Skip to Main Content

PSCI 415: U.S. State Politics (Professor Nash)

PSCI 415 Research Assignments

PSCI 415  State Politics- Public Policy Project (PPP)

This public policy project is a compilation of four assignments that will require you to engage with and critically examine one aspect of state politics discussed in the course. The assignments include: 1) literature review, 2) policy memo, 3) oral presentation and 4) research paper.

Together, these components are intended to develop students' core disciplinary knowledge, enhance independent and group research skills, written (academic) and verbal communication skills and demonstrate students' ability to develop original, critical thinking. It is an opportunity to think critically as a citizen to better understand a subject matter that is important to you and your community. Designed as a scaffolded project, there is a due date assigned for each assignment. It is timed appropriately so that each component of this project sets you up for academic success. Here are each of the assignments and due dates:

1. Wednesday, March 8th: Simplified Literature Review

2. Wednesday, April 5th: Policy Memo

3. Monday, March 27th (Groups 1-4) or Wednesday, April 12th (Groups 5-8): Work-in-Progress (WIP) Presentation

4. Thursday, May 18th: Final Comparative Research Paper

Sample themes (but not limited to) you could address

A. Representation

B. Interest Groups

C. Elections/Voter Suppression

D. Redistricting

E. Law Enforcement

F. Immigration

G. Judiciary System

H. The Media

I. Poverty

J. Public Health

K. Protecting the Environment

L. Political Polarization

M. State & Federal Relations

To begin, you must demonstrate that you are familiar with the most important research on your topic. For this paper, you must review a total of two academic sources. A strong literature review demonstrates to your reader that your project is founded on existing knowledge. Please write in well-structured paragraphs. Use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

The literature review has five components:

1. Introduction:

  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review

2. Summary:

  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole

3. Analyze:

  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole

4. Evaluate:

  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources

5. Conclusion:

  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

Please consult Cougar Courses for complete assignment guidelines.

Imagine you are serving on the staff of a Member of the U.S. Congress. Select a bill (on your chosen topic) pending in the House of Representatives or Senate and draft a policy paper making a recommendation to your boss.

Every memo includes:

1. Statement of explanation of the problem or issue.

  • States the problem in terms specific to the goal of the decision-maker. Directly addresses the decision-maker’s needs in the opening lines.
  • Tells the decision-maker why a policy change or research is needed. 
  • Briefly details the problem. Be careful to focus on the problem, not the background.

2. Explanation of the pros and cons of policy areas or issues leading up to your recommendations or the areas relevant to your findings

  • Review the Current Policy – What is it and why is it done this way? Assess briefly how well it is or is not working.
  • Discuss the alternatives to the current policy option by enumerating and explaining each policy option in turn.

3. Explanation of the Recommendations

  • Identify which option will be recommended and which options will be discounted.
  • Lay out the argument for why that option is better than each of the others.

4. Implementation or Next Steps

  • If you have made specific recommendations, briefly identify how and when to implement those options. If there are significant risks, costs, or obstacles associated with implementation, you should discuss them in the earlier section that describes the pros and cons of the policy recommendation/s. This section should be dedicated to the mechanics of implementation.
  • You might briefly include a timeline here that gives a general idea of the phases of implementation or that advises a time frame for moving to next steps. The timeline may be as simple as “in the next six months” or a bit more complex with a break out of the time for each phase of implementation. Remember, though, that the goal is brevity.

5. Conclusion

  • Return to the big picture or the motive of your policy: What is the goal of the policy recommendation? What will happen if the decision-maker does not implement the recommendation? What will happen if they do? This is your opportunity to remind your reader of the urgency of your recommendation.

6. Annexes (optional)

  • You may optionally attach a chart, graph, table, or brief supplemental data.

Sample Policy Memo (see pages 4-5)

Research question

One of the most important parts of your research project is the research question. Before you begin, you should spend some time assessing and refining your question. An initial working research question should describe the content and direction of your project. 

Following these steps can help you develop a strong research question:

a. Choose your topic

  • Choosing a topic for your research project is the first step in ensuring that your research goes as smoothly as possible. Think about your own areas of expertise and interest.

b. Do some preliminary reading about the current state of the field

  • Skim through a few recent issues of the top journals in your field to get a more specific sense of the current state of research on your potential topic. Make a point of reading their most-cited articles. You can also look for ideas by searching resources at Kellogg Library, Google Scholar, and other subject-specific databases.

c. Narrow your focus to a specific niche

  • For example, you might narrow down poverty like this:
    • Poverty > Safety Net Policies > Addressing Housing Assistance for the Homeless

d. Identify the research problem/international response that you will address

  • Define the specific problem or response that you intend to assess in your research.

Example Research Question:

X Do NGOs, state or federal governments have stronger anti-poverty policies and programs?

✔️What are the most effective anti-poverty policies and programs for combating homelessness among veterans in California?

In general, academic research cannot answer broad normative questions. The second question is more specific, aiming to gain an understanding of potential solutions so that informed recommendations can be made.

The research essay has five components:

1. Introduction

a. Introduce your topic

b. Give necessary background and context

  • Set the scene. What is already known or unknown? What is missing from this current knowledge? Why do you believe this research is worth doing?

c. Outline your problem statement, evaluation of response and/or research questions

  • This statement is a brief and concrete summary of the research problem you want to solve or an evaluation of the types of international responses used. It should put the issue/response into context. What are we already aware of? Describe the specific “thing” that your research will address.

What else do we need to know? Demonstrate its importance. What is the point of learning more about this? Establish the research objectives. What will you do to learn more?

2. Statement of Problem/Evaluation of Response

a. This statement is a summary of the specific governmental flaw that you seek to address. It aids in contextualizing and comprehending the significance of the topic. It's best to think about it in three parts:

i. Focus on the specifics of the situation:

  • Define the problem (When and where does the problem occur? Who is affected by the issue? What efforts have been made to resolve the issue?) or response (Is this mechanism effective? Are there risks? Do you think this response has a net positive or negative effect on our government? What more should be done?)

ii. Explain why it matters:

  • What happens if the issue is not resolved? Who will feel the consequences? Is there a broader significance to the problem or response? Are there similar issues in other contexts?

iii. Determine your goals and objectives.

  • This research aims to investigate…

3. CA Case Study & Analysis 1

4. Other State Case Study & Analysis 2

5. Conclusion