Writing a term paper is one of the most common requirements for an upper-division course such as the one for which this book was probably assigned. Such term papers usually count for a significant part of your final grade. Yet many, perhaps most, students have never received formal instruction about how to write a good research report. The following pages are meant to help you write an "A" paper by giving you some guidelines about how to go about your research and writing.
Answering this question is a good place to start thinking about term papers because if you know why papers are such a common assignment, then perhaps you can approach the task with added enthusiasm and dedication. Two goals usually motivate this assignment. One goal relates to the specific subject of the course; the other goal is based on your professional development. The first course-specific goal is to increase your expertise in some particular substantive area. The amount that you learn from this or almost any other course will be expanded significantly by doing research and by writing a paper. The effort will allow you to delve into the intricacies of a specific topic far beyond what is possible in the no doubt broad lectures that your instructor must deliver in class. Your research will go beyond the necessarily general commentary found in this text.
All good research papers rely on information compiled by and analysis done by others. If you write a research paper without consulting other works, then you have written an essay, not a report. If you do rely in part on the work of other people and you do not cite them, you have failed in your responsibilities. A research paper cite the work of others.
Purpose: Students develop a greater awareness of differences and similarities between print and online resources, as well as a heightened sensitivity to evaluative criteria for such sources.
Create a Web-Based Information Source
Assignment: Create a web page on a narrow topic relevant to the course. Begin by conducting research that informs development of the web page content. Then write an introduction to the topic and include links to major sites, e-journals, discussion lists, and newsgroups. Write a brief paper explaining your choice of sites included on the website. (The instructor may also want students to include a brief bibliography of important print resources available in the library.)
Purpose: Helps students learn to use appropriate criteria when evaluating web sites. Provides practice in academic citation.
Comparing Print and Web Resources
Assignment: In groups of 3-5, examine one print resource (e.g., book, print journal) and one online resource (e.g., web site, online journal). Determine indicators of quality for each item, where exactly you found those indicators, and the appropriate use for each resource. In your evaluation note similarities and distinctions between the print and the online materials. Compare these sources in terms of your evaluative process of them, their quality, and the appropriate uses of the sources. Report on your findings to the class after everyone has also evaluated the sites.
In a U.S. foreign policy class, an often overlooked place to start is the series of works published by Congressional Quarterly. Weekly updates come in the form of the . Information on an annual basis comes out in the . Multiyear summaries called are available as well. These contain the basics of most U.S. foreign policy actions. Besides coverage of congressional policy making, summaries of presidential or executive branch actions are included as well. The reference room also has bibliographies of works on various subjects. These are classified under "Z." Check with the reference librarians. They may save you time.
The materials in the reference room are valuable resources for beginning to structure the basic outline of your topic. Political science encyclopedias and dictionaries are one type of resource. There are many. For an American foreign policy course you might wish to look at sources such as the (Findling, 1989) or, at the most general level of political science, you might wish to consult (Dushkin, 1991). There are similar works, such as (Krieger, 1993), that are global in scope. Then there are resources such as , the , or the that deal with particular topics, give summaries of various governments, or take other specialized approaches. Such works are normally acceptable sources; general-purpose encyclopedias (such as the , the , etc.) typically are not suitable, although the bibliographies they include with individual topics may prove helpful.
Comparison of Information Sources
Assignment: Select a research topic. Compare how that topic is treated in two to five different types of sources, such as journals, magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias, the Internet, and books. Provide a brief comparative assessment of how the topic was presented in the different resources. (Depending on the discipline, research topic or learning goals, instructors may wish to provide students with more targeted criteria for evaluation [e.g., author and audience, bias, etc.].)
When citing the name of a journal, magazine or newspaper, write the name in italics, with all words capitalized except for articles, prepositions and conjunctions.
The format for entries in the Literature Cited section differs for books and for journal papers because different kinds of information must be provided.
Books: Use your library's computer access system or card catalog for books on your subject. A good place to start is with the for ways to cross-reference your search for books. In the Library of Congress system, most U.S. history is under the letter E. For economics, look at H; for world history, consult books under D. Under H, the subsets of HC, HG, and HJ are particularly good for economics. The letter J encompasses most works on political science. As subsets, the letters JK focus on U.S. politics; JL, JN, and JQ cover other parts of the world; and JX covers international politics. Military affairs are under U. It is valuable to know these letters because sometimes it is worthwhile to simply go to the stacks where those letters are shelved and browse a bit to uncover resources that you may have missed in your computer or card catalog search. The shelves in the reference room are partly arranged using the Library of Congress system. Older books are also sometimes catalogued under the Dewey decimal system with the 300s and 900s of especial relevance to political science and history.
For example, give the year of publication for a book, the year and month of publication for a monthly magazine or journal, and the year, month, and day for a newspaper or daily periodical.