Get Started on your Research

 

Familiarize yourself with interesting parts of your discipline. 

1.    The Library has many online journals.  Search in the "Journals at PLU" dialog box on the library home page for Annual Review of Political Science.  Browse through the table of contents for the latest issue.  If you see a topic that interests you, read the abstract for that article.  If still interested, read the first page or two of the article to see what are the main questions, the cutting edge research, and the research controversies.  Repeat for earlier issues.  If you already have a political topic that interests you, you may use their search engine to find appropriate review articles.  If you are lucky, someone has already done an excellent review of the literature on your topic. 

2.    Google Scholar is a powerful search engine.  The problems are generally two-fold.  First, it includes pretty much everything.  That means if you don't know the ins and outs of a topic, you are unlikely to know if a particular source is useful, or if it is in a sufficiently reputable journal.  Second, a wonderful source may turn out to not be included in our library journals online.  Still, it is an important resource for any researcher. 

3.    Wikipedia is actually pretty good, um, most of the time.  Stephen Bryer, Supreme Court Justice, used a Wikipedia citation in a Supreme Court opinion.  The wall has been broken, and professors who prohibit it are fighting a losing battle. 

4.    Some guides to research are quite good.  Among them: 

      Booth, et.al., The Craft of Research, Third EditionUniversity of Chicago Press, 2008.

      Charles E. LindblomInquiry and Change, Yale University Press, 1992.

 

 Elements of a Research Project

 

1.  Find a Question. 

      Talk to a mentor! 

      Here is one guide to topic selection.

      Trust your attraction to particular current policy issues or political trends. 

      Browse through issues of Annual Review of Political Science, as noted above. 

2.  Design your Project

      One way to design a project is to write a draft of your likely abstract.

      You may wish to write a policy paper.

      Another model of a research project is a critical review of a book. 

      Choose a model and emulate it.  For example, see Martin Gilens, "Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness," in Vol. 69 no. 5 of Public Opinion Quarterly.

3.  Clarify the Relationships. 

      What are your concepts, and what are the relations among them?  How will your measure these?  You might use interviews, documents, statistical representations, and more.  What patterns do you expect in the data, also known as your hypothesis? When you answer these questions, you will have written an important first section of your paper. 

      Make sure you use Clear Argumentation

      Keep drafting successive abstracts. 

 

4.  Collect your Data.

      The Yale University Library maintains a site with advice and resources on collecting social science data. 

      The ICPSR is probably the largest social sciences data repository you will find.  What do other people collect?  Has anyone collected data about your questions? 

      You may want to generate an original dataset.  Interviews with subjects, trends in word usage in news outlets, geographical distribution of votes for a particular candidate...  it all depends on your research question. 

5.  Talk with a mentor!  Show this person or persons what you have written so far. 

      Your analysis of your data will depend on your methods.  If using historical qualitative data, for example, how will you record patterns?  How will you check these against your hypothesis?  Consult research methods textbooks for specific suggestions.  Talk about these with your mentor. 

6.  Write up your Paper.

      Just Write Something. 

      Expect to write several complete drafts. 

      See the chapter entitled Analyze This in any edition of Graff & Birkenstein, They Say/I Say (Norton). 

 

Here are some subject guides for the study of politics and government. 

      A recent trend among scholars of politics is the study of inequality. 

      US Government and Politics 

      Public Policy 

      International Relations, Security, War and Peace  

      Law and Justice  

      Political Theory  

 

And, you may find it useful to stay informed about political news.