How to Prepare for an Essay in Political Science

Most of the information on how to write for political science concerns structuring and formatting essays, deciding what types of evidence to use, and how to coherently integrate all of your information into the essays.

However! There is a great amount of preparation that needs to be done before beginning to write the essay. Starting by carefully considering the prompt, you will need to use relevant sources to collect the pertinent information, while paying attention to citations and bibliographic information as you take notes.

Read through the assignment or prompt thoroughly

Topics are rarely straightforward and simple. Often there will be various parts to a question, so make sure you understand all parts of the question before beginning to brainstorm. Understanding the question fully will ensure that you do not spend hours working on an essay that in fact may not answer the prompt at all.

Pay attention to terms like describe, explain, compare, etc. These are called directives. Each directive has a different meaning and will require a different essay structure.

When writing in Political Science, the professor will sometimes give a broad prompt and sometimes give a very specific prompt. It is very important to answer any and all components to the prompt. Pay attention to each part of the prompt, because many professors ask several questions that need to be answered. In other prompts, there aren’t as many questions and so there are fewer components that need to be included in the paper. This doesn’t mean that the paper with fewer questions will be shorter than the paper with more questions. Some prompts with fewer components are actually meant to be longer than ones that have more components. This just means that you need to give more specific information and more examples for the prompt.

For each of the four sample prompts in the Sample Papers section of this Political Science, you will see an example of how one might structure the essay, based on what the prompt asks for. Each is merely an example; there are many additional ways to structure the paper. Unless specifically instructed not to, use your notes and any readings done for class. In each of the examples given, the information and readings should come only from what was done for the class. The professor will indicate if you need to use outside research.

You may notice that each of the prompts requires you to make an argument. This will always be true. The argument that you are making should compose the thesis statement, and each paragraph of the paper should support your argument in an important way.

Make a Plan

Completing a political science paper can take longer than you think–between doing the research, writing, and revising. Therefore, as soon as you get your assignment, make a plan to complete it. Break the assignment down into individual, manageable tasks. Then, make a timeline for when you should have each task completed in order to finish the assignment on time. This is a great way to minimize stress and stay on top of your workload.

Construct an Argument

When asked to give advice about writing political science papers, Professor Ellen Andersen explained that most papers written for political sciences classes are arguments. “However,” she said, “do not write a persuasive essay about your opinion on the subject. Instead, take evidence and use it to support an academic argument. Use this academic argument to show your learning. Do not decide on an argument you want to make and then make it, regardless of what the evidence says. Be sure to engage with the other side of the debate honestly. Rather than dismissing it, think about it. That is how real growth happens.” For most assignments, you can follow a very basic format for an academic argument essay. Begin the process by finding trustworthy information. Then explore your material and organize your thoughts in a manner that works best for you. You can then start to construct your thesis statement.

conduct research & Prepare your citations

Whether to use class sources or outside sources depends on the level of the class and the professor’s expectations. Make sure to check with the professor what the expectations are so that you can correctly and fully use all of the resources that are available to you.