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U.S. Foreign Policy | SIS

Substantial Research Paper

Click here for a suggested SRP timeline.

The Substantial Research Paper (SRP) is an independent research project that is intended to integrate and apply knowledge from the field to a final scholarly project. By completing the SRP, students not only develop their expertise in an issue of primary concern to the field of U.S. foreign policy, but also demonstrate their ability to conduct informed, analytical research or policy analysis.

Faculty supervisors for the SRP must be USFP core faculty or current faculty who are affiliated with the program. For Academic Year 2013-2014 these are: Gordon Adams, Philip Brenner, Elizabeth Cohn, David Martin-McCormick, David Mislan, Shoon Murray, Anthony Quainton, Sally Shelton-Colby, Jordan Tama, and Guy Ziv. In special circumstances, it is also possible to work with SIS faculty outside of the foreign policy program or with adjunct professors. Such arrangements must be approved by the USFP program director prior to registering the project.

Students can register for their SRP only after their proposal has been approved by a faculty member.

Students who have not opted into the new Master’s requirements, and who choose to complete an SRP, have two choices to fulfill their Capstone requirement. Students may either complete a Standard Capstone Paper, or participate in the U.S. Foreign Policy Capstone Research Conference.

Students writing an SRP who have opted into the new Master’s requirements, or began their Master’s degree in Fall 2012 or after, are required to participate in the U.S. Foreign Policy Capstone Research Conference. 

To participate in the Capstone Conference, students must write a brief policy memo or executive summary (roughly 3-5 pages) based on their Substantial Research Paper (SRP) and give a timed professional presentation and answer questions regarding their research at the Conference, which is held in April. Students under the old Master’s requirements will receive a Pass/Fail/Distinction grade for their Capstone requirement. For students under the new Master’s requirements, evaluation of the student’s policy memo/executive summary and presentation will count for 20% of the student’s SRP grade. A more detailed explanation of the Conference, as well as a timeline, are available at www.american.edu/sis/usfp/capstone.

Our students’ SRPs showcase deep substantive knowledge about U.S. Foreign Policy issues, and often contribute to contemporary debates and discussions in the field. Clare Gallaher and Alexandra Kuschner’s SRP on Trusted Traveler programs between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico is one such example. Their SRP, “Is FAST Fast and Other Questions: An Examination of the Trusted Traveler and Trusted Trader Programs Between the United States, Canada, and Mexico” was featured on the Woodrow Wilson Center’s website.  

Please see the below SRP's for other examples of excellent past student work:

SRP- Alyssa Demus

SRP - Steven Rocker


USFP student Inu Barbee presents her research at the US Foreign Policy Capstone Research Conference

2012 Duncan L. Clarke Award Winner Inu Barbee discusses her capstone product.

As mentioned above, students under the new requirements who complete an SRP are required to present at the U.S. Foreign Policy Capstone Research Conference. Students under the old requirements may choose to participate to fulfill their Capstone requirement. The best presenter or presenters receive the Duncan L. Clarke Award. The 2012 Award recipient was Inu Barbee, who presented on "The Path to Customs Union: The European Experience and North American Integration."

Barbee's Executive Summary is available on the right menu as an example of exemplary graduate research. Additionally, several past examples of superb Executive Summaries, Policy Memos and SRPs are provided.

 

Other Recent SRP/Capstone Titles

  • Balochistan: Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy
  • "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow": Assessing State Decision-making Surrounding Biological Weapons
  • Diplomacy in the Changing Middle East Landscape: With Whom Should Diplomats Speak
  • Defining Democracy: the Failure of US Post-Conflict Operations
  • The United States, Mexico, and the Merida Initiative: Shortcomings and the Way Forward
  • U.S. Policy toward Ethnic Conflict in the Republic of Georgia
  • Fighting for Export: The F-22 Raptor, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Post-Cold War Export Control Decisions
  • Innovation in the U.S. Military: The Case of Deception in World War II
  • New Norms and Sub-State Actors: An Analysis of the Critical Obstacles in Applying International Law to Cyberspace
  • Adapting U.S.Policy towards a Liberalizing Saudi Arabia
  • Female Terrorism and Challenges to U.S.Foreign Policy
  • Supporting Freedom, Protecting Interests, or Both? An Analysis of U.S. Foreign Aid and Political Freedom in Recipient States
  • U.S. Foreign Policy towards Eastern Europe
  • Decision-making and the Iraq War: A Perfect Storm Hypothesis
  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy
  • America's Defining Moment: Adapting U.S. Power to the Rise of China and India

SRP Guidelines

Types of SRPS

SRPs in the Foreign Policy program fall into one of two types. The first type of SRP seeks to answer a question of interest to the scholarly community. Such academic SRPs may apply a theory to a new area or set of cases, test explanations between different historical periods, seek to explain the causes or consequences of a particular U.S. foreign policy, or other issues. These SRPs are characterized by a focus on a problem, understanding, or outcome that arises from the scholarly literature on a particular subject. In contrast, the second type of SRP focuses on a particular policy problem. Such policy SRPs may, for example, ask what US policy should be in an area given a set of goals or constraints, why one policy was pursued but not others, or survey a range of solutions to a particular problem. Policy SRPs are characterized by a focus on a policy issue or a particular part of the policy-making process.

SRP Requirements

Both academic and policy SRPs share a key common component: they seek to pursue a thesis-driven argument. A thesis poses a question to which there is more than one reasonable answer. In contrast to a descriptive narrative, a thesis will present a puzzle that the SRP attempts to solve by using evidence and analysis to make the case for one argument and against the others. All SRPs much be based on a thesis-driven argument.

Note: While all SRPS must have a thesis, not all theses must arise from the theoretical literature. For example, a policy-related thesis may seek to answer whether Iran’s nuclear ambitions are more susceptible to influence by U.S.-imposed sanctions or dialogue. In contract, an academic SRP might ask whether the public is likely to support military intervention to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

Before a student can register for the SRP, they must put together a short proposal in which they outline their SRP thesis and explain how it is relevant to the study of US foreign policy. A faculty supervisor must approve this proposal before a student is allowed to register the project. Thus, students are strongly encouraged to think about their SRP thesis and approach a faculty member in the semester prior to their SRP.  

A second requirement for all SRPs is a review of the existing literature on the thesis topic. In some cases, such a review will constitute a critical appraisal of the scholarly literature on a subject, while in others it will mean a summary of current policy positions and recommendations. In all cases the point of the literature review is to summarize and appraise what others have written on your thesis question. It is inefficient and unwise to write about an issue without first reviewing what others have said. Therefore, a literature review is essential.

All SRPs must also rely on evidence and analysis to adjudicate between the contending answers to their thesis question. In other words, your opinion about the answer to your thesis is not relevant unless it is based on a careful consideration of specific evidence and analysis.

SRPs should aim for a thesis question that can be satisfactorily answered in approximately 50 pages, plus a bibliography. Most of this bibliography should be drawn from library-based resources and databases. When web-based resources are necessary, pay careful attention to their quality and reliability. In all cases, web-based material should not be used to the exclusion of relevant sources in print.

Quality of writing and documentation also matter. SRPs should demonstrate skillful writing and students will be held to a high standard for the quality of their prose. The SRP must also be logically organized, grammatically correct, and stylistically pleasing. It must also follow an appropriate documentation style. For the US Foreign Policy program, this means using the Chicago Manual of Style, which can be found on the Library’s website.

Grading

SRP grades will be based on the quality of the research and writing. Students must receive a grade of B or better for the SRP to satisfy graduation requirements.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY

Standards of academic conduct are set forth in the University’s Academic Integrity Code. By registering for the SRP the student acknowledges their awareness of the Academic Integrity Code and is obligated to become familiar with their rights and responsibilities as defined by the Code. This includes understanding and recognizing plagiarism.

It has become increasingly easy to copy digitized materials and to cut and paste from electronic sources. Unfortunately, this also makes plagiarism and other violations easier. This, in turn, has led to increased scrutiny of student work to verify that academic integrity has been upheld. Therefore, students should keep copies of their research materials and drafts so they will be able to document the work they have done in case a question is raised about sources or the originality of their work.

Violations of the Academic Integrity Code will not be treated lightly, and disciplinary action will be taken should such violations occur. 

STEPS IN THE RESEARCH PROCESS

The SRP involves a series of steps.

  1. Initial presentation of topic: At the beginning of the semester or before a student should approach a possible faculty supervisor with the topic of their research. By early September for the fall semester, or early January for the spring term, students should have secured the approval of a faculty member to supervise their SRP and agreed upon a topic. (see Appendix A)
  2. Proposal: The student must prepare a proposal that is an extended outline (5-10 pages) that lays out: the research question, the contending answers to it, a discussion of its importance, the literature they intend to review, the evidence they are considering to answer their question, a preliminary bibliography, and a schedule of expected completion dates for the stages of the research project. This proposal should be completed by the registration deadline that is set by the Registrar’s office, usually mid-September/the end of January. (see Appendix B)
  3. Review of the Literature: Consult with the faculty supervisor as to whether they wish to comment on this literature review prior to completion of a rough draft of the entire paper. In general, the literature review should be completed by mid-October/the end of February.
  4. Rough Draft: Students are strongly encouraged to submit a rough draft to their faculty supervisor for feedback by a mutually agreed deadline. A target date for submission of this draft is the first week of November/the third week of March.
  5. Final Paper: Students must submit the final paper by mid-November/first week of April
  6. Capstone Research Conference: Students write a policy memo or executive summary and present it to faculty and fellow students at a designated date close to the last day of classes. This portion of the capstone is worth 20% of the overall SRP grade.

Appendix A: If the project involves interviews, surveys, or observations of people, a student MUST receive PRIOR approval from the SIS faculty member who serves as our teaching unit representative before the University board supervising research involving human subjects. The student must address human subject issues at this stage of initial presentation of the topic to the faculty supervisor. For more information on the use of human subjects in research, consult your faculty supervisor and read the material posted at www.american.edu/academic.depts/provost/osp/IRB.htm.

Appendix B: With the exception of the date by which the final paper is due, and the registration deadline, all dates are provided as suggestions. The student faculty supervisor must agree on all dates for this interim work. Should extenuating circumstances require an extension, the student must consult their faculty supervisor to see if they are willing and available to continue supervising the SRP into the summer or an additional semester.

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