International relations & security: Advice for searching, citing, engaging literatures

What's on this page

This page is divided into sections devoted to Bruce Pencek's handouts on planning and doing effective, efficient searching and guidance on citations and ethical use of others' work Researchers interested in effective scholarly communication may wish to see the Grad student tab, above.

Lit-search how-to handouts

Think of these handouts as lecture notes for what Bruce Pencek said (tried to say... meant to say...) in class or a research consultation. 

Be a goal-directed, situationally aware searcher

Bruce Pencek's system of search techniques to discover and acquire relevant research sources efficiently -- so you can manage your time and effort. 


I. When to search "the literature"... for the feasibility of the research plan, for primary and secondary sources relevant to the research question, and for making sure you've covered all bases on your answer to your question when you write your paper.

II. Situationally aware (re)searching. We suffer from too much information.  So identifying your goal, planning ahead, and then applying what you learn in each stage are vital to research success.  This handout offers prompts and a sequence of stages -- and the appropriate tools for each -- to keep your research on target.

Generative artificial intelligence systems (ChatGPT, Bing, Bard...) are only as effective as the prompts you give them: write a  mushy question or give a vague instruction, and the AI will give you a vague, mushy (and sometimes bogus) answer.  The same habits of mind and tools that enable sound manual searching also help you think about how to direct AIs precisely to the information you need.

III. Operationalize and organize. A one-page grid framework for laying our your search as part of your research design, aligned with social science concerns for identifying concepts/variables, relationships, explanations, and evidence.

IV. Get tactical. Tips to give you better search results in less time.

  • What's the use of Discovery Search?  Pencek's take on the special uses and disadvantages of VT Libraries' third generation Discovery Search (aka WorldCat Discovery) and similar systems.
  • What kind of "article" am I looking at?  Some pointers for when you encounter things that look like articles so you can decide if they are appropriate for your project.  Compares characteristics, content, and information timelines for sorting out popular, trade, and academic publications.  Includes rules of thumb for identifying junk "journals."
  • Bibliographic speed dating. Illustrates use of overlooked search history (aka recent searches) functions in many subject databases to speed you through finding sources relevant to  your  research question. 
  • Search faster using insiders' power words. Quickly find relevant books and some articles using this list of "inside libraries" keywords in VT Discovery Search [WorldCat Discovery], library catalogs, and even article databases if they use Library of Congress subject headings.
  • You can't search NEAR enough: "proximity" searching.  Reduce noisy results in full-text databases (and Google) by using the precise NEAR command (and its relatives) instead of the clumsy Boolean AND. Includes table of proximity syntax for several database and publisher platforms.

Video modules

(Re)search planning. Research, and thus literature searching, is planned, guided by a hunch that your work will test. Here are some considerations about planning your (re)search before you plunge into library tools. Read slide deck.   

See also these related handouts:

Power searching subject databases. Walk through using subject-oriented databases in the VT Libraries -- your most important and efficient tools for finding academic literature. Example illustrates the ProQuest platform specifically (using Worldwide Political Science Abstracts), it but refers when appropriate to similar functions in EbscoHost databases.  Read slide deck.  

See also these related handouts

Basics of literature (re)searching. Recordings of consecutive in-person lectures for PSCI/IS 1034: Introduction to international studies and political science, spring 2022.

  • Operationalizing: getting from your general curiosity to a manageable, (re)searchable question and plan.
  • Situationally aware searching:  You planned your search mission, now improvise and adapt to what the information environment actually offers you.

Factiva for global news. Introduction to browsing current news and to searching the large, powerful Factiva database of global news reporting from major newspapers and broadcasters.  Read slide deck.  (NOTE: Dow Jones, the publisher of Factiva, has eliminated its "newstand" menu, making it impossible to browse non-US news sources. This is noted in the slides but not in the video.) 

This related handout also applies to searching most historical news archives:

Odyssey, our "learning object repository," offers a growing list of how-to videos and handouts, about the mechanics of using Virginia Tech Libraries' digital and physical resources, including

Orient yourself -- alternative map to VT Libraries website In case you get lost in the various platforms mashed together in the library's online presence.

Fine print: Pencek's handouts are published in this guide under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license. So you can adapt, slice, and dice the files for reuse, provided that you give me appropriate credit, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests that Bruce Pencek endorses you or your (re)use of his content.

Annotated bibliographies

Political science professional resources

Citation: acknowledging and sharing knowledge

Citing books, articles, and government publications
Citing maps and data

Your responsibility to cite your sources isn't limited to books and articles.

Underneath good citations are good practices to manage your notes and evidence (qualitative and quantitative alike).

Data management plans, long required by most major funders in STEM research grants, are increasingly expected for empirical social science and interdisciplinary humanities funded research as well.

Scholars working in those domains will find are some good tips in  Data management plans for historians: How to document and protect your research by Susan L. Collins, a librarian at Carnegie Mellon University. (Perspectives on History, October 2017).

Fair use for instructors

Honor Codes at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech upholds the principles of academic and professional integrity through several honor systems. Expectations, procedures and penalties depend on the affiliation of the student.

Outside the realm of academic integrity, the university’s Student Code of Conduct sets standards of behavior for students at all levels and lays out procedures for dealing with violations.