Government 43001: Causes of War

Term paper: 15 pages, due last day of classes

Professor Dan Lindley

Department of Political Science

Office: 448 Decio Hall; Phone: 574-631-3226; Email: dlindley "at"


The task for the term paper is to take a war (your choice w/approval), find the two leading explanations for why it started, and make an argument about which explanation is more persuasive. You may also refute both explanations (or the single leading explanation) and propose your own, but substantial space must be devoted to rejecting specific claims made by the contenders. The excellence bar will be slightly higher if you choose to write on a war covered in our case study readings.

This is a diagnostic paper, not a prescriptive paper. The diagnostic tools are the theories we covered in class.

You must specify what the theories predict about the war, and find evidence which bears on these predictions. Competing theories will generate competing predictions. Which predictions find the most support in the evidence? Determining which theory is most persuasive is dependent in large part on framing the theories, laying out their predictions, and weighing the evidence in light of these predictions.


Read the handouts on writing and research. They are on the web and in your reading packets. When the people grading you give you the playbook, it pays to read it and find out what they are looking for. You will be well served if you follow the writing advice from me and Professor Van Evera, especially the latter's explicit recipe for writing an efficient and engaging first paragraph, ordering sections of the paper, and making yourself clear throughout. See also my handout on how to write a theoretically informed paper. If you have any questions, ask. Follow the recipe and you will be well served.

Do not regurgitate the readings. Be creative and original. For example, do not use misperception of the O/D balance to assess the same cases Van Evera uses. On the other hand, you may find that Van Evera provides a good example of what it means to make a theoretical argument about events in IR.

You can combine theories. You can make up your own theory -- so long as a good portion of the paper is devoted to showing why the course's theories don't work well enough (don't forget that the point of the paper is to demonstrate mastery of the course materials and gain practice using theories and models. To do this, you must use them.).

A required checklist will be handed out closer to the due date. An outdated one is in your reading packet and the most current one is on my handouts web page.