Expert Advice on How to Write a Political Theory Essay
The process of writing a political theory essay is different to writing a politically motivated pamphlet, and there is some advice worth bearing in mind if or when you have to write this type of paper. It is tempting to use technical terminology and/or jargon e.g. “why cannot I conceal myself behind obscurity if renowned theorists can do it?” From a style perspective, big or fancy words are not desirable nor are overly long sentences, regardless of how popular these are among academics. It is far better to use a vocabulary and writing style you feel comfortable with. By the same token, however, your paper should not be a transcript of how you speak. This point is quite a controversial one since some people do not agree. You should additionally try to bear these points in mind:
- Every paper should be typed in a neat manner. Add your full name and page number at the top of every page. Cover or title pages and spare pages are unnecessary – a waste. Your paper should be submitted electronically. A lot of tutors will not accept hard copies.
- Try not to cover all the world’s problems in your essay or paper. Keep your focus and adhere to the topic. A thorough examination or analysis of a single problem, even if it is narrow, is better than being too broad ranging.
- Your paper should be developed and structured around the thesis you will be defending. Try to forget – for the moment – what you learned in classes on creative writing and the like because papers that have a boring style are more welcome in a political theory course than a style that is too ambitious.
- Your thoughts and ideas should be organized so that your thesis statement is properly supported by the ensuing discussion. It helps to draft an outline before you begin writing. This should include a list of the points you intend to make and in the order you intend to make them. Make sure your thesis statement and supporting arguments are clearly presented in the completed version of your paper.
- Where possible, justify your claims or assertions. The persuasiveness of your arguments and how well you have mastered your materials will be the factors on which your paper will ultimately be judged. Make sure you express your thoughts clearly throughout.
- Be ready to address any possible opposition to your views. Consider what criticism may be levelled at your stance and devise a suitable response. You need not try to work out every potential counter-argument, but you should choose one or perhaps two of the opposing views you find most urgent or interesting. It is a cop-out to respond only to the easiest opposition and ignore the more difficult ones. You should give those with opposite views a reasonable chance.
- When writing any academic text, you should build arguments rather than give opinions. Therefore, the arguments you construct should be designed to convince those who might oppose you. Do not forget that arguments are a means of communicating. Your aim is to get opponents to understand your thinking, which often involves finding common or shared ground as a foundation.
- Therefore, considering the above point, your writing should be geared towards the critical-minded reader – the ones who are not at first sympathetic towards your position but are willing to hear you out. Every assertion you make will not need to be defended. For instance, most people agree on the shape of the earth i.e. that it is round. However, you should not make any assumptions about a controversial subject, e.g., “Because capitalism is clearly an evil practice, social justice will never prevail in the USA.” As a general rule, think of your readers as fellow students who might not agree with you and may challenge your claims.
- Do not forget the principle of “not idiots!” While some of the material we read can often sound strange, the fact it has been published suggests it has been taken seriously by someone. So avoid doing the same and do not insult people’s intelligence by paraphrasing their work, ideas or opinions.
- If or when you need to attribute an idea, opinion or view to another person, be careful to interpret these accurately. Where a point is controversial, it can help to cite evidence or excerpts from the text. To do this, use quotations or reference the page number(s) where the citation can be found – place these in parenthesis or add them as a footnote. It is imperative to acknowledge instances where you quote or paraphrase another person’s work by citing the texts and relevant page number(s). This applies especially to secondary source material if you use any. However, some experts recommend you do not. To cite sources in an appropriate manner, check the applicable style manual e.g. the APA, Chicago or MLA style guides. Any popular style is acceptable provided your use of it is consistent.
- It is important to acknowledge everyone you are indebted to. A good rule to follow is to acknowledge anything that is not your own work. Otherwise, you may be accused of plagiarism.
- Using quotes can be a great help, particularly where you can attribute a viewpoint or claim to a respected author. Nonetheless, you should not over-use this option. After all, five to 10 essay pages is not that much and it should mostly be your own effort.
- Once your paper is written, you should read it over. Check that you have properly addressed the question or topic and delivered on your early promises. (NB: Sometimes it is helpful to write the introductory paragraph at the end because by this time you better understand the scope and nature of your argument so you can keep any promises you make.) If any parts seem confusing, rewrite them. In addition, do not forget that you will only receive credit for what you have actually said and not what you meant to say but forgot or did not say. People may be able to read the written word, but they are not mind readers. Readers will not understand your thinking if you do not write your thoughts clearly. If you find any spelling, grammar or typographical errors, correct them. The use of a spell-checking program is recommended but it is not entirely reliable. Therefore, you need to manually proofread in order to catch any glitches in terms of vocabulary, syntax, and grammar usage.