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Political Science
Political Science 1020E
Robert Jonasson

Guidelines for Essays Methodology: The planning and writing of essays is a learned craft. There is no instant formula that can be applied to the task of essay composition. At this stage in your academic careers, you should be familiarizing yourselves with a range of essay styles and making extensive use of style guides. This short document is designed to offer some guidelines for your essay composition in Politics 1020E. One common (and faulty) method of producing essays among political science students is what can be called the linear method: students first think about the topic; then they go to the library and find material related to it; then they produce an outline plan for the essay; finally, they write the essay. While this method can work, it is not the best way to write an essay. Most successful essay writers use the recursive method. Employment of the recursive method involves the student in the act of writing from the very start of the project. It is quite possible to compose a reasonable outline plan for an essay and to begin the writing process within hours of making a decision on a selected essay topic. The student who begins the writing process early engages in the other stages of the essay process with greater purpose and efficiency. If you know what you are looking for, it is much easier to write it! Naturally, the process is recursive: you read something new and then you rethink what you have said; you go back to your text and edit it; then it occurs to you that the changes introduced necessitate further changes and this sends you back to the library in search of new material. Clearly, the recursive method has its limitations. It is often difficult to write about something when you know little about it. However, the limitations of this kind of ignorance should not be overplayed. Thesis Statement and Route Map: Even if you do not know a great deal about a topic, you may well know how to ask important questions about it, or you may know enough to make a tentative claim or contention about some matter related to it. In other words, the development of a provisional thesis for your essay can and should occur very early in the process. What is a thesis? It is an argument, a hunch, a contention, a proposition, an exploration or a theme that gives coherence and purpose to your essay: it is what your essay is about. Employing the recursive method, your initial thesis should not be a dogmatic statement of what you intend to ‘prove.’ Instead, your thesis should be a well-reasoned statement of expectation about your chosen topic that is nonetheless open to modification and correction. Very little is ever ‘proven’ in political analysis and you are encouraged not to employ the term. Instead, use a more tentative expression such as ‘support,’ ‘imply,’ or ‘lend credence to.’ In the course, you are provided with a choice of essay questions, each of which will enable you to focus upon a distinctive area in political analysis. The decision about how to address the set question is up to you. Moreover, the answer to the question: ‘how do I approach this topic?’ leads directly to the establishment of a thesis statement. In other words, the process of crafting the essay consists of an interaction between the original question and your response to it. Some students find this the most challenging part of the composition process. They look for the ‘real’ or ‘true’ thesis statement in the essay question, instead of devoting time to developing their own take on the topic. They may ask instructors what they ‘really want’ from the answer. Instructors invariably reply that what they really want is for them to engage in the material given in the set question and to come up with their own thesis! Some students parse each element of the set question in the mistaken belief that they must address each component mentioned. This is definitely not what we require from an essay. The set questions are in fact designed to generate and stimulate interest in a focus of enquiry. The decision about what aspects of that broad focus to accentuate and to develop are in the hands of the student and will be determined through the thesis that she or he has developed. Students who attempt to meet the essay requirements through gathering and representing largely unprocessed material that they believe relates to the components of the set question, produce weak essays. Such essays are little more than catalogues of data and lists of ideas culled from elsewhere. Avoid such a tedious essay style and bear in mind that an essay is an argument rather than a laundry list! What about resource material for essays? Do not overlook the course lectures and course reading material. While you should not rely upon these resources alone, they will get you into thinking at an appropriate level and might suggest some avenues of enquiry. You should scan a range of political science scholarly dictionaries, encyclopaedias, handbooks and yearbooks. Use these, and avoid generic dictionaries! Never write anything like this: ‘Funk and Wagnall define politics as….’ You should also feel free to employ a range of textbooks for introductory politics and broad and general political science books that introduce a theme, such as legislatures or political parties, as well as introductions to the political systems in various countries. While you are free to read what you like, and in general the more you read the better, you should probably steer clear of the more professional academic journals and advanced treatments of topics that are normally read by graduate students and professional scholars. Once you have developed a thesis, you should be able to state it clearly. Check it out with one of the instructors/director or with a friend: do others know what you are trying to say? Once you are clear about your initial thesis and have written it down, you need to develop a ‘route map’ for your essay. The route map consists of a listing of specific points, contentions, arguments, examples, themes and sub-themes you will need to address – and the order in which you will address them – in order to explore your thesis adequately. Simply articulating the route map can lead you to modify your original thesis. You can expect there to be further recursive modifications as the process of essay construction continues. The route map should be integrated into the body and flow of your final essay and is not an appendage to it. The thesis and the route map should be clearly stated near the start of your essay. A good essay might begin with a thesis statement something like this: While Britain and Canada can both be described as parliamentary systems based upon the Westminster system of fused executive and legislative powers, the Canadian Prime Minister is comparatively more powerful vis-à-vis the Canadian house of Commons than is his or her British counterpart. The essay then offers this further elaboration, leading to the articulation of a route map: Lalonde (1991: 380) points out that the Canadian Prime Minister cannot be ‘first among equals’ because he has no equals in the Canadian system. In this essay, I shall illustrate the wide-ranging and unequalled powers of the Canadian Prime Minister with respect to his role in party caucus, Question Period and Cabinet making, as well as the comparatively restricted potential of the British Prime Minister in the British House of Commons. Following a brief historical comparison of the evolution of the offices, in which specific reference is made to the Americanization of the leadership selection process in Canada, I will turn my attention to three key sites of interaction between Prime Minister and Legislature, which support my contention: committees of backbench MPs; Question Period or Question Time; and the process of Cabinet selection. Structure: Having esta
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