Academic Paper Example

by Annie Rose Stathes
Published February 21,2013

Academic essays are generally easier to write and more enjoyable to follow if they adhere to a basic structure. One recommended structure for academic papers can be found here. The sample below provides an example of that structure in action.


The author structures the introduction to the academic essay using a three-part introduction.

The author begins the paper by creating context for the audience.  

When analyzing the successes and failures of the North American Free Trade Agreement, we must review the agreement’s theoretical background as well as its actual impacts. By studying both the theory and reality of the agreement, we can begin to understand the various intentions of the NAFTA (as designed by liberal politicians and economists and corporate representatives), as well as the ways in which it has and has not been effective in achieving its intended results. Also pertinent to understanding the NAFTA’s actual impact is comprehending the environment inside of which NAFTA was designed and implemented. Here too we have an opportunity to distinguish the difference between the environment in theory and the environment in actuality.

The author then describes the structure of the essay. Explaining the papers intentions and outlining the order in which topics will be introduced.

In this paper, I will compare the theories of realism, liberalism, and historical structuralism as a starting point for deciphering the environment in which NAFTA finds itself. I will view the NAFTA through each of these lenses and determine the ways in which each theory was influential in the creation and writing of NAFTA, and which theory has a greater influence on present-day NAFTA. I will assess NAFTA as it relates to each of these theories by theorizing what each might say about the agreement’s economic, social, and political impacts.

I will continue by relating the theories of regionalism, federalism, nationalism, and protectionism to the above mentioned theories and evaluating how each theory intermingles with the others. I will look at examples of how they have meshed, and decipher the impact their interfusion has had on NAFTA in the United States. By evaluating these relationships, I will piece together a picture of the environment within which NAFTA has been implemented, and assess whether or not this environment is conducive to NAFTA’s ability to fulfill its economic, social, and political intentions.

The author then introduces the central argument, or thesis statement.

By deciphering the difference between the environment in which the NAFTA could flourish and the environment inside of which the NAFTA actually finds itself, we can begin to determine where and why the NAFTA has and has not been effective.

Next, the author moves on to the body of the paper and begins the body by creating more context for the reader. The author recognizes the readers may know nothing about the North American Free Trade Agreement and decides to give them additional information.

Notice in the next sentence (still in the introduction), the author prepares the readers for this move so they are not surprised.

Let us begin our journey by outlining the NAFTA as a policy so that we have a context upon which to base our exploration.


Each paragraph in the body includes a topic sentence, or two, followed by explanatory and analysis sentences.

Note: some sentences and sections have been removed as this paper is only meant to provide an example, not a complete text.

The NAFTA was enacted on January 1, 1994 by President Bill Clinton. It was designed to reduce trade barriers between Canada, the United States, and Mexico over an extended period of time.


The sentences above inform the reader of this paragraph’s topics. The author then moves on to provide more detail in the explanatory sentences.

The agreement itself is contained within five thick volumes of work and painstakingly outlines the rules and regulations of free trade between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. It does not, however, outline a specific plan to address the labor and environmental issues many thought would be a consequence of the agreement’s implementation. These issues instead are covered by two supplementary accords: the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC). The NAFTA, NAALC, and NAAEC are meant to work together to provide Canada, the United States, and Mexico with a comprehensive plan for successfully integrating and implementing free trade among the three countries. Each agreement, however, has its own set of obligations.

Article 102 of the NAFTA agreement (U.S. Government, 1993) lists its main objectives. They are to:

a) “Eliminate barriers to trade in, and facilitate the cross-border movement of, goods and services between the territories of the Parties;

b) Promote conditions of fair competition in the free trade area; c) Increase substantially investment opportunities in the territories of the Parties;

d) Provide adequate and effective protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in each Party’s territory;

e) Create effective procedures for the implementation and application of this Agreement, for its joint administration and for the resolution of disputes; and

f) Establish a framework for further trilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation to expand and enhance the benefits of this agreement.”

The author now delivers an analysis sentence to explain the importance of the information provided above.

These objectives provide a basic framework for the integration and implementation of the NAFTA and have been mutually accepted by Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

The author continues for several paragraphs so readers are clear about the importance of the information (those paragraphs have been omitted from this sample).

Next the author provides evidence to support the central argument beginning with the first topic (the comparison of the theories of realism, liberalism, and historical structuralism) as outlined in the second section of the introduction.

Notice the method by which the author transitions from creating context to the rest of the body section by alerting the reader to the change in topics.

Now that we have a very basic idea of the main objectives of the NAFTA, NAALC, and NAAEC, let us begin to assess how the NAFTA interacts with political and scholastic discourse in the United States. That assessment will lead to our evaluation of the NAFTA in relationship to realism, liberalism, and historical structuralism.

The author continues the body by creating more context for the first subject, the comparison of the theories of realism, liberalism, and historical structuralism.

This first paragraph serves as a topic paragraph (one that creates context)—and contains a topic sentence, explanatory sentences, analysis sentences, and transition sentences. 

Prior even to the agreement’s inception, scholars, politicians, and concerned citizens proceeded to debate the virtues and faults of the policy. Early on, politicians like George Bush and Bill Clinton engaged in heated debates about the benefits of the NAFTA’s economic schemes and the faults of its lackadaisical approach to labor issues and the environment. Later, after some of the NAFTA’s agreements had been implemented, some scholars (Espinoza, 2002; Serra, 2002) claimed that the NAFTA’s economic success was clear and that its purpose—to allow goods and services to flow freely among the three nations—had been fulfilled. Others said that the NAFTA’s economic success arrived at great costs (Bacon, 2004; Hernandez, 1997); that the NAFTA’s disregard for free trade’s negative impact on society and the environment completely overshadowed its accomplishments (Andersen, 2002; Cavanagh, 2002). Each of the people arguing for or against the NAFTA was coming from a particular perspective. For the sake of this paper, we will connect some of the NAFTA’s main arguments to the perspectives of realism, liberalism, and historical structuralism. Let’s begin by outlining the main characteristics of each perspective.

Now that the author has created context, the essay continues on to describe and compare the theories of realism, liberalism, and historical structuralism.

Notice in each of the following paragraphs (in which some sentences have been removed), the author has topic sentences, explanatory sentences, analysis sentences, and transition sentences.

Realism, liberalism, and historical structuralism are three terms that, for the sake of this paper, will be used to assess the international political economy in America and to determine the environment inside of which the NAFTA was created, enacted, and fulfilled. The influences of realism, liberalism, and historical structuralism can be found throughout American political discourse and each perspective has contributed significantly to the inception and development of America as a nation and to the NAFTA as a policy. Following are some of the main characteristics of each:


According to Cohn, author of Global Political Economy: Theory and Practice (2005), one of the main characteristics distinguishing political realism from other political perspectives is that its theory is derived from politics and history rather than politics and economics; another is that it places greater emphasis on the importance of security than it does economic issues (Cohn, 2005). Realism is rooted in what realists see as natural and necessary competition driven by a strict devotion to state sovereignty. According to the realist perspective, a country’s military, economic, and sovereign powers are most commonly informed by its history and derived from its ability to maintain a position of power over time and in relationship to other countries. Cohn (2005) writes that realism’s basic tenets include: preservation of national sovereignty, freedom from the control of outside authorities, and the maintenance of a state–held monopoly of legitimate force within a country’s borders. Realism is concerned with relative gains and declares politics to be a zero-sum game; in order for America to gain, for example, another country must lose. Accordingly, in order for America to maintain or exceed its position of power, it must gain more than the countries with which it competes. Realists in America are most concerned with growing, expanding, and maintaining state power and sovereignty.


According to Cohn, liberalism is “the most influential perspective” in the international political economy (Cohn, 2005, p. 89). It is also the most influential perspective in the United States. The term liberalism, as used in IPE and this paper, is used to describe the theory of a group of people who “are inclined to support greater government involvement in the market to prevent inequalities and stimulate growth (Cohn, 2005, p. 89).” Liberalism is extremely diverse and naturally pluralistic; therefore, liberalists “focus on a wider range of actors and levels of analysis (Cohn, 2005, p. 89).”………… According to liberals, individuals must be free to “pursue their own political and economic interests (Cohn, 2005, p. 90).”

Within liberalism there are three main schools of thought: orthodox liberalism, interventionist liberalism, and institutional liberalism. In his book, Cohn summarized each school of thought by describing them in the following ways:……….. Each school of thought adds its own flavor of political and economic theory to liberalism but remains consistent with some of the perspective’s most basic beliefs.

Historical Structuralism

Historical Structuralism finds its roots in Marxism, though many structuralists have “diverged substantially” from the main tenets of Marxism (Cohn, 2005, p. 115). The perspective’s modern-day views encompass a wide variety of theories including Marxism, dependency theory, world-systems theory, and Gramscian cultural analysis (Cohn, 2005, p. 115)………. Government, in the eyes of a historical structuralist, merely serves to keep this positioning intact and is “nothing more than an agent of the dominant class (Cohn, pg. 116).”

The author continues the body of the paper until the objectives established in the introduction to the essay has been fulfilled.

The body is structured in the order promised in the second part of the introduction. The author continuously ties the paragraphs in the body of the paper to its central argument to make it clear and the evidence relevant.

Following the body of the paper is the conclusion. (Please note the majority of the body of the paper has been removed).


The author begins the three-part conclusion by restating the thesis statement in a new way, developing the argument to include some of the information covered in the paper. The author expands upon the argument without losing sight of it original intention. The original argument was:

By deciphering the difference between the environment in which the NAFTA could flourish and the environment inside of which the NAFTA actually finds itself, we can begin to determine where and why the NAFTA has and has not been effective.”

The author also reminds the reader of some of the information covered in the body of the paper.

The United States is a nation comprised of diverse social, economic, and political groups that have, for the most part, exercised their rights (as granted to them by the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence) to discuss and lobby for public policies that best suit the needs of their groups. At the same time, some of these groups have been constrained by America’s axiological frameworks (such as liberalism, realism, federalism, nationalism, and protectionism) and have therefore been unable to fully actualize their intentions. These frameworks—resulting from history, power, or economics, depending on whom you ask—are the structures within which America’s political economy is steadily shaped and enacted. Interest groups supporting corporate interests, for example, have had a large voice in shaping and enacting public policies while interests groups protecting the rights of workers and the environment, for example, have had smaller voices. Other voices, like those of the poor, disenfranchised, and proletariat class, for example, have been silenced by society’s general acceptance of liberalism and the Alger-inspired American Dream as normal—not constructed—reality. Still other voices, like those of the bourgeoisie, for example, have played a powerful role in further entrenching the influence of liberalism on public policy.

Interests groups and the classification of people, along with realism, liberalism, and historical structuralism (to varying degrees), contribute to America’s frameworks and ultimately combine to create America’s political, social, and economic landscape. The enforcement of strongly held ideals like state sovereignty, national security, and capitalism, coupled with an increasingly strong demand from corporations that government’s role be as a beneficiary to business, provide evidence of America’s greater commitment to liberalism and realism; meanwhile, troubling issues like poverty, inequality, and economic conflict provide fuel for historical-structuralist-inspired debate, resistance and discourse. The American political, social, and economic landscape is further complicated and entrenched by the influences of federalism, nationalism, protectionism, and, to a lesser degree, regionalism. The influence of these perspectives can be found not only in the country’s axiological frameworks, but also in its public policies like the NAFTA.

In analyzing and assessing the ways in which the NAFTA has and hasn’t been “successful”, it is important to consider the environment in which the agreement was made and has been implemented.

The author now moves on to the second part of the conclusion by reminding the reader of the topics discussed in the essay, and makes recommendations for further study.

Through this paper we have explored some of the theories that have influenced the NAFTA’s course. It is now possible to engage in further research about how the perspectives of realism, liberalism, and historical structuralism have contributed both to the measurable results of the NAFTA and to the political, social, and economic discourse of the agreement. By doing so, we can begin to assess why the agreement works the way it does and determine what policymakers and citizens can do to better satisfy both its advocates and its opponents.

The author now moves on to the third and final part of the conclusion by delivering the “universal message” which explains the importance of the paper. The author concludes by suggesting that dealing with the information provided in a meaningful way can have a positive impact on society as a whole.

In a world increasingly complicated by globalization, it is imperative that America’s most fundamental ideologies be identified, and, if appropriate, modified. The decentralization of the U.S. economy, the blurring of U.S. political lines, and the broadening of U.S. social issues, make working within America’s existing frameworks irrelevant, ineffective, and dangerous. As times change, so must we; if not for the sake of better “on-paper” policies, for the sake of a happier, healthier, and more vibrant society. In order to cause transformational change—which, in our liberalist society, and in the case of the NAFTA, would mean the establishment of rights for workers as an intrinsic part of society (as a start)—people must explore their relationship to society, transform their perception of reality, and, in the end, take considerate action.


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Annie Rose Stathes holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Political Science, from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is currently an instructor of writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado

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