Topic: Each paper should be done on a different region—one paper on Latin America, one on Sub-Saharan Africa, and one on South Asia. You may write about the region or choose one or two countries within it; the countries are given in a list on the last page of this syllabus. Your subject matter should be something we are looking at in the class—the effects of colonization, problems of debt, health issues, developmental successes, political power struggles, etc. Obviously, these are all big subjects so it will be best if you narrow down your paper’s topic—please come talk to me or email me if you need more help with this or with finding sources.
So, you might choose to write on Nigeria’s ongoing, seemingly never-ending efforts at democratization. Questions you could ask are: what are the reasons behind the inability of Nigerian democracy to consolidate? To give at least some insight into this you might choose to focus on the problem of the exploitation of the Niger River Delta and the resistance efforts various groups have mounted there. How has the state handled the situation? What ramifications does the issue have for democracy in Nigeria? And so on. Put the topic you are focusing on within the larger subject to bring in what we are discussing in class.
Thesis: You absolutely need to have a thesis statement clearly stated in your introduction and then defended and elaborated upon throughout the rest of the essay. Therefore, I do not want papers that are exclusively fact-based; instead I would like you to take your topic, do some research on it, and then process that information into a paper that asks and then answers a question. Again, I want an argument, not just a statement about what you are going to discuss, nor a question without an answer in the introduction, nor a “In this paper I will be investigating Situation X to try to answer these questions.” Commit to an answer at the beginning and defend it throughout the paper! The title of your paper does not count as a thesis—if I cannot discern an argument in your introduction your paper will get a B- or lower.
Sources: You need at least three outside, written sources that are scholarly in nature, although having more than three sources is generally a good choice. If you give me less than three you will get a failing grade for the paper. For clues to this type of literature most of what we are reading in class are articles from peer-reviewed journals. You can find your sources in books as well, as long as they are scholarly in nature and not “Democratization for Dummies,” or something like that. You need to find your sources outside of the material assigned in class, although you may use our readings as extra sources. Your three scholarly sources should be used more than the informational sources or any of the class materials.
In general news magazines, such as The Economist or Newsweek, aren’t going to count as a scholarly source, nor is some guy’s blog about his Peace Corps experiences in the Sudan. Also, do not use student papers, including dissertations or other undergraduate or graduate work. Neither Encyclopedia.com nor Wikipedia.com count as a scholarly source! However, you may use those sites (or anything else you choose), in addition to your three scholarly sources for extra information.
Additional links for help with scholarly sources:
Go to this page to see which databases of journal articles are the most useful for political science research: http://subjectguides.library.american.edu/content.php?pid=120697&sid=1039050 (Links to an external site.)
I’m a fan of the Worldwide Political Science Abstracts, although I usually go wider and use the Proquest Social Sciences Index, which includes the WPSA. Academic Search Premier is also excellent. The library’s search tool is a surprisingly good resource, too, so long as you narrow your search parameters appropriately. Google Scholar is not good for the type of research you will be doing—it is too random and not organized the way a scholarly database is, so the library databases will be much more useful to you. The reference librarians are also an incredible resource! Don’t be shy—your tuition helps pay for their services.
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Please note that not all sources which come up in the databases are scholarly! If in doubt, look for peer-reviewed journals only, which will weed out magazines and other news/information sources. This is a good site for figuring out the difference: http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~janzb/courses/scholarly1.htm (Links to an external site.)
And here is a useful little chart for checking whether or not your print sources are popular in nature: http://guides.ucf.edu/scholarlyjournalsvsmagazines (Links to an external site.)
Please email me if you need more help with coming up with a topic, a thesis, or with finding sources. Give yourself enough time to do this—I tend to be unhappy with being asked for help with a paper at 3 a.m. the day it is due.
Citation: I also expect everyone to use proper citation—Chicago/Turabian or APA is your best bet for political science, but I am fine with other styles, done properly. You can find myriad online guides to help you figure out how to use each style. Here is our library guide: http://subjectguides.library.american.edu/citation (Links to an external site.)
Improper citing or lack of citation—i.e. including a bibliography but not citing any of your information within the paper itself—will result in your paper being returned to you ungraded. You need to format your bibliography/works cited page properly, too.
Make sure that you do not simply cut and paste from the texts you use for your bib—all of your sources should be properly listed and this needs to be done in the same style. Again, I will lower your grade for not taking a few extra minutes and making sure everything is formatted correctly and consistently. If one citation has the title of the work all in capital letters but the others do not, take the time to reformat the outlier so it is consistent with the other sources.
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