How to Begin Writing an International Studies Paper
(printable version here)
As the discipline of International Studies is highly unique in the sense that it lends itself to many perspectives (historical, anthropological, political, etc.), the writing assignment topics and prompts require careful planning. When beginning an IS paper, consider these steps:
I. Understand the task at hand.
- When reading the assignment sheet/prompt, be sure to not just skim and get a general idea of what needs to be done. Engage seriously with the prompt by identifying key phrases or terms and by distinguishing what is the most important question to answer.
- Find sources that can possibly help in understanding the assignment's topic and look back to class readings. Be sure to understand the context (and have ample amount of information and support) before starting your draft.
II. Recognize the audience.
- Important questions to ask yourself: to whom are you writing this paper? Is this assignment for a "high brow" audience or a "widespread" audience? The answers to these questions will help you determine the appropriate tone to employ. For example, if a paper is targeted towards your peers in the same class, an informal tone may be appropriate, whereas a paper targeted towards your professor and his or her colleagues requires a more formal tone.
- Remember that even though you may be writing in an informal tone, your grammar and punctuation should always adhere to college-level guidelines (no IM or text writing).
- A professor may want you to write for an audience that has a lot of experience in the topic or an audience who has little experience. Judging the amount of experience the audience is presumed to have is a factor that discerns the amount of background detail/explanation needed to balance analysis/original interpretation.
III. Imagine an appropriate model. Be mindful as to what type of paper is appropriate to the assignment. Such as...
- Research papers. Research papers require a significant amount of time outside of writing the paper to do research. These papers are generally thesis/argument driven without an infusion of personal opinion. They also tend to have highly specific topics and longer length requirements.
- Response papers. Response papers require careful consideration of both the topic and your own thoughts. Often times response papers are driven not only by an argument but by opinion, or your personal insight.
- Position papers. Position papers generally deal with controversial topics that have many interpretations. In this type of paper, you are typically expected to pick one interpretation and argue for it/defend it. Thus, these are argument driven papers that may resemble preparation for a debate. In addition to being strongly researched, an argument for a position paper needs to be more than just a bland rehashing of facts but rather have an interesting and creative presentation.
Keep in mind that the type of paper and expectations for papers will vary from professor to professor. This categorization only provides a generalized overview of common models. If you ever have any questions regarding what model to use, consult your professor.
IV. Plan how the argument should be structured. Papers that are strongly argued tend to be structured so that...
- The introduction foreshadows the rest of the paper. The introduction should tell the reader where you as the writer have been and where you plan to go. Be sure to state your intentions explicitly as it makes the writing accessible to the reader and it helps the flow of your paper; as mentioned previously, the introduction should act as a roadmap. Think about providing some motivation for the reader to be interested and keep reading.
- The argument, thesis, or opinion is built upon solid evidence. Your paper needs to be argument driven and built on a solid foundation (strong sources and a strong understanding of the all complexities and sophistication). Be sure not to build a paper around sources on the topic that just mesh well together or fit the assignment but do not provide support to any type of real argument. Allowing your sources to overtake the argument suggests a writer working in "panic mode" without engaging in the texts, context and assignment. Dr. David Brandenberger, Assistant Professor of History and International Studies, suggests balancing evidence and analysis 50/50.
- The paper follows a clear progression of ideas and concepts. Outline. Before diving straight into your paper, outline what you plan to argue. This will help you form a clear, strong argument that does not rely solely on sources.
- The conclusion takes the paper one step further. The conclusion should provide some sense of closure while expressing the "so what" component of the paper's argument. Think about the following questions: Why should the reader care? Why is this argument (or the issue itself) important? Are you calling for some sort of action in response to what is argued?
If you are still feeling bogged down, go speak with your professor and see the Writer's Web exercise on getting started.
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