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Political Science Project Guidelines

Political science honors theses should make an original contribution, however small, to any subfield of the discipline. The project should focus on analysis of a problem or development in politics/government. Description of the issue is necessary but is not the heart of the project. Scholars are expected to be objective in their analysis—this is not an opinion-guided project.

Students pursuing the thesis should be well-read and aware of their topic's importance both to political scientists and to the political world at large. Such preparation will not only inform the student of which research path to take but will also prevent her/him from conducting research that merely replicates what has been done before. The Honors thesis will take most of the senior year to complete, so during the junior year each student must ask herself/himself:

Political science honors theses should make an original contribution, however small, to any subfield of the discipline. The project should focus on analysis of a problem or development in politics/government. Description of the issue is necessary but is not the heart of the project. Scholars are expected to be objective in their analysis—this is not an opinion-guided project.

Students pursuing the thesis should be well-read and aware of their topic's importance both to political scientists and to the political world at large. Such preparation will not only inform the student of which research path to take but will also prevent her/him from conducting research that merely replicates what has been done before. The Honors thesis will take most of the senior year to complete, so during the junior year each student must ask herself/himself:

1. In the POL classes I have taken thus far, have I read enough analytical research in my favored subfield to pose a viable research question of my own?

2. Have the POL courses and classes in other fields taught me how to use the library and electronic resources to collect academic scholarship on a focused topic?

3. Have the POL courses and classes in other fields given me experience in writing research papers of ten or more pages?

4. Have I taken POL 350 Social Science Research Methods by the end of my junior year? Note: Taking POL 350 in the senior year is too late for it to do any good.

5. Have I thought about which three professors I would like to have on my thesis committee?

6. Am I ready to meet with my thesis adviser as often as once a week (and with the whole committee less often) during my senior year to discuss progress, review drafts, etc.?

7. Do I know that the thesis is my responsibility—that the committee or anyone else is not responsible for helping me gather library sources, collect and analyze data, or draft the report?

If you answered "no" to any of these questions, please consult with your political science adviser to determine what should be done to get you on track to begin the thesis process. Below is a discussion of requirements for each step of the thesis process.

Proposal

This document should include: a cover page (your name, title of project, committee member names, and any other information required by the Honors College); 5-6 pages of text; bibliography (10 or more academic sources at this stage), and a draft of survey or other data collection instruments attached as appendix. The 5-7 pages of text should be organized as follows:

1. Introduction (1 page): State your research question and discuss the specific issue/development being investigated.  Why should we care about this?  Briefly, what will you add to what we know? List one or more relevant hypotheses to be tested. Be sure to delineate limits of study: what exactly will be investigated, and how far do you see your findings being generalized across space and time?

2. Literature Review (1-2 pages): Summarize the current state of knowledge about the political process, relationship, or concept you are examining. Identify the dominant definitions and theories used to explain the phenomena you are studying and explain which you will be using.  Present the methods generally used in the literature and explain why you will or will not use the same.  Persuade the reader that gaps in the literature exist or that previous methods of study have missed something important; then make the case that your project is designed to fill in those missing pieces. 

3. Theory (1 page): In the literature review, you identified the relevant theories and indicated which would guide your research.  In this section, you provide more information on those theories/the theory you chose. At this stage you are not expected to know all the details of the theory, but you should be able to denote its importance to your project.

4. Method (1-2 pages): Sketch the means by which you will collect and analyze data for the thesis. Present the necessary details of collection (survey/interviews, content analysis of documents, observation, experimentation) with an estimate of how "big" your data set will be (e.g., 40 city budgets analyzed, 100 MUW students interviewed). Specify qualitative or quantitative analysis of data, giving as much detail as you can. For example, a quantitative project may employ regression analysis through SPSS, and a qualitative design may use narrative analysis.

5. Results (1 page): Suggest the analytic outcomes that would lead you to confirm or reject your hypothesis. Explain the significance of either outcome:  Will the outcome support or challenge what is already known in the field? Will the outcome be useful for those who are directly confronted with the issue in the "real world"?

Poster

The poster should present information from the proposal clearly and thoroughly, with an emphasis on visual presentation.  There is a balancing act here:  your poster should be self-explanatory, providing enough information that viewers can get a basic understanding of your project on their own; however, it should also avoid large blocks of text and provide a pleasing and interesting visual.  Write out the research question and hypotheses in a way that non-political scientists would understand what you are studying. Provide tables/figures and even pictures to assist viewers in recognizing the details and context of your research. Follow the poster format guidelines established by the Honors College.

Thesis

In its later drafts and final version, the thesis must adhere to the standards below. Students must follow the APA or Chicago Writing Manual for writing style, citations, etc.

A. Cover page: Same as on the proposal, with revisions as necessary.

B. Text: 15-30 pages in length (typed, double-spaced, with 1" margins and 12pt font). 

A limited number of brief tables, graphs, and illustrations may be inserted in the text, but longer items (full regression tables, survey instruments, content analysis units, etc.) should be included at the end of the paper, in appendices. You should use academic articles as a guide and consult your advisor concerning the appropriateness of including items in the text of your paper.  

Text should be organized the following way, adapted to fit your needs.  You may use the page number ranges (in parentheses) as rough guides.  

1. Introduction: Present the issue and your specific angle. Some history may be helpful here, but you must not burden your project with historical narrative.  (1-3) 

2. Literature Review: Discuss what has been concluded about this topic in the academic literature and how those conclusions have been reached. Emphasize major theories and how your approach fits in or not. State whether you are expanding or challenging a theory or methodological approach. (3-4)

3. Theory:  Identify the paradigm, or theoretical school, guiding your approach to the topic. Describe your theoretical assumptions and the implications of your theory for the phenomenon at hand.  How does your theory explain the causal relationship posed among the concepts under study?  Given those causal relationships, what are your hypotheses? (3-4)

4. Data and Methods: Explain specifically how you will test the hypotheses implied by your theory.  What is the population of relevant cases?  How and why did you choose your sample, and what are its characteristics?  What are the variables involved?  How have you operationalized each, and why are these valid measures? How did you analyze the data collected? (3-4)

5. Test: Analyze your data and explain your findings.  How confident are you in your findings? (3-4)

6. Conclusions: Discuss the relevance of your findings (confirmed or rejected hypotheses) to academic research and the "real world." Discuss expansion/revision of theory or the introduction of a new theory. State further research directions (maybe with new hypotheses to test) for others to pursue. (2-3)

C. Bibliography: A list of 15-30 academic sources (scholarly books and articles), which may be supplemented by other sources (news magazine articles, government documents). Accessing legitimate sources electronically is fine.

D. Appendices: A separate appendix should be created for larger tables or figures as well as for your survey or other data collection instrument. Do not include an appendix unless you make reference to it in the text (e.g., SEE TABLE 4 IN APPENDIX D).

A summary of the thesis (with emphasis on hypothesis testing and conclusions) should be the basis of your presentation given to the Honors College at the end of the year. Make use of visuals (PowerPoint, etc.) as per Honors guidelines.