Learning to write quality essays is the most effective way of developing the skills needed for success on your International Relations course: the skills of conceptual clarity, rigorous argumentation, critical interpretation, and the effective marshalling of multiple sources of evidence. Yet the essay itself is only the tip of the iceberg, the concrete outcome of extensive preparation.
The first rule in writing an essay in international relations is to make sure that you answer the question set. No matter how well you may write or how persuasively you may argue, so long as you are not answering the question you cannot reasonably expect to attain the mark your essay might otherwise merit.
Even when you are undecided about the right answer, it is always better to argue that the available evidence is not sufficient to justify taking a firm position rather than to evade the question altogether.
International relations is a complex subject covering topics as diverse as current affairs, international diplomacy, global policy-making, political theory, international organisations, military interventions, human rights and much more. Unsurprisingly, this makes it a reading- and writing-intensive degree, requiring the ability to absorb, condense and synthesise information quickly and efficiently, as well as to keep abreast of the most recent developments in world affairs.
For these reasons, consulting papers or books in addition to those on the recommended reading list will help you gain a broader perspective and demonstrate an ability to conduct independent research. This is highly recommended – but again, always make sure what you include is relevant to building your argument and answering the question.
Nearly all papers in international relations involve constructing an argument. The thesis for which you are arguing should be stated at the outset, in the opening paragraphs.
An international relations essay is not an opportunity to indiscriminately jot down everything you know about a given topic. Rather, you need to carefully decide which aspects of your knowledge are relevant and which are not.
Your introduction should aim capture the reader's attention while avoiding broad ‘background' narratives, unsupported generalisations or irrelevant information.
The main body of your essay should then be structured in accordance with the logic of the argument presented in order to substantiate your thesis.
Rather than simply giving opinions, whether your own or somebody else's, you must provide reasons for your claims, bolstered wherever possible with factual evidence. Relevant data, examples, statistics and other information should be marshalled to bolster each substantive point you make.
Each paragraph should cover a single idea. After writing each paragraph, ask yourself how it relates to the essay question and supports your argument. If it doesn't clearly do so, amend it so as to avoid irrelevant diversions.
An international relations essay is not an exercise in political partisanship, so be sure to address counter-arguments. Put yourself in the position of a sceptical reader and consider possible objections to your arguments and use of evidence. If these objections can be rebutted, offer a counter-argument; if not, your position will need to be appropriately qualified.
The final paragraphs should comprise a strong conclusion, pulling all your points together. Restate your main thesis and succinctly remind the reader of the arguments and evidence you have used to support it. You may also briefly address the wider implications of your position. Introducing new arguments or evidence at this point, however, would only be a sign of poor essay planning.
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