The Top Ten Features of a Good IPE Paper
by Professor Nick Kontogeorgopoulos
1. A clear thesis. IPE papers are not examples of poetry or creative writing (well, there is room for creativity, of course, but it is not fiction-writing). There needs to be a clearly-identified thesis statement near the beginning of the paper. Think of the thesis as the central point that you are trying to make; your paper therefore not only needs to about something, but it has to have a point to make. A thesis is an assertion--an argument--that ideally should be more than a simple statement of fact. A good argument is one with which a reasonable person can disagree, and one that is supported by ample evidence. The best IPE papers also anticipate and address the counterargument. Try to avoid "should" papers where you speculate about the future or make normative judgments about what "should" happen (if the particular writing assignment calls for recommendations on your part, make them only at the end of the paper after your evidence has been presented).
2. A well-supported thesis. Though it is important to state a thesis clearly in your paper--the reader should be able to easily and quickly identify the thesis statement after reading the paper--it is perhaps even more important that the thesis is supported with good evidence. Evidence to support your argument can come from a variety of courses, but in general, the best evidence comes from previous academic studies done on your topic. Case studies and statistical data are often valuable sources of evidence. It is important to focus your research and include information in your paper that relates directly to the topic at hand. Thus, even if you include a thoughtful thesis statement in the paper, as required, your paper will suffer if the thesis is either supported with irrelevant or scant evidence, or if the contents of the paper do no correspond with the actual argument that you are trying to make.
3. Analysis versus description and summary. When writing your paper, keep in mind that you should be answering the "why" and "so what" questions rather than just the "what" question. In other words, the information presented in your paper should be tailored to addressing your topic and supporting your specific argument, rather than just thrown in because it is somehow related to your topic. Avoid filling your paper with information just for the sake of it; everything should serve the overall purpose of contextualizing, setting up, or supporting your argument.
4. Proper structure. Your paper should flow logically and smoothly from one section, and paragraph, to the next. Every paper should have an introduction and conclusion. The introduction should efficiently introduce the reader to the topic, establish the context of the analysis (i.e., why is it an important topic?), and present the thesis statement. The conclusion should reiterate the thesis argument, summarize the evidence presented to support the thesis, and discuss the implications of this work (i.e., give some parting thoughts or final insights on your topic or argument for the reader). In order to assist with the flow and structure, headings or subheadings are recommended.
5. Thorough research. The substance of your work should draw on the assigned readings and other work done by experts in the field who have some background or understanding of the issue. It is impossible to conceive a sophisticated argument, anticipate the counterargument, and provide sufficient evidence in support of an argument without reading widely and extensively. The earlier you start your paper, the better able you will be to gather pertinent and sufficient sources. The very best papers go beyond the obvious and initial sources of information (the Collins Library holdings, full-text databases), making use of the various databases available through the Collins Library website, as well as sources of information such as Summit and Interlibrary Loan.
There is no magic number for how many references you should use for each assignment, since it depends on the nature of the assignment and the general quality of the references included. However, good papers almost always illustrate evidence of thorough research, and in addition to including an adequate number of citations within the text, they also demonstrate a wide range of research sources. It is always preferable in research papers to use refereed sources over non-refereed ones. A refereed source is one in which information is published only after it has been reviewed by several other experts in that subject. Most books, or chapters from books, that you will come across in university libraries are considered refereed, but not all periodicals are considered refereed. Although journals and magazines are both periodicals, journals are considered to be scholarly (or refereed) sources while news periodicals and magazines are considered popular sources. The characteristics of each are described below.
Scholarly (Refereed) Journals (should constitute majority of sources in research papers)
- Illustrations, if any, are graphs and charts, with few glossy color pictures.
- Articles are lengthy and usually report on original research (or experiment), case study, theory or analysis pertinent to the professional field.
- Articles are written by someone who has conducted research in the field and who is usually affiliated with a university or research center.
- The language of scholarly journals is that of the discipline covered. It assumes some scholarly background on the part of the reader.
- Always has a list of references or bibliography; sources of quotes and facts are cited and thus can be verified.
- Few advertisements (if any).
- EXAMPLES: New Political Economy, Review of International Political Economy, Third World Quarterly.
Substantive News or General Interest Periodicals (suitable for research papers, but should not represent majority of references)
- Quite attractive in appearance, although some are in newspaper format.
- Articles are often heavily illustrated, generally with photographs.
- Sometimes cite sources, though more often do not.
- Articles are written by an editorial staff member, scholar, or freelance writer.
- The language is geared to any educated audience. There is no specialty assumed.
- Main purpose is to provide information in a general manner.
- Published by commercial enterprises or individuals, and contains advertisements.
- EXAMPLES: Time, Newsweek, Economist, Harper's, Atlantic Monthly, New Yorker, New York Times.
Popular Magazines (never suitable for research papers)
- Are often slick and attractive and contain lots of graphics.
- Rarely, if ever, cite sources; information is often second or third hand; the original source often obscure.
- Articles are written by staff members or freelance writers.
- Articles are usually very short and simple language is used.
- Contains many advertisements, which are aimed at the general public.
- Available for public purchase (in stores, newsstands, etc.).
- EXAMPLES: Readers' Digest, People Weekly, Details, Entertainment Weekly, US, Sports Illustrated.
6. Proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. No matter how much time you put into your research, thought you put into your argument, or time you spend writing your paper, your paper will remain ineffective if you fail to communicate clearly. Poor grammar, spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and awkward sentence structure make it difficult and frustrating for the reader of your paper. The best way to ensure that your paper contains proper grammar is to read your paper out loud to yourself or to a friend. As strange as this may sound, you will be amazed at how easily you will catch grammatical mistakes. If something sounds odd, then it probably is. And, just in case you are thinking "this is not an English class," sorry but every class you take is an English class in that you need to communicate your ideas efficiently, creatively, and lucidly.
7. Proper referencing. Citing your information sources is extremely important, both in the text itself and at the end of the paper (whether you call the alphabetical list at the end of your paper a bibliography, works cited, or references page, your paper must include this list of references). If a source is cited in your paper, it must appear in the bibliography. If a source is listed in your bibliography, it must appear in your paper somewhere (i.e., list only books, articles, and other references that are directly referred to in the paper). In IPE, we use the Chicago style of referencing. There are two kinds of Chicago style referencing. First, the footnote style uses footnotes (or endnotes) for in-text citations. Second, the author-date system lists the author and date of a reference in the text. Both systems list references at the end of the paper on a separate page. The key is to cite whenever appropriate, and to use the Chicago style consistently. Sloppy referencing is frustrating for those reading your paper, and is an indication that you do not take it seriously. One way to avoid sloppy referencing, aside from familiarizing yourself with the features of the Chicago style, is to avoid waiting until the very last moment (when you are most tired) to put together your list of references; try compiling your list as you write. For more information on the footnote Chicago style click on the Reference Styles for IPE link in the column to the left.
8. Importance of topic. Why is your topic important? What is at stake, and for whom? What are the practical and theoretical implications of your argument? Is your topic interesting and relevant? Some writing assignments in IPE 201 specify the topic and parameters of the paper, but in those cases where you have the freedom to choose your own topic, choose something that has piqued your interest during the semester or that you are curious about. Choosing a topic based on what you perceive to be "easy" not only shows a lack of motivation on your part, but also makes it harder to stay motivated while working on the paper.
9. Proper formatting. Each professor has different preferences when it comes to formatting. Some require a title page while others do not. The page requirements also differ by assignment and by professor. However, if an assignment is supposed to be 5 to 7 pages, do not hand in a 3 page paper. Whether you ran out of time, or did not read the syllabus carefully, either scenario does not reflect well on you. Penalties for late work also vary by professor. The key here is to figure out the required formatting, and adhere to the requirements set out by your professor in each class. If you are unsure, or it is not written explicitly in the syllabus, just ask your professor. Despite differences from professor to professor related to the paper format, all IPE professors require page numbers and regular (i.e., 12-point) font.
10. Adequate incorporation of political, economic, and social/cultural perspectives. The best IPE papers strive to incorporate an interdisciplinary element, drawing on political, economic, and sociological perspectives. In other words, do not focus only on the political, economic, or social/cultural facets of your topic and argument, but rather all three, especially the ways in which they overlap and intersect with one another. This is what makes your paper an IPE paper.