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American Federal Government: POLS 1113

Research guide to assist students and faculty with the American Federal Government course.

Library Resources

The Explore RSU Libraries search box on the library website is a great place to start your research. It searches all the library's resources in one place including books/ebooks, journal and news articles and legal and government information. 


Some resources, such as encyclopedias and dictionaries, are great for gathering general information on a topic.  If you need definitions of words or conceptsstatistical information, or background information, these sources are a good place to start.  

While most dictionaries and encyclopedias are credible sources of information, they only summarize topics, and should not be used as a substitute for scholarly research.  Some professors will not allow you to cite encyclopedias in research papers, so be sure that you understand the expectations of an assignment beforehand.  Finally, be sure to choose sources wisely!  Encyclopedias and dictionaries should be published by a credible source.  (Wikipedia is NOT considered a credible source, so don't use it!) 

The academic databases listed on this guide are excellent sources for magazine, news, and journal articles. Library databases are different from online search engines like Google, so you will need to master a few basic concepts in order to use them effectively. 

Exclude irrelevant words

When using the databases, you should exclude all extraneous words from your searches. First, leave out all articles (a, an, the) in your search. Next, narrow your search terms down to two or three words that describe exactly what you hope to find For example, if you are writing a paper about the theme of discrimination in Frankenstein, narrowing your search terms down to discrimination and Frankenstein will likely retrieve a manageable list of more precise results.

Select and refine search terms

After you have selected your initial search terms, list any synonyms or related terms that might be relevant to your topic. For example, if your search terms are Frankenstein and discrimination, you might want to try synonyms such as "prejudice" or "intolerance" in place of discrimination. You may even replace discrimination with a related term, such as "inhumanity." Successful searches are often the result of trying out a variety of terms. Most databases will provide you with suggestions of additional or alternate search terms to use, which can lead you to better results in a shorter amount of time.

Combine or exclude terms

Two or more search terms may be combined in different ways to yield different results. The connectors AND, OR, NOT are useful search tools, and most databases have these built in to make searching easier. Use the connector AND to yield results that contain both search terms. Use OR for results that contain either term. Use NOT to exclude results that contain a specific term.

Try different databases

Different databases index different content, and selecting the right database is just as important to successful searching as choosing the right search terms. A search that retrieves few or no results in one database may work well in another. If you retrieve too few or irrelevant results in one database, try a different one.

Scholarly v. Popular Sources 

If you are not familiar with scholarly publications, it can be difficult to tell the difference between scholarly and popular periodicals. There are no definitive rules for distinguishing between the two, but here are some guidelines:

Scholarly (e.g., academic journals):

  • Are written by professionals within an academic field or discipline.
  • Contain research projects, methodology, and theory.
  • Have few, if any, advertisements.
  • Use college-level or specialized vocabulary of the discipline.
  • Include articles with extensive bibliographies, footnotes, or other documentation.
  • Contain graphics that are often black & white and consist of tables, charts, and diagrams.
  • Are peer-reviewed or refereed.

Popular (e.g., magazines, newspapers):

  • Are written by journalists.
  • Contain general news articles written to inform, update, or introduce a new issue.
  • Have many full-color, full-page advertisements.
  • Use a general, non-technical vocabulary.
  • Include articles with little or no documentation.
  • Contain graphics that are often full-color pictures and illustrations.

If you can visit the library in person, shelf-browsing is an excellent way to discover resources on your topic.  All books in the RSU Libraries are organized according to the Library of Congress (LC) Classification system.  Below is a brief guide to LC Classification for political science. 

LC Classification for Political Science

Class J: Political Science

Subclass JA: Political Science (General)

Subclass JC: Political Theory, the State, Theories of the State Subclass

JF: Political Institutions and Public Administration, Comparative Government

Subclass JJ: Political Institutions and Public Administration (North America)

Subclass JK: Political Institutions and Public Administration (United States)

Subclass JL: Political Institutions and Public Administration (Canada, Latin America, etc.)

Subclass JN: Political Institutions and Public Administration (Europe)

Subclass JQ: Political Institutions and Public Administration (Asia, Africa, Australia, Pacific Area, etc.)

Subclass JS: Local Government, Municipal Government

Subclass JV: Colonies and Colonization, Emigraton and Immigration, International Migration

Subclass JZ: International Relations