Grading & Assignments


  • Blogging (25%) (12 posts, one per week + 24 comments, two a week)
  • Discussion Leadership (10%)
  • Democratization Index Presentation (25%)
  • Synthesis Essay (40%)


  • Blogging (10%) (12 posts, one per week + 24 comments, two a week)
  • Research Journal (10%) (12 posts, weekly after week one, no post due presentation week or first draft week)
  • Peer Feedback report (10%)
  • Discussion Leadership (10%)
  • Democratization Index Presentation (25%)
  • Final Written Project (35%) (a 5,000-6,000 word essay)

Each student is expected to post once a week (tagging their posts as “Blog Post”). Half of you will be assigned to post by 1 PM on Mondays, and the other half by 1 PM on Wednesdays. Blog posts can and will take a number of forms. Some weeks, I’ll post questions or prompts for you to respond to. Other weeks, your posts can be more open-ended, exploring key questions from the readings or expanding upon class discussions. One strategy that works well is to consider using analytic approaches we’ve developed in previous weeks to new readings. Another is to compare and contrast the approaches taken or arguments made by previous readings with the current week’s crop. You can discuss and try to work through an area of a reading you don’t understand, and pose an insightful question or two (and try to offer an answer). Feel free to engage with or relate to posts made by your classmates. Blog posts should be about 250 words (two good, full paragraphs will usually do it).

I also expect two comments (using the blog’s comment feature) a week. This will necessarily mean reading through the blog posts made by your fellow students every week. Comments can be free-form (but always civil) responses to the issues and questions raised in an original blog post, or can continue ongoing discussion threads (you can “comment” on your own post to answer a question or continue a debate, for example). Comments can be any length, but should be substantive and on-topic.

My grading rubric for the blog posts is purely “credit/no-credit”–either you meet the requirements of the assignment (be thoughtful and on-time), or you don’t. If you don’t, I’ll be letting you know. Otherwise you won’t be receiving weekly grades, but rather a final grade based on your completion of all  posts and comments.

For graduate students, the class blog will also serve as the central depository for your research journals, where you’ll be keeping track of your progress and beginning to work out your analysis.  I strongly encourage you to look at each other’s research journal postings (all of which will be tagged “research journal” to differentiate them from blog posts), and to draw on their thoughts and offer comments and suggestions (I’ll be doing the same).  I expect you to post once a week, excluding the week of the presentations and the week your first drafts are due.

Everyone will find their own style and strategy, and there’s no one way to write these research journal entries.  As with the blog posts, I assume everyone will be posting quality research journal posts, and will only dock points after I see a pattern of consistently poor efforts.

For most of our sessions, class will begin by one (or more) of you offering a brief (~15 minute) presentation about the day’s readings. The goal of this exercise is twofold. First, it offers each of you the opportunity to “learn by doing”–in this case,  in working through the readings  “like a professor,” carefully examining them for shared themes, points of agreement or disagreement, and connections to earlier topics. Second, your introductory remarks will provide a jumping off point for my lecture and our discussion, focusing our attention to issues of importance and suggesting avenues of inquiry.

How should you prepare, and how will you be graded? First off, I expect every presentation to treat the same basic set of issues. With the first 5 minutes or so, you will need to…

  • briefly summarize each reading and its argument
  • describe its research question and data (if relevant), and
  • present the author’s conclusions.

The other 10 minutes or so (note the division here) should be spent on analysis. This might mean offering a criticism of one or more of the readings, identifying points of potential disagreement between authors, or contrasting the approaches they take to similar questions. It might also involve suggesting how these authors speak to earlier material covered in class, either explicitly or through connections you think are relevant for us. This section should also suggest possible issues or questions you’d like me to clarify or speak to, as well as ideas for questions we might pose to the class as a whole for debate and discussion.

Second, I expect each presentation to feature some sort of visual aid (poster, PowerPoint, handout) that helps to guide your classmates through your presentation, and that adds something to your spoken remarks. I’m open to various approaches, but my general preference is that you not use a long series of text-laded slides simply repeating things you plan to say out loud. Brief outlines or a couple of quotes/provocative questions might be useful, but so might maps, pictures, and charts.

Since this sort of thing can be intimidating, I encourage each of you to feel free to swing by my office hours, catch me after class, or set up a meeting to discuss the readings and your plans in advance of your assigned session. I’m happy to help.

Beginning with our course meeting on February 1, you’ll be working in small groups (3-4 students) to prepare a mock democratization index that offers the ability to define and distinguish between “levels” of democratization across time and place.  Your grade will be based on:

1) An oral presentation of 10 minutes on March 1, in which all group members will collaborate to present your index

2) A Summary Table of your scores (here’s an example of how Freedom House does it) and a “codebook” that explains (with citations to relevant works in the democratization index literature) how you constructed your index from its constituent parts, provides a discussion of coding and sources used for each sub-category and country, and contains a complete bibliography.

3) A two-page Executive Summary of your findings, along with a pictorial representation of your index model (a la Munck and Verkulen)

I expect you to choose these cases carefully (and perhaps in consultation with me), with one being a fairly certain democracy, one a fairly certain autocracy, and one a challenging “hybrid” or “difficult case.” I ask that you prepare scores for each nation for five year periods (plus a 2016 score) between 1970 and 2015, for a total of 11 data points per country.

While the style and fluidity of your presentation will matter for your grade, my primary concern is with the content. How well you you define your index? How well do you explain the tough definitional choices, and how clear is your scoring system? Where does your data come from for your country scores, and are your results easily comparable and generalizable?

For graduate students, your research paper for this class (5,000 to 6,000 words, 1 inch margins, title page with name) will be on a topic of your choice, chosen in consultation with me.  An initial, one-page summary of your proposed research, along with a separate page containing at least 10 prospective academic sources, is due in hardcopy on January 30 in class.  A first draft is due March 22 in class

For your paper, please follow the Chicago Manual of Style’s author-date convention for in-text citation and the preparation of your bibliography.  In-text citation format rules can be found here (click on “Author-date” tab), and guidelines for the bibliography (as well as a sample paper using the correct citation style) can be found here.  Correct citation and bibliography formatting are one of those things I expect graduate students to be able to do with relatively little guidance, so be prepared to actually make use of these online resources. Final papers without complete and correctly formatted bibliographies will not be accepted. The paper will be due on Wednesday, April 26 by 5 PMin hardcopy to my Bentley Annex office mailbox.

For graduate students, on March 23, you will be submitting first (rough) drafts (3 hard copies) of your final research paper.  These drafts will likely be incomplete in some important ways, but the more you provide (in terms of argument and evidence), the more productive the feedback you’ll receive.  Each submitted draft will be distributed to two of your classmates, who will take the weekend to write up brief commentaries (details to follow) directed at improving or clarifying the paper for your final draft.  On March 27, we’ll be taking the class period to work on the papers in groups, discussing these commentaries and preparing plans for revision.  Again, details will follow, but your peer feedback comments will be graded based on your effort and the depth and specificity of your feedback.  The more useful your feedback is for the author, the higher the grade.


For undergrads, your final assignment will require that you offer an effective and (hopefully) innovative synthesis of the entire course’s worth of material. Easy, right?  Lest this sound too daunting, the form this synthesis will take is an essay of ~4,000 words that answers the following question:

In many ways, the 20th century was a century of democratization. While at the beginning, democratic government was restricted to a few wealthy nations (who practiced it in a manner that excluded more than half their populations), by the end billions of human beings could claim a real, substantive stake in the question of how their societies ought to be governed. Despite many reversals, the general arc of history during this century seems to have been towards greater and more substantive democracy.

In the 21st century, however, democracy seems to be increasingly under threat. The rise of new forms of “competitive authoritarianism” allows dictators and autocrats to claim the mantle of “democracy” even as they tilt the political playing field further and further in their direction. Meanwhile, it’s far from clear that any one particular “vision” of democracy (liberal or otherwise) is compatible with the cultures, values, and experiences of all communities. And even in the established democracies of the West, low participation rates, growing dissatisfaction with politics, and the rise of populism all seem to suggest democratic institutions remain fragile.

Given all of this, what do you see as the prospects for democracy in the 21st century? Will democracy continue to expand, or enter a period of retreat? And if it survives, what forms do you imagine it will take?

Using our course readings as your building blocks, please construct an answer to this question that addresses the definitional, conceptual, and empirical complexities of democratization, and that addresses at least three (3) specific countries in some detail. You are welcome to mine additional sources (feel free to consult with me), as well. And of course, please (HINT, HINT) make use of the text (or simply the ideas) you’ve used in your blog posts and comments as a starting place.

For submission, please follow the Chicago Manual of Style’s author-date convention for in-text citation and the preparation of your bibliography.  In-text citation format rules can be found here (click on “Author-date” tab), and guidelines for the bibliography (as well as a sample paper using the correct citation style) can be found here.  Correct citation and bibliography formatting are one of those things I expect college juniors/seniors to be able to do with relatively little guidance, so be prepared to actually make use of these online resources. Essays without complete and correctly formatted bibliographies will not be accepted. The essay will be due on Wednesday, April 26 by 5 PMin hardcopy to my Bentley Annex office mailbox.