Project #52413 - memos

PSCI 3325

NOTES ON WRITING ASSIGNMENTS

August 21, 2014

The major assignment for this course is to write a pair of research memos totaling a

minimum of 15 pages of text, not including lists of references and any tables or figures. The

memos must be at least six pages each, double spaced, 12-point font, with standard margins.

TOPICS

The memos must be about a specific public policy controversy related to one of the topics

on the syllabus covered during October 16-December 4. You should pick an issue that was

actively considered and resulted in a formal decision by a federal or state legislature or

administrative agency, or a ballot initiative. Note that the decision may have been to do nothing

and maintain the status quo.

Research topics are due Thursday, September 11

- Identify the controversy you are going to analyze, including when and where it occurred,

and the date(s) on the syllabus to which is corresponds. Explain in a paragraph or so why it is a

good topic for the research memos for this class.

Topics to Avoid

Do not choose confirmation votes on political appointees, a decision by a court of law, or

appropriations bills. Do not choose legislation on political process issues, e.g., campaign finance,

voter ID, or redistricting (which aren’t on the syllabus anyway).

In addition, policy decisions made quickly as a reaction to external events and passed

with very lopsided votes do not make good topics for research memos. These did not involve

much debate at the time, although in some cases there were significant second thoughts and

opportunities for reconsideration. For example, the original USA PATRIOT ACT was passed

shortly after the 9-11 attacks without a lot of debate. The 2006 reauthorization would be a much

better topic for research memos.

ORGANIZATION AND CONTENT

The first memo should focus on a substantive analysis of the policy issue, and the second

should focus on the politics. Each memo individually must be a minimum of 6 pages of text, and

they must total at least 15. There are no maximum limits, but remember that excessively long,

redundant memos make the graders cranky and the ability to present information and analysis in

a concise manner is a highly prized job skill.2

Substantive Memo

The substantive memo should begin with an abstract of no more than 150 words. The

abstract summarizes the highlights of your memo; reading the abstract should help someone

decide whether it is worth their time to read the whole memo.

The body of the memo should have an introduction and a conclusion, and should address the

following questions (at least):

1. What was the problem to be addressed?

Who was affected by it?

Provide some objective evidence to demonstrate the severity of the problem.

How did it get on the policymaking agenda?

2. What were the various alternatives considered? What arguments were made for or

against them?

Note that keeping the status quo policy (or lack thereof) is always an alternative.

3. How well does the action taken seem to address the problem?

For recent decisions, this may have to be speculative.

If some time has passed, is there objective evidence that conditions have improved or worsened?

If the decision was to take no action, does the evidence indicate this is still a problem requiring

some kind of action?

Politics Memo

The politics memo should again start with an abstract of no more than 150 words, and should

have a short introduction and conclusion. It should address the following questions (at least):

1. Who were the important stakeholders? What were their interests and sources of

influence?

Stakeholders are those people who are affected by the problem or the proposed solution. This

will most likely focus on the general public and interest groups, although it could also include

state and local governments interested in a federal policy or a federal agency affected by

legislation, for example.

2. Who were the important political players? What were their incentives?

Focus here on those who can make the policy decision, e.g., the members of the legislature or

executive or administrative agency. Who were the important players? Why were they important?

What did they stand to gain or lose politically?3

3. Why did the outcome turn out the way it did?

Don’t just say that one side had more votes! Why did individual decision makers or groups

decide a certain way?

For example, was the issue decided purely on the merits, or did other factors play a role? Was

one side able to use procedural rules to their advantage? What compromises or deals may have

been necessary to secure the outcome? Was the proposal amended or refined in order to gather

more support? Did some stakeholders change their position during the course of the debates?

Each memo should also have a list of sources at the end along with in-text citations (see

comments on citation style below).

Note: If something very close to these outlines doesn’t seem appropriate for the topic you are

considering, you might want to pick another topic.

DOING RESEARCH

There is no minimum number of sources, but I expect you to do reading outside of the syllabus

and include facts supported by this reading in your analysis.

Don’t forget research librarians are good sources of information.

The endnotes to the substantive policy chapters in the Peters textbook include lots of potential

sources.

CQ Researcher articles also have citations to primary sources.

Be careful about using internet sources.

- Make sure you know who wrote the information and ask yourself whether they might

have an agenda.

REFERENCES

In general, any time you assert a fact that is not part of general knowledge you should have a

source for it.

Always cite a source if you quote or attribute words or thoughts to a specific person.

Similarly, always cite a source if you use a specific number, unless it is common knowledge

(e.g., there are 50 states; the legal drinking age is 21; it takes 60 votes in the Senate to invoke

cloture).4

Citation style:

Use the Chicago Manual of Style form for citations. There is a link to the CMS quick

citation guide on the course eLearning page. Or just go to

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html and click on the link for “Chicago-Style

Citation Quick Guide.”

Use the author-date system with in-text citations and then a complete list of sources at the

end of the memo sorted alphabetically by first author’s last name.

Include citations to web sites. Note that a URL is not a source; it’s simply the web

address where the information you are citing can be found. The source is the person or

organization who posted the information.

WRITING STYLE

Memos will be graded based on writing as well as content.

Use subheadings to delineate different sections of your memo.

You don’t have to use footnotes or endnotes, but if you do I prefer footnotes.

Watch out for incomplete sentences – when in doubt, say it out loud.

PROOFREAD!!! The spell check function doesn’t catch everything.

Feel free to consult the writing center. See

http://www.utdallas.edu/studentsuccess/writing/index.html.

GRADING

Each draft and final memo will be graded on a 50–point scale:

Abstract and overall impression 10 points

- Does the memo successfully explain the substance or politics?

Analysis of 3 questions 10 points each

- Includes quality of the evidence provided and use of sources

Organization, grammar, citation style 10 points

Penalties for short papers: For the draft and final substantive memos, 5 points will be deducted

for each page below 6. For the draft and final politics memos, 5 points will be deducted for each

page the combined length of the two memos is below 15.5

PLAGIARISM AND FABRICATING SOURCES

Don’t do it! I have referred students to Judicial Affairs before, and will do so again.

See the comments on “Avoiding Plagiarism” at http://coursebook.utdallas.edu/syllabus-policies/.

If you have any doubt about whether you should be citing a source, cite the source. You will

never lose points for having too many citations.

Fabricating sources includes citing imaginary sources, as well as citing a real source for a

proposition that is not in fact supported by that source.

Subject General
Due By (Pacific Time) 12/18/2014 01:00 pm
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