A General Guide to Doing the Research Paper

 Per the course syllabus, there is a requirement in this course that students write an eight-page public policy research paper.  This is eight pages of actual text written in a normal size font, with reasonable margins, and double-spaced.  It does not include any title pages or Reference Pages.  Short papers generally lose 10 points per page that they are short.  Papers need to follow APA Format Guidelines, include in-text citation (not footnotes) and a Reference List.  Students do not need to include an Abstract.  The topic of the public policy research paper is largely up to the individual student, but must be approved by the course’s instructor.  Papers need to draw upon at least ten credible sources, no more than two of these may be internet based sources.  Policy Think Tanks listed under External Links in the course-room and Government websites are exempted from this limitation.

The paper is designed to allow students to research a current public policy issue that government may be trying to address.  In the past, students have looked at Stem Cell Research, Gun Control, Welfare Reform, the Social Security System, Indian Gaming, Same Sex Marriage, Federal Campaign Finance Reform, Abortion, and numerous other subjects.

 To be clear, this is not designed to be a position paper.  It is not asking you to write a paper discussing how you feel about your chosen subject.  Rather, the goal is for you to research your subject, explore your chosen issue area, and learn the issue inside and out.  This will help you to clearly write about your topic.  But, your paper should not only discuss the issue, but also explore the different sides or dimensions of the policy debate.  For instance, lawmakers hold varying views as to whether government should be pursuing stem cell research.  What are the main views, how do they differ?  Likewise, there are generally two sides to the abortion debate.  In most instances, you will want to examine the current federal laws and regulations that impact your issue area.   Furthermore, what types of proposals is the Congress considering (or have they considered in the past) that might affect your topic?  Alternatively, you may find it beneficial to explore a line of Court cases in which the meaning and application of a law on the issue, such as abortion rights, has been ruled on by the United States Supreme Court. 

If you feel strongly about your topic, feel free to include a paragraph near the end of your paper containing your opinion, but this is not a requirement for the assignment.


(1)          The quality of internet sources varies, so be careful when using these types of sources. Also, just because someone says something does not mean that it is true.  If your source says that someone or something was great or important, or something along those lines, ask yourself, relative to what? Government agencies and policy think tanks tend to make good sources, but remember that they probably exist on both sides of the policy debate.  So, as Fox News would say, be “Fair and Balanced.”

(2)          If you have a question on where to find some good sources, let me know and I will try to assist you. 

(3)          Do not use online or printed encyclopedias as a source for your paper.

This means that you are not to use Wikipedia, Answers.Com, or similar sources.

Use of these non-credible sources will receive significant score reductions.

(4)          Do not use contractions in formal academic writing.

(5)          Remember that spell check does not catch the differences between: affect/effect; two/too/to; their/there; role/roll, and so forth, but please do spell check your document.

(6)          Let the paper do the “talking,” avoid the use of “I”.

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