American politics & government: Essentials -- start here
This guide focuses on principal resources in a subfield of political science. It is supplements the main subject guide for political science and international studies. The Other political science research guides tab is a menu that connects you to related research guides for the major subfields of the discipline and for related programs in the VT School of Public & International Affairs.
Resources listed on this page are clustered into Key databases for accessing scholarly literature; Research starters; Background information and reference sources; Contact information for the subject librarian; and tabs identifying Additional information.
Parts of this guide are also available in related subject guides: Social data sources, News/journalism/streaming media, Advice for searching/citing/engaging with related scholarly literatures, and Accessing VT library resources from off-campus.
Essential resources to know
- Worldwide Political Science Abstracts from ProQuestThe go-to resource for searching the literature regarding all aspects of political science and related fields, Worldwide Political Science Abstracts indexes citations and abstracts from journal articles, books, essays, book reviews, working papers, technical reports, theses, and dissertations in the social sciences related to politics. You can limit to peer-reviewed sources. 1975-present.
- National JournalNational Journal is a comprehensive resource on politics and policy for the academic community including: National Journal, National Journal Daily, National Journal Daybook, National Journal Hotline, National Journal Race Tracker, National Journal Almanac, and National Journal Presentations, National Journal Events.
- VoxGovVoxGov is an interesting application of “big data” to tracking the outputs – traditional documents and also official social media -- of persons and agencies of the US government. Coverage of some official print outputs extends back to the late 1970s. The content is updated every 15 minutes. Visualizations are simple but effective. The advanced search interface gives a sense of the scope of coverage and the many dimensions for filtering and comparing the data. You can also browse by policy categories, compare members of Congress, and track outputs from the last presidential, gubernatorial, and congressional elections.
- HeinOnline Portal Large and wide-ranging collections of historical and contemporary legal materials, including codes, treaties, constitutions, topical collections of historical documents, law reviews (resembling JSTOR), legal treatises from the US, Canada, and the UK. Not limited to narrowly legal topics: includes, for example, Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law.
- PolicyMapPolicy Map offers both extensive data and mapping options about communities across the US, especially for topics of interest for public policy. Data are aggregated from multiple sources and normalized to map across different geographical levels, from census tracts and ZIP codes to states. Data reports may be downloaded without maps. Policy Map also permits users to upload and map their own data. Focus is on information compiled since the early 2000s.. For deeper historical coverage (necessarily with fewer variables), along with some non-US data and mapping options, try Social Explorer.
- U.S. Government InformationGovinfo provides free public access to official publications from all three branches of the US federal government. When you search the content available on Govinfo, you will be able to download the full text of publications. But you won’t see records for documents that are not stored on Govinfo -- use either version of the GPO Catalog of Publications to discover those other documents.
Govinfo has an extensive set of how-to video tutorials.
Background and reference information
- Sage Knowledge: Politics & International Relations Reference ebooks from major publisher of research works and textbooks in social sciences. Expandable menu directs you to works in most major subfields of the discipline.
- CQ ResearcherCQ Researcher publishes single-themed, 12,000-word reports researched and written by a seasoned journalist and noted for in-depth, unbiased coverage of health, social trends, criminal justice, international affairs, education, the environment, technology, and the economy. Reports provides an overview; background and chronology; assessment of the current situation; tables and maps; pro/con statements from opposing positions; and bibliographies. Pre-1996 are HTML; newer are PDFs. 1991-present.
- Congressional Research Service ReportsThere is virtually no topic that would not draw the interest of members of the US Congress. The Congressional Research Service in the Library of Congress exists to provide information and analysis that members or committees request.. By law, most CRS reports are confidential, so this database is not complete as a historical record, but it can be a rich background source for many research questions. Covers 1978-present.
- Gale EbooksGale Ebooks is a collection of searchable ebook reference works. You can search within a particular work or across the entire collection. Individual articles from these sources are presented in HTML and PDF. Illustrations, photos, maps, and multimedia content is often included.
- International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (2d ed) byISBN: 9780080970868Publication Date: 2015Comprises over 3,900 articles, commissioned by 71 section editors, and includes 90,000 bibliographic references as well as comprehensive name and subject indexes; more than 80 percent of the chapters are new or updated since the original text. Both its format and integrated chapters encourage discovery and map contexts and connections within the social and behavioral sciences. Some experts prefer the first edition (2001).
- SAGE Research Methods OnlineSAGE Research Methods indexes full-text books, reference sources, the "little green book" series (Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences), the "little blue book" series (Qualitative Research Methods), journal articles, and videos. Since this platform focuses on methodology rather than disciplines, it can be used by researchers from the social sciences, health sciences, and more. Full text available in HTML and PDF. You can limit searches by research method type. 1970s-present.
You can start with a hot topic
If you're fishing for a topic, often a good place to start is current controversies. If your reaction to a statement is "How could someone say something like that?", run with it -- not to refute it but to discover and explain whatever evidence and reasoning might lead a reasonable person of good will to say "something like that" is true or right in some respect or under some circumstances, which your research and analysis will test.
The "In context" family of databases from Gale lay out pro-cons of controversies with articles and data from scholarly journals and popular sources. Use them to refine and focus your own thinking; use their references to find trustworthy scholarship, data, and primary sources; and especially to harvest on-target search terms to use in subject-oriented databases like Worldwide Political Science Abstracts or HeinOnline. These can be especially useful for political and political science/international studies research:
You risk violating the Honor Code if you rely only on the "canned" sources in these databases for assignments that expect you to do your own research design, searching, and analyses. Check with your instructor.
Often predefined topics won't keep up with events. Peer-reviewed scholarship can take two years and more to appear after an event. Journalism may be your best available source of information. News sources might identify experts in universities, government, think tanks, or industry who have published research about similar events or problems that you can apply.
- Access World News from Newsbank is a broad-based collection of news reports with a straightforward interface. (Factiva is bigger and more powerful but a bit harder to learn.)
- Academic OneFile from Gale is a bridge between journalism and other popular sources and scholarship across many disciplines. You may find it is more manageable than the "discovery" search box on the library homepage.
You can start with published data
If data have been published, there is research behind them. Reputable data collections will provide source information: who or what agency collected and analyzed the data, when. Data citations will often include titles of publications that can connect you to datasets collected over time and/or across related questions in one place or period. These data collections are good starters:
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Temporary, trial access only -- use while you can
The University Libraries at Virginia Tech regularly secure short-term, trial access to online resources in order to gauge their appropriateness to our university's teaching and research missions. These trials run in October, February, and sometimes April.
Trials are listed in a sidebar in the main Databases A-Z directory.
Each entry includes a link to a user survey. I and other subject librarians invite you to email us your detailed assessments of resources. Responses from the Virginia Tech community are vital to the library's deliberations about whether and when to acquire or enhance databases and the like.
As appropriate I will list trials and user survey links a resource trials tab in this and my other libguides. Entries for trials I may include in the body of my libguides will go away when the trial period ends.