to examine your problem. Describe the nature and source of your data.Write as if someone other than your Teaching Assistant were reading the paper. Give the full citation to the Drew book and to Challenge, if you refer to it.

Avoid the temptation to write this section like a diary:

First, I looked at all the Internet sites. Second, I went to the Reference Room to consult The National Journal. Having taken notes on the information I collected from these sources, I began to analyze why Democrats are simply frustrated Republicans, as Drew claims on page 750.

Instead, write like a professional researcher, omitting the "I did this and that" approach:

This psychoanalysis of Democratic leaders draws primarily from two bodies of material: websites on the Internet and articles in The National Journal. The websites were searched using Altavista to retrieve mentions of "Democrat" and "frustrated Republican." This command identified 1245 hits, of which only 34 were relevant. The annual index to The National Journal for 1996-98 listed twelve articles under "Democrats, frustrated" and six under "Democrats, ex-Republicans."

In brief, this section reveals the nature and extent of your search for information. It should describe how you went about your research, indicating what paid off and what did not.

Analysis (worth 8 points)
This part of the paper marshals the evidence to illuminate your topic. If you introduced analytical concepts at the beginning of the paper be sure to employ them. In some cases, students may have lifted hypotheses from Drew's book that they are trying to test, and that's fine. However, I conceive of this paper more as a descriptive-analytical effort than as a task in hypothesis-testing. As stated at the beginning, you should work at relating this section to the course as a whole, demonstrating that you indeed took B20 in the Spring of 1999.

You may have tables of data that bear on your topic. If so, they most likely belong in this section. 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 tables if you insert each one soon after it is mentioned--which is easy with word processing programs. Be sure to number all tables and figures; this provides a way to refer to them. You can write, for example: "Table 1 shows that 42 of the 201 House Democrats can be classified as frustrated Republicans."

If a table is important enough to be in the paper, it is important enough to be mentioned in the text. Two useful rules are (1) number and give a formal title to every table accompanyingyour paper, and (2) refer to every table in your text. If you refer to a table, let the percentages in the table speak for themselves. Do not bore the reader by restating in ponderous prose what is communicated efficiently in a tabulation. Your job as writer is to point out only the key findings.

Summary and Conclusion (worth 2 points)

Return to the topic you identified at the beginning of the paper. This section provides the link between your narrow study and the broader concerns with which you began. Was the claim or comment in Drew's book supported by your research? If your study failed to support Drew, what were the possible causes of failure? Do you now doubt the thinking with which you began? Were the sources that you consulted inadequate for the research? If you see weaknesses in your research, here is the placet o comment and perhaps to make suggestions about future investigations.

Quality of Organization and Writing (worth 2 points)

The TAs have discretion to grant up to two points for your logic of organization, clarity of writing, correct grammar, and proper punctuation.


Useful websites to consult

How to cite electronic sources


Here's a simple example:

Peter Limb, "Relationships between Labour & African Nationalist/Liberation Movements in Southern Africa,"
<http://neal. ctstateu.edu/history/world_history/archives/limb-l.html>, May 1992.


For more information go to this Reference:

Michael Page, A Brief Citation Guide for Internet Sources in History and the Humanities


Sources of money for campaigns



The Federal Election Commission provides the most authoritative account of campaign contributions, for past elections too.



The Center for Responsive Politics maintains opensecrets.org, an online source for money in politics data. This site offers another way of accessing the data, and you may find it easier. Go to its Links and Resources for many other helpful sites.



Emily's List gives financial support to "viable pro-choice Democratic women candidates for key federal and statewide offices." (Viable pro-choice Republican women candidates should go elsewhere.)


Sources on interest groups



The Center for Responsive Politics also maintains, Influence, Inc., a valuable source of information on lobbyists' spending, and provides a searcheable database of lobbying firms



The Electronic Policy Network, a liberal-oriented site, offers a rich collection of information on interest groups and public policy.



The Cato Institute, a libertarian-oriented site, will take you to a very different body of information. Please note that this site takes some time to load because it runs an argument against government regulation of gambling on the interenet. But after that's over, this site offers a lot of information.



A straight conservative view point is provided by the Christian Coalition.



The Communitarian Network fills out the fourth category in our ideological framework. However, this site is short on links and probabaly will not be very helpful in relating to the Drew book. I've listed it to be logically complete.



For an example of a highly aggregative interest group, go to Common Cause, which addresses topics from campaign reform to the NRA.



And speaking of the National Rifle Association, go to its site for an example of a highly articulative interest groups.