Proseminar Term Paper Assignment 

You are required to write a 15 to 20-page research paper on a topic chosen in consultation with your professor.  The best papers will be problem driven and have a clear research question.  

Note: This is the standard proseminar syllabus, however, the content may vary depending on the course and the professor.


Your paper should contain four primary components:

1) Introduction. Your introduction you should be sure to define the research problem clearly and provocatively, lay out the basic organization of the paper, and provide a precise thesis statement.  The thesis statement (i.e. your argument) should be interesting, thought provoking, and perhaps even a little counterintuitive; it should neither be trivially obvious nor overstated.  In exceptional papers, the thesis statement will demonstrate original thought.

2) A systematic development of your argument, including the presentation of evidence and critical analysis of alternative explanations.  Your paper should provide sufficient evidence for a reasonably educated reader to understand and evaluate your argument.  You might consider questions like: What are the specific problems and challenges posed by your topic?  Why are they so important? (This can be a more detailed statement that builds from your brief introduction.)  Why have they been so difficult to solve?  Are there historical, cultural, geographic, or technological dimensions to this problem?  If so, which are the most critical to understanding and solving this problem?  What have past efforts to address the problem looked like, to what extent have they been successful, and what can we learn from these experiences?  

You may also want to include a brief literature review that summarizes how others might answer your research question.  What are scholars, experts, and policy practitioners saying?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments?  What type of evidence do they use?  Is it convincing?  Why or why not?  What do these experts suggest should be done?  

While it is important to provide the reader with sufficient background information regarding the inner dynamics of your problem and how others think about it, the central thread of the paper is YOUR contribution to the debate.  What do you suggest is the answer to your research question?  How do you know?  What evidence can you mobilize in support of your argument?  Are there any problems with your approach?  How might they be addressed? 

Throughout the paper, you should feel free to draw upon the theoretical and conceptual tools you are learning in this class and elsewhere.  Above all, your paper should: a) bepresented clearly and logically; b) mobilize sufficient evidence to support your claims; and c) consider a variety of perspectives (e.g. political, theoretical, cultural, and/or disciplinary) to ensure that you develop your argument in a convincing fashion.

3) Conclusion. You should offer a conclusion that restates your argument in a fresh and thought-provoking way in light of your earlier discussion.  You may wish to consider questions like: What are the implications of your analysis?  Where do we go from here?  What might future studies look like?  Are there policy prescriptions that can be derived from your analysis?  What has to happen in order to solve the problem you identified?  How realistic is it?

4) Citations and bibliography.  To do your research, you will need to examine:

a) at least five books relevant to the issue;

b) at least five articles from a scholarly journal (see list of suggested journals on the department website); 

c) at least two primary sources, such as legal texts (e.g. treaty texts, legal decisions, etc.), government sources (e.g., memos, the records of Congressional hearings), official documents from IGOs, 

NGOs, or elsewhere (such as United Nations Resolutions or memoranda), biographies, transcripts of speeches, or interviews.

Your bibliography should include the most authoritative sources that you can find on your topic.  Who are the most commonly cited authors?  What are the fault-lines of the debate that surrounds your issue?   Google scholar could be a useful tool in finding the most commonly cited works on your topic.  

All sources you consult should be listed in a bibliography (the bibliography does not count against the page limit).  Do not cite urls unless they can only be found online; even if you read the article electronically, it usually has the citation with it.  You may use any standard form of citation (footnotes, endnotes, or in-text) and bibliographic format, so long as they include all of the necessary information and are consistent (see the Chicago Manual of Style for examples). APA style is most often used in Political Science publications.  See additional tips for research, analysis, and citation tips see relevant links on the Blackboard site.  


The text of your assignments should use 12-point type, standard font, no less than one-inch margins, and be double-spaced unless otherwise noted.  Quotes of more than three lines should be indented and single-spaced.  Please also paginate and staple your paper in the upper left hand corner.  No title pages are necessary, but please include an original title.  You are encouraged to provide charts or other supplements if you deem them necessary.  These will not count against your page limit, but should be included in appendices along with the bibliography and clearly referenced in the text of your paper.  

Due Dates

Throughout the semester you should work with your proseminar advisor to meet the following deadlines:

Week 5 (Sep 26): A proposal of no more than one page stating the research question, why it is important and interesting (i.e. what added value will you contribute), how your paper will address this question, a preliminary bibliography (note: this means you should have already spent some real time in the library researching your topic), and a detailed outline (2 pages single spaced)– electronic copy ok, please paste in email and send as attachment.

Week 11 (Nov 7):  Complete draft of paper due in hard copy.

Weeks 12-14:  Revisions and Peer Review – I will hold a small workshop with prosem writers 

Week 14 (Dec 7):  Final paper due electronically (attachment fine), including a brief statement of who reviewed your paper and how you improved it


This is an independent project.  While the professor is here to help you at every stage in the process, it is up to you to initiate meetings, to come prepared with specific questions, and to turn in assignments on time and without reminders. Given that there are several of you this semester, it might make sense to have small workshops on occasion.  These will likely take place after class.