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Government, Policy, Legal & Elections

The purpose of this page is to help locate data on elections

Public Policy Research

Policy is a broad area covering countless numbers of topics, making research in policy a daunting task. There are too many resources out there to list them all in a simple guide. If you have the right research strategy, though, you'll find it's not too difficult to find the sources you need.

These are the recommended steps for policy research:


1. Pick a topic or issue.

2. Do some background reading.

You'll want to know the following: dates, key figures and events, jurisdiction (who governs this particular branch of policy), the current policy in effect, the preferred approach or policy, and comparisons to other states or countries.

You'll want to look at a variety of sources.  Newspapers provide the most recent coverage of your topic, as well as a more local perspective.  General databases can cast a wide net and give you current articles on just about any social issue.  Finally, you may want to consult research journals for the most advanced scholarship.  Even if the material you find is "out of date" compared to other sources, it still indicates what is being analyzed in the literature and gives you a solid foundation on which to build your discussion of current trends.

For suggestions on which sources to use, check out the Newspapers, Databases, and Research Journals boxes below.


3. Search the relevant government agency or agencies.

Government agencies are the creators and enforcers of policy.  You'll want to know which department or agency covers your topic (the Department of Education?  the National Institutes of Health?), and you'll want to take a good look at their publications.  These can be found at their websites and other online sources.

See the Web Resources box below for pointers.


4. Consult the law itself.

Though it can be intimidating to work with government documents, policy ultimately boils down to what is encoded in law.  For example, you may want to search the United States Code and the Code of Federal Regulations, review bills under review in Congress, use the Federal Register to look up Executive Orders and agency notices.

Consult the Federal, State, or Local tabs in this guide for more detailed help working with these resources.

Newspapers

Policy issues are often so current that no one has had time to do scholarly research on the most recent changes. Use newspapers to get the most recent story on an issue, and also to understand what impact the policy has on the local level.  These databases provide not only the most recent issues, but also archived content.

General Databases

These databases can provide you with articles and essays on your policy topic.

Research Journals

These databases are more specialized and more likely to find articles from scholarly research journals.

Web Resources

If you're looking for government publications on a policy topic, spend some time poking around the relevant agency websites.  You can also try a more general portal like USA.gov, which can point you to information on a topic regardless of what agency produced it.

Books

We have a lot of books on all kinds of policy issues. Try searching the library catalog for your topic. Adding the word "policy" is a simple but effective way to narrow down your search to a manageable level. For example,

  • Health Care Reform
  • Medical Policy
  • Poverty
  • Urban Policy


If your first search brings up too many irrelevant items, try using the Refine by Topic suggestions in the box on the left of the search results screen.

We've also got great reference books that can give you background information and overviews on your topic. Here are just a few.  See individual policy pages for more subject-specific resources.