Policy paper

Researching and writing a policy paper is a central part of ES211.  And in many ways, it is a great opportunity.  Not only does it give you a chance to really dig into an important case; it also gives you a chance to pursue an ongoing, deeply-held interest.  Choose a contemporary social challenge that you really care about.

Here, I offer details on the process and the product, using deadlines on the course schedule as a guide.

I.  Paper proposal due  – Friday, March 2

Your proposal – no more than two pages- should begin with your research questions.  Put simply, what questions will you be trying to answer?  Put these questions in italics in the very beginning of your proposal, for emphasis.

Next, give a bit of background.  Why are these important questions?  What do you hope to learn from this project?  How might this project help you in the future: say, in securing an internship; in writing a longer thesis on the topic; or in starting your career?

Then, summarize resources that you now know of, resources that can help you to write an outstanding paper.  Are there research centers devoted to the topic?  Do you know – or know of – someone who is a leader on this topic?  Are there special resources here in Vermont?  In addition, what resources do you think you will need which you haven’t a clue about trying to find?!

Next, briefly discuss – one or two sentences for each is fine – three sources that will help you to get started in your research.  At least one of them should be a paper from an academic journal.  Here’s a helpful guide from the library for getting started with research in environmental studies.

Finally, list the three sources at the very end of your proposal – this is your first bibliography.  Use the referencing standards of the Modern Language Association. Here are two helpful links:

And note: we will meet on during the Friday discussion section on March 2 (in Davis Library 230) with Reference and Instruction Librarian Brenda Ellis (x5497 – bellis@middlebury.edu).   During this meeting, she will help you to focus and enhance your ongoing search for the best possible sources.

II.  Annotated bibliography due  – Friday, March 23

No more than four pages, this bibliography should feature eight new references that you intend to use.  For each of the references – again, use the MLA approach – write a brief summary: what is this citation, and how will it inform your research?  It is important that these references are of the highest quality.  And again, list these sources at the very end of your document, MLA-style.

III.  Feedback on policy paper – Friday, April 13

This is chance to get guidance on your paper, due in two weeks. Bring your ideas and written material to this discussion section, and you’ll have a chance to get feedback from others.

IV.  First draft of policy paper due  – Friday, April 27

This draft should be in very good shape.  The descriptive parts should be complete; much of your analysis should be complete; your normative material – an important part of the conclusion – can still be a little rough.

In fact, it’s really important that this draft is in good shape, so you can get helpful feedback from a peer and from me.  It’s this feedback – based on a draft filled with rich material – that will help you to craft an outstanding final draft.

And note: it’s OK in this draft to insert a question or two, looking for guidance from your readers.  Something like “Should I find more material to support this section?” or “I’m stuck in trying to reach a conclusion about what happened here – advice?”

V.  Peer review of policy paper due – Friday, May 4

No more than three pages.  As a peer reviewer, give substantial, analytical feedback to the author of the piece you have read.  Less ‘I really like this paper!’ and more ‘You didn’t make this point as well as you could have – here’s what I suggest to improve this part. …. ”  This is really an opportunity to shine.

More specifically, you should weigh in on most of the following:

  • Has the author clearly identified his/her research questions?
  • Are these research questions important?  Do they actually drive the narrative of the paper?
  • Has the author found strong, diverse references to describe the issues and to analyze the research questions?  What kind of other references should s/he find and use?
  • Is the analysis clear?  How well is the author answering the research questions?  How could s/he do better?
  • Are you persuaded by the paper’s normative conclusions?  Why or why not?  How could the author do better?
  • If this were your draft, what else might you do to make this an outstanding paper?

Also, you are welcome to ‘mark up’ the draft you read, with editing comments and the like.  If you do this, you still need to wrote the review, of course!

Please print out a copy for me and bring it into the discussion section on Friday.

V.  Feedback on policy paper – Friday, May 4

At this point, each of you will probably have some part of your paper – due ten days later – that you are still unhappy with.  Bring it in to this discussion section, and you’ll have a chance to get one last round of feedback from others.

VI.  Final draft of policy paper due  – Last day of exam period

Pass it in and celebrate!