Writing and references guide

  1. Introduction: it is very important to go back and revise it after the fact, your argument is likely to change (and improve!) as you do more research and write. Always revise the introduction at the end so that you can make it reflect what your paper actually ended up doing.
  •      Define and motivate your topic. This is a good place to use news sources, as well as facts and figures to highlight the importance of the topic.
  • State the central question and thesis clearly early on.
  • Summarize your argument in brief. Make sure that a reader who stops reading at the introduction gets the logic of your argument.
  1. Main body of the paper: break it into sections, each with their own informative title
  • The argument must be well structured. Break it down into 3 or 4 sections (each with several paragraphs). Each section should have a heading and title that is short and informative. Make sure that at each stage, the reader knows what the role of the section is in the overall argument. For example if your argument is in three steps, say A, B and C, with a logical progression, you may organize your sections that way.

An important tip: pay special attention in the first two or three sentences of each section and subsection. If a reader skimmed the paper only focusing on these, would they understand your argument well?

  • The logical progression allows you to develop your analysis, step by step. At each stage of your argument, you will relate (compare, contrast, use as example and evidence, etc.) your ideas with those of academic authors.
  1. Conclusion: Summarize your findings and feel free to open toward related issues your paper had to leave out.
  2. References

Now, what kind of sources should you use in a research paper? You MUST rely primarily on refereed sources, rather than non-refereed ones.  A refereed source is one in which information is published only after it has been reviewed by several other experts in that subject.  Most books, or chapters from books, that you will come across in university libraries are considered refereed, but not all periodicals are considered refereed.  Although journals and magazines are both periodicals, journals are considered to be scholarly (or refereed) sources while news periodicals and magazines are considered popular sources.  The characteristics of each are described below.

Scholarly (Refereed) Journals (should constitute the VAST majority of sources in research papers)

¯  Illustrations, if any, are graphs and charts, with few glossy color pictures.

¯  Articles are lengthy and usually report on original research (or experiment), case study, theory or analysis pertinent to the professional field.

¯  Articles are written by someone who has conducted research in the field and who is usually affiliated with a university or research center.

¯  The language of scholarly journals is that of the discipline covered. It assumes some scholarly background on the part of the reader.

¯  Always has a list of references or bibliography; sources of quotes and facts are cited and thus can be verified.

¯  Few advertisements (if any).

EXAMPLES:  The Review of International Political Economy, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, International Organization, The Journal of International Economics, World Development, etc.


Substantive News or General Interest Periodicals (suitable for research papers, but should represent a small minority of references; for example, they may be used to relate insights from scholarly, refereed journals to discourse that non-experts read and write everyday; this is helpful in convincing a reader that your topic is interesting)


¯  Quite attractive in appearance, although some are in newspaper format.

¯  Articles are often heavily illustrated, generally with photographs.

¯  Sometimes cite sources, though more often do not.

¯  Articles are written by an editorial staff member, scholar, or freelance writer.

¯  The language is geared to any educated audience. There is no specialty assumed.

¯  Main purpose is to provide information in a general manner.

¯  Published by commercial enterprises or individuals, and contains advertisements.

EXAMPLES: Time, Newsweek, Economist, Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, New Yorker, New York Times, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal.


Popular Magazines (never suitable for research papers)


¯  Are often slick and attractive and contain lots of graphics.

¯  Rarely, if ever, cite sources; information is often second or third hand; the original source often obscure.

¯  Articles are written by staff members or freelance writers.

¯  Articles are usually very short and simple language is used.

¯  Contains many advertisements, which are aimed at the general public.

¯  Available for public purchase (in stores, newsstands, etc.).

EXAMPLES: Readers’ Digest, People Weekly, Details, Entertainment Weekly, US, Sports Illustrated.