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Sound Writing

Section 5.11 Writing for International Political Economy

Writing for International Political Economy (IPE) can be difficult because, although it’s a social science and subscribes to these writing conventions, it requires clearly integrating the social, cultural, economic, and political dimensions of international issues in order to develop sufficient depth into your topic, a task that can initially be overwhelming. Additionally, IPE research is not just an intellectual exercise; it has vast real-world impacts. Policy briefs and theories can shape generations of international relations and have drastic effects on people’s lives around the globe. Therefore, along with learning how to research and organize your ideas, it is important to write with intention and care about the greater implications of what you are arguing. Read this guide to learn more about important aspects of writing for IPE!

Note 5.11.1.

Unless otherwise stated, all italicized quotes throughout this section are excerpted from the interview with IPE faculty members at the University of Puget Sound that informed this section.


The vast majority of IPE writing is explanatory, analytical, and synthetic. Three of the most common types of papers you will be asked to write for IPE are research papers, position papers, and essays analyzing course readings. Research papers require you to find outside sources to formulate and support your argument. Position papers typically include an explanatory portion, as if you were writing a report for your employer about your topic, and an analytical section where you will use IPE theories to evaluate the current state of your topic. In other essays you will be asked an analytical question about readings you have done in class and expected to summarize the authors’ complex arguments, identify points of agreement and disagreement among authors, and incorporate relevant passages from the readings into your writing that elaborate (rather than simply re-state) your point; these essays are an opportunity to deepen and showcase your understanding of the course readings. You may also be asked to write case studies, outlining the development of a particular issue, international relationship, or country over time; policy briefs, summarizing a particular issue, its policy options, and your recommendations; and reflections, where you’ll describe your own personal standpoint on an issue. One of the common writing challenges in these genres is covering enough breadth to develop sufficient depth on your topic. As you write, work to integrate the political, social, cultural, and economic perspectives of your topic and explain in detail how they relate to one another. Also, don’t merely summarize readings, but instead put the authors in conversation with one another; look at the points that authors agree or disagree on and come up with a unique angle on how they speak to each other (for example, how might one author expand upon an idea developed by an earlier author?).


“Students have to write to find out what they don’t know.”
The purpose of writing in IPE is to develop the written communication skills that will make you most effective in your job when you graduate. Many careers that draw on IPE will require you to write succinctly, and to synthesize complicated international issues into digestible documents that combine many perspectives and nuances. IPE papers are an opportunity for you to develop these skills. They are also an opportunity to test your command of classroom and research material and identify what you don’t know. Putting complicated IPE frameworks, policies, and theories into words is an opportunity for both you and your professors to assess your mastery of the topics and theories at hand. IPE papers are also an opportunity to develop information literacy, to know when more research is needed, and to locate, evaluate, and use scholarly and gray literature effectively as evidence for your argument.

Valued Characteristics.

“It’s vital to be concise, specific, not make generalizations, and not speak vaguely and broadly.”
The professional world of IPE focuses heavily on international relations and economics, and your writing may be used to make important decisions that have huge impacts on people’s lives around the world. Therefore, valuable characteristics of IPE writing include clarity, conciseness, specificity, and consideration of many perspectives of a debate. Though nuance is important, clarity and conciseness are key because many of the topics you will write about are complex and in order for your future employer to be able to make a well supported decision they need to easily and clearly understand the state of the issue from your writing. Specificity is also imperative; broad generalizations and sweeping statements are almost always inaccurate and do not help your reader understand the true nature of the issue you are writing about.
It is also important to recognize that you will not emerge from your writing with a clear answer to your topic. The top experts on an issue have dedicated their lives to this research and still disagree with one another on the solutions. For all of the scholars with whom you agree, there are scholars who have counterarguments for their points. Therefore, you should work to put authors in conversation with one another and anticipate counterarguments when you are making a claim. Additionally, because IPE theories have real-world impacts, it is crucial to openly evaluate both sides of a debate and really think about the implications.


“Research, research, research, and cite everything!”
The vast majority of evidence used in IPE papers should be peer-reviewed scholarly sources or gray literature. Gray literature is research from outside of academia, including government documents and reports from organizations such as the World Bank or the UN. There are some exceptions depending on the assignment, however, and you should pay attention to the specific audience for which you are being asked to write. For example, if you are asked to write a letter to the editor, the peer-reviewed aspect of sources isn’t as important. Make sure to always cite your sources, including the data that you collect, and use Chicago style unless otherwise directed by your professor (see Chapter 8).

Conventions and Tips.

  • Use the Chicago citation style unless otherwise directed by your professor. If in doubt, ask what they prefer.
  • Make sure to read over your professor’s feedback on drafts and take the time to learn from their comments and make their suggested changes. They spend a lot of time giving feedback so not only is it respectful but it’s arguably the process that helps your writing grow the most.
  • Learning the difference between an opinion and an argument is key for writing a strong IPE paper. An opinion is based on values or beliefs and doesn’t necessarily have to be supported with evidence. You can disregard all of the evidence to the contrary and still hold onto your opinion. An argument must be something about which other reasonable parties could disagree and it must be supportable with evidence. When writing an IPE paper, don’t take off running with your first opinion and try to find sources to support it. Instead, take the time to read sources and build an argument before writing.
  • You should not start your paper with broad generalizations such as “since the dawn of time. . .” (see List 4.2.7). While your paper should be accessible to any college educated reader, it’s important to begin with the topic your paper is actually about.
  • There are few IPE specific writing conventions because IPE is not a distinct discipline per se, but social science writing conventions should be followed. Active and passive voices are both generally okay (though see Subsection 7.3.3), and sometimes first person is allowed as well. Different professors will have different preferences, so check in with them about the writing style they prefer.
  • Your professors may disagree about aspects of your paper (such as having a roadmap sentence in your introduction) or emphasize different features (such as having a contained introduction). These are all great opportunities to visit your professor’s office hours and ask them about their writing preferences.
  • Be aware that some words, such as “liberal,” carry a different meaning in IPE than in the general public. When using IPE terminology, make sure that you know its meaning in the field.
  • The amount of research you do indicates to your professor how much effort you have put into your paper; often professors look at the reference page before reading your paper to get a sense of the scope and depth of your research. Therefore, to write a strong paper you should do a lot of research, go well above the minimum number of sources required, and cite everything!
  • IPE papers can be very long, and the secret to not getting paralyzed by their length is to break your work into chunks. Start early and set small deadlines for yourself. You should not write these papers in one sitting; rather, your professors expect you to build your paper and argument over time.

Additional Resources.

Check out They Say / I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein for tips and practice putting authors in conversation with each other in your writing.