Virtual Tutor


Thinking Analytically  
Designing Papers
Synthesizing Political Science
Drawing (Layering) Papers
Defining Politics


Thinking Analytically about Politics, or Doing Political Science

Some definitions of politics are listed, but not until the end of this section.  The thinking part is given first, then some advice is offered on doing political science well enough to write something--a paper, an exam.  The following textbooks have been favorites of political science students.  What makes these texts special is the clarity with which the authors analyze political things and make it possible for people to talk (and write) rationally about matters on which they might feel passionately.

James E. Combs and Dan Nimmo, A Primer of Politics (New York: Macmillan, 1984).
Alfred de Grazia, Politics for Better or Worse (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1973).
Neal Riemer and Douglas W. Simon, The New World of Politics (4th ed.; Alta Loma, CA: Collegiate Press, 1997).

The trick is to separate the is, the ought, and the can be.  Here is a tabular synopsis of how they do it.

what is what ought to be what can be
seen, observed, counted, witnessed phenomena ideals, wished-for conditions, ethical statement programs worked out through consultation and bargaining
facts, data values, norms chosen activities, application
proposition principle policy
induction--reasoning from information deduction--reasoning from definitions abduction--abstracting or eliciting many combinations

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Thus, they arrive (in Riemer's words) at feasible programs of thought and action (what can be) worked out in the light of the facts (what is) to advance the central values (what ought to be) of individuals, movements, or societies.

Designing Political Science Papers

Here we have outstanding professors--as teachers and as authors--sharing their insights into doing political science papers.  To find out more of what they have to say, these are the works on which this colloquy is based.

Gabriel A. Almond, "Political Theory and Political Science" in Ithiel de Sola Pool (ed.), Contemporary Political Science: Toward Empirical Theory (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), pp. 13-14.
Charles M. Bonjean and Jan Hullum, "Reasons for Journal Rejection: An Analysis of 600 Manuscripts," in PS, Fall 1978, pp. 480-483.
David Easton, A Systems Analysis of Political Life (New York: John Wiley, 1965), pp 6-8.
Eugene J. Meehan, Explanation in Social Science: A System of Paradigm (Homewood, Illinois: Dorsey, 1968), pp. 24-25.
Neil J. Smelser, Theory of Collective Behavior (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1963), pp. 385-387.

Almond:  Select cases for study in order to test hypotheses* about the relations between variables--environmental influences on politics, political influences on the environment, interactions of political variables with each other. 

Easton:  A hypothesis* is a theory, awaiting confirmation through further testing, which states that two or more things, activities, or events covary under specified conditions. A theory that has been well-confirmed would be called a law. Some synonyms for "theory" would be "proposition" or "generalization." 

Smelser:  The comparative method--usually systematic comparative analysis--is used in a self-conscious search for control. This method takes two forms, positive and negative: (a) attempts to identify common characteristics of situations in which the variables behave in the way the hypothesis states they should, (b) examination of near-episodes or near-occurrences to discover which characteristics were missing or subcritical when the variables did not react as hypothesized. 

Almond:  These procedures require and develop differentiation and specification of variables and also assumptions of probability and reflexivity in their relations. To do this, such devices help as classification by type and explicitly separating structure from function, structure from culture, social systems from political systems, empirical properties from normative implications.

Easton:  This can be done for cross-national comparisons, subnational comparisons, international-system comparisons, sampling the total universe of politics, contemporary and historical. The scope of a hypothesis* (or theory) refers to the range of subject-matter that it embraces, varying from very limited data to very inclusive. The coherence of a theory refers to the degree of consistency among the component propositions. Thus, theories would fall into three categories: singular generalizations; narrow-gauge and middle-range class types called partial theories; and general theories. 

Bonjean and Hullum:  Singular generalizations encompass only a very limited body of data and are distinctive because of their relative isolation in the whole web of political generalizations. The foremost reason that social-science manuscripts are rejected for publication is that they are unimportant or insignificant: (1) they add nothing new to knowledge or understanding of the subject; (2) their contribution is so slight that acceptance is not warranted in view of (a) more substantial contributions made elsewhere, and (b) heavy demands on space (time, attention); (3) little or no attempt is made to relate empirical research to a theoretical contribution, or to some social, political, or economic problem more general than the data themselves. 

Easton:  Narrow-gauge generalizations isolate some part or aspect of behavior in a political system, less than the whole and yet greater than some isolated fragment, which experience or intuition suggests is related significantly. Such a theory seeks to explain why this part of the political system hangs together in the way it does. Such theories have been developed about such selected and presumably coherent areas of political life as parties, organizations, interest groups, legislative behavior, decision-making, coalitions...
The task of the theorist is to identify sharply the particular aspect or segment of the political system on which he is focusing and to construct a body of logically interrelated propositions adequate for explaining behavior in this area. 

Meehan:  As a first approximation, an explanation is defined as a way of organizing human experience to show how or why events occur by linking those events to other events according to stipulated rules. The logical calculations possible within the structure provide the warrant for expecting the particular events to occur under specified conditions and at the same time provide the possibility of control in principle over the event through manipulation of the variables. The quality of an explanation can be evaluated in terms of the purposes for which it is used. A weak explanation provides minimal control over a limited part of the environment, control that may be in various degrees unreliable; a strong explanation provides accurate and reliable control over substantial parts of the environment. Usually, forecasts will suffice in cases where the aim as to adapt to the environment rather than to control it. 

Bonjean and Hullum:  The second reason in order of predominance for which social-science manuscripts are rejected is methodological shortcomings or flaws: (1) findings cannot be generalized because the sample is idiosyncratic or because necessary comparative data are not supplied; (2) the data are inappropriate, insufficient, obsolete, or not enough information is given to assay the data; (3) analysis does not control for relevant variables and--or--plausible alternative explanations are not given/considered; (4) inappropriate or less-appropriate statistical techniques are used. 

Easton:  A general theory is a type of causal theory which differs from singular generalizations and practical theories, in scope at least, by virtue of its presumed application to the whole of a field of inquiry. In politics, it seeks to illuminate the functioning of political systems in their entirety. The main objectives are variables requiring investigation in all political systems; to specify the relationships among these variables; and to achieve these goals through a set of generalizations that hang together with greater rather than lesser logical coherence and interdependence. 

Bonjean and Hullum:  Theoretical problems are the third most frequent reason social science manuscripts are rejected: (1) conceptualization lacks cogency; (2) review of the literature is incomplete or interpreted incorrectly; (3) approach is superficial; (4) logical development is marred by incorrect premises or faulty reasoning. ... Other reasons for rejection are (1) poor presentation: (a) technical errors [misspelling, poor grammar, jargon] distract the reader; (b) ideas are poorly organized, arguments lack focus; (c) style is verbose and--or--too much attention is devoted to minor details, so that they are too salient relative to the contribution; and (2) failure to meet editorial criteria: (a) inappropriate topic for the journal [course, discipline]; (b) manuscript is being concurrently reviewed by another journal [course]; (c) manuscript is unacceptable for other reasons--e.g., it has already been published elsewhere.

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hypothesis (pl. hypotheses)
* an as-yet unproven assumption that is to be tested through evidence and scientific methods of inductive or deductive reasoning; also a tentative conclusion accepted for the moment (as in "a working hypothesis"), from Edwin M. Coulter, Principles of Politics and Government (6th ed.; Dubuque, IA: Brown and Benchmark, 1997), p. 292
* an educated guess about relationships in the world, tested by making systematic observations of the world, from Alan C. Isaak, An Introduction to Politics (New York: Scott, Foreman, 1987), p. 17
* statement or generalization presented in tentative and conjectural terms, from Robert J. Jackson and Doreen Jackson, A Comparative Introduction to Political Science (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), p. 24
* an initial theory a researcher starts with, to be proven by evidence, from Michael G. Roskin, Robert L. Cord, James Medeiros, and Walter S. Jones, Political Science:  An Introduction (7th ed.; Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000), p. 12
* prediction of a relationship between two or more variables, meant to be tested to see if true, from John C. Shea, American Government:  The Great Game of Politics (New York: St. Martin's, 1984), p. 475

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 If the advice above were to be synthesized and presented in a tabular synopsis, this is how it might appear:

Metascheme &




Wild Cards




Groups, never completely agree
Conflict, gov’t

An individual is the universe in miniature.



Is/Ought/Can Be


Goods:  mind/fortune



Systematic Comparative Analysis


Hypothesis analysis
Scope & Limits

Dichotomy X2, X3
Decision-tree, flow chart, timetable
Value-added sequence

Don’t alienate the succession.

The game goes on.




Mismatch detection
Rational expectations

Living within the truth




Cognate fields
Further research

Case studies

Self-fulfilling/self-denying prophecies


[Avoid these]

Null hypothesis
Denying counter-intuitivity

Boredom with established truths

Glittering generalities

Living within the lie
Systematic abuses and usurpations
Ends justify means

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Reasoning from the familiar toward the unfamiliar is more acceptable to more people than the reverse process.  Accordingly, correspondences, analogies, and metaphors can help someone "get it"--whatever "it" might be.  Writing a political science paper could be such an "it."  Consider this simile for doing so.

Writing - Political Science

(this is the broadest scale, most general gauge range the theme or topic on your tentative title can possibly touch--words such as "all" and "every" will occur)
comment or conjecture
definitions of KEY TERMS
SOURCES (for concepts, definitions)
Chicago Manual of Style is standard citation form preferred for most political science papers
matrix LIST (vertical)
SOURCES (for test cases, examples)
There is a stylebook of the American Political Science Association, although CMS is used more widely

PRESENTATION (make a chart, a table)
Terms -----    A    B    C    D
Case 1          1A   1B  1C  1D
Case 2          2A   2B  2C  2D
Case 3          3A
Case 4                  etc.
Case 5

key terms
sources (all merged)

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Ameringer, Oscar, in Walter John Raymond, ed., Dictionary of Politics (Lawrenceville, VA: Brunswick, 1978).  the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign money from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.
, R. Wallace, Government in Modern Society (2nd ed.; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, l963), p. 18.  the process of determining and applying public policy.  It involves the establishment of constitutional foundations for the government, the forming of governmental authority, the selection of officials, the determination of what laws and regulations are to be enacted, and the use of discretion in applying the law.
, Peter, Politics, Power and Revolution (New York: St. Martin’s, 1983).  the art of getting others to do the things you want them to do…what governments do to rule people, and what people do to try to influence their government.
Coulter, Edwin M., Principles of Politics and Government (6th ed.; Dubuque, IA: Brown and Benchmark, 1997), p.  295. ... the peaceful resolution of public conflicts through compromise; a process involving governmental attention to relevant opinions and their conciliation through temporary law

, Bernard, In Defence of Politics (Baltimore: Pelican, 1964), p. 21.  the activity by which differing interests within a given unit of rule are conciliated by giving them a share in power in proportion to their importance to the welfare and the survival of the whole community.
, Robert A., Modern Political Analysis (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963), p. 6.  any persistent pattern of human relationships that involves, to a significant extent, power, rule, or authority.
Danziger, James N.,  Understanding the Political World:  A Comparative Introduction to Political Science (New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 2001), p. 461. ...the process through which power and influence are used in the promotion of certain values and interests, the determination of who gets what, when, and how in a given society

de Grazia
, Alfred, Eight Bads—Eight Goods:  The American Contradictions (Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1975), p. xii.  …the bizarre and frightening world…where leaders don’t lead, officials do not execute, constitutions do not specify, governments do not govern, and the public cannot find itself.
Dunner, Joseph, ed., Dictionary of Political Science (New York: Philosophical Library, 1964),  an activity which expresses the wills and interests of individuals in the ordering of their public affairs.  The term is derived from the Greek word polis (or city-state).  The objective of politics (or man’s political activities) is policy, i.e., a certain conduct of public affairs.
, David, The Political System (New York: Knopf, 1953), pp. 129, 146.  the authoritative allocation of values for a society as it is influenced by the distribution and use of power.
, H. H., and C. Wright Mills, eds., Max Weber (London: Routledge, 1948), p. 78.  striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power, either among states or among groups within a state.
, Sidney, quoted in Herbert M. Baus and William B. Ross, Politics Battle Plan (New York: Macmillan, 1968), p. 1.  the science of how who gets what, when and why.
(Isa 4) the process in any society which decides who receives the benefits and who pays the costs of society)

, Raghavan, Politics and Parapolitics (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1979), p. 23.  the self-conscious articulation and continuous pursuit by human beings of shared or common (yet controvertible) ends in a civil society by a variety of means, ranging from coercive sanctions to rational persuasion and voluntary co-operation.  A civil society is a historical and geographical collection of individuals organized in accordance with a set of laws and rules, at least some of which are equally binding upon all.
Jackson, Robert J. and Doreen Jackson, A Comparative Introduction to Political Science (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), p.  7.  ... all activity which impinges upon the making of binding decisions about who gets what, when, and how; an activity through which contending interests are conciliated and differences are expressed and considered

, Harold D., Politics:  Who Gets What, When, How (New York: Meridian, 1958), cover, title page.  who gets what, when how…
Lawson, Kay, The Human Polity (5th ed.; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), p.  G-9.  ... process that determines who will occupy roles of leadership in government and how the power of government will be exercised, the authoritative allocation of scarce resources throughout a polity.

, Peter H., Political Continuity and Change (New York: Harper, 1967).  …a noble quest for good order and justice; at its worst, a selfish grab for power, glory and riches.
, Lester W., Political Participation (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1965), pp. 1, 2.  the adjustment efforts of humans attempting to coexist in an interdependent relationship…the process by which decisions about governmental outcomes are made.
, David, ed., The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987).  a process whereby a group of people, whose opinions or interests are initially divergent, reach collective decisions which are generally regarded as binding on the group, and enforced as common policy.  Politics implies something about the way in which collective decisions are reached.  Persuasion and bargaining are frequently unedifying activities, typically involving deception of opponents and sacrifice of principle for political advantage.  Politics implies, though, that the decision reached, in however underhand a way, is regarded as authoritative by the group in question.  Although politics is unthinkable without authority, it is in practice inseparable from power, the imposition of decisions on recalcitrant members.
, Michael, Political Education (Cambridge: Bowes & Bowes, 1951), p. 8.  the activity of attending to the general arrangements of a set of people.
, Michael, Rationalism in Politics (New York: Basic Books, 1962), p. 123.  the activity of attending to the general arrangements of a collection of people who, in respect of their common recognition of a manner of attending to its arrangements, compose a single community.  To suppose a collection of people without recognized traditions of behaviour, or one which enjoyed arrangements which intimated no direction for change, and needed no attention, is to suppose a people incapable of politics.
, R. R., Problems of Political Philosophy (New York: Macmillan, 1970), p. 28. the expression of demands and wants and the process through which resources are allocated among various groups on whose behalf these demands are made.
, Walter John, ed., Dictionary of Politics (Lawrenceville, VA: Brunswick, 1978).  those interactions among individuals and institutions which are employed to design and to implement ways and means of governing an organized society.
Roberts, Geoffrey K., A Dictionary of Political Analysis (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1971), p. 169.  ...the process in a social system--not necessarily confined to the level of the national state--by which the goals of that system are selected, ordered in terms of priority both temporally and concerning resource allocation, and implemented.  It thus involved both organization and the resolution of conflict, by means of the exercise of political authority and, if necessary, coercion.

, W. W., Politics and the Stages of Growth (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1971), p. 17.  a limited arena of endless confrontation, where conflicting and ever-changing interests and impulses, derived from the national society and the world society, press in for reconciliation and decision through changing rules and routes.
, Herbert J., Politics as the Master Science:  From Plato to Mao (New York: Harper, 1970), p. 49.  the process by which a human community, as small as two persons or as large as the community of mankind, deals with its problems.
Van Dyke
, Vernon, Political Science:  A Philosophical Analysis (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1960), p. 134.  1) activity occurring within and among groups 2) which operate on the basis of desires that are to some extent shared, 3) as essential feature of the activity being a struggle of actors 4) to achieve their desires 5) on questions of group policy, group organization, group leadership, or the regulation of intergroup relationships 6) against the opposition of others with conflicting desires on public issues.
, Quincy, in Vernon Van Dyke, Political Science:  A Philosophical Analysis (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1960).  the art of influencing, manipulating, or controlling major groups in the world so as to advance the purpose of some against the opposition of others with conflicting interests.
, John T., Dictionary of Political Science (Wash., D.C.: Public Affairs, Press, 1959).  1) the exercise of power over others; 2) the methods which are intended to influence the decisions and actions of others.

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