As I mentioned before, this course was organized around 20 questions. The paper assignment was to submit a 2000 word paper on day 7 (out of 10) of the course. The paper topic had to be one of the 20 questions. Since I intend to teach Chile next year, I chose the one question on Chile:
On almost all economic and political indicators Chile looks better than any other country in Latin America. Why then is there cause for concern over the quality of democracy in Chile?
Choosing this question was a bit of a strategic mistake for a 10 day course. This question was on the syllabus for day 8 - the day after the paper was due. That meant I needed to find time to do reading for classes and time to research and write this paper. But I did it.
My first solution to this was to start reading before the class started, which I did. I waited until Thursday of the first week to start really researching, finding additional materials, and outlining an initial response to the question.
As my first political science paper, on a country whose language I don't speak, I wondered about using primary sources. Some of the articles that I read used elaborate data analyses for what appeared to be no real purpose. I guess I don't have enough faith in math to see the point in creating a numerical value to measure the quality of democracy or some other broad concept. I didn't have access to such data, the math skills to make up coefficients of blah blah something or other, or an idea of why this was meaningful in the first place. I ended up using some ideas from an article by Patricio Navia called "Living in Actually Existing Democracies: Democracy to the Extent Possible in Chile" from the Latin American Research Review in 2010. (This article used ideas from a book that I read parts of afterward, by Alan Angell called Democracy After Pinochet. But I read the Navia piece first.) This article uses data on participation in elections and uses public opinion surveys. In a different kind of paper, I would have included more discussion of the significant limitations in using both of these types of data as sources, but for this shorter work I just went with it. I ended up using news reports in English as well.
I wrote two general sets of notes that could be called an outline. I never outlined papers until graduate school, and then realized, duh, they are super useful. Even though my actual writing often doesn't follow the outline directly, having to sit and think things through means that once I start writing, the words will just flow.
And the words did flow. My typed outline was about 1000 words long (with quotes, etc), and my first full day of writing (on Saturday) ended with 1953 words. But I was only halfway through what I had intended to address in the paper. So I pulled a classic student move - I wrapped up what I was saying, added a conclusion, and called it a day. The paper in the end was 3100 words, and written in what amounted to 14 hours or so of writing, after who knows how much time reading.
What did I do, in the end? I DID NOT COMPLETELY UNPACK THE QUESTION. Really? How often have I commented on student writing for not fully addressing the question asked? Ugh. The question has two parts:
On almost all economic and political indicators Chile looks better than any other country in Latin America. I took this statement as a given, rather than thinking about it at all. I found some evidence to show that by economic indicators, Chile was doing well, but did not think about the political indicators part of the question.
Why then is there cause for concern over the quality of democracy in Chile? I spent most of the paper addressing only this aspect of the question. However, I really only partially answered the question. Sigh.
However, I did very well in the class and received a high score on the paper and in the class. But still.