POL S 398 A: Honors Seminar

Meeting Time: 
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm
PAR 206
Jamie Mayerfeld

Syllabus Description:

Professor Jamie Mayerfeld                                      Class time: Mon & Wed 1:30-3:20
Office: Gowen 35                                                                 Classroom: Parrington 206
Office Hours: T 1:30-3:00, F 10:30-11:30


**Course Evaluation**

**Thesis Proposal** (due Dec. 13) 


Pol S 398 – Honors Thesis Writing Workshop 2017

Note: This syllabus is adapted from Professor Michael McCann’s 2016 syllabus. Most of Professor McCann’s original text is unchanged.


Course Description: In this course, students will study the methods and aims of political science research, broadly defined, and will start energetically to plan and write their honors theses. Among the activities we will undertake:

  • First, we will read and discuss instructional texts written by research scholars about key topics, including: crafting a research question; designing the research; developing the core thesis or explanatory analysis; generating empirical data to support the thesis; structuring the essay; and improving writing skills. Several small books and a handful of academic articles specified in the syllabus will provide core texts for that activity.
  • Second, we will read and critically assess article-length essays presenting research findings by professional scholars as well as by previous honors students. These essays will provide texts for reflective discussion regarding what features make research write-ups successful or unsuccessful. In this regard, we will try to learn by assessing and building on the examples of others.
  • Third, you will learn by enacting the incremental process of thesis development itself. You will begin early in the quarter by writing sample research questions, then follow with an annotated bibliography, a draft prospectus, and then a revised final prospectus. At each stage, your peers and Professor Mayerfeld will read and comment on your written work, which you will rewrite several times after taking into account what we have advised. In short, you will learn both by executing various exercises in thesis development and by responding to the thesis development activities that your classmates have performed over the quarter. The aim is to propel you on the way completing a solid research design and great progress on the research itself by quarter’s end.

The course sessions (M&W each week) will provide a forum where each student will receive regular, constructive feedback on their work from the faculty instructor and, especially, from student peers. We will aim to create a community of scholars who will challenge, critique, collaborate with, and lend support as you initiate the thesis writing adventure. Honors students will teach each other and learn together through regular interaction. The final product will be a 15-page well-crafted and refined prospectus and outline that will be the foundation for your senior honors thesis.

We will meet regularly at the scheduled times in the first half of the class but less regularly in the second half, when you should focus your time on your research and early stages of thesis writing. The syllabus marks out the initial plan of meetings, but that lineup may change later in quarter, depending on students’ progress toward individual research activity.

Course Objectives: By the end of this course, you will complete a full prospectus for your honors thesis project. We will discuss the key elements of the prospectus, but they include at least:


1) An interesting, clearly defined question;

2) *A research design that outlines a clear plan for accessing or generating data (qualitative and/or quantitative) that is relevant to answering the puzzle question;

3) *An explanatory hypothesis or interpretive argument that answers the question;

4) Engagement with relevant studies and theories of scholars;

5) A working bibliography that demonstrates your initial research on the chosen topic.

6) Substantial research activity following your research design.

7) Early sections of the write-up (will vary for each student).

*Students writing political theory theses may structure their discussion somewhat differently. Political theory theses are often organized around normative questions and deal less with empirical or causal evidence than with philosophical arguments for and against particular normative propositions.

Course Requirements and Grading:

The grading for this course will NOT be recorded. Instead, the various grades will be simply be a communication about your performance at each state of thesis development. Your final thesis grade will be recorded for this course (398) and 488. You must earn at least a 3.3 in 398 to be eligible for continuing to 488, however.

  1. Class Engagement (20%)
  • Preparation for Class
  • Discussion Participation
  • Engagement in Peer Review
  • Miscellaneous Short Assignments
  1. Research Question and Initial Proposal (15%) – due Wed. Oct. 18.
  • 2-3 pages
  • What is your central research question? Why is it important? What literatures will you draw upon to answer it? Where is the ‘so what’ – what contributions will study of this topic make to the field of political science and the broader world?
  1. First draft of prospectus (15%), due Tue. Nov. 7 by 6 pm.
  • 4-5 pages
  1. Enlistment of faculty supervisor, by Mon. Nov. 13. Signed contract form required.
  2. Final prospectus (50%) – 10-15 pp, due Wed. Dec. 13, by 4:30 in the main office of the Political Science Department, Gowen 101.


  • Begin with a precise and concise presentation of the research question and its relevance to the study of politics. The first test of “relevance” is common sense standards of any reasonably educated citizen.
  • The second standard of relevance is one or more established traditions of inquiry by social scientists. What scholars does your question engage, and whose work is relevant to framing of your question? This will not be a comprehensive literature review, but should allow your adviser to see at least a first approximation of how your thesis will connect to scholarship that has come before you. It is fine at this stage if you’re not 100 percent sure how to frame your research question. Indeed, the point of writing a prospectus is to allow your adviser to recommend new ways of framing your inquiry. An adviser is likely to read your prospectus and reply with comments such as, “I think you should read...” or “Scholars X and Y would be really interested in your question, why don’t you look at their work.”
  • Once the research question is presented, the bulk of the prospectus should be devoted to explaining your proposed research design. An important focus of the 398A prospectus, the “research design” is the combination of specific methods that you will use to collect and analyze evidence. In the group workshop, you will discuss basic social science terminology that can be helpful in specifying your research design, e.g. independent and dependent variables, normative and positive arguments, causal inference, and counterfactual reasoning.
  • The importance of thinking ahead about your research design cannot be overstated. If your research design cannot provide sufficient evidence to answer your question, then you need to either change your research design or ask a new question. The prospectus, by allowing your adviser to examine your research design, serves as an early warning system for poorly matched questions and methods. 

  • A rule to follow as you write your prospectus is to be as detailed and specific as possible. The more precise and concise your prospectus, the more detailed your adviser’s comments will be. For instance, do not simply say that you will do “case studies” or statistical analysis: how and from where will you gather the information for your case study, or what particular data set will you use? If you write only vaguely in your prospectus that, “I will collect information about both of these arguments,” your adviser won’t be able to offer much in the way of constructive feedback. But suppose you write, “To test this hypothesis, I am going to gather data from eight different countries.” Seeing this, your adviser might recognize that eight countries are too many (e.g., you won’t have enough time, so let’s figure out how to focus only on four), or too few (e.g., there’s actually a dataset you can use that will allow you to look at 80 countries easily).
  • Include with your prospectus a working bibliography of at least 10 sources (books, articles, web links, etc.)
  • Here are some suggestions to help you make the prospectus as specific as possible:

§ Are you going to conduct case studies? If so, how many? By what criteria are you going to choose your cases? Does your case selection allow you to answer your question? (Also, please note, a “case study” is a specific technique of qualitative methodology and not a generic term for any narrative.) §  Will you conduct interviews, and if so, whom will you interview? Will you examine primary documents, and if so, which ones? How difficult will it be to gain access to the people, places, or things you want to examine? When will you go to collect this data? (you will need to submit to Human Subjects review)

§ Are you conducting statistical analysis? If so, what level of statistical knowledge do you have? What type of data are you going to use, and how are you going to obtain it? How will the data you obtain, and the analysis you conduct, allow you to answer the question you’ve stated?

§ Are you making normative claims (how the world “should” work)? If so, on what theories are you building your argument? What counter-arguments must you consider? 

§ Is what you’re proposing feasible? Can you collect this evidence, then analyze and write it up, in the six month window? If not, how might you narrow your proposed research scope? 

Required Course Texts:


Chodorow, Stanley. Writing A Successful Research Paper. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2011.

Articles and Theses by previous honors students will be available in pdf format on the course website. These are indicated by * on the course syllabus.


This schedule is highly subject to revision.


Wed. Sept. 27. Introductions

Mon. Oct. 2. What is Politics and How Do We Study It?


Chodorow, Writing a Successful Research Paper, Chs. 1-4

Almond, Gabriel and Stephen Genco. “Clouds, Clocks, and the Study of Politics.” World Politics 29.4 (1977): 489-522.*

King, Gary, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba. 1994. Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 3-12.*


Wed. Oct. 4. Individual meetings with Professor Mayerfeld


Choose peer groups, five groups with three in each.


Mon. Oct. 9. Examples of Social Science Scholarship.


Hazel Smith, '"Bad, Mad, Sad or Rational Actor? Why the ‘Securitization’ Paradigm Makes for Poor Policy Analysis of North Korea," International Affairs 76 (2000): 593-617.


How does Hazel Smith formulate a position and situate it in the existing academic debate? How does she construct her argument? How does she gather evidence, and is her position well supported by the evidence? Is her argument persuasive? Why or why not?


Wed. Oct. 11. Examples of Social Science Scholarship, cont.


César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, "Abolishing Immigrant Prisons," Boston University Law Review 97 (2017): 245-300.


What is Garcia Hernández’s argument? Is it persuasive? What kind of evidence does he use to support his argument?


Mon. Oct. 16. NO CLASS: Work on Developing Your Own Research Topic and Question

Assignment: Write a concise research question for your chosen topic. Explain the significance of your topic and your initial plans for research design, in one page. Email this to me and to the two other members of your peer group by 6pm 10/17. These will be posted on the course website for access.

Wed. Oct. 18. Peer groups meet to discuss students’ discussion questions.


Mon. Oct. 23. Learning from past honors theses.


Anna Mikkelborg, "Reframing Reform: Evaluating and Challenging Conversations around Campaign Finance in the United States"


Wed. Oct. 25. Learning from past honors theses, cont.


Sam Selsky, "Al-Jazeera's Impact on the US-Qatar Alliance During the War on Terror."


During the second half of this session, there will be a workshop led by the director of the Political Science Writing Center.


Please come to the Oct. 23 and Oct. 25 classes prepared to discuss the following questions:

  • What is the central question or problem addressed in the thesis?  Is it well posed?
  • How is the thesis organized?
  • What kinds of evidence does the author use to develop their argument?
  • Is the argument laid out persuasively? Does it fit the claim being defended? What are the sub-arguments? How are they related? What is the thesis really about?
  • Do you agree with the author's choices? Would you have recommended different choices?

Note: I will make two additional theses available to you as models, but they are not required.

Rutger Ceballos, "Wharf Rats, Communists and Industrial Unionism - Labor Radicalism on the Waterfront” 

Morgan Galloway, "Blackhawks and Human Rights: The Impact and Consequences of Short-term Incentives in Militarizing “Plan Colombia”"


Mon. Oct. 30. Individual meetings with Professor Mayerfeld. To be scheduled.


Wed. Nov. 1. Individual meetings with Professor Mayerfeld. To be scheduled.


Mon. Nov. 6. No class meeting. Please work on your revised proposal.


Tue. Nov. 7. Revised proposal due by 6 pm. Please email to Professor Mayerfeld and the two other people in your peer group.


Wed. Nov. 8. Wed. Nov. 1. Revised Research Proposal Workshop

We will break up into 3-person peer groups to give each other feedback on their revised proposals.


Mon. Nov. 13. Crafting the Argument


Chodorow, Writing a Successful Research Paper, chapters 5-7. NOTE: Your thesis contracts with supervisor signatures are due in class today.


Wed. Nov. 15. Writing Good Prose.


Chodorow, Writing a Successful Research Paper, chapters 8-10

Possibly another text to be announced


Mon. Nov. 20. Individual meetings with Professor Mayerfeld. To be scheduled.


Wed. Nov. 22. Individual meetings with Professor Mayerfeld. To be scheduled.


Mon. Nov. 27. No class. Please work on your final proposals.


Wed. Nov. 29, Mon. Dec. 4, and Wed. Dec. 6: Student Oral Presentations of Prospectus

Assignment: Each student will present orally to the class a concise, precise, focused statement of their prospectus, clarifying the research question, thesis, and modes of evidence that will be developed.   Presentations should be no more than 7 minutes, and we will dedicate another 7-8 minutes to commentary/questions/suggestions from all students in the class.


Wed, Dec. 13: Final Draft of 15-page prospectus is due. Submit by 4:30 pm to the main office of the Political Science Department, Gowen 101.






Sources for Qualitative Data Generation and Use


General Resources on the Use of Qualitative Data

Patton, Michael Quinn. 1990. Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Esp. Chapter 9, “Enhancing the Quality and Credibility of Qualitative Analysis.”


On Process Tracing

Collier, David. “Understanding Process Tracing.” PS: Political Science and Politics 44, No. 4, (2011): 823-30.

Bennett, Andrew and Alexander L. George. 1997. “Process Tracing in Case Study Research.” MacArthur Foundation Workshop on Case Study Methods. October 17 -19, 1997.


On Interviewing

Weisberg et al. “Chapter 4 Questionnaire Construction”

Rubin, Herbert J., and Irene Rubin. 1995. “Chapter 6.” Qualitative interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

Kvale, Steinar. 1996. Interviews: an introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Sage Publications. Only: Chapter 10


On Archives and Historical Records

Hazareesingh, Sudhir and Karma Nabulsi. “Using archival resources to theorize about politics.” in Leopold, David, and Marc Stears. 2008. Political theory: methods and approaches. Oxford University Press.

Pierson, Paul, “Increasing Returns, Path Dependence, and the Study of Politics,” American Political Science Review 94 (2000):251-67.

Lustick, Ian S., “History, Historiography, and Political Science: Multiple Historical Records and the Problem of Selection Bias,” American Political Science Review 90 (1996):605-18.

Thies, Cameron G., “A Pragmatic Guide to Qualitative Historical Analysis in the Study of International Relations,” International Studies Perspectives 3 (2002):351-72.


On Fieldwork and Observation

King, Gary, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba. 1994. Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Chapters 4-6.

Rosato, Sebastian, “Explaining the Democratic Peace,” American Political Science Review 99 (2005): 467-602.

Patton, Michael Quinn. 1990. Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. See only: “Fieldwork Strategies”]

Glasser, James M. 1996. “The Challenge of Campaign Watching: Seven Lessons of Participant-Observation Research.” PS: Political Science and Politics.


On Content Analysis

Zhang and Wildemuth. “Qualitative Content Analysis.”

Herrera et al. “Symposium: Discourse and Content Analysis.”


Other Recommendations:

Denzin, Norman K. and Yvonna S. Lincoln. 2000. “Introduction: The Discipline and Practice of Qualitative Research.” Handbook of Qualitative Research.


Useful Web Resources

Cohen D, Crabtree B. “Qualitative Research Guidelines Project.” July 2006.

Consortium on Qualitative Research Methods

Catalog Description: 
Intensive and advanced studies in various aspects of political science. Open only to participants in the departmental Honors program. Offered: AWSp.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Other Requirements Met: 
Honors Course
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:45pm