Writing and Research
CMC Government Department
- Revise and rewrite. (See the "paramedic method.")
- Never use a long Latinate word when a short Anglo-Saxon one will do. As William Zinsser says: "The English language is derived from two main sources. One is Latin, the florid language of ancient Rome. The other is Anglo-Saxon, the plain languages of England and northern Europe. The words derived from Latin are the enemy—they will strangle and suffocate everything you write. The Anglo-Saxon words will set you free."
- Cut needless words (See video.)
- Mindless introductory phrases (“It is important to keep in mind the fact that”);
- Redundancies (“[T]o dismiss the case would be unprecedented from a historical standpoint, because it has never been done before.” -- Asa Hutchinson, 1/25/99)
- Write with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs.
- Shun the passive voice and forms of the verb to be. Use active verbs.
- Vary the length of your sentences and paragraphs.
- Make your point at the start. Use the rest of the essay to support it.
- In a short essay, do not end with a summary. When you have finished, just stop.
- Never use contractions in academic writing.
- Proofread. The computer will not catch all your mistakes.
- Choose your words carefully. Never use feel for think, verbal for oral, incredibly for very, or novel for a work of non-fiction.
- Stay off tangents. Cut anything that fails to advance your argument. In academic essays, avoid sermonettes. (“However, I feel that Franklin Pierce was an incredibly lousy president under who, the national polity was lead into it's crucial crisis ...”)
Check your facts. Do not trust your memory.
Do not believe a claim just because you find it in print or on the Internet. Evaluate your sources. Ask
· Does the source have a bias?
· How did the source get the information?
· Does the source have a reputation for thoroughness and accuracy?
Cite your sources unless the material is well-known (George Washington served as the first President) or self-evident (two and two make four). In citing your sources, use a standard reference such as Turabian . You should own such a manual but if you need a another short online guide, see: http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/DocChicago.html
Use secondary sources to learn the state of knowledge about a subject. Use primary sources to advance it.
Do not take data out of context. In the movie JFK, Oliver Stone shows footage of President Kennedy saying: “In the final analysis, it is their [the Vietnamese] war. They are the ones who must win it or lose it.” Stone uses this clip to suggest that JFK wanted to pull out of Vietnam. But he omits what JFK said a few moments later: “All we can do is help, and we are making it clear, but I don't agree with those who say we should withdraw. That would be a great mistake.” There may well be evidence that JFK did want to withdraw, but that interview does not suffice.
Build your argument from facts and logic, not just from quotations by those who agree with you. Acknowledge contrary data or arguments. You may refute them, but you may not neglect them.
Beware letting your conclusions get ahead of your evidence. When you discover that Bill Clinton went to Moscow and Prague, you should not automatically conclude that he served as a KGB agent.
Do not underestimate the time you must spend. But do not give up too easily.
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:
· http://scholar.google.com (catch-all search for scholarly material)
· Law review articles (go to Lexis-Nexis Academic, click "US legal" tab
· http://libraries.claremont.edu/resources/databases/bysubject.asp?SubjId=55 (doctoral dissertations)
· http://www.claremontmckenna.edu/pages/faculty/JPitney/genref.html (various sources)
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
cite site sight
their there they’re
vain vein vane
warehouse Wherehouse Wearhouse
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 http://www.cmc.edu/writing/plagiarism.php
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. See http://www.virtualsalt.com/quotehlp.htm
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
 Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy 1963 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1964), p. 652.