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Paper Structure

To: Students in my courses
From: Ronald Mitchell
RE: Structuring your paper

As guidance for your final paper, I wanted to provide some ideas for a generic structure. Many of you will find other ways to structure your paper. You are welcome to use another structure. However, those of you who have not yet decided on your structure or who are unhappy or uncertain about your structure are well-advised to try to follow the structure given here. All students, regardless of whether you use the following structure or some other, should make sure to cover the same major points as in the outline below.

General comments

Overall, you should make sure that your paper has a major argument. In doing so, make sure you also follow these rules:Make a causal argument. Take time to select a theoretical argument that interests you. You may find it easier to read some of the theoretical readings in the book and reader first to identify interesting theories already out there. Then see if you can clarify the causal argument implied by those theories, using independent and dependent variables. Think through how you would observe the values of these variables in a real world case and think about what cases would help you know whether the theory was true or not.Analyze the articles and books you read. Avoid providing summaries of the readings or stringing together long quotes from articles you read. Do not simply describe the problem or the solution.Use logic not assertion to support your argument. Avoid unsupported statements of your view. Build a logical argument for why the reader should accept that view. It may help in doing this to avoid taking on topics on which you already know the answer! The goal should be to learn during the research and writing process, not to confirm the beliefs you had before you started.

Mix case accuracy with theory generalizability. The goal of your study should be to develop some theoretical generalizations applicable to a wide range of cases based on accurate analysis of one or two cases. This requires careful case selection (to control for most independent variables so they are the same for both cases) and attention to how the specific facts of your case fit into more general values of theoretical variables.


Make sure you clearly explain your major causal claim. If you phrase this as a "what caused. . ." question (e.g., "What caused oil companies to comply more with MARPOL’s equipment regulations and not with the discharge regulations?"), make sure to follow this with the answer that you arrived at after researching and writing your paper. You can either just state your causal claim or have your causal claim be the answer to the question. In either case, make sure you have the causal claim in the introduction. That means adding this to the introduction after writing the rest of the paper. In this case, it might mean saying "The greater transparency of the equipment regulations caused higher compliance levels with those regulations than with the less transparent discharge regulations."

Definitions and background

Fully define all concepts and terms that are important to your argument. Make sure you clarify to the reader what the independent and dependent variables of the research are. What are the variables, e.g., DV=compliance level; IV=transparency level? What values can they have, e.g., DV=High compliance or Low compliance; IV=More transparent or Less transparent? Make sure that you define what you mean by your dependent variable, especially if "success" is your dependent variable! You should make some statement like: "For the purposes of this paper, I define success (or other value/variable) to mean that behavior conformed more with treaty rules than it would have otherwise."

On background, keep it very short. One page maximum. If possible, eliminate this section altogether and bring in the necessary facts as part of your analysis.

Theoretical argument and hypothesized relationships of IVs and DVs

This section should lay out the general theoretical literature on the topic you are investigating. You should describe the literature of prior political science scholars who have worked on the topic and have proposed and/or tested the hypothesized between the independent variables and dependent variables you are planning on studying. In essence, this is the "who said what to whom" on factors influencing treaty compliance and effectiveness section of the paper. You should be able to "place" your research in the context of other scholars who have worked on this issue, thereby showing how your research will contribute to our understanding of how to do better at managing international affairs. The best way to think about writing this section is to use the examples of the theoretical sections that are provided by many of the articles you are reading for the course.

Values of the dependent variable and the empirical puzzle involved

In this section, provide the evidence that you believe demonstrates that the dependent variable has the value you claim it does in each of your cases. For example, this means providing the evidence that tankers actually did comply with the equipment regulations. It also requires that you provide the evidence that the dependent variable would and could have had a different value. For example, you should show here not only that all tankers complied with the equipment regulations but also that they did NOT comply with the discharge regulations. If you are comparing two treaties, provide the evidence that shows that the two treaties had different values on the dependent variable, that one succeeded and one failed (remembering your definition of success from the previous section).

Values of the independent variables and their power to explain

Here you would want to lay out the various independent variables that you believe could possibly have caused the variation in your dependent variable. In the example, this would involve the variable of "level of treaty transparency." However, it would also include enforcement by a hegemonic state and growing environmental concern.For EACH variable, you would provide evidence of the value of the independent variable and how variation in the value of that independent variable could have produced the variation in the value of the dependent variable. Thus, for example, you would want to show that the equipment rules were "More transparent" and that the discharge rules were "Less transparent" (see definition section above). You would then want to provide a causal narrative showing how "More transparency" could lead to "More compliance" by making identification and prosecution of violations easier.

You want to do the same analysis for other independent variables. So you would also want to see how growing environmental concern affected your dependent variable - in this case, the level of environmental concern was the same under both rules and so can not explain the variation in compliance. In most cases, you will find that other variables also could explain your dependent variable. That is fine. The main point is to honestly assess which of the several independent variables you have chosen to look at could explain variation in your dependent variable. Do not feel like you have to exclude all variables but one. I might have found that greater transparency and hegemonic enforcement both contributed to compliance with the equipment regulations. But at least I could have concluded that growing environmental concern had nothing to do with the difference in compliance levels. Note that this last statement does not mean "growing environmental concern is unimportant in environmental treaties," it simply says that differences in level of environmental concern cannot explain the observed differences in discharge and equipment compliance levels because there was no variance in the level of environmental concern across my cases: the level of environmental concern with the discharge rules was the same as the level of environmental concern with the equipment rules.

Evaluate rival theories of the cause of variation in your dependent variable

To the extent that the previous section has not already done so, spend a paragraph or two describing and honestly assessing whether some other independent variable might explain the variation in the dependent variable. For example, here you might want to evaluate whether the price of oil explains why the equipment rules had higher compliance than the discharge rules. If you can exclude this variable from consideration, good going. But if not, acknowledge that this alternative theory may have also contributed to the variation in the dependent variable.


Provide a nice summary of the argument you have made. Restate what causal claim or claims you have provided supporting evidence for and what causal claim or claims you have shown do not hold true in your case or cases. If appropriate, you should provide some sense of why what you have learned about the cause of variation in your dependent variable is important. You may want to make policy suggestions something like "This study shows that environmental treaties can cause greater compliance if they incorporate more transparent rules." However, make sure that these recommendations clearly stem directly from your research.

Things not to do!

Do NOT spend more than three sentences, anywhere in the paper, telling me how awful some environmental problem is or describing how much damage humans are doing to the environment. If you write a well-written analytic paper you will get an A even without such a section; if you write a poorly written paper with no causal analysis, including a long and eloquent section on the horror of the environmental problem, you still will not get an A.

Do NOT spend more than three sentences describing all the reasons why humans should take better care of the environment. Also avoid recommendations that you would have made before you even started the paper. For example, do not end by saying something like "We all need to care more about the environment." You could have said that on the first day of class!

A Final Word on Plagiarism

Plagiarism is defined as "copying or imitating the language, ideas, or thoughts of another author and passing off the same as one’s original work" (The American College Dictionary [New York: Random House, 1955], p. 925). Plagiarism is intellectual theft and violates the student honor code. Exact quotations must have quotation marks and the appropriate citation. Paraphrases, even if not exact quotations, must have appropriate citations. Submitting a paper written by someone else, whether "borrowed" from a friend or purchased from a "service", even if updated, constitutes plagiarism. If you have any doubts, give credit to the source. If you have any questions, come see me.

In case intellectual integrity and honesty is not reason enough to make you avoid plagiarism, note the following. Note the times on the emails: plagiarism on a paper handed in New Zealand was detected by the professor and, within 2 hours and 33 minutes, someone in Maryland had helped identify the original source. Anyone identified as plagiarizing will be harshly disciplined.

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From: "John M. Meyer" <>
Subject: a bit of detective work...
To: gep-ed@igc.apc.orgI wonder if anyone is interested or able to help me w/a bit of detective work. I have a student paper that, for a variety of reasons, I am quite sure is plagiarized. However, I have no real proof of the matter at the moment, as I cannot identify the source of the plagiarism, which the student is adamantly denying...It occurred to me to include an excerpt from the paper, which perhaps a list member will recognize (perhaps as their own?), and be able to point me toward the source of it.Any help would be much appreciated, but probably most appropriate off list.I suspect that the original source would have been published around 1990-2, since the opening sentence reads:"The difficulties of ecological awareness and action in the late 1980s has lead to a proliferation of international environmental agreements among nation-states."The conclusion reads as follows (excerpts):"The environmental community’s tacit or explicit support of coercive conservation tactics has far-reaching consequences. First, local resistance to what are perceived as illegitimate state claims and controls over local resources is likely to heighten, and may lead to violent response, sabotage of resources and degradation. Second, the outside environmental community may be weakening local resource claimants who possess less firepower than the state.Thank you.

John Meyer
Department of Politics
Victoria University of Wellington

From: Ken Conca <>
Subject: Re: a bit of detective work...
To:, "John M. Meyer" <>Regarding the plagiarism inquiry--the text you quote is taken verbatim from the chapter "Coercing Conservation" by Nancy Peluso, to be found in Ronnie D. Lipschutz and Ken Conca (me), eds., THE STATE AND SOCIAL POWER IN GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLITICS (Columbia U. Press, 1993). The two passages you cite are the very first and very last paragraphs of this 22 page chapter. Much of the middle is devoted to case studies of Kenyan parks and Indonesian forests as examples of coerced conservation. Interestingly, this enterprising student did screw up some of the punctuation while copying Peluso’s words.

Ken Conca
Assistant Professor of Government and Politics
University of Maryland at College Park