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Political Science 330 Public Policy Analysis: Finding Articles-Basics/Refresher

An online course guide for researching government programs as part of policy analysis for POLISCI 330



STEP ONE: Select article databases to search

Andersen Library subscribes to many databases that can be used to locate periodical (journal, magazine and newspaper) articles, as well as book chapters, dissertations, etc. Ask a Librarian for assistance with selecting databases appropriate for your topic if needed.

Access databases by selecting Articles & Databases from "Find" on the horizontal navigation bar on any Library webpage. Then do one of the following:

  • To find a database you know by title, click on the first letter of its name under "Databases by Titler"
  • To find a database on your subject, click on the subject under "Databases by Subject" on theright side of the page
  • To search several databases in the same system at once, click on a system name under "Databases by Vendor"


STEP TWO: Set limits and select search words (and amend your search as you review your results)

Check the limits that you can set (below the search box). You may want to limit to articles of a certain length, e.g., >2 pages, or articles in scholarly (peer reviewed) publications (Don't check that one if you selected the newspaper database!).

Do not limit results to those that are full-text in the databases you are searching, because the full text may be in other databases (the "Find It" button will help you determine that later).

Now translate your topic into search words:

It is worthwhile to be both comprehensive and detailed when searching, although when you first start you may have only a broader topic that reading some articles will help you focus more narrowly. Pay attention to how many results you get and whether they are relevant or not. Adjust your search accordingly, using words you find in relevant articlea' titles, abstracts, and subject headings. Be thorough by using synonyms and truncation when there are multiple ways to refer to an concept. (Also see the box below called, "Using And, Or, and * in Searches")

  • Use OR between synonyms (you don't care which appear in your results).
  • Use AND between required concepts (words to the left as well as words to the right MUST appear in results
  • Use ( ) to group synonyms for one concept if your search also uses AND to require another concept
  • Use * (in most databases) to truncate if variant endings on a word stem are acceptable

Sample search (start with the most obvious word(s) or phrase(s):

school lunch (in Ebsco databases)


"school lunch" (in CQ Electronic Library put phrases in "")

You'll see how many articles are found in each database searched. Did you get too few? Too many?

You can see subjects assigned to the articles and you can add or remove them, or amend your entire search with words from article abstracts, subject headings, and titles. Watch how the changes affect the number of results and how relevant they are.


STEP THREE: Evaluate your results and select appropriate articles

How do you know whether an article is scholarly or not? Check out the Scholarly Journal v. Popular Magazine Articles guide.

Obtain citation information and either print or save the articles selected. In some databases you can get help with citation formatting (in this guide, see the "Citing" tab's segment on "Citing Help in Databases").

In some database vendor's databases, e.g., Ebscohost databases, you can also create an account and save articles and/or searches there. If you do not have an account, using folders provided in a database only lasts during your current session. If you have an account the saved materials will be there the next time you login.


STEP FOUR (optional): Run your search in other databases for additional results

Using And, Or, * in searches

Venn diagram showing what using AND command between search words does: require the presence of ALL search words in each item found

 Venn diagram showing what using OR comand between search words does: requires at least one of the words to appear in each item found. OR is often used for synonyms for an idea or concept.

 Illustration of using a truncation symbol on the end of a word or word stem to have variable endings in your search results. In most databases truncate with * (asterisk), but in LexisNexis use ! (excalamation mark). It's the alternative to using OR between every possible variation, e.g., child* finds child childish childbearing children etc.

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