Checks and balances or federalism

Checks and balances or federalism

Writing a research paper is a process that starts with a lot of brainstorming. Government authority and oversight reaches so many areas of our lives that many people don’t immediately realize. Exploring a specific policy or issue area helps you gain a deeper understanding of that single issue, but it also gives you a broad understanding of how the government operates in a system of checks and balances, how state and federal sovereignty shifts, and how the media and interest groups influence policy and politics. For this paper, you will first select a topic (more below on selecting a topic). Then you will research your topic and develop a paper on one of the following:

  • Checks and Balances: The interaction among the three branches of government. You will focus on at least two main branches for this paper, discussing the interactions they have through checks and balances on one another. You can incorporate how the media or interest groups play a role in this process, but the main focus should be on how the branches work together so keep the media/interest groups portion of the paper to no more than two paragraphs.


  • Federalism: The interaction among the federal government and the states and how and why power has shifted from one to the other. If you incorporate the media or interest groups, keep that portion of the paper to no more than two paragraphs, so your main focus stays on the power balance between state and federal government.

You will explain one of the above concepts using a topic to explain how it works. For example, you might choose federalism and use the death penalty to explain how power shifts between the federal govt. and the states over the years as the Supreme Court decides cases on various aspects of capital punishment.

For either option above, your paper should include the following about your topic (policy area):

  • a background of your topic
  • the different perspectives involved
  • in the closing, add your opinion on the topic, and remember to write it in 3rd person

Questions to consider for addressing the components of the paper:

  1. Where did this policy come from?
  2. What problem was it designed to solve?
  3. How has this policy evolved?
  4. What is the current status/impact on society?
  5. What are the arguments from each perspective?
  6. What are the patterns of engagement between the branches/between the states and the federal government?
  7. How does this law/decision/situation affect you personally and society as a whole (remember to stay in 3rd person)–what was or can be the public response?
  8. When offering your opinion in the closing, you might consider what real life actions can be taken to improve enforcement/regulation/application, etc.

When selecting a topic, I encourage you to choose something that you’re interested in either personally or professionally. For example, if you are a biology major you may want to choose a policy or issue topic on global health, the climate, COVID recovery, etc. Education majors may be interested in topics on school prayer, Title IX, education policy generally, etc. Cyber security is a major threat to gamers, so gaming majors may want to explore cyber policy. You may have or know someone who has had an experience with law enforcement, so you may want to research something on search and seizure, the 8th Amendment, or due process. Many of us know people with intellectual or physical disabilities and may want to research the ADA or, more specifically, how the U.S. Department of Education enforces Title II of the ADA. You get the idea—select something that ties to your career goals or something that you just have a personal interest in. These are just some examples to show that you can go broad or you can get very specific.

Whatever topic area you choose, the process will be more meaningful to you if you are interested in what you are researching. That said, often times when you select a topic and start looking for resources, it’s common to decide to change topics if you aren’t finding enough sources to support your paper. You may also discover that you find something else more interesting that you want to cover.


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