Final Paper: Political Science


The objective for your final paper is to explain something. You will need to discuss a hypothesis that explains some observed social phenomenon or, for some of the questions, discuss and predict possible outcomes. Then, whether you are validating a hypothesis or advancing your own rival hypothesis, you will come up with and present critical tests that would help us choose among the hypotheses.

How to argue against a hypothesis: Suppose we want to explain why freshmen often do better than upperclassmen in introductory classes. Let’s consider four hypotheses and how we might accept or reject them.

  1. High schools are getting better. Therefore, new freshmen are better students than freshmen of the past, and thus they perform better.
    2. Upperclassmen take more-advanced and more interesting classes. They don’t take their introductory courses as seriously, so they don’t work as hard.
    3. Freshmen are more enthusiastic. They haven’t yet learned what you can get away with, so they work harder.
    4. An explanation combining the previous two: as people mature they learn to focus their energy on their priorities and to accept lower standards for things that are less important to them.

The hypothesis may be plausible, but not true. It may not be obvious that it is untrue, but could propose research that could test it. You may argue that you expect research to show that a hypothesis is untrue. For the first hypothesis, for example, we could propose to check to see if high schools really are improving college preparatory materials (you would have to specify exactly what your test would look for to gauge that).

The hypothesis may not necessarily explain the facts. For example, the second hypothesis is flawed not because upperclassmen don’t have other classes, but because that doesn’t necessarily mean that they would blow off their easy ones.

The hypothesis may make other predictions that do not come true. For the first hypothesis, we would expect that freshmen would continue to do well after they become upperclassmen, even if new freshmen do even better. Because this does not happen, we would reject this hypothesis.

The hypothesis may not do as well as an alternative hypothesis does. We might argue that the last hypothesis is more complete than the others, since it is more generalized and can explain the behavior in both of the other hypotheses.

Avoid straw-man hypotheses: Don’t invent a hypotheses that is absolutely untrue or that does not explain the facts, just so you can reject it. Stick to reasonable explanations or those that are in the readings.

Develop a critical test: Since most reasonable hypotheses meet the first two criteria, it is often best to combine the second two: develop a critical test between two hypotheses. For a critical test, you find predictions made by your hypotheses that are mutually exclusive (i.e., predictions that only one or the other hypothesis could predict). Then, you see which hypothesis is more valid, based on the predictions they make.

Kinds of evidence: For this paper, you may use both real and proposed evidence, although I suspect most of you will be using proposed evidence.

– In most cases, you will need information that you do not already have. This is not  research paper, I don’t expect you to look this information up. Instead, propose the research that you would conduct to get the facts you would need to accept or reject your hypothesis or hypotheses. I do NOT expect that your paper will conclusively resolve the question you explore.


 Explain an Observation: Here, we begin with some fact or pattern that we want to explain. Each hypothesis is a different possible cause that explains the observation in question.

1)  Presidential power has grown during the 20th century, far beyond the expectations of the framers of the Constitution. What might explain this phenomenon? Consider how the features of the presidency, the federal government, its institutions, or U.S. political culture that might have brought about this change in power structure.


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