Political Science 100/101: Library research guide

If you need help, please contact Baharak Yousefi, Liaison Librarian at or byousefi@sfu.ca or Ask a librarian.

1. Getting Started

2. Structuring Your Search

Before you start searching, think clearly about your topic and plan your search. Suppose you want to research the following topic

How might globalization challenge the traditional concepts of state and sovereignty?

First, identify the key words or concepts in your question, e.g.,globalization, state, sovereignty.
Next, brainstorm synonyms, related terms, and alternate spellings for each of these key concepts:

  • state: closely-related terms like nation or nation state; and perhaps a broader term like democracy
  • sovereignty: related terms like self-determination, autonomy
  • globalization: sometimes spelled globalisation; and perhaps a broader term like multinational

Begin your search with the most "obvious" terms: globalization and state and sovereignty

A slightly more complex search for the topic: Compare the parliamentary and presidential forms of government might look like this:

parliamentar* and presidential* and (versus or compar*)

The * symbol truncates the word, that is, it directs the search engine to look for all words with that root; so, compar* will search compare, compares, comparison, etc. Also, if you don't know whether "versus" or "compare" will work better, use them both. Just make sure to separate them using "or", and to isolate them from the search phrase by using brackets.

Once you've found a good result or two, take a closer look. Note the subject headings. Searching a term (like "globalization") as a subject rather than as a keyword will yield more precise results. If you would like more results, try adding or substituting other terms from your list. Often, the key to a successful search is finding the right search terms. Having a few to work with increases your chances of finding something useful.

3. Basic definitions or background information

See Background Information in the Subject Guide for a list of resources. Some valuable online sources include:

4. Search for Books

For help with using the Library Catalogue, see the Library Catalogue search guide.

  • If you are combining search terms for a more focused search, be sure to link your terms with and (unlike Google); for example, united nations and peacekeeping
  • If you are searching a big concept like "globalization", try using a "Subject" search rather than a "Keyword" search
  • Once you've found an item that matches your topic, look at the "Subject" terms in the item record. They may lead to other good materials on the topic.
  • Use the "Advanced search" option if you are searching several terms together or if you would like to search keywords and subject terms together

5. Searching for Journal Articles

6. Searching the web

Be (a)ware--it's a jungle out there! See How to Critically Evaluate Sources for tips on selecting authoritative web material.

7. Citing your sources

Once you decide you want to use a particular article, book, or website, save the citation information. This is very important, as you will need to cite all your sources, i.e., create a reference list that gives accurate information about where you found the information you are using in your paper. Citing is important because:

  • your professor or another researcher can use your citations to find the original sources you read for your paper
  • you are acknowledging that your ideas were borrowed from someone else

Quick guides to APA. MLA, and other styles at Write your paper & cite your sources.