Library Research Step by Step
For Political Science 151
Before you start searching
• The licenses for most of our research tools
require that users are on UCSD IP addresses
– Are you on the wireless network at UCSD?
• Make sure you’re using the UCSD-PROTECTED network.
– Are you off-campus?
• Make sure you’re using the VPN or Proxy
Choose your topic and keywords.
• Develop your research question, hypothesis, or thesis
– As an expert on international organization theory, President Barack
Obama has asked you to conduct a policy analysis of the conflict in
Sudan. You are to analyze the failure of the international community
to bring peace to Sudan, and in particular to the region of Darfur, from
an international organization perspective. What are the main reasons
for why the international community, either unilaterally or
multilaterally, has not stopped the conflict in Sudan? And what policy
would you recommend the US government to pursue in the future?
• Break that statement into key concepts,
– Sudan, conflict, policy, international community,
international organizations, united states
• Think of other ways to phrase those concepts. Use synonyms.
Consider more specific words (to narrow your focus) or more
general terms (to expand your search), e.g.
– Sudan: Darfur
– Conflict: crisis, war, genocide, displacement, refugees,
– Policy: intervention, peacekeeping
– International organizations: International community,
multilateral, United Nations, NATO, African Union…
– United States; US, USA, America, Obama…
Choose the kinds of resources you
want to find and the best tools to find
• Each tool helps you find a
specific, limited kind and
amount of information.
• Knowing which tools might
help you find what you're
looking for will save you a lot
Books typically cover a single topic in depth.
Look in an online library catalog like
(UC San Diego’s library catalog)
• Tip: Many of the Library’s books are now
ebooks. Use to find the link.
• Tip: Not enough at UC San Diego, or the
book you want checked out?
– Try to request books from other
San Diego libraries
– Try to request books from other
University of California libraries
Scholarly articles cover more narrow topics than books.
Because they are shorter, they are often published more
quickly, too, making them more current. The Library has
literally hundreds of databases for finding articles.
Look in a discipline specific
databases such as Worldwide
Political Science Abstracts to
find the core publications in
Or look in multidisciplinary
databases for a little bit of
Primary sources are materials that
document the event when it
happened—or as close to when it
happened as possible.
Items in the Library are cataloged in
and other resources are
available in specialized databases.
• News: traditional and social media
• Government publications and
• First person accounts: diaries,
letters, oral histories, blogs…
Statistics & Datasets
Generally available in specialized databases or
directly from the researchers as
• Aggregate/statistics (numbers already
• Microdata (lowest level of collection)
Construct a basic search strategy.
• In most databases, you can combine terms
with and (both terms must appear in the
hit)and or (one term must appear in the hit—
for synonyms or evenly weighted terms)
– Sudan and United States; policy or intervention
• In many databases, you can use a symbol such
as * or ! to take the place of letters to get hits
with multiple endings of a word
• Example search:
sudan and intervention and (econ* or
polit*) and (united states or united
Run searches using the tools you
Experiment with keywords and
combinations of keywords, e.g.
I might try
• Sudan and United States
• Sudan and international
• Sudan and (intervention or
Try different tools.
• Check the help screens or guides to each
database for specifics on combining your
terms and whether your results are ranked by
date or relevance.
• When you find good hits, look at the subject
headings/descriptors. Try running new
searches using those terms.
Get the citation information. You
need this for your bibliography.
You list the works you cite so that readers
interested in your research can find and read the
resources you used to draw your conclusions.
• Email records to yourself as a backup.
• Some databases can export the citation in a
specific format (e.g. APA, Chicago, MLA)
• Use RefWorks (free to UCSD students) to
manage, store, and format your citations.
Get the actual item.
• If the full text isn’t available in your search
results. Look for the button.
• Link to full text if available.
• No full text?
– Try for the print
• No UCSD access at all?
– You can usually request the item from another
library using the link.
– For books, try or
Evaluate the source
• Does it answer the
• What are the
– And what sources do
• Is the source current
enough for the kind
of research you're