You must acknowledge the author(s) purposes for writing, as well as their potential biases, in order to properly understand and interpret what you’re reading.
-Jenna Christensen, Political Science Major
The following are some of the most common types of writing you will read in political science:
-If you’re reading political theory:
Remember that you are reading the theorists’ opinions and assumptions. You should take the assumptions seriously—as you’re likely reading widely-considered and highly-regarded theorists—but ultimately, you do not have to accept them as fact or agree with them. (Ex. Just because Hobbes concludes that we need autocratic rule doesn’t mean he’s correct or that we need to agree.)
-If you’re reading a news article:
Think about the historical context of the time in which the article was written. Also, look out for language that indicates bias. If it seems like the author is trying to get you to take a certain “side” on an issue, he or she probably is. This doesn’t mean the news article is no good; it just means you need to keep in mind that what you’re reading may be biased. It also means you may want to seek out news articles from “the other side” in order to get a well-rounded view of the event or issue.
-If you’re reading an academic article:
Know that academic articles use quantitative or qualitative data in order to “demonstrate” that something is true—that X political phenomena is caused by Y, for example. Often, academic articles try to build off of the findings of other academic articles. A good, peer-reviewed article will accurately interpret data to reach its conclusions. However, remember that often, these conclusions are not rock-solid. Most political phenomena have a variety of causes and effects, and one academic article necessarily cannot measure them all. Political science is a social science, so gathering and interpreting data is never an “exact science” the way physics or biology is. Therefore, most articles you read will reach somewhat unsteady conclusions, such as: “we are 75% certain that Y-cause contributes to X-phenomena.”
Another general tip, regardless of what you’re reading, is to underline key points that you find interesting or important. It also helps to write down questions or applications that come up while you read, as you think of them. Making connections and exploring the “so what?” is important in political science, so record your thoughts about the bigger picture as you’re reading.
Advice from Jenna Christensen Political Science major and CWAA tutor
The study of political science is highly relevant to daily life. When approaching readings in political science you will want to pay special attention to the significance of events, both current and historical. Political events are highly influenced by the context in which they occur. Consider the long and short term effects of the event you are reading about.
Analyze the motivation of the writer of a work. Think about what causes people or groups to express concerns or take actions. Consider the motivations of the media coverage of an event. Consider the political stance of the media outlets.
Consider political organizations and how and why they have been established. Think about the distribution of political power and decision making.
Be alert for bias and partisanship. Think about what is influencing a particular viewpoint, who supports it and why. Consider the funding of particular political issues.
Be certain to sort facts from opinions. Examine the evidence that is used to support an authors assertions. Even people in places of power make assertions that are not necessarily supported by the evidence.
Adapted from McWhorter, K. (2015) Reading across the disciplines. Pearson.