Writing and Research as Essential Hard Skills
For the many graduates wishing to pursue a career in the field of international relations and diplomacy, knowing how to put to use some of the key analytic tools learned in academia is a first, crucial step. Research and writing are essential hard skills one needs to master to succeed in crafting coherent and groundbreaking arguments that can contribute to expanding the practice and discourse of any field of study. But what do we mean when we say ‘Research and Writing’, and why are these so pivotal in the realm of IR and diplomacy?
Both research and writing are indispensable tools in compiling and developing complex, novel ideas. In order to get there, a good tip is to premise your argument on research questions that are analytical rather than descriptive. To answer a How or Why question as opposed to one focusing on the What or Where can help us to better understand the dynamics of the subject of study. This is especially crucial in international relations because being able to formulate the right questions can help us articulate compelling arguments and explain the root causes of the dynamics we assess - be they emergencies, diplomatic tensions, or any other major event shaping the international relations panorama. In other words, it is a lot better to prevent than having to cure.
Mastering the use of a breadth of data collection methodologies and knowing how to effectively evaluate evidence is also a crucial asset. There is a tendency to think of qualitative and quantitative research methods as strictly separate entities, oftentimes even awarding a higher sense of objectivity to quantitative data. Yet the assumptions, all the more so in diplomacy, are particularly harmful. Crafting articulated arguments is contingent on one’s ability to effectively collect data, and this requires a combination of qualitative and quantitative research tools. Effective policy making in international relations ultimately comes down to the ability to evaluate the evidence at hand, and obtain such evidence through effective data collection methodologies. Getting accurate data is difficult to come by in international relations, particularly if data collection is foreign in any given country. Various departments at the United Nations are commissioned to collect country statistics but are unable to compile anything complete due to various regional challenges.
As a result, it is crucial to understand problems about society and culture when data is imperfect.
Research never happens in a vacuum. As a researcher, you will approach a topic of study with your own biases and idiosyncrasies, and it is crucial you understand how these could influence your results and interpretations. Should the research involve one-on-one interactions with other individuals (through interviews or focus groups) you are likely to become yourself an object of study for the people you will be speaking with, and your position will shape how much will be revealed to you. Understanding this is pivotal in the field of diplomacy, especially when researchers are bound to be exposed to dynamics and contexts markedly different from one’s own background. Learn to navigate these concerns, and be weary not to jump to swift conclusions that may fail to appreciate the subtle cultural complexities of the issues you will address.
Both research and writing skills rely on the importance of proper spelling, grammar and punctuation, as these will affect the way you, the author, will be perceived by your audience. Precisely because so much of international relations involves the circulation of written reports, policies and other key documents. Errors, typos and sloppy formatting will most likely lead your audience to form a negative impression of your work and your abilities and will ultimately impact the perception of your content and even goodwill. Just think of how easily we dismiss articles and websites with poor grammar and spelling mistakes. This is a lesson that applies to any field of work. Learn how to make your arguments read effectively.
Booth, W.C., Colomb, G.C. &Williams, J.M. (2008). The craft of research. (3rd ed.), Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press;
Pierce, R. (2008). Research methods in politics, London: SAGE Publications Ltd
jobs.ac.uk: A Practical Guide to Planning an Academic or Research Career