Writing and Research

J. Pitney

CMC Government Department


Click here for an example of a Gov 20 paper. 

Click here for an example of a Gov 101 paper.

Click here for an example of a Gov 106 paper.

Click here for further links on writing and research.




        Does the source have a bias?

        How did the source get the information?

        Does the source have a reputation for thoroughness and accuracy?


A thesis is not a loose set of essays around a general theme, but an extended effort to establish a proposition.  There are two basic types.  Explanatory propositions lay out the reasons behind political events (e.g., failure of the immigration bill) or ongoing phenomena (e.g., efforts by the movie industry to fend off government censorship).  Prescriptive propositions suggest courses of action to the government or political figures (e.g., restructuring the Department of Homeland Security).  Whichever kind of proposition you choose, everything in your thesis should advance it. If a paragraph, page, or chapter does not relate to the thesis of your thesis, CUT IT OUT! 

You should start your research by finding out what scholars have written. In addition to books, you should also look at articles in academic journals.  See political science databases at: http://libraries.claremont.edu/resources/databases/bysubject.asp?SubjId=41   

Also check out:  

Once you have a good sense of the academic literature, then you should try to make an original contribution to the topic by delving into primary sources:  statistics, government documents, press accounts, and wherever possible and appropriate, interviews. 

Narrow down your topic.  It is much better to write a tight, well-researched analysis of one race for state legislature than a superficial explanation of partisan realignment in the 20th century.  Even a narrow topic can have broader implications, particularly if your findings buck the received wisdom in the academic literature. 

There are no minimum lengths, but a good rule of thumb is that one-semester theses should run about 40-50 pages (3-4 chapters) and two-semester theses about 65-80 pages (5-6 chapters).  If your draft is more than 100 pages, you should probably start cutting.


Pitney’s List of Dumbass Mistakes


affect effect

angle angel

benefactor beneficiary

border boarder

Capital Capitol

cite site sight

Columbia Colombia

counsel council

defuse diffuse

fare fair

heel heal

its it’s

lead led

lose loose
miner minor

mute moot

perspective  prospective

pole poll

populace  populous

principal  principle

rein reign

tenet tenant

than then

their there they’re

vain vein vane

verses versus

whose  who’s


A Poem


I have a spelling checker,

It came with my PC.

It plainly marks four my revue

Mistakes I cannot sea.

I’ve run this poem threw it,

I’m shore your pleas too no,

Its letter perfect in it’s weigh,

My checker tolled me sew.


Quotation and Plagiarism


Your paper should consist mainly of your own words.  You must avoid plagiarism.  Carefully review the definition of the term at https://www.cmc.edu/writing/a-note-on-plagiarism


At the same time, you should also avoid excessive quotations of secondary sources.  Put the ideas or information into your own words, then cite.  Whenever you do use direct quotations, name the source in your text.  


Do not write this way:


This article offers a new strategy for examining the legitimacy question in public administration and representative government. A genealogy of political discourses is proposed to suggest that political forms have historically relied on a constitutive exclusion. The U.S. Constitution and administrative state are conceived of as events in this genealogy but are unique in that both deny the ontologically constitutive effect of the exclusion. Administration and constitutionalism are described as liberal political technologies, deployed to re-present and fabricate "the People," that is, to bring into reality the organic totality that is ontologically presupposed.

-- Some academic person


Write this way:


[S]ome persons will shun crime even if we do nothing to deter them, while others will seek it out even if we do everything to reform them. Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people. And many people, neither wicked nor innocent, but watchful, dissembling, and calculating of their opportunities, ponder our reaction to wickedness as a cue to what they might profitably do. We have trifled with the wicked, made sport of the innocent, and encouraged the calculators. Justice suffers, and so do we all.

-- James Q. Wilson


Return to homepage


     [1] Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States:  John F. Kennedy 1963 (Washington:  Government Printing Office, 1964), p. 652.