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Political Science

Guide to resources and research strategies in Political Science.

Workshop Materials

Books, articles and resources beyond Vassar

Vassar Specific Services New York & Consortial Resources Open Access Resources 

Interlibrary Loan (ILL): Books, articles, film, dissertations and other resources not available at Vassar. ILLiad is our ILL platform.

WorldCat: The "world's catalog"; a great resource for locating books. This link for WorldCat is specific to Vassar and easily allows for ILL. Experiment with sort options.

Purchase Request Form: Complete for books/ebooks, films and more, especially if you plan to heavily rely on the item and would like to borrow the resource for a longer period of time, if you think the item would be a good addition to the collection, or is not obtainable through ILL.

NY Library catalogs: Every college student in NY, regardless of your home state, can apply for a New York Public Library (NYPL) card. This allows you to access NYPL online resources and request to view items in person.

Center for Research Libraries (CRL): A large research collection that includes an international newspaper archive. Request items through ILL/ILLiad.

SHARES: Consortium of libraries to provide expedited ILL, special collections access, and easy in-person use of member collections. 

HathiTrust: A great and free online repository for older materials, especially those within the public domain. 

Internet Archive: A surprisingly good source for ebooks from the 1950's - early 2000's, radio shows/podcasts and other miscellaneous resources. Access may require free account creation. 

Institutional repositories (may be retrieved via Google or Google Scholar)

  • Like Vassar's Digital Library, you may find resources housed in college and university institutional repositories that contain the scholarly output/publications of that community. 

Grey Literature via Google (for exp. reports from research centers, organizations, IGO/NGO, Gov documents etc.)

Literature Synthesis Grids

Synthesis grids are organizational tools for recording the main concepts of your sources and can help with connecting your sources to one another.

Catalogue & Database Accounts

Vassar Library Search and many of our databases platforms (Ebsco, ProQuest, etc.) allow users to create free accounts where you can save searches and items from results lists. These accounts are created individually and not linked to Vassar Libraries. 

Citation Tools

  • Zotero: a free easy-to-use citation management tool to help you collect, store, organize, cite, and share your research sources. Zotero can format in-text citations and generate references lists using your preferred citation style. Find more information about Zoter, citing and style guides on Citing & Managing Sources
  • Zbib: A quick cite tool from Zotero to generate a citation from a URL, DOI, article/book title, or manually; no sign-in or account needed.

Task Tools

  • Trello: Trello is a free project management software. You can use it for setting deadlines, keeping track of tasks and more. See Organizing the research process using Trello to get started. There are free and paid versions; I use the free version almost daily. 
  • Google Keep: Somewhat similar to Trello, Google Keep is best used for visualizing tasks and creating checklists. 
  • Evernote: An platform for notes and electronic notebooks. Free and paid versions, both cloud-based and desktop versions. 
  1. Don't try to keep it all in your head.
    1. Diagram your topic/ research question (Kristin Luker's Bedraggled Daisy
    2. Document your research process; consider using a synthesis grid or a research log/journal to plan out your current tasks and next steps.
    3. Annotate your references documents. If possible, work this into your search process and note why the source is relevant and how you might use it, as you save them. If using Zotero, you can use its built-in annotation tools. 
  2. When saving sources, look for permalinks or DOIs
  3. Create accounts with the database platforms you are using regularly to save searches and results.
  4. Use a citation manager. Zotero is a great and free option. 

Literature Reviews

A "literature review" can refer to your final product (part of a paper/ article or a stand-alone publication) AND describes the process of searching for relevant research and publications. 

" of the first steps in planning a research project is to do a literature review: that is, to trawl through all the available information sources to track down the latest knowledge, and to assess it for relevance, quality, controversy and gaps. 

The review can be used to show where you have gained inspiration to develop your should also demonstrate you have a good understanding of the current conceptual frameworks in your subject, and that you can take a stance in placing your work within these."


A literature review includes: 

  1. Research theory & philosophy - to establish the intellectual context(s) of research related to your topic/ research question. 
  2. History of developments in your subject - to trace the background to present day thinking.
  3. Latest research and developments in your subject - to inform and practice, to discuss the conflicting arguments, and to detect a gap in knowledge.
  4. Research methods - to explore practical techniques that have been used, particularly those that might be relevant to your project. 

From Walliman, Nicholas. 2018. Research Methods : the Basics. Second edition. Abingdon, Oxon.


Transcript of this Graphic


Literature Search and review on your topic

Questions to ask: 

  • What are the key sources?
  • What are the key theories, concepts and ideas?
  • What are the epistemological and ontological grounds for the discipline?
  • What are the main questions and problems that have been addressed? 
  • How is knowledge on the topic structures and organized
  • What are the origins and definitions of the topic?
  • What are the political standpoints?
  • What are the major issues and debates about the topic?

How have approaches to these questions increased our understanding and knowledge? 

What Makes a Successful Literature Review?

  1. Search terms: Formulate appropriate search terms as the basis for your literature searches.
  2. Database search tools: Use database search tools to identify relevant journal articles and related materials.
  3. Key publications: Identify a series of key publications in your area and use these as the bases for citation reference searches.
  4. Additional search tools: Use search tools to identify pieces of interest, in particular grey literature, relevant to you (e.g. Google Scholar.)
  5. Scanning: Scan abstracts of articles, reviews of books, executive summaries of government reports, and other summaries of published work to determine if you need to read the piece in full.
  6. Reading: Read the pieces you have identified and make notes from them. A synthesis grid may be useful for note taking and for facilitating writing the review.
  7. Thematic organization: Use these notes as the basis of a thematic organization of your literature review.
    • Note, a chronological or methodological organization may align better with your research question.
  8. Writing the review: Write the review, based on your organizational framework, in such a way that you can construct one or more interesting research questions which you will address in your investigation.

From Byrne, D. (2017). What makes a successful literature review?. Project Planner. 10.4135/9781526408518.

You will likely go through the search process a number of times, performing different searches with different keyword combinations, to address the different components of your literature review. 

Systematic Searching Handsearching
#1 Identify your question. Identify the key concepts and related terms. Tip:  You may want to re-phrase your question. Background reading can help you identify related terms and further define or narrow your topic.  Explore reference lists to locate other articles, books, or authors who have written on the same topic. 
#2 Find an appropriate search tool. Consider your subject matter, discipline of study, type of information needed (e.g. peer reviewed articles) Locate cited by literature to view more recent similar or adjacent research.

#3 Start with a simple search based on your key concepts. Tip: You may also have to look at literature that refers to one (not all) aspects of your research question.

Browse the table of contents of relevant journals and special issues.

#4 Use specific search strategies.

  • Use AND to join dissimilar terms.
  • Use OR to join synonyms or related terms.
  • Truncate words with * to pick up variations of that word. 
  • Use "quotation marks" for phrase searching
  • Use database limiters e.g. limit to scholarly journals. 
  • Consider searching in a specific field e.g. title (article title) or source (journal title.)
Locate an expert in the field and browse their publications.  
#5 Search and skim results. Look for the language and terms that researchers use and that the database assigns to articles; identify and search or refine your results using subject headings.  
#6 Switch up your searches.  Use promising new terminologyYour search may become more sophisticated.