MUN Research Made Easy: 15 Things Every Delegate Should Have in their Research Binder

by Ryan on September 29, 2010

You see it everywhere at MUN conferences. You’ve made your own — or, more likely, your advisor told you to make one. And you probably didn’t want to. It’s confusing to create and cumbersome to carry. You might even be embarrassed to bring one to committee — maybe you poke fun at others for bringing theirs.

What am I referring to? I am describing the bane of many a Model UNer. I am talking about putting together a research binder.

When I started doing Model UN, research was a chore. I wrote position papers at the last minute, printed out a bunch of random websites the night before conferences, and read a fraction of it on the bus. Research was something boring I needed to do before I could do the fun stuff.

But I soon realized this was putting me at a disadvantage. I couldn’t speak or debate as freely because I didn’t know the facts. I was afraid to suggest an idea because I wasn’t sure if the committee had done it already. And it’s pretty obvious to chairs who has done their research and who has not. Not doing mine made me feel uncomfortable.

I knew that if I was confident in my research, that confidence would come through in speeches and debates. I just needed a way to research that took as little time as possible to learn just what I needed to know, but to know it thoroughly. I needed to do my research to the point that it made me feel comfortable in committee.

I needed to put together a research binder.

And many conferences and committees later, I’ve come to appreciate the value of a good, well-organized binder. There are a few reasons why:

  • It actually speeds up research. Putting together a binder sounds time-consuming, but it takes less time and brain power to learn something that is organized well. When you’re reading different websites and books, the important facts are spread out across different sources. It ultimately takes more time to read through a random assortment of printed pages than to just organize it in the first place.
  • It gets faster with experience. After putting together a few binders, I realized I was turning to the same sources over and over. Eventually, I would just print everything out first, put together the binder, and then read through it all in one shot. And since I chose to specialize in certain committees, I could easily recycle my research binders and improve on them.
  • It’s useful for more than the information it contains. Having your research readily available in committee is very helpful. In addition, bringing a well-organized binder to committee communicates to the chair and other delegates that you mean business. But be careful – you may not want to communicate this kind of intensity, depending on how you want to be perceived in committee.

I organized my binders by starting from the “big picture” — conference, committee, and country — then zooming in on the details — topics, policies, and solutions. In other words, I framed my approach to research. Using a framework made it easier to do research because it gave me an idea of what to look for, and I could use it for every conference.

Using this framework, there are 15 things every delegate should include in their binders:

Conference

1. Awards Policy. If you’re trying to win an award, then you should know what the conference values and what your chair is looking for.

2. Rules of Procedure. Rules tell you how committee is going operate, and what you can and cannot do. They differ for every conference — not just what the rules are, but how they are applied.

Committee

3. Your committee’s actual UN website. The goal of a committee is to pass a resolution, which depends on what a committee can and cannot do. You want to understand your committee’s mandate (why it was created), powers (what it can do), organization (how it fits into the UN and the larger international community), and membership (who’s in it).

4. UN Charter. If you are in a GA, ECOSOC, or Security Council committee, then the source of your committee’s power is the UN Charter. If you are in a regional organization like NATO or OAS, then you are still affected by the Charter, particularly Chapter VII on international security and Chapter VIII on regional arrangements.

Country

5. CIA Factbook. Every MUNers go-to source for essential information on their country. You want to know your country’s location, neighbors, population size, type of government, type of economy, trade partners, and the international organizations it’s a part of. Not knowing this information as your country’s representative can be potentially embarrassing.

6. Wikipedia. Information on your country’s history and its recent controversies. There should be articles on your topic, too. Wikipedia might not be edited as rigorously as a print publication, but you are not writing a paper – you’re attending a Model UN conference. Just take note of any potential issues that are listed at the topic of Wikipedia pages, e.g. “This article needs additional citations for verification.”

Topics

7. Background Guide. Either you, another delegate, or your chair will inevitably refer to something written in the committee’s background guide during a conference. Also, what your chair has written about is what he’ll focus on in committee. Use that knowledge to craft speeches and operative clauses that grab the chair’s attention.

8. News Articles. You want to know the latest news on your topics, as well as your own country. The simplest way to do this is to run searches on Yahoo! News and Google News, and print out the headlines. BBC Online also features easy-to-use timelines and profiles on your issues and country. Large publications like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal also have in-depth coverage on their websites.

9. Resolutions, Treaties, and Conventions. Before you can do anything on the topic, you need to know what’s already been done. You can find past resolutions through the UN documentation center, although it can be difficult to navigate. Once you’ve found the latest resolution, the perambulatory clauses should direct you to other resolutions. Also, the most relevant piece of international law on your topic might not be a past resolution, but instead a treaty or convention.

Policies

10. Speeches and Press Releases. These are the ways that policy-makers set policy. Be sure to use speeches and press releases from people in the executive branch of your country’s current government (President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister / Secretary of State, Ambassadors). Legislators and judges may say something different, but as a representative of your country, you work for the Head of State / Head of Government. Start with the website for your country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Department of State.

11. Voting Record. Actions speak louder than words. If your country’s leaders have not clearly articulated a policy on your topic, then you can infer it from how your country has voted on past resolutions, treaties, and conventions (or whether they were even present). Note that recent speeches may indicate a change in policy away from however your country has voted in the past, especially if your government has changed administrations. Nonetheless, you still want to know how your country’s past actions on the topic, for your own knowledge, and in case anyone asks.

Solutions

12. Op-Ed and Blog Articles. These writers are coming from a personal or journalistic perspective, but they can still give you ideas that you can propose in committee and use in resolutions. You can start with large publications like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, but don’t forget about blogs, too. Just be aware of their biases, and make sure their ideas conform to your country’s policies.

13. Think Tanks. Organizations like RAND are paid to come up with solutions to the topics you discuss in Model UN. Think tank publications have more depth and evidence than an opinion article, but they’re typically not as dense as an academic paper. They might also be pushing a certain agenda, so be aware of that. Otherwise, they are a great starting point for proposing potential solutions.

14. Academic Papers. These are tough reads and the information is way too dense for Model UN. But they are probably the most insightful and rigorously edited sources you will find online. You can use Google Scholar to find papers. Don’t spent time trying to process a paper the way you would do for a class. Read the abstract and skim the paper for ideas that you can use in committee.

15. Your Ideas. Include in your binder your position papers, working papers, notes, thoughts, as well as blank lined paper – Don’t rely on a conference to bring enough paper for draft resolutions and note passing. You can do all the research you want, and you can be really fast and efficient at it, but none of that matters until you boil down what you’ve read into ideas that you can explain in your own words.

What’s in your binder? How do you do MUN research? Join the discussion!

Photo Credit: JHCHIN Photograph, Eurasia MUN

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  • Parsa

    I’ve found that analyzing speeches (Item #10) allowed me, as a delegate, to assume the role of the country in the issue most efficiently. In addition, the more synthesis of information I had in #15, the more prepared I was for the conference.

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  • http://bestdelegate.com Sarah

    My #16 is fairly obvious, and yet I forgot it so many times as a delegate – lined paper. Never assume conference organizers will provide scratch paper for draft resolutions or note passing. Even if they do, it tends to run out quickly.

  • Pete

    If you have a hard topic, pick up the phone and call someone. I’m not joking here. Sometimes you get really obscure topics and your stuck with a small country who doesn’t have a stance or it’s too hard to find. In this situation, call their embassy or consulate near you or in Washington, D.C. The staff are always willing to help tell people what their position is and like talking to the public. Most of their websites have a contact number for their Public Affairs Office. Also, from work experience, if you are the US or Canada just call the Agency that fits your topic. It is awkward at first because you are obviously cold calling, but it pays off in the end.

    • Ryan

      That is a great tip. It might be awkward but you have nothing to lose by just calling. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to meet with someone. My team had a meeting at the UN mission of the country we represented at NHSMUN 2004 and it really added something to the experience of that trip.

  • KFC

    I would also add a list of resolution preambulatory clauses and operative clauses as well as the resolution format as a section in the research binder, particularly if you are a newer delegate. It isn’t research, but it does need to be easily accessible. I’ve found it more efficient to reference this document in my binder than to flip through the conference program looking for their version.

  • http://emergingopinion.wordpress.com Matt Barger

    Binders, IMO, are strongly suggested, not required, but they are a great starting point for the beginner.

    As I got better as a delegate, I usually got by with MY interpretation of my research (note: this is in addition to a position paper). Ultimately, a 3-4 page cheat sheet with general buzzwords and rhetoric my country would say regarding an issue was more useful to me than a whole stack of research I needed to sift through instead of trying to stay active and on topic (which usually diverted from my research anyway) in committee.

    Then again, I was a small committee guy.

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  • Arturo Diaz

    Awesome article! As first-time delegates, we always have doubts on what information to bring. Many delegates I know ended up carrying bunches of books and things that weren’t really helpful in the end. This pretty much covers all the bases!

    • http://bestdelegate.com Ryan

      Thanks! I’m glad you found this helpful!

  • Brian

    I like a list of UN agencies/NGOs that relate to the topic. 1) you can use them 2) It really prevents others from calling upon “major” NGOS that don’t exist, something which I find happens disturbingly often.

    • http://bestdelegate.com Ryan

      That’s a great tip! Having a list of related NGOs ready would be extremely useful since committees often need other groups to do things for them and resolutions often refer to such groups.

  • Heidi

    This article is really helpful, thank you so much for writing it! I’m starting out my first conference (a HUGE one) at conference of the year, RHSMUN. And I happen to be UK on Security Council, so I need all the help I can get. But let me get this clear, do I put ALL of my research papers in this binder, or little bits and pieces? Would notes I take on various topics be helpful? Thank you so much!

    • http://bestdelegate.com Ryan

      Thank you for reading Best Delegate! That’s very cool that you’re a Permanent Member on Security Council at your first conference!

      Re: what to put in your research binder, what really matters is what will be most helpful to you. This means two things, a) having information handy in case you need to refer to it, particularly past resolutions, treaties, country policy, etc. and b) organizing it so it’s easy for you to browse through.

      Since it’s your first conference, I’d suggest including as much research in your binder, including the notes you take, so long as it’s well-organized. This might be a lot to carry around, but it’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. With more experience, you’ll figure out what to bring and what not to bring to future conferences.

      Also, the process of putting together the binder is just as important having the information available. It helps you become more familiar with your research, and you’ll get better at recalling research from memory, which is better than having to go back to your binder to find it.

      Good luck!

  • DR MAUREEN EGBUCHE

    Hi Ryan, you have no idea how helpful these tips will be for me. I will be coaching a group of students who will attend the 2011 NHSMUN from Nigeria. I will definitely share these tips with them. great job!

    • http://bestdelegate.com Ryan

      Thank you! I’m glad you found them helpful! Good luck to you and your delegation!

    • Anonymous

      Hello Dr. Egbuche,

      Happy New Year(s), Wow it has been so long. How are you doing? Hows work and your family?

      I am so sorry for not writing all these years. I am actually not sure you would remember me.
      My name is Kelechukwu Nwabu Nkebakwu (nee Udo). I was one of the students in the very first group to go for the NHSMUN conference in New York, organised by Shell.
      Congratulations on all your success with the NHSMUN project.
      Please I would like to get in touch with you…. My email address is kelech2002@nullyahoo.com

  • Kat

    I’m compiling my first binder as we speak, but I have a question. How big are your binders usually? Do you keep both topics in the same binder? I don’t know if a 1-inch will fit everything, especially if I’ll be referencing lots of official documents, which tend to be fairly lengthy. Thanks!

    • http://bestdelegate.com Ryan

      I used 3-inch binders. If I could fit my research for both topics into one binder, I would; otherwise I would bring two binders.

      The important thing is to make your research accessible. If you keep two topics in one binder, use dividers to indicate where one topic ends and the next one begins. I also mean this psychologically; if you dislike the idea of lugging around two 3-inch binders, you might be less likely to use your research during committee. In this case, you might prefer to put the lengthy official documents in their own binder and bring it as a reference. Put everything else — perhaps even a 1-page summary of the official documents — into its own binder, and make this your primary binder during the conference.

    • KFC

      @Kat — I used a 1-inch binder. I saved a lot of space and psychologically felt prepared without too much paper because I pre-screened a lot of my research to the most relevant articles (to only the highlighted pages) and I also compacted a lot of my research and ideas into my position paper.

      I would also point out that Ryan used a 3-inch binder possibly because he competed in Security Council often and had to cover a lot of content in preparation for open agenda, whereas a 1-inch binder will probably be sufficient for most other committees.

      At the end of the day, it’s really about how you organize it and whether you feel you have all the research you need to do well.

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  • Brandon

    What do you recommend people do when they have a country who’s government is essentially non-existant? For example, I’m going to be representing Somalia, and it doesn’t seem like there is anything I can do in relation to peacekeeping in other parts of the world. There’s no real government and my country is going through its own set of problems. I do want participate at the conference but I can’t find anything that my country can do for the problems or even an opinion on the issue.

    • Kat

      Brandon,
      I feel you! I’m going to be a very small country at my next conference, too. I think it’s a good idea to find out with whom your country is allied (or at least on whom you are dependent–trade, etc) and go from there. You’ll want to agree with your allies and it may be easier to find their positions, especially if they’re big countries.

      • Dr. Danny Kelleher

        Not to mention, dude, a large part of Model UN is making up solutions for a country that doesn’t seem to have any. If you’re a large profile country, or if your chair is very knowledgeable on the topic at hand, then definitely make sure you adhere to your nation’s policy. But if you’re a lesser known country with no prominent opinion on the matter, just choose the solutions that you think would work best, not the ones that you try to guess would go with your country’s unclear policy.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ritsaroliya Ritvik Saroliya

          Sir ,
          I am also participating in the MUN for the first time, have been allotted Somalia as the country, from my research so far i have found out that the country is not stable, more over the government is facing too many problems like armed conflicts with terrorist groups , famine , people migrating to other nations and poverty too. In such case what should be my stand on the issues ?? Should i try to protect my country’s image or should i ask for favor from the UN??

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  • Nathan Zimmermann

    As a postgraduate student pursuing a Masters Degree in International Relations my professors have generally discouraged the use of Wikipedia as a source because of its lack of editorial oversight and peer review. I would argue that the inclusion of unverified wikipedia material diminishes the value of a research binder,

    • http://bestdelegate.com Ryan

      I agree that Wikipedia is not robust enough for academic research, but it is certainly a helpful resource in Model UN. Wikipedia provides a good overview of many countries and topics. It is a starting point for MUN research, and Wikipedia pages should compliment other sources that students include in their binder. And Wikipedia does involve peer review — every page has a discussion tab, where you can see who is contributing and if there are any questions or controversial issues.

      • Larissa

        Wikipedia also often has citations on their pages, which are helpful to verify information and also as a place to start further research! As a undergraduate, I have often found valuable websites here.

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  • http://www.berkeleyprep.org CD McLean

    Wouldn’t you also recommend that the student go the country’s governmental website? As the MUN sponsor and their librarian, I tell them that their job is to reflect the country’s point of view. Using the CIA Factbook and Wikipedia isn’t going to give them Senegal’s or Zambia’s point of view on child soldiers or the AIDs crisis. It seems it would be more important to ferret out the particular point of view of the country through speeches that their representatives make, the ambassador makes or governmental representatives make. If you can’t find that, then you go to another source, but the CIA Factbook is USA centric and so is Wikipedia in large measure. I do like your idea of organizing the notebook though and will pass that on to my students.

  • Iqbal

    So far I have only attended one MUN conference and I have one at UC Davis in a few weeks. However, I have to write two position papers in 7 days. How thorough do you think these have to be because I know how many people put them together the last minute and care more about the conference. But, aren’t the research papers part of whether or not you will earn a research award? Also, does it seem to you that the Chair often favors those who bring laptops with them? I noticed those delegates seem to have an advantage.

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  • Anonymous

    What my research binders looked like in high school

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/KSMSS2ZCNND2VWEVXSHIDQHKDY Taniya

    I’m having my 1st pre conference tom…….though the actual 1 is this thurs-sat……im really nervous but hopefully ill do well XD thank you 4 da info……i didn’t know i had 2 have geographical info bout’ my country…..its crazy how not reading this would embarrass me tom…..hahahahhahaha thanks once again XD

  • Kalyana Dewi

    Tomorrow I’ll attend my first MUN, and Thank God I found this article just now. It helps me a lot to prepare. Thanks so so much!

    • http://bestdelegate.com/ Ryan Villanueva

      I hope you enjoyed your first MUN conference!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1227395632 Doug Jones

    Tomorrow is my third day in the Model United Nations course at University North Carolina Charlotte. Is there anyone who can give some guidance or tips on what to expect now that I’ve committed myself? Also, any pointers on setting up the portfolio?

  • Beanbag

    This article is super useful!!!! I’m gonna use it to teach my juniors back at school….. Thanks a bunch!!!!:D

    • http://bestdelegate.com/ Ryan Villanueva

      Glad you liked it! Good luck!

  • Nipun Aggarwal

    i am somalia and I am really scared as the agenda is”The deteriorating security humanitarian and social economic condition in The North Africa and The Middle East.”

  • GoldenGal

    this really helped me and my MUN partner to organize our binders and to see everything that would make us successful.

    • http://bestdelegate.com/ Ryan Villanueva

      Glad you found it useful!

  • Kaitlin Goldin

    I always put notes on what I want my main ideas to be so that I don’t have to flip through position papers and other research. Depending on how much I put in my binder, I may also put a table of contents.

  • Soaham Bharti

    hello i am participating in my first mun this year and have been assigned sochum with the topicbeing:the situation in syria . i just wanted to ask should my resarch have more of humanitarian perspective or strategic and political

    • http://bestdelegate.com/ Ryan Villanueva

      Research unbiasedly first and then develop different perspectives and positions, particularly your country policy

  • poster48

    hello, my agenda for an upcoming MUN conference is “violence against women”. Which topics do you think would be raised in the moderated caucuses regarding this agenda?

  • Andal Seshadri

    I have been given Japan and SPECPOL and my agenda is the western sahara dispute, any pointers?

  • Anushka Trehan

    hello everyone,
    i have been selected for a MUN SESSION which is going to be held in not more than a weeks time……..
    my assined country is syria and the topic is situation in syria….
    i am not able to understand what exactly i have to search..
    i am really confused and tensed….
    please help me…
    also, do i have to search about other countries and topics?????
    please help…

  • Anushka Trehan

    guys……………
    plz help…….
    my session is cming near……
    plz smone help……. :-(

  • Anushka Trehan

    plz

  • Ryan Borchardt

    Okay, I am doing HENMUN II, as David Bohm in Sleepers 1948. This is my third conference, but I am not sure how to do the research binder for a crisis person. Any suggestions?

    • http://bestdelegate.com/ Ryan Villanueva

      How do you think you should start? What have you found so far?

      • Ryan Borchardt

        So far I researched my character, researched what little I know about the topic, and I have been identifying the people that might also be in my committee. I guess some aspects of a research binder would still be valid, but it seems like many of them would be pointless as I am not representing a country in an actual committee. What do you suggest?

        • http://bestdelegate.com/ Ryan Villanueva

          The point of the research binder is not just to print out the list of the things mentioned in this article — it’s to develop a framework for approaching your research.

          For example, one part of the research binder is about your committee. Instead of looking at the website for a UN committee, find research about the body or organization that you are simulating. Instead of the UN Charter, look up the document that defines the functions and powers of your committee.

          Research areas like “Past Actions” “Country Policies” (which would be something like “Character Position” in a crisis committee) and “Possible Solutions” should be part of your research binder whether you’re simulating the UN or any other body.

          • Ryan Borchardt

            Okay thanks! however, I realized I needed a point of clarification I am
            not in a committee. I am part of a secret meeting of communist 1948
            United States. Should I omit the parts that don’t work.

          • http://bestdelegate.com/ Ryan Villanueva

            In MUN we refer to any specific simulation as a “committee” so I’m assuming that term loosely. But the point is the same: research the context around this meeting. Why are they meeting? How did they come to meet? What are they trying to do?

        • Ryan Borchardt

          Okay thanks! however, I realized I needed a point of clarification I am not in a committee. I am part of a secret meeting of communist 1948 United States. Should I omit the parts that don’t work.

  • Angela Dillon

    Do you think middle schoolers need to bring a binder?

    • http://bestdelegate.com/ Ryan Villanueva

      Yes, I think it’s a good idea to have middle school students prepare research binders and bring them to conferences. It starts getting them into the habit of preparing and organizing research.

  • Navneet Dogra

    suppose i am in unhrc so will the un chater be more helpful or any other document ?

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