How to do Research on Political Science

Political Science Research Guide 1How to do research on political science? From current legislation to public policy decisions affecting every city, state, or nation, politics is a fact of life that has been around for centuries. And yet, issues and challenges never seem to go away, and politics remains at the core of public policy and public administration in all that embodies society. This article details an abundance of source material that has aided political science students, researchers, and scholars in writing research papers on this field. Plenty of print and electronic sources are available for research.

Selected Subject Headings

Listed below is a sample of a few broad Library of Congress subject headings—made up of one word or more representing concepts under which all library holdings are divided and subdivided by subject—which you can search under and use as subject terms when searching online library catalogs for preliminary and/or additional research, such as books, audio and video recordings, and other references, related to your research paper topic. When researching materials on your topic, subject heading searching may be more productive than searching using simple keywords. However, keyword searching when using the right search method (Boolean, etc.) and combination of words can be equally effective in finding materials more closely relevant to the topic of your research paper.

Suggested Political Science Research Topics

  • Business and Politics
  • Campaign Funds
  • Campaign Literature
  • Comparative Government
  • Democracy
  • Elections
  • International Relations
  • Lobbying
  • Municipal Government
  • Political Action Committees
  • Political Activists
  • Political Conventions
  • Political Corruption
  • Political Ethics
  • Political Parties—Liberals [or any other political party]
  • Political Psychology
  • Political Science
  • Presidential Candidates
  • Press and Politics
  • Public Opinion
  • Political Science—History
  • Political Science—Methodology
  • Political Science—Philosophy
  • Political Science—Research
  • Political Science—Study and Teaching
  • Political Sociology
  • Politics, Practical
  • Public Administration
  • Representative Government and Representation
  • State Rights
  • Television in Politics
  • United States—Politics and Government
  • World Politics

Selected Keyword Search Strategies and Guides

Political Science Research Guide 2Most online library indexes and abstracts and full-text article databases offer basic and advanced “keyword” searching. In this case, combine your keyword terms of your thesis question or topic with relevant subject headings using the Boolean search method (employing “and” or “or”) to find research appropriate to your research paper topic.

If the topic of your research paper is “corruption and campaign funding,” for example, enter “corruption” and “campaign funds” with “and” on the same line to locate sources directly compatible with the primary focus of your paper. To find research on more specific aspects of your topic, from your list of keywords that you developed alternate with one new keyword at a time in between (for example, “corruption and causes and campaign funds,” “corruption and lobbyists and campaign funds,” “corruption and politicians and campaign funds,” “corruption and reform and campaign funds,” etc.).

For additional help with keyword searching, navigation or user guides for online indexes and databases by many leading providers—including Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, EBSCO, H.W. Wilson, OCLC, Ovid Technologies, ProQuest, and Thomson Gale—are posted with direct links on library Web sites to guides providing specific instruction to using whichever database you want to search. They provide additional guidance on how to customize and maximize your searching, including advanced searching techniques and grouping of words and phrases using the Boolean search method—of your topic, of bibliographic records, and of full-text articles, and other documents related the subject of your research paper.

Selected Source and Subject Guides

As part of your preliminary research to find appropriate resources for your research paper, information source and research guides are available at most public and academic libraries and are keyword searchable through your library’s online catalog (to search and locate guides, enter your “subject” followed by these keywords one search at a time: “information sources,” “reference sources,” and “research guide”). Printed guides available for this subject area include

Information Sources in Politics and Political Science: A Survey Worldwide, edited by Dermot Englefield and Gavin Drewry, 509 pages (London and Boston: Butterworths, 1984)

Information Sources of Political Science, edited by Stephen W. Green and Douglas J. Ernest, 593 pages (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2005)

International Relations, International Security, and Comparative Politics: A Guide to Reference and Information Sources, by Chad M. Kahl, 423 pages (Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 2007)

Political Science: A Guide to Reference and Information Sources, by Henry E. York, 249 pages (Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1990)

In addition to these sources of research, most college and university libraries offer online subject guides arranged by subject on the library’s Web page; others also list searchable course-related “LibGuides” by subject. Each guide lists more recommended published and Web sources—including books and references, journal, newspaper and magazines indexes, full-text article databases, Web sites, and even research tutorials—that you can access to expand your research on more specific issues and relevant to your subject.

Selected Books and References


The Almanac of American Politics 2010, by Michael Barone and Richard E. Cohen, 1,500 pages (Boston: Gambit, 1972– ; National Journal Group, 1999– ).

Published annually since 1972, The Almanac of American Politics has become a leading source of information on politics and elected officials. This latest edition, co-written by political reporter and Fox News analyst Michael Barone and Richard E. Cohen, follows the same format as previous editions. It features brief overviews of all 50 states, including congressional districts and profiles of governors, senators, and state representatives. Biographical details are provided on each elected official, along with their voting records, election results, and ratings by 11 interest groups and The National Journal.

The Facts On File World Political Almanac: From 1945 to the Present, by Chris Cook, 600 pages (New York: Facts On File, 2001)

Unique in its breadth of coverage, this fourth revised hardcover edition covers the international political scene and contemporary events from post–World War II to the present like no other. This acclaimed reference provides information on new states, political leaders, political organizations and movements, heads of state and government, elections, recent warfare and civil strife, and much more.


Citizen Action Encyclopedia: Groups and Movements That Have Changed America, by Richard S. Halsey, 385 pages (Westport, Conn.: Oryx Press, 2001)

This encyclopedia thoroughly details the people, organizations, events, and movements behind citizen activism in the United States, covering the broad spectrum of American activism in the 20th century, including ultraliberal and ultraconservative activists and organizations.

Encyclopedia of Interest Groups and Lobbyists in the United States, by Immanuel Ness, 2 vols., 800 pages (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2000)

This two-volume encyclopedia covers seemingly every major interest group and lobbyist in the United States. Part I offers detailed profiles of 172 such groups organized into 13 categories, including banking, environment, health, human rights, and many others. Each entry offers complete information on each group, such as history, general legislative interests, successes and failures, membership, annual budget, table summaries of donations made to political candidates in the 1996 and 1998 elections, and lobbying activities. Part II of the set highlights political action committees (PACs) and lobbyists.

Encyclopedia of the United States Cabinet, by Mark Grossman, 3 vols., 1,137 pages (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2000)

Devoted entirely to the history of the U.S. cabinet and its secretaries, this award-winning three-volume set profiles every cabinet department. Examined in detail is the history of each department with biographical information, as well as historical overviews of cabinet members.

A chronological list of cabinet members by department is featured at the beginning of each volume. Cabinet profiles cover not only the history but also the origin of each department, even those departments that have merged into other departments or ceased operation. An extensive bibliography and general index accompany this fact-filled reference source, which is also available as an electronic book.

International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration A–Z, edited by Jay M. Shafritz, 4 vols., 2,504 pages (Boulder: Westview Press, 1998)

Covering the concepts, practices, issues, and theories that define public policy making, from analysis to implementation, this four-volume encyclopedia offers some 900 articles penned by more than 400 leading scholars and practitioners from throughout the world. Offered are basic definitions, thorough descriptions, explanations of historical significance, and bibliographies for each topic.

General References

Congress and the Nation X: 1997–2001, 1,232 pages (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2002)

The 10th edition of this renowned series published since 1945 chronicles congressional legislation and the second term of President Bill Clinton. Coverage includes key legislation, detailed chronologies of congressional action, selections with texts of presidential speeches, key voting records of the 105th and 106th congressional sessions, detailed tables and charts, and much more. In 2006, CQ Press published its 11th edition of the series, Congress and the Nation XI: 2001–2004.

Directory of Congressional Voting Scores and Interest Group Ratings, 4th ed., by J. Michael Sharp, 2 vols., 1,676 pages (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2005)

This two-volume, fourth-edition compilation features voting study comparisons and interest group rating data on every U.S. congressman and woman elected to office, 1947–2004.

Public Interest Profiles 2006–2007 by Congressional Quarterly editors (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2006)

First published in 1977, this annual reference—now in its 12th edition—fully details some 200 national nonprofit interest groups in the United States, indexed by name, subject, and group.

U.S. Energy and Environmental Interest Groups: Institutional Profiles, by Lettie McSpadden Wenner, 358 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1990)

This A–Z companion offers complete overviews of every major energy and environmental interest group in the United States. Each entry provides important information about each group, including policy issues, resources, and tactics.

U.S. Religious Interest Groups: Institutional Profiles, by Paul J. Weber and W. Landis Jones, 240 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994)

This alphabetically arranged compendium details every major religious interest group in the United States. Contents of each entry include origin and history, mission statement, funding source, policy concerns, and religious affiliations. Also provided are appendixes of groups by policy area, religious affiliation, political identification, and more.

U.S. Women’s Interest Groups: Institutional Profiles, edited by Sarah Slavin, 688 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995)

This general reference title highlights major women’s interest groups in the United States, covering their origin and development, electoral activities, funding, and policy concerns.

Vital Statistics on American Politics, 2005–2006, by Harold W. Stanley and Richard G. Niemi, 400 pages (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2005– )

This essential resource, published annually since 1988, contains more than 200 tables and charts on many aspects of American politics and government. Each volume features data relating to campaign finance, political action committees, elections, political parties, public opinion, voting, the media, Congress, the presidency, the judiciary, federal and state finance, foreign policy, military, and social and economic policy.

Washington Information Directory 2009–2010, 1,025 pages (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2009)

Since publication of the first edition in 1975–76, this widely distributed annual directory has offered detailed descriptions of hundreds of government agencies, congressional committees, nonprofit organizations, and special interest groups located in the U.S. capital. Includes an alphabetical index.

Washington Representatives: Fall 2009, 1,400 pages (Washington, D.C.: Columbia Books, Inc., 2009)

Originally called the Directory of Washington Representatives of American Associations and Industry (1977– ), this popular political reference features two alphabetical listings of more than 18,000 lobbyists, public and government affairs representatives, and special interest advocates and the causes they represent. Entries provide key contact information, including name, address, phone and fax numbers, e-mail and Web addresses, and a brief description. Listings are organized by client and by representative, and indexed by subject/industry, foreign interest, and legislative issue.

Selected Full-Text Article Databases

Alt-Press Watch (Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest, 1970– )

A good source of different viewpoints and perspectives from beyond the mainstream media, this database provides full-text access to 170 newspaper, magazine, and journal titles of the alternative and independent press.

CQ Researcher (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1991– )

Ideal for finding timely overviews and critical analyses of current issues, CQ Researcher features information and full-text research reports on major controversial topics of national and international importance. Varying in length, each report includes complete and balanced summaries and analysis representing both sides of the issues. Often paired with this popular database is CQ Weekly, an independently published political magazine, with access to full-text articles published since 1983. The weekly journal provides in-depth reporting of activities of the U.S. Congress, including the status of bills, votes and amendments, fl oor and committee decisions, and major public policy issues.

Ethnic NewsWatch (Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest, 1985– )

Full-text access to 240 newspapers, magazines, and journals of the ethnic, minority, and Native press covering local, national, and international news, culture, and history. Indexed are articles covering all areas of politics and political science, as well as arts and media, education, environment, journalism, sociology, Spanish, and ethnic and cultural studies (African American, Arab and Middle Eastern, Asian American, European, Jewish, Native Peoples, etc.).

LexisNexis Academic Universe (Dayton, Ohio: LexisNexis, 1970– )

Contents include full-text documents on all topics from more than 5,600 news, business, legal, medical, and reference publications, such as national and regional newspapers, wire services, broadcast transcripts, international news, and non-English language sources, U.S. federal and state case law, codes, regulations, legal news, law reviews, and international legal information, business news journals, company financial information, and industry and market news, and more.

LexisNexis Congressional (Dayton, Ohio: LexisNexis, 1789– )

Useful for researching legislative histories, major policy issues, and general information about the U.S. Congress, this subject-specific database provides comprehensive indexing and abstracting of congressional publications and legislative histories. It includes the full text of congressional reports, documents, bills, the Congressional Record, selected testimony in hearings before Congress, laws, statutes, U.S. Code Service, the Federal Register, the Code of Federal Regulations, and The National Journal, as well as information about members of Congress. Congressional publications are indexed from 1789 to the present. Coverage dates of other items varies.

LexisNexis Government Periodicals (Dayton, Ohio: LexisNexis, 1988– )

Formerly CIS’s U.S. Government Periodicals Index on CD-ROM (since discontinued), LexisNexis Government Periodicals continues its legacy by providing online access to full-text articles from approximately 170 U.S. government periodicals with retrospective coverage through 1988 of more than 70 other federal publications. Quarterly updates include the addition of some 2,500 articles from federal departments and agencies overseeing business, agriculture, the environment, food and nutrition, health and safety, transportation, and more.

LexisNexis State Capital (Dayton, Ohio: LexisNexis)

Online database featuring the latest state legislative information, including the status of current bills and legislation, the full text of bills, and legislative calendars, as well as full text of state statutes, state regulations, information about state legislators and their staffs, and news on state issues for all 50 states.

ProQuest Newspapers (Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest, 1984– )

Full-text searchable current events database includes citations of nine national newspapers, including The Atlanta Journal and Constitution (1990– ); The Boston Globe (1985– ); Chicago Tribune (1985– ); Christian Science Monitor (1990– ); The Los Angeles Times (1985); The New York Times (1999– ); USA Today (1987– ); The Wall Street Journal (1984–); and The Washington Post (1987– ).

ProQuest Political Science (Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest, 1985– )

Abstracts and indexes more than 150 leading political science and international relations journals, providing full-text, full-image articles for many of titles from the collection, including Acta Politica, Contemporary Political Theory, International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Journal of Social Policy, Review of Politics, and World Affairs. Subjects covered include comparative politics, environmental policy, international development political economy, and many others.

Selected Periodicals

The American Political Science Review (Washington, D.C.: American Political Science Association/Cambridge University Press/Georgetown Washington University, 1906– , quarterly)

The longest-running publication of the American Political Science Association (APSA), this scholarly journal, first published in November 1906, offers the latest research from the fields of political science and extensive book reviews from all fields of political science. Published in print and online, access to past issues is available through JSTOR (1906–2000), and full-text articles and abstracts downloadable in PDF form through Cambridge University Press Online (

CQ Weekly (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1945– , weekly)

A good source for keeping up with what’s happening on Capitol Hill, this weekly journal (originally called Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report) published since 1945 by Congressional Quarterly, includes comprehensive legislative news and analysis, and recounts congressional activities of the week. CQ Weekly is also published on the Web with access to full-text articles since 1983 by subscription.

Dissent (New York: Foundation for Study of Independent Ideas, Inc., 1954– , quarterly)

A magazine of the liberal left, this independent-minded quarterly journal, in the words of The New York Post, “ranks among the handful of political journals read most regularly by U.S. intellectuals.” Each issue features articles about politics in the United States, provocative social and cultural commentaries, and coverage of European politics. Archives of past issues from winter 1997 to the present are browsable at

Foreign Affairs (New York: Council of Foreign Relations, Inc., 1922– , five times yearly)

This well-known journal, published by the Council of Foreign Relations since 1922, bills itself as “America’s most infl uential publication on international affairs and foreign policy.” Read by business leaders, government figures, journalists, and scholars, each issue contains articles on international relations, including in-depth analysis and debate of the most significant issues in the world today. Back files of Foreign Affairs magazine can be browsed back to 1973, including the text of articles. Full-text articles are also accessible through LexisNexis Academic (1981– ) and ProQuest Political Science (1998– ).

Human Events (Washington, D.C.: Eagle Publishing, Inc., 1944– , weekly)

This weekly journal, founded in 1944, offers news and commentary with a conservative perspective. Articles include columns by top conservative columnists such as Ann Coulter and Robert Novak, and features on important social and cultural issues such as immigration, taxes, and spending.

Journal of Public Affairs (London: Henry Stewart Publications, January 2001– , quarterly)

This electronic international scholarly journal focuses specifically on the area of public affairs, providing expert analysis, case studies, research, and articles on current issues. Each issue focuses on different themes, such as government relations and lobbying, corporate social responsibility, issues management, and political strategy and marketing. Tables of contents and full-text articles are accessible through Ingenta (2001– ).

The Nation (New York: The Nation Institute, 1865– , 47 times a year)

Established by abolitionists in 1865, The Nation is the oldest journal of liberal opinion in America today. Each issue covers such subjects as politics, economics, education, foreign policy, labor, law, social issues, and the arts. Published 47 times a year, the journal often features pieces written by the country’s most respected liberal thinkers.

National Journal (Washington, D.C.: National Journal Group, 1969– , weekly)

Published by the National Journal Group, Inc., a leading Washington, D.C., publisher of political books, directories, magazines, and newsletters, this weekly print and online journal offers in-depth coverage of politics, Congress, and federal agency activities. Selected stories and columns are available online at Full-text articles also indexed by LexisNexis Academic Universe.

National Review (New York: National Review, 1955– , biweekly)

First published on November 19, 1955, this esteemed biweekly political journal offers in-depth news, analysis, and opinion with a conservative bent. Content includes articles, essays, and interviews offering conservative views on social and political issues across the United States and the world. Complete text of articles are available from Expanded Academic ASAP (1984– ). Selected full-text articles published from 2002 to the present can also be obtained online at

The New Republic (Washington, D.C.: The New Republic, 1914– , weekly)

This weekly opinion journal published since 1914 is geared toward readers interested in politics and domestic and international affairs. Issues contain in-depth reports and essays on topics such as economics, politics, theater, motion pictures, music, and the arts written from a liberal viewpoint.

Political Science Quarterly (New York: Academy of Political Science, 1886– , quarterly)

Published by New York’s Academy of Political Science since 1886, Political Science Quarterly is reportedly “the most widely read and accessible scholarly journal covering government, politics and policy.” Written for political scientists and the general public, each issue of this nonpartisan journal consists of five to six articles on politics, emerging trends, and world affairs with an emphasis on American politics. Tables of contents and full-text articles are available through such online journal databases as Ingenta (1998– ) and JSTOR (1886–1998/99).

The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.: The Washington Post Co., 1877– , daily)

The Washington Post is a major daily source of news and investigative articles providing extensive coverage of national politics. Articles range from general news stories to feature stories on the latest legislative activities to policy decisions and politics in the White House. Full-text articles available through LexisNexis Academic Universe and other library databases.

Selected Web Sites

Public Policy Organizations

American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (

Founded in 1943, the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research is one of America’s largest think tanks. Based in Washington, D.C., the institute focuses its research in the areas of economics and trade; social welfare; government tax, spending, regulatory, and legal policies; U.S. politics; international affairs; and U.S. defense and foreign policies. Its Web page offers access to news and commentary, highlights of current research, and publications.

Brookings Institution (

One of Washington’s oldest think tanks, this independent, nonpartisan organization is dedicated to research, analysis, and public education concerning economic, foreign policy, and governing issues. The institution’s Web site features a variety of resources for students, including news, an index of research topics by category with full-text links, and related publications.

Cato Institute (

Founded in 1977 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., this nonprofit public policy research foundation engages in research in the public policy arena emphasizing a libertarian philosophy. The foundation’s Web site offers plenty of useful resources, in particular, an extensive research area of public policy topics, such as budget, taxes, welfare, and the workforce.

Heritage Foundation (

This conservative research and educational institute, founded in 1973, devotes itself to “public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.” The foundation’s home page includes a wide variety of public policy resources, including one of the largest Web collections of research issues with full-text links on varying subjects.

RAND Corporation (

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit research organization, or “think tank.” The home page of this nonprofit corporation offers many quick links to resources, including overviews and full-text documents of core research in the areas of children and adolescents, civil justice, education, energy and environment, health and health care, international affairs, pollution and aging, public safety, and many more.

Urban Institute (

A nonpartisan economic and social policy research organization, the Urban Institute chiefl y focuses on complex national and local issues, such as poverty, educational achievement, and community building. The institute’s Web site provides direct access to new reports, research, issues in focus, and policy centers.

Federal Organizations

GPO FDsys (

A free service of the U.S. Government Printing Office, GPO GPO FDsys offers official information and full-text documents from all three branches of the federal government. Resources can be accessed by branch or by topic. Several other online databases are featured as well, including an A–Z list of federal resources and a locator for federal depository libraries. Government Made Easy (

Official federal government gateway to a wide variety of Web resources in one place, including links to federal agencies, legislative and federal branches, state and local governments, information by topic, a reference center offering current data and statistics, and much more.

International Organization

United Nations (

Main Web page of this international humanitarian and peacekeeping organization providing opportunities to learn more about the United Nations, its history and mission, its agenda and current issues, current actions against terrorism, and upcoming conferences and events.

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