Politics 480W: Politics Senior Thesis Seminar
Spring Semester 2015
Smullin Hall Room XXX
MWF, 11:30–12:30


Prof. Michael Marks
Office: Smullin 332
Office Tel. 503–370–6932
Politics Dept. Tel. 503–370–6060
E-mail: mmarks@willamette.edu
Home Page: http://www.willamette.edu/~mmarks
Office Hours: MWF: 10:15–11:15, TuTh 8:30–9:40, and by appointment

Course Description

The purpose of this course is to provide a structured environment in which students will undertake an analytical research and writing project. The senior thesis represents the culmination of each student’s undergraduate education at Willamette University. As such, it should include the development of a clear, concise, coherent, and logical thesis argument, original research that goes beyond summaries of books and articles, analysis of competing claims, and a presentation format worthy of the student’s advanced knowledge of social science methodologies. Research and writing of the senior thesis is designed to prepare Politics majors for post-undergraduate careers, whether they are in graduate school, education, law, business, government, public service, or other professional activities.

Student Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of this course students should be able to write an extended research paper on a topic of each student’s choosing analyzing some aspect of politics. In the research paper each student should effectively demonstrate the ability to:

1. Write well in terms of prose, grammar, and syntax.
2. Organize ideas in a logical progression of thoughts.
3. Answer an interesting “puzzle,” the answer to which is not readily obvious or apparent.
4. State a clear and cogent thesis.
5. Review and cite relevant scholarly literature on the fundamental theoretical questions involved.
6. Support the paper’s thesis with logical arguments
7. Present the paper’s thesis balanced with an assessment of counter-arguments and/or competing explanations.
8. Include in the paper adequate and relevant evidence.
9. Maintain the paper’s proper scope so that it is not too narrow or broad.
10. Adopt an appropriate tone of analysis (not partisanship).

Time Commitment for This Course

Willamette’s Credit Hour Policy holds that for every hour of class time there is an expectation of 2–3 hours work outside of class. Thus, for a class meeting three hours a week such as this one you would normally anticipate spending 6–9 hours outside of class engaged in course-related activities. However, because the Politics Senior Thesis Seminar is a 2-credit course, that time commitment should be doubled to at least 12–18 hours a week. For this course you should allocate your time among the following two activities: Researching and writing the multiple drafts of your senior thesis; meeting with the instructor and other faculty and support staff (e.g., research librarians) to discuss the progress of the thesis.

Course Organization

Class time and a regular classroom have been set aside for this course. However, we shall not necessarily meet as a group every week.  In addition to semi-regular class meetings at the scheduled classroom hours, students will work closely with the instructor in development and completion of their senior theses. Students will be obligated to meet with the instructor on a regular basis to discuss their projects.  Each student should come prepared for these meetings to present their work-in-progress including ongoing bibliographies, outlines, writing samples, etc. In turn, the instructor will provide both oral and written comments on student work, guidance on appropriate methodologies, and references to additional resource materials. Through this ongoing process of consultation, students will be expected to re-write drafts of their thesis until they have produced a quality piece of analysis.

Class sessions will provide a forum for students to think collectively about the senior thesis project. In addition, students in the course will have the opportunity to read their peers’ work and offer support, critiques, suggestions, and frank assessments. Students therefore will be expected to read their peers’ work and be prepared to discuss them with a high degree of engagement and dedication.

Written and Oral Assignments

In addition to the final senior thesis, students will be asked to submit the following: A short preliminary overview of their proposed topic; a thesis prospectus (roughly 1500–3000 words) that outlines their research project along with an abstract (one-paragraph synopsis of the paper), literature review, and working bibliography; and official first, peer-editing, and second drafts of the paper.

Students will also be required to make an oral presentation of their senior thesis to the rest of the class. Because the senior thesis is designed to prepare students for their post-Willamette careers, oral communication and defense of analytical arguments—whether they be graduate dissertations, primary or secondary school class preparations, legal briefs, business proposals, policy initiatives, or simply personal convictions—is a critical feature of the undergraduate education.

Note: Students who have earned a minimum 3.70 GPA in the Politics major (counting only courses taken in-residence at Willamette) may be eligible to stand for departmental honors by successfully defending their thesis before a committee of three Politics Department faculty members. Students whose GPA in the Politics major makes them eligible for departmental honors should consult with the instructor to determine if this eligibility qualifies them to stand for honors.


The course grade will be determined on the basis of the following criteria:

Advanced planning
Originality of topic, analysis, and findings
Difficulty of topic
Improvements from one draft to the next
Quality of writing
Command of topic
Extent to which the analysis represents the student’s independent thinking versus instructor input

In other words, grades will not be assigned for the individual elements of the project, i.e., the prospectus, first and second drafts, oral presentation, etc. Instead, one grade will be given for the course with emphasis on the final draft of the senior thesis but consideration given to improvements from one draft to the next as well as effort in developing the paper over the course of the semester.

Note: Failure to complete the prospectus, any of the drafts of the senior thesis (including the peer editing draft), or the oral presentation shall constitute failure of the course.

Everything you turn in must be your own written work. You may not copy, borrow, or appropriate other authors’ work, unless you are doing so in the form of a cited quotation. All references to other authors’ work must be fully documented in the form of citations and/or footnotes, and direct quotes must be indicated as such with quotation marks. Suspected cases of plagiarism will be pursued vigorously and appropriate penalties (including an “F” for the course) will be applied.

Willamette's Plagiarism and Cheating Policy

Class Attendance and Participation

Given the collaborative nature of the senior thesis process, students are expected to participate in offering guidance and feedback to their peers. Therefore, students are expected to be prepared to discuss each other’s work in progress.  Peer editing is a requirement of this writing-centered class. In addition, attendance at other students’ oral presentations is mandatory.

Electronic Devices in the Classroom

Laptop computers can assist in note taking and wireless Internet access on campus can aid in organized classroom exercises. However, laptop computers can also be a classroom distraction. Laptop computers are permitted in class for note taking purposes. Additionally, there may be occasions when the class as a whole may want to use the campus wireless network to look things up online. However, please refrain from checking e-mail, online chatting, websurfing, game playing, etc. during class. If you are observed doing so during class time, you will asked to no longer bring your laptop to class. Additionally, cell phones should be turned off prior to class.


Students requiring accommodation should contact the Office of Disability & Learning Services (Baxter Hall, Phone: 503–370–6471, TTY: 503–375–5383) for consultation and to make the necessary arrangements.

Plagiarism and Cheating Policy

All writing assignments turned in must be your own written work. You may not copy, borrow, or appropriate other authors’ work, unless you are doing so in the form of a cited quotation. All references to other authors’ work must be fully documented in the form of citations and/or footnotes, and direct quotes must be indicated as such with quotation marks. Suspected cases of plagiarism will be pursued vigorously and appropriate penalties (including an “F” for the course) will be applied.

Willamette's Plagiarism and Cheating Policy

Optional Course Texts

There are no assigned readings for this course aside from the materials students will collect in the course of their research. However, students might find one or more of the following writing and style manuals useful in preparing their theses. These books can be purchased from any online book retailer (e.g., Powell's, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.). The purpose of these books is to provide guidance to students regarding the standards, mechanics, and goals of writing in the social sciences in general, and politics in specific. Purchase of any of these books is optional.

Lisa A. Baglione, Writing a Research Paper in Political Science, second edition (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2012). ISBN: 978-1-6087-1991-4.

Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995). ISBN: 0-226-06584-7.

Marianne Franklin, Understanding Research: Coping with the Quantitative–Qualitative Divide (London: Routledge, 2012). ISBN: 9780415490801.

Jose L. Galvan, Writing Literature Reviews, third edition (Glendale, CA: Pyrczak Publishing, 2006). ISBN: 1-884585-66-3.

Patricia Goodson, Becoming an Academic Writer: 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive, and Powerful Writing (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2012), ISBN: 9781452203867.

Janet Buttolph Johnson and H. T. Reynolds, Political Science Research Methods, seventh edition (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2012), ISBN: 978-1-60871-689-0.

Joseph A. Maxwell, Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach, third edition (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2013), ISBN: 978-1-4129-8119-4.

M. Ling Pan, Preparing Literature Reviews, second edition (Glendale, CA: Pyrczak Publishing, 2004). ISBN: 1-884585-56-6.

Philip H. Pollock, III, The Essentials of Political Analysis, fourth edition (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2012), ISBN: 978-1-6087- 1686-9.

Diana Ridley,  The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students (second edition) (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2012), ISBN: 9781446201435.

Neil J. Salkind, 100 Questions (And Answers) About Research Methods (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2012), ISBN: 978-1-4129-9203-9.

Gregory M. Scott and Stephen M. Garrison, The Political Science Student Writer's Manual, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995). ISBN: 0-13-060634-0.

Thinking and Writing: A Guide for College Students (Brandywine Press, 1997). ISBN: 1-881-089-41-X.

Douglas Woodwell, Research Foundations: How Do We Know What We Know? (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2013), ISBN: 978-1-4833-0674-2.

Robert K. Yin, Case Study Research: Design and Methods, fifth edition (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2014), ISBN: 978-1-4522-4256-9.

Course Schedule (Subject to revision)

DUE BY JANUARY 19 (CAN BE SUBMITTED ANY TIME DURING WINTER BREAK): PRELIMINARY OVERVIEW OF THE PROPOSED TOPIC (consult with the instructor as necessary via e-mail, phone, or in person during Winter Break)

January 19–23: Course Introduction

Discussion of the goals of a senior thesis project. Overview of expectations of the thesis.

By the first day of class (can be completed any time during Summer Break) students should submit a short (approximately 750 word) preliminary overview of the proposed topic. This overview should indicate the topic to be studied (some empirical curiosity), a working research question (which optimally will ask “why” the empirical curiosity has come to pass), and what explanations might be employed to answer the “why” question.

January 26–30: Questions, Theory, and Research

Discussion of the types of questions asked in analytical research, theoretical frameworks, and the connections between theory and research. Students should be prepared to discuss their choice of topic, the main schools of thought engaged by the topic, the types of empirical sources that will be used in the research, the significant questions raised by the topic they intend to pursue.

FEBRUARY 2: THESIS PROSPECTUS DUE (Including a summary, abstract, outline, literature review, and working bibliography).

February 2–6: Applying Questions, Theory, and Research to Writing

Discussion of the methods by which theoretical questions are translated into empirical research. Students should continue to conduct research on the empirical aspects of their projects.

February 9–13: Library Resources

No class meeting. No later than this week students should meet with the Social Science reference librarian at Hatfield Library to discuss the types of research materials available through the library relevant to each student’s research topic.

February 16–20: How to Construct a Senior Thesis

Discussion of the format and structure of the senior thesis. Discussion of Thesis Prospectus to get feedback from other students.

February 23–27: Some Writing Mechanics

Additional discussion of the nuts and bolts of the senior thesis format. Continuing individual conferences with instructor.

MARCH 2: FIRST DRAFT OF SENIOR THESIS DUE (including abstract and bibliography)

March 2–6

Class session if needed.

March 9–13

Class session if needed.

March 16–20

Class session if needed.

March 23–27: Spring Break

No classes.

MARCH 30: PEER EDITING DRAFT DUE: Drafts to be exchanged with peer editors no later than 12:00 noon Monday, March 30.

March 30–April 3: Peer Editing Sessions

Peer editing of first drafts and working second drafts of thesis. Class will meet on Wednesday, April 1 to exchange peer editing comments.

APRIL 6: SECOND DRAFT OF SENIOR THESIS DUE (including abstract and bibliography)

April 6–10: Second Drafts

No class sessions. Submit second draft of thesis.

April 13–17: Oral Presentations

Oral presentations.

April 20–24: Oral Presentations

Oral presentations.

April 27–May 1: Oral Presentations

Oral presentations.

May 4: Oral Presentations

Oral presentations.

MAY 4: FINAL DRAFT OF SENIOR THESIS DUE (including abstract and bibliography).