Studying IR: 700 Concepts and Counting

Matthew Hanzel Avatar

So, thesis is coming to town — well, at least in one week time. There are much to be done, not to mention research and peeking through multiple kilograms worth of books (literally!). For the past few weeks, though, I’ve been doing something that I think will be very crucial to the thesis writing: compiling a glossary.

Among the various complications of writing a thesis, you have to include definitions of various different (important) concepts that will appear throughout your thesis. You may have only two or three, but it’s common (I believe) to use more than 10 important concepts. All you really want to do is to achieve clarity in your thesis, aren’t you?

In terms of content and substantivity, it is clear enough that you have to be backed by some authority. The best authority comes from experts, and experts write books. Therefore, clear enough, I have to compile definitions uttered by different experts on certain concepts. That is exactly what I’ve been doing.

The tool that I’m using is Evernote. I can assure this is not an ad, but re-using Evernote after all these years (I opened my account years ago) is one of the best decisions I make this year. I won’t go into details, but the thing is I use something platform-agnostic, i.e. I can use it in any operating systems available on the market: a Mac, iOS devices, and a Kindle fire. All the notes will appear on all the devices, and I’ll have them on the go.

A screenshot of Evernote, showing the glossary I'm making

What I do is I create a notebook especially for the glossary. In every note, I titled the note with the concept I’d like to write (I try as best as I could to make it encyclopedic or like a dictionary, with the reverse words in phrases etc.). In the body of the text, I take note of definitions mentioned by experts in various books and references, not forgetting to mention the source. This way, when I am writing the thesis I can at least quickly refer to a list of definitions, mention them, and go back to the books if I need to.

Here’s an example of one of the entries, which is the concept hegemony, a concept pretty well known in the IR academic circle.

The ability of one state to lead in world politics by promoting its worldview and ruling over arrangements governing international economics and politics.
Kegley and Blanton 2011, p. 620

Power and control exercised by a leading state over other states.
Jackson and Owens, in Baylis and Smith 2005, p. 46

The influence a great power is able to establish on other states in the system; extent of influence ranges from leadership to dominance.
Dunne and Schmidt, in Baylis and Smith 2005, p. 180

Political (and/or economic) domination of region, usually by a superpower.
Scott in Baylis and Smith 2005, p. 95

This practice also shows a special thing: you can tell which of the concepts are central to the study of IR by looking at the number of experts providing the definitions. Some of the entries I’ve been working on has more than three definitions, while some — for the time being, at least — have only one.

While sadly I can’t afford the Evernote premium, clearly this has been a tremendous help for my research. Now, I’ve reached number 799, and the number will grow daily as I add new entries!

2 responses

  1. Adrian Ng

    may I get that software Hanzel?

    1. Matthew Hanzel

      Adrian: You can have a free download (and create your free account) from, or for your portable devices from the respective app stores (AppStore/Google Play).

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