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White paper or policy memorandum: Research and compose a policy-oriented document that clearly assesses a real-world problem or issue in the area of international security.

PS 6110: Update on assignments

Please note that you have a choice regarding how to proceed.


White paper or policy memorandum: Research and compose a policy-oriented document that clearly assesses a real-world problem or issue in the area of international security. The goal of this assignment is to practice producing a highly readable and easily digestible analysis of a problem and recommendations for how best to address it. Your white paper or policy memo should be rooted in insights drawn from relevant scholarship, with a special emphasis on empirical evidence that helps readers understand, assess, and respond to the problem at hand.


The completed document should be roughly 2,500–3,000 words of narrative text and may include tables, graphs, charts, maps, or other forms of data visualization as supplements to the text, provided that all sources are carefully cited and documented. Factual information may be drawn from high-quality newspapers and periodicals, think-tank publications, and the like, but these sorts of materials are not by themselves sufficient – your work must also engage with and use relevant scholarly sources. A complete draft of the document will be due by Friday 9 November, and a revised, final version is due Tuesday, 4 December. We will emphasize the importance and functionality of the revision process, both to improve the substance and style of the draft. This does NOT mean you should deliberately do poor or sloppy work on the draft!

NEW: Please be advised that students may, if they wish, COMBINE the policy project and the literature review assignment (see below for original description of literature review). Here are the parameters/ground rules:

  • Note first that the original policy memo/white paper project did not require an explicit literature review. It asked only that the document “should be rooted in insights drawn from relevant scholarship,” and “your work must also engage with and use relevant scholarly sources.” My initial expectation was that such insights (perhaps just two or three such insights!) would be seamlessly incorporated into the text of the document. This expectation stands for those students who decide to complete the policy and literature review assignments separately. 

Briefing: In addition to the written policy document, you will be asked to provide the class with a briefing concerning your subject. Initial remarks are limited to 12-15 minutes and will be followed by a question-and-answer period. PowerPoint slides are strongly encouraged, but note that the instructor will provide strict guidelines regarding their use. If necessary, a handout may be prepared and circulated among classmates, but a handout is not a replacement for a thoughtfully prepared, rehearsed, and well-executed oral briefing. More information about how to structure such a briefing will be provided via email.


Blog post or op-ed: In addition to the more extensive policy document, you will be asked to prepare a short-format assignment that speaks to a broad audience about the issue or problem you have researched. By convention, op-eds and blog posts should rarely exceed 800 words; yours should be roughly 600-700 words. Since, as Bret Stephens writes in the New York Times, “authority matters” when trying to publish an op-ed, student writers who have no credentialed expertise or name recognition “are likelier to get published by following an 80-20 rule: 80 percent new information; 20 percent opinion.” So: focus on the facts and on citing recognized authorities when building your case.  


Literature review: Conduct a critical review of the literature on a well-defined theoretical question relating to a subject concerning war or international security (broadly construed). The review should be focused, well-organized, and prepared in an academic style, with thoroughgoing documentation of sources, quoted passages, and specific ideas and evidence drawn from the source materials. 

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