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Avoiding Common Pitfalls for political science students
Author: ADMIN (ukstudent at gmail dot com)
Published: Wed, 27-Dec-2006
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Avoiding Common Pitfalls. Article by Political Science Writing Center, University of Washington

Here is a list of some of the most common errors made by political science students in their writing. Refering to this list while you are in the process of writing can help you organize your thoughts and write more clearly (which will result in a much better paper!).

Unfocused or unsupported argument. Ask yourself how each sentence advances the point of individual paragraphs and what each paragraph does for your overall argument. If a sentence or paragraph is irrelevant, poorly thought-out or not supported with evidence or argumentation, get rid of it.
No clear thesis. Be sure your reader can quickly identify what the argument in your paper or exam is going to be. The thesis statement does not have to start with "In this paper I will argue that..." but it should be apparent to your reader within the first paragraph of the paper precisely what your argument will be.
Non-sequitur reasoning. A non-sequitur is "a conclusion or inference which does not follow from the premise: a remark having no bearing on what has just been said" (Websters New World Dictionary). Sentences and paragraphs should follow logically from one another. If you begin a paragraph talking about the electoral college, you want each sentence in the paragraph to relate to that topic (i.e., don't suddenly begin a discussion of congressional decision-making half-way through the paragraph unless you are relating it directly to your electoral college discussion!).
Lack of transition sentences or ideas. Perhaps you've written a brilliant, concise paragraph detailing how the electoral college works. Now you want to explain how congressional elections work. If you simply begin the next paragraph talking about Congress, your reader may wonder what the two topics have to do with each other. Think about your argument. What is the connection between these two topics? Why are you providing your reader with this information? A few transition sentences can convey your ideas and help build your argument. For example, perhaps you are making an argument about that the electoral college is anti-democratic in nature and to illustrate your point you want to talk about process that you think is more democratic, the congressional election process. You can make this clear to your reader with transition sentences or paragraph by noting this distinction and indicating to your reader that you will discuss congressional elections for the purpose of contrasting them to the electoral college process.
Topic and concluding sentences not related to main argument. This is related to the non-sequitur and unfocused problems. Sometimes we have a lot to say about a particular topic but it's important to remember that we are making an argument, not simply reciting everything we know about the topic at hand. Ask yourself if what you are writing is important and related to your argument. If not...you know what to do!
Opposing opinions ignored. Don't be afraid to bring up points that contradict your argument. Take the opportunity to strengthen your position by responding to those points in a systematic manner. If you don't, your reader will think of counter-arguments and assume that you didn't address them because your argument isn't strong enough to refute them.
Assignment not addressed. Read the assignment carefully. Don't hesistate to ask your instructor for clarification.
New ideas or hypothetical questions raised in conclusion. Sometimes after you've written your paper, you find that your initial thoughts about the topic have changed. That's OK! In fact, that is usually a sign that you have done a lot of thinking on the topic and critically evaluated the course material. However, you may need to rethink your thesis statement and, perhaps, the entire paper. This means that you have to give yourself time to write and re-write (and perhaps re-write and re-write) as you work through the material. Your conclusion should sum up the paper; it should not come as a surprise to either you or your reader!
Statements reflect unsupported personal beliefs. Writing political science papers can be particularly difficult since most of us tend to have strong views about political issues. But in most writing assignments, you are not being asked to simply state your pre-existing views about an issue. Rather you are being asked to reflect on the course material, evaluate it carefully and come to some conclusions that you could probably not have come to before having taken the class. Be careful not to use a paper assignment as just a vehicle for stating your personal perspective.
Overuse of quotes. The other side of the personal opinion coin is papers that simply string together quotes from the readings without making an argument or without evaluating that information. Quoting can be an excellent way to strengthen an argument, illustrate a point and demonstrate your command of the material. But overusing them can indicate to your reader that, while you may have read the material, you have not thought about it. You want to be sure that your thinking on the topic comes through.
Tense shifting. This is usually a result of not proofreading. If you are unsure of what tense to use, read the passage aloud. This is a good way to catch all kinds of errors!
Lack of editing. Proofread! Better yet, proofread and then have someone else proofread your paper as well. And, strange as it may sound, one of the best ways to edit your paper is to read it aloud. It's amazing the errors we find when reading something out loud. Often, our brains simply fix errors for us when we are merely scanning it with our eyes. Reading our papers out loud allows us to find errors that our eyes would have missed!

Copyright for this article belongs to Writing Center, University of Washington

This document was re-printed with the kind permission of Jessica Beyer. Original Source of the article is located here: http://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/pitfalls.html

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