Pro Tips for Model UN Research
You know the country you’re representing and you know the topics, but now what do you do? Relax! Designed by a collaborative team of two veteran Model UN’ers, a former sponsor of MLWGS Model UN, and your resourceress, this guide is designed to help you conduct your research effectively, avoiding quagmires that bog down many new Model UN’ers. Last updated in December 2020. If you’d like to suggest additional resources or notify Ms. DeGroat of a broken link, please email her at wdegroat[at]gsgis.k12.va.us.
Unique nature of Model UN research
Matching complex international topics with stringent country policies, Model UN requires the researcher to construct a solution rather than find the answer. When completing Model UN research, it is necessary to go beyond habitual point and click research methods and use powers of analysis to build an effective and accurate country response to an expansive committee topic. In its most basic form, Model UN is like detective work: you have to find pieces of evidence related to your case that will help you put together a logical, thoughtful solution.
- Going off on tangents: Because Model UN topics are so interesting, students will normally find themselves exploring the wonders of the world wide web. While this wandering can be enjoyable, getting lost online will turn Model UN research into a month-long project. Instead, make sure the information you’re seeking is relevant to your specific topic and will further your position paper or country policy in some way. This is a hard one to avoid because you don’t realize you’re on a tangent until it’s too late, so try to be conscious of the hyperlinks you’re clicking and terms you’re searching.
- Search engine abuse: Every experienced Model UNer will tell you that the first habit they had to break was “just googling it.” Model UN is about solving a problem which can’t be answered with one search in your search engine of choice. It takes piecing together the works of different researchers, international officials, and topic experts to find the real answer. Google is good, but it can’t think for you!
- Losing your way on the UN website: Anyone who has visited the United Nations website knows it is harder than a Chinese finger trap to figure out. The best place to start is by clicking on the English link when first entering the website, so you don’t have to try to decode UN documents written in German. As opposed to working your way through the voluminous hyperlinks, try a basic search and let the computer do the work for you. Type in a key phrase and you should be ready to go.
- Never beginning the writing process: You’ve been 8 hours and you still haven’t started writing. STOP!!! You need to put your ideas down on paper. Model UN topics are very broad; people spend their lives working on these topics – so you aren’t expected to know every little detail about your topic, as it is more important for you as a delegate to grasp the big picture. At some point, you have to resolve to stop your research and start writing. The best way to do this is to determine when you have a feel for the basics of the topic, and then start writing. The writing process will allow you to synthesize your thoughts, and show where you have holes in your research.
- Never stopping your hard work: Two solid days without a break from research and writing time is way too much, and you have to learn when to stop yourself. Even Ban Ki-Moon has to stop at some point! Once you feel you’ve properly mastered the basics while proposing a clear and effective solution to your topic, then stop writing. No one is asking you for a 45-page research paper with citations that is going to solve all of the world’s problems! Over-researching or over-writing will only make you more confused and burned out. Be confident in the work you’ve done and everything will be just fine.
- Get organized: The first part of Model UN research is getting organized. Break out the highlighters, sticky notes, and index cards or whatever other methods you use to make sure your research stays organized and properly formatted. Completing this first step will pay off greatly later on when you’re trying to properly include facts and cite your position paper.
- Brainstorm: Now that you have your supplies at the ready, brainstorm your topics. Model UN research revolves around how your assigned country feels about a topic, so start from this point. From these policies, brainstorm solutions to your topic that would be supported by your country and would garner some measure of compromise from the committee as a whole. Remember, at the United Nations, the end goal is peace, not conflict.
- Note-taking strategies: Everyone has his/her own research style, but one of the most universal is dividing up your notes. Don’t just compile all your research into a mishmash of facts on a dog-eared legal pad or one enormous single-section Google doc. Keep different outlines for different sub-topics about which you just brainstormed. Some people also find that keeping notes on color-coded index cards helps them properly organize their facts. Either way, make sure you have a strategy for taking good notes on your research so you can properly reference it later. If those don’t work, try a digital outline to organize your facts and tidbits. This strategy lets you move your facts around and adapt as you learn more about your topic.
- Resources: Google is not the only tool on the Internet, nor is it the most effective for Model UN research. Search engines will be handy as a jumping off point, but after exhausting the basics, use journals, news sites, and country sites because they’re going to be the most pertinent and helpful for building your country’s policy and possible solutions. A good place to find some great resources is at the bottom of this page!
- Tools: Here are a few online tools you might find useful for brainstorming, note-taking, and keeping track of online resources.
- Evernote web-based web clipper and note management tool; also has a mobile app
- Diigo – another tool for managing your bookmarks/favorites, related web site clippings, and more
- Mindomo and Mindmeister – online brainstorming tools (the latter supports collaborative mind mapping). Basic accounts are free.
Writing a position paper isn’t a linear process with a to-do list to check off. Creating a fantastic paper takes a holistic approach of synthesizing problems and solutions and then weaving them into one well-reasoned country policy. Every now and then stop and read over what you’re doing. Is the work you’re producing moving you toward your end goal? If it is, keep writing. You don’t need to check a box every 15 minutes or accomplish a certain amount of writing in one sitting as long as you’re being productive and working toward your final paper. Assess your progress periodically to make sure you haven’t made any of the common mistakes and are creating your best work.
- If [“Mexican policy” AND narcoterrorism] keeps giving you a list of creepy blog sites, then modify your search strategy. For instance, try looking for a regional stance instead of your particular country’s opinion – most likely you will agree with your neighbors. Instead of [Vietnam AND “intellectual property”], try expanding to “Southeast Asia”. Along these lines, find out if your country is a members of any regional organizations. Maybe Sierra Leone doesn’t have a specific position on child soldiers, but I’m sure the African Union does.
- Still no luck? Find out which major countries are your country’s allies/rivals. Does your country support the United States? Find out what the United States has to say about your topic. Does your country have a historic rivalry with China? Find out what China supports and construct an opinion that is the opposite.
- Another hint: look into your own country’s history. Has your country ever had a similar problem? If so, how did your country respond? Was this response successful? Could it be applied to other parts of the world? For example, finding Chile’s position on water security in the Middle East might be difficult, but see if Chile has ever had a problem with inadequate water supply. Apply and adapt what you find to the specific topic your committee will be discussing. Could Chile’s solution work in the Middle East? Should Chile’s response be avoided because it failed?
Pulling it together
- Using quotes and statistics: The position paper is a fantastic medium to show off fantastic research skills. Nothing is more impressive than using facts, quotes, and statistics to prove your point. Don’t overdo it. Another key element to position papers is thoughtful analysis of a problem. This isn’t a research paper, it is a policy brief from a country. Make sure the paper combines your savvy research skills with analysis of a situation, and then you have a great paper. A quote and statistics-filled paper will only make it look like you are using other people to do your work.
- Format: Now that you’ve put so much hard work in this paper, make sure it looks professional! Check your margins – set them at one-inch (1″) on each side of every page. Use a standard font (Times New Roman or Arial) in 11- or 12-point. Include your name, country, committee, and school at the top of the first page. Label the portions of writing by topic, double-space your text, and indent new paragraphs.
- Citing Sources: No footnotes or endnotes are needed, but make sure you give credit to whatever source you use when appropriate. General rule of thumb: if you use a quote or a specific fact (usually statistics) that can’t be found in at least three different sources, make sure to cite where you found it. Cite sources using in-text citations that note the organization or report you are using. For example: In the September 2006 “Africa Conflict Prevention Pool Performance Report,” the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development estimated that more than 8.5 million people have died as a direct result of conflict in Africa. Note how this type of informal citation gives the reader enough information to track down the source you used.
- Writing style: Everyone has his/her own writing style, so don’t be afraid to let some voice come out in the position paper. However, remember that this is a policy brief, so please don’t use any colloquialisms or exclamation points. Let your personal writing style take over, but keep it professional. Sentences should be clear and focused on furthering the message of the paper. An individual but professional sounding position paper will always impress chairs more than a paper that sounds like a doctoral candidate’s thesis or high schooler’s conversation. Hint: your writing will be stronger if you use the active voice (“I threw the ball”-active vs. “The ball was thrown by me”-passive) and avoid the verb “to be” – this forces you to expand your vocabulary and write more concise, active sentences.
- Reflection: The paper is complete, the research is done, or so you think. At some point, step back and read through your paper. This isn’t a grammar edit, but a reflection on whether you successfully presented your nation’s ideas with the position paper. If you didn’t, that’s OK, just go back and make a few edits and you’ll be on your way. If you did, congratulations, you only have a few loose ends to tie up before you are ready for committee.
Yale University Library United Nations Collection – Collection of texts, finding aids, data sets, maps, and pointers to print and electronic information. It is most valuable for providing more user-friendly ways to access information on the complex network of UN sites.
International Law: Treaties (NYU Law Library) – annotated list of recommended online sources for treaties. You may also wish to consult the Free Legal Research Resources – Foreign & International from the Harvard Law Library and the ASIL’s (American Society of International Law) extensive Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law
United Nations (in English) – This is the UN’s online hub. It can be a challenge to navigate, but this guide and the Yale guide (the first link in this resource section) can help you get to the right portion of the UN site. This is a good resource for helping you understand the structure of your committee, its past actions, and items it has on the upcoming UN agenda. You can also find voting records about which nations voted for or against certain resolutions.
- NationMaster – THE place for statistics, NationMaster is a massive central data source that allows you to graphically compare nations. Data sources include the CIA World Factbook, UN, and OECD.
- OECD iLibrary – Statistics – database can be searched or browsed with some downloadable dataset
- UN Data – data portal managed by the UN
- World Bank’s Databank – includes World Development Indicators (WDI), “the primary World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially recognized international sources. It presents the most current and accurate global development data available, and includes national, regional and global estimates.”
- World Trade Organization Data
- Want more stats? Check out the MW Library’s Stat’s Guide for additional resources
Country reference sites
- Bilateral Fact Sheets – from the U.S. Department of State; includes detailed foreign policy information from the U.S. perspective
- CIA World Factbook – Demographic information and maps; good starting point for becoming familiar with the country you’re representing
- CIA World Leaders – Quick reference guide to world leaders and high-ranking members of government in nations around the world
- Library of Congress Country Studies – description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world. Bookmark only the table of contents for a country study, not individual sections.
- Library of Congress Portals to the World – selected online resources about nations
Maps and cartograms
- Mapping Worlds – Maps in which the size of a country is rendered by an indicator rather than by its geography (a.k.a. cartograms), offering a different perspective on the contemporary world. This group from the Netherlands, established in 2004 by Desmond Spruijt, partnered with World Bank to map Millennium Development Goals. Each project is developed and executed by experts in the fields of cartography, visual and interaction design and programming. Select a topic from the left menu to view available maps.
- UN Cartographic Section – Dept of Field Support – More than 100 general country profile maps in PDF and maps of UN deployment maps and political operations maps, also in PDF.
- UN Missions – Interactive map of UN peace-keeping missions
Access requires school/personal login. Passwords and instructions for access can be found in the resources section of the Dragons Research group in Schoology.
- Explora – reference content includes topic overviews, encyclopedia articles, and introductions, prefaces, or chapters within some e-books; on the left menu, you may narrow results by Source Type; news coverage from now back to the mid-1980’s from numerous news magazines, including some with a particular bias/agenda; scholarly journals from across many subjects/disciplines, including some current coverage; some journal backfiles may go back as far as the mid-1980’s
- Gale PowerSearch – (all-in-one search tool for General OneFile, US History in Context, World History in Context, and Gale eBooks): newspaper coverage from now back to the mid-1980’s from local, regional, and national newspapers, news magazines (some with an agenda/bias), and from some news sources outside the United States; scholarly journals from across many subjects/disciplines, including some current coverage; some journal backfiles may go back as far as the mid-1980’s
- Gale in Context: World History – for an overview of a topic, focus on results in the reference and biographies groupings, including topic overviews and case overviews; in PowerSearch, most reference articles from WHIC are in the group of search results labeled Books
- JSTOR – scholarly archive of journals in many subjects, including economics, political science, and Middle East, Asian, and African studies, as well as thousands of open-access e-books. Journal article access delayed until three to five years after publication. View the search tips video below before diving into JSTOR.
- Oxford Handbooks Online – handbooks provide scholarly-level insight into a topic, so you generally want to read some general reference sources first before searching for a handbook article
- ProQuest Genderwatch – scholarly journals, dissertations, and other content focused on gender and sexuality issues, including some current coverage
- ProQuest Historical Newspapers – historical news articles from the New York Times (1851-2014), Guardian & Observer (1791-2003), and Wall Street Journal (1889-2002). To focus your search on historical newspapers, click the newspapers button above the search box before inputting your search.