Basic Strategy: Library Research Step by Step
Choose your topic.
- Develop your research question, hypothesis, or thesis statement, e.g. How does [interest group name] influence American politics?
- Break that statement into key concepts, e.g. [interest group name], impact
- In this case, think about specific activities the group does to spread its influence: Why was it created and by whom? How is it organized and what does that allow it to do? What is the group's incentive structure? Lobbying techniques and costs? How does it finance campaings? Etc.
- Think of other ways to phrase those concepts. Use synonyms. Consider more specific words (to narrow your focus) or more general terms (to expand your search), e.g.
[Interest group name]: [full name], acronym, industry or issue the group represents, names of major players in the organization...
influence: lobbying, financing, expert/educational activities…
Construct a basic search strategy.
- In most databases, you can combine terms with and (both terms must appear in the hit)and or (one term must appear in the hit—for synonyms or evenly weighted terms), e.g. [interest group name] and lobbying; [interest group name] or [interest group acronym]
- In many databases, you can use a symbol such as * or ! to take the place of letters to get hits with multiple endings of a word, e.g. lobby*
- Example search: ([interest group name] or [interest group acronym]) and (lobby* or financ* or contribut*)
- However, in this case, you probably want to start simple: search on the interest group's name (or any variations) and only add in additional terms (like lobbying) if you find too much that isn't relevant
Choose the kinds of resources you want to find and the best tools to find them.
- Background information: Look at reference materials (especially the Public Interest Group Profiles reference book [SSH Reference Stacks JK1118 .P79 2006/2007] or sites like the Political Advocacy Groups site by subject for an overview of your group and/or the issues they advocate for.
- News: Use a news database like Access World News to find newspaper articles that mention your group. Is your group discussed in a positive or negative light? Are there controversies surrounding your group?
- You can also look at some of the group's financial info via Follow the Money or the Foundation Center's 990 Finder
- Books: look in an online library catalog like Roger (UC San Diego’s library catalog). Remember, you probably won't find a book about your particular group. Try looking for books about your kind of interest group, the issues it advocates on, or interest groups in general.
- Scholarly Articles: look in discipline-specific databases such as Worldwide Political Science Abstracts. Again, you probably won't find scholarly articles that cover your specific group, and if they do, it may only be a sentence or two. Try looking for articles about your kind of interest group or the issues it advocates on. Try searching across All ProQuest or All Ebsco databases. Try Google Scholar, too.
- Run searches using the tools you choose.
- Experiment with keywords and combinations of keywords, e.g. I might try
[interest group name]
([interest group name] or [interest group acronym]) and (lobby* or financ* or contribut*)
([issue name] or [industry name]) and (lobby* or financ* or contribut*)
Try different tools.
- Check the help screens or guides to each database for specifics on combining your terms and whether your results are ranked by date or relevance.
- When you find good hits, look at the subject headings/descriptors. Try running new searches using those terms.
Get the citation information. You need this for your bibliography.
- Email records to yourself as a backup.
- Some databases can export the citation in a specific format (e.g. APA, Chicago, MLA)
- Use Zotero, Endnote Web, Mendeley, etc. to manage, store, and format your citations.
Get the actual item.
- It may be full text in the database or it may be available through UCe-Links. If we do not have it, you can usually request the item through Interlibrary Loan (ILL).