POSC 3365 (Dr. Commissiong): Introduction to Western Political Thought

This guide should help you understand the process involved in researching a topic and evaluating sources and should acquaint you with the Cornette Library's books, journals and online sources. The list is not comprehensive so you may need to use this as a starting point and pursue other sources as well. If you have questions, stop by the Reference, Periodicals/Special Collections, or Government Documents Desks for assistance or call the Reference Desk at 651-2215. For additional help, contact Linda Chenoweth (x2212) or Steve Ely (x2231) and make an appointment.

What is Research?


Steps in the process

  1. Receive a research assignment: A paper or presentation is assigned, or a personal decision is required.
    Write a paper that's due in one month.
    OR, Present a speech in class one week from today.
  2. Select a topic: May be assigned in broad terms, or may be a personal interest.
    Write about violence in the media.
    OR, Speak about what happened the day you were born.
  3. Explore the facets of topic/narrow the focus: Ask basic background questions or specific parts of the overall topic. Often requires basic information collection and evaluation.
    Collect information on television, movies, video games, anime cartoons, rap music, etc.
    OR, Collect information on world events, state festivals, local politics, celebrity births and deaths, family occurrences, etc.
  4. State a question: This is your thesis, the question that you will answer, and it defines the limits of your problem.
    Does the image of women in rap music lead to more date rape?
    OR, What was the headline article in the New York Times on April 1, 1984, and where can I find other information about that event?
  5. Decide on the types of sources: Different kinds of questions will require different types of information sources.
    General databases such as Academic Search Complete contain current research from hundreds of scholarly and general publications on causes of violence and correlations with movies watched or music preferences.
    OR, National newspapers and news magazines covered current events, and parents or grandparents may be interviewed.
  6. Collect and evaluate information: Gather data to answer your specific question or thesis. This is often thought of as "research". Too much or too little available information may mean the question has to be restated.
    Academic Search Complete contains current research from hundreds of scholarly and general publications on causes of violence and correlations with movies watched or music preferences.
    OR, Print copies of the front page of the New York Times for April 1, 1984, and the cover stories for that week from Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report.
  7. Is the question answered? You may need additional information, or you may need to restate the question, if not enough information is available.
    One source is available, but there are 5 other sources that discuss rap music and violence against women. Restate the question as Does the image of women in rap music cause more violence against women?
    OR, You have five articles discussing the events of your birthday. Start practicing your speech.
  8. Make the decision/write the report/prepare the presentation.
    Your paper on rap music is turned in and you get an A.
    OR, Your speech wins applause from your classmates.


Source Evaluation

All of these characteristics should be considered in evaluating any information source, whether it is a book; a magazine, newspaper or journal article; a government document; a web page; or an individual. Experience makes this process easier.


Goal: find information from knowledgeable sources.


Goal: find sources that specifically address your individual question.


Goal: find information for the audience to be addressed.


Goal: find accurate, reliable information.
A difficult judgment to make for a new subject. Part of the process will involve comparing one information source on the topic to others.


Goal: find information current enough to answer your research question.
Old sources can be fine for an historical question, but not for current events.


Goal: find sources to address all sides of an issue. May require multiple sources representing differing viewpoints.


What's a Journal?

Distinction between scholarly journals and magazines is important because:

The following criteria are guidelines. Some publications won't match the criteria exactly. If a publication fits MOST of the criteria, that would probably be the correct categorization.

Check with your instructor if you are not sure of the classification of a particular source.

Journals Magazines
Physical format and appearance
  • Black and white text, simple fonts
  • Few color photographs
  • Non-glossy paper
  • Varied fonts, colored highlights in text
  • Lots of color photographs
  • Glossy paper
  • Generally long articles
  • Letters to editor may be several pages long
  • Few ads, which are aimed at professionals in the field
  • Articles vary in length
  • Letters to editor generally short
  • Lots of colorful ads, aimed at the general public
Typical authors
  • Scholars or experts in the field
  • Authors are always identified
  • Staff or free-lance writers
  • Authors may not be identified
  • Always identify sources in some way
  • May use footnotes, parenthetical references, reference list, or bibliography
  • Often don't identify sources
  • Sources may be discussed as part of narrative structure
Review process
  • Editor will be expert in the field
  • Articles may be checked by other experts before publication ("peer review")
  • Editor has publication background
  • Articles only reviewed in-house
  • Aimed at scholars in the field
  • Aimed at general public or hobbyists


Reference Sources

Reference books are one of the best places to start your research. Finding background information on a topic can help you prepare to search the Library's online catalog and other resources. The Reference Collection houses basic information sources like dictionaries, encyclopedias, bibliographies, chronologies, and research guides. A selection of Reference books which you may find useful are listed below. Be sure to check Cornette Library's online catalog or ask a Reference Librarian to find more.

A Dictionary of Political Thought
JA 61 .S37 1982 Ref.
Defines and discusses many key terms and concepts of political thought, in entries ranging in length from a paragraph to a page.
The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought
JA 61 .B57 1987 Ref.
A one-volume guide to important and influential ideas and doctrines of western political thought. Entries are included on individual philosophers, statesmen, sociologists, and writers, as well as on the philosophies, movements, ideologies, and concepts relevant throughout western history. All entries are signed and include bibliographies.
Dictionary of Government and Politics
JA 61 .D53 1998 Ref.
"Basic vocabulary used in the fields of government and politics, both in Britain and in the United States."
Encyclopedia of the American Constitution
KF 4548.E53 2000 Ref.
This six-volume work features many illuminating articles on the people, concepts, and legislation affecting and affected by the United State Constitution. Articles are signed and generally include short bibliographies. Also included is the text of several relevant primary source documents.
Encyclopedia of American Political History
E183 .E5 1984
This three-volume work offers many articles, of several pages each, on the institutions, movements, and ideas that have characterized American political history.
Dictionary of American History
E174 .D52 2003 Ref.
More an encyclopedia than a dictionary, this work of ten volumes is an excellent source of information on the events, concepts, trends, places, and people that characterize American history. Articles vary in length from a paragraph to several pages but consistently include author bibliographies and signatures, and one volume is devoted to archival maps and primary sources.
Encyclopedia of the United States Congress
JK1067.E63 1995 Ref.
This four-volume work offers many detailed articles about the people, legislation, and issues dealt with by the U.S. Congress throughout its history. Articles are signed by the authors, whose affiliation is identified in the first volume; most articles also include a short bibliography.
The Rowman & Littlefield Guide to Writing with Sources
PE 1478.D37 2007 Ref.
Discusses clearly and helpfully questions such as when you need to acknowledge a source, when you should paraphrase and when you should quote, how you should paraphrase, how you should quote, how you should punctuate quotations, and how you should select and cite electronic and internet sources. Available next to the Reference Desk.
Student Guide to Research in the Digital Age: How to Locate and Evaluate Sources
ZA 3075.S74 2006 Ref.
Discusses overall research process, how to find different kinds of information, and how to use that information.



Cornette Library's Online Catalog
Includes books, government documents, videos, journal titles, etc. available throughout the Library. Suggested searches include:
  • a keyword search for your subject, such as political philosophy.
  • the general LC subject heading political science.
  • the LC subject heading for a specific time and place such as united states politics and government.

To determine the most appropriate subject headings for your search, refer to the red Library of Congress Subject Headings near the Reference computers in the Library or search the online Library of Congress Authorities Catalog.

One excellent source is the multi-volume set Masters of Political Thought (JA81.M34)

  • Online catalog for libraries around the world.
  • Lists Cornette Library books along with many more in other libraries.
  • Search by keyword, author, title, or subject.
  • Excellent source for locating items not in Cornette Library's collection.
  • Request books not in Cornette Library through the pre-filled Interlibrary loan form. Allow at least two weeks for the books to arrive.


Journal, Magazine, & Newspaper Articles

Provide current information

How to Access Databases

Which database?

Academic Search Complete
Contains abstracts and citations for a broad range of topics, with substantial full-text. Includes scholarly full-text articles from over 5,100 sources, with an additional 1,000 full-text sources. Indexes more than 10,000 periodicals.
Back volumes for 375+ journals providing complete full-text coverage of journals from first issues, but not the most current 2-5 years. Covers a wide range of subjects.
Find more at our Political Science Subject Guide.

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Need Help?


Interlibrary Loan

There are four principal ways to access the online form to request an item through Interlibrary Loan.

More information about Interlibrary Loan.


Government Documents

Cornette Library collects United States federal and Texas state documents on many topics.

Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications


Web Sites

Web Guides

Scout Report Archives
Scholarly. Keyword or advanced search. Results listed by relevance.
INFOMINE Scholarly Internet Resource Collections
Scholarly. Keyword search or browse by general subject area. Can limit to free sites.
ipl2, the merged Internet Public Library (IPL) and Librarians' Internet Index (LII)
General public interest. Keyword search, or browse by general topic and subtopic.


Citing Your Sources

Why must I cite the sources I use for research projects?

For More Information

The Rowman & Littlefield Guide to Writing with Sources
PE 1478.D37 2007 Ref.
Discusses clearly and helpfully questions such as when you need to acknowledge a source, when you should paraphrase and when you should quote, how you should paraphrase, how you should quote, how you should punctuate quotations, and how you should select and cite electronic and internet sources.

Style Manuals


Your Comments

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