Resources by Subject Basic Guide to Research for Political Science

A. Locating Background Information

You might browse some of our reference sources for assistance in selecting and defining your topic. These sources can also provide useful background information on your topic to give you a better understanding of the various aspects of your topic. We have numerous subject encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other resources available in print and online.

Check the following call number areas in the Reference Collection for background information from sources such as subject encyclopedias:

J is Political Science

J General legislative and executive papers
JA Political Science (General)
JC Political theory
JF Political institutions and public administration (General). Comparative government
JK Political institutions and public administration (United States)
JL Political institutions and public administration (The Americas, excluding the U.S.)
JN Political institutions and public administration (Europe)
JQ Political institutions and public administration (Asia, Africa, Oceania)
JS Local government. Municipal government
JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
JX International law
JZ International relations

D,E, F are "Area Studies" - look here for specific countries, states, localities, etc.

K is Law

For a more detailed breakdown of call number areas, see the Library of Congress classification schedule.

Some examples of political science reference books in McGraw-Page Library are:

Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought REF JA61 .B57 1987
The Encyclopedia of Democracy REF JC423 .E53 1995
Encyclopedia of American Political History REF E183 .E5 1984
Safire's New Political Dictionary REF JK9 .S2 1993
America at the Polls REF JK1967 .A44
Encyclopedia of the United States Congress REF JK1067 .E63 1995
Political Parties and Elections in the United States REF JK2261 .P633 1991

This only a small selection of materials from the Reference collection. To locate additional items, browse the Reference shelves or look in MaconCat.try a broad subject search such as "Political Science" and look for subheadings such as "encyclopedias" or "dictionaries."

Additionally, you can look at several of our political science or current events periodical publications for help in developing your topic .

B. Locating Periodical Articles

  1. Determine whether you should use scholarly materials whether you need primary sources.
    - How do you tell the difference between a scholarly journal from a popular one?
    - How do you tell the difference between a primary source and a secondary source?

  2. Formulate a search strategy.
    - Identify the important concepts of your search and choose the keywords that describe these concepts.
    - Determine whether there are synonyms, related terms, or other variations of the keywords that should be included. - Reference sources can help with this.
    - Determine which search features may apply, i.e., truncation, Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT), etc.
  3. Use indexes and databases to locate scholarly journal and popular magazine articles.
    - Go to the Library's home page and click on Resources by Subject and choose Political Science from the subject list, or choose the database from the alphabetical list. We will go over the following databases in class:

    Academic Search Complete 

    PAIS International
    • Updated monthly.
    • Indexes periodicals, books, hearings, reports, gray literature, government publications, Internet resources, and other publications.
    • Coverage in PAIS International from 1914to the present.
    1. Type your search in the search box.
    2. The truncation symbol is the asterisk * and will give all endings to these words. 
    3. There is no full-text in this index. Check the library catalog for materials. The majority of materials will be scholarly, although some are not.
    4. Journal articles may be available in full-text in another database if the library doesn't have it. Check the library's Journals A-Z list.
    5. If the Library doesn't own the material you need, you can inititiate an interlibrary loan request.

    C. Use the Web to get government documents, reports, opinions, and other publications on your topic.

    Use the Library's Find Resources by Subject links to be directed to quality web directories and reference sources. Some of the helpful pages are:

    Foreign Policy
    Latin American Politics

    D. Critically evaluate the materials

    Not all information is good, valid information. Evaluation means that you need to look carefully at your information sources to determine whether the source is reliable and appropriate for your information need. You should always evaluate any information source you use. The seven key criteria for evaluating your sources are:

    Authority refers to the credentials of the author(s) and to the publisher of the information.
    Who wrote or compiled the information? Who published it and why?

    Currency refers to date of publication and the time period covered by the information.
    Is the publication current or historic? Does it matter?

    Accuracy refers to the overall reliability and correctness of the information.
    Are the facts and statistics correct and verifiable?

    Scope refers to the completeness of the coverage.
    Is the publication comprehensive or selective? What is the focus of the source? Is it relevant to your information need?

    Objectivity refers to the point of view taken in the material.
    Is there an obvious bias or does it appear to be relatively objective? Is the author simply providing factual information or expressing an opinion?

    Documentation refers to whether the material cites the sources of the information that is presented.
    Do the authors or editors include references or is the information compiled from unknown sources?

    Presentationrefers to how the material is organized and supplemented.
    Are there good access points such as a table of contents or an index? Are there visual aids to enhance or explain the information?

    See the library's FAQ page for additional information.

    E. Cite your resources properly

    The American Political Science Association (APSA) has its own style guide, which is based on Chicago. A copy of the Style Manual for Political Science is kept at the Reference Desk - call # REF JA86 .A52 2001.

    As you write other papers, be aware that the four major citation styles are APA, Chicago, MLA, and Turabian. Copies of the guides for each style may be found at the Reference Desk:

    1. APA (Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association - call # REF BF76.7 .P83 2001)
    2. Chicago (Chicago Manual of Style - call # REF Z253 .U69 2003)
    3. MLA (MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers - call # REF LB2369 .G53 2003)
    4. Turabian (A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations call # REF LB2369 .T8 1996)

    See the library's FAQ page for additional information.

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