Tips and Techniques o Writing Center
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
Back to techniques