2009-2010 Essay Contest Guidelines

Deadlines | Coordinators | Eligibility | Writing the Essay | Judging


The applications for the 2009-2010 National Peace Essay Contest must be received by February 1, 2010. Winners will be notified by May 1, 2010. The awards program is held in Washington, D.C. every June; it is tentatively scheduled for June 20-25 and is subject to change.


The contest coordinator is the key contact between students and the United States Institute of Peace. The coordinator may be selected by the student and can be a teacher, parent, youth leader, etc. Coordinators can obtain a study guide for teachers and students on this year’s topic that will provide useful information on integrating the topic into the classroom curriculum or in working independently. Coordinators do not need to contact the Institute prior to submitting essays but need to register online once the online registration system becomes available in the fall.

The coordinator:

  • Completes the Coordinator Registration Form and provides students with their Coordinator ID found on the registration form.

  • Ensures that essays are conceived and written by students and represent the students' own thoughts.

  • Reviews the essays to ensure that students follow the guidelines on pages 4-5, and check for grammatical and typographical errors.

  • Signs each student registration form to certify compliance with the rules.

  • Submits four collated copies of each student's essay and completed forms to the Institute.


Coordinators who are organizing a group of students for class or extracurricular activity:

  • Chooses how the Contest will be conducted—for example, uses the study guide in class and uses the essays as graded assignments.

  • Oversees the selection process for essays submitted to the Contest—for example, chooses all essays or top essays to forward to the Institute.



Students are eligible to participate if they are in grades nine through twelve in any of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territories, or if they are U.S. citizens attending high school overseas. Students may be attending a public, private, or parochial school or participating in a high school correspondence program. Entries from home-schooled students are also accepted. Students must be in grades nine through twelve at the Contest deadline.

Previous first-place state winners and immediate relatives of directors or staff of the Institute are not eligible to participate. Previous honorable mentions are eligible to enter.

Students may take part in the contest with the sponsorship of a coordinator—parent, teacher, school club, youth group, community group, or religious organization. There must be a contest coordinator—someone in the school or community who can review essays and act as the key contact between participants and the Institute. If there is no designated coordinator at your school or organization, you may ask a parent, teacher, youth group leader, club sponsor, parent, or other adult to be your coordinator. It is to your advantage to have someone review your essay before you submit it to make sure it is complete, has all the necessary forms, is free from spelling and grammatical errors, and addresses the topicCoordinators do not need to contact the Institute prior to submitting essays but need to register online once the online registration system becomes available in the fall.


How Do I Write the Essay?

For the purposes of the National Peace Essay Contest, an essay is a three-part paper that lays out and develops a position in response to the essay contest question. Although researching the topic to find examples that support your points is crucial to writing your essay, it should be more than a research paper, a narrative description of an event, or a statement of opinion.

Your essay should contain the following:

  • An introduction, which introduces the subject and contains an explanation of your position. The objective is to demonstrate that you understand the essay contest question and have formed a response to it.

  • body, which develops your argument using research and analysis. The process of analysis may include comparing and contrasting, differentiating among several ideas or events, critiquing a variety of perspectives, interpreting results, or drawing inferences. In this section, you should analyze two case studies. Be sure to identify the sources of your information or ideas.

  • conclusion, which summarizes the research and analysis presented in the essay and sets forth your conclusions. Drawing on ideas already presented, you should demonstrate that your conclusions support the position you put forward in the opening paragraphs. Your aim is to convince the reader that your position is reasonable and valid.

Your essay should also include notes and a bibliography except when using APA style:

  • Reference notes (footnotes or endnotes) give the sources of your information or ideas. Footnotes are placed at the bottom of the page where the information appears. Alternatively, you may gather all the notes at the end of the text as endnotes.

  • bibliography is a list of the works that you have referred to in your essay or have consulted in order to write it.

Essays that use a variety of sources—academic journals, news magazines, newspapers, books, government documents, publications from research organizations—fare better in the contest.

Citations in the reference notes or bibliography should follow rules given in a handbook such as theMLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers or the Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Typically an entry will have at least the name of the author or editor, title of the work, and date and place of publication. The bibliography should be arranged alphabetically by the last names of the authors.

Encyclopedias are not acceptable as sources. Essays citing encyclopedias in notes or bibliography may be disqualified.

The Internet or World Wide Web should not be the only source for your essay. Be aware that you may encounter "republished" or "third generation" information on the Internet that is inaccurate or improperly attributed. When citing Internet sources, you must include the following information: author(s), title of work, Internet address, and date information was accessed. Detailed instructions can be obtained from the manuals listed above. For the purposes of this essay, Internet sources should be listed separately from non-electronic sources, such as books, magazines, and newspapers.

You must:

  • Type your essay, double-spaced, on one side of white 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper with left and right margins set at 1 1/4 inches each.

  • Your name and your school’s name must not appear anywhere on the essay.

  • Answer the essay contest question in a well-organized, well-reasoned essay of no more than 1,500 words. Points will be deducted from essays exceeding the 1,500-word limit. The word count includes articles (the, and, a) and quotations. Only count the body of the essay. You must include the exact word count in your student registration form.

  • Include standardized citations and a bibliography. (These are not included in the 1,500-word count.) Essays without these elements will be disqualified.

  • Write the essay in English and address all parts of the 2009-2010 contest topic. Essays on other topics will be disqualified.

  • Number the pages of your essay.

  • Include your name, school, and address ONLY on the student registration form.

  • Submit four stapled, legible, collated copies of your essay, along with the completed registration form, to your contest coordinator well in advance of the February 1, 2010 postmark deadline. Attach the student registration form (one copy only) to the top of your essay copies. Your coordinator will submit the essays to the Institute with the coordinator registration form.

Your essay may be disqualified if:

  • It is not on the topic.

  • Registration forms are not complete or contains incorrect information

  • It does not have reference notes and a bibliography.

  • It uses encyclopedia citations in the bibliography, or relies solely on Internet research.

  • It is postmarked after the deadline of February 1, 2010.

  • It plagiarizes—that is, uses someone else's statements or ideas as your own.


How Will Your Essay Be Judged?

Essays submitted to the National Peace Essay Contest in Washington, D.C., are sent to state-level judges—qualified experts selected by the Institute. Using the criteria described below, state judges select winning essays. National winners are selected from among the first-place state essays by the Institute's board of directors. The decisions of the judges are final. The Institute reserves the right to present no awards at the state and national levels, or to reduce the number of awards if an insufficient number of deserving entries is received. Participants are notified in May of their essay's status. Please do not call the Institute for information about the status of your essay.

Your essay will be judged based on the seven criteria outlined below.

  1. Focus: Examines how well your essay responds to the questions and/or tasks presented. Does the essay provide specific and thorough responses to all of the questions and/or tasks presented? An excellent essay provides specific and thorough responses to all of the questions and/or tasks presented.

  2. Organization: Looks at the structure of your essay and the strength of your thesis statement. Does the essay have an organized structure? An excellent essay has an introduction, a body and a conclusion. The organization includes an excellent thesis and moves the reader through the text.

  3. Analysis: Considers how well your arguments are supported. Are the discussion points argued coherently and supported with research? In an excellent essay all of the arguments are strong, well detailed and extremely well supported by convincing and accurate evidence.

  4. Conclusions and Recommendations: Examines how well conclusions and recommendations are expressed and how closely they follow from the analysis. Conclusions and recommendations should not present new information that is not a part of the analysis: Does the essay provide sound conclusions and recommendations that follow from the analysis? An excellent essay provides a coherent and comprehensive summary based on the analysis. All of the solutions to the problems presented are specific and well thought out.

  5. Originality: Looks for creativity in writing. Does the writer use develop ideas creatively? In an excellent essay, the writer proposes and develops creative ideas, through the selection of cases and/or examples, to present novel analysis and alternatives throughout the entire essay.

  6. Voice: Considers how well your writing engages the reader. Is the essay compelling and/or engaging? An excellent essay fully captures the reader's attention. The flow of the essay keeps the reader engaged throughout the entire text.

  7. Style and Mechanics: Examines how well the essay is written in terms of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, as well as word choice and sentence construction. Is the essay well written? An excellent essay uses standard writing conventions correctly, e.g. grammar, spelling, and punctuation, with no errors. There are no errors in word choice and all sentences are well constructed.