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Public Policy Paper
Chapter 1:
Formulating Your Research Question
“Welcome to my PowerPoint presentation on how to identify a
research question and assemble a scholarly bibliography.”
Analyze the Assignment
 Identify a Research Question
 Produce a Bibliography
 Use One of the Approved Styles
“The policy paper is a complex and difficult task. I’ve broken
it down into manageable steps. Let’s get you off to a good
start thinking about how you identify a research question and
produce a bibliography using an approved style sheet.”
How Do I Find a Topic?
 Consult your own interests.
 Consider what issues might be most
amenable to particular expertise that
you already possess.
 Consult the table of contents of your
textbook – or even the index.
What’s a Good Topic?
 A good topic is…
 Consistent with assignment -- Your paper must
deal with a consequential matter of urban public
policy which is, or ought to be, on the agenda of
American politics at the national, state, or local
level
 Interesting to you
 One that you can approach with an open mind –
where you have not already developed an
opinion that is likely to render you immune to
facts.
 Narrow enough to allow relatively thorough
research
What’s Narrow Enough?
 Exactly how narrow more art than science.
 If your topic is too broad, your research will be
unfocused and superficial.
 If your topic is too narrow, you won’t find the
information you need to proceed.
 You need to strike a balance based on preliminary
exploration of your topic.
 In this wired world, it is probably easier to be too
broad than too narrow.
 On the next slide I’ll provide an example. Forgive me
for using an old favorite from environmental politics.
What’s Narrow Enough?
 Bad
 Endangered species
 Environmental
protection
 National Park Policy
 Yellowstone National
Park
 Federal wolf
management
 Ranchers’ rights
 Threats to livestock
 Each of these is too
broad or too vague
 Good
 Whether the
Yellowstone wolves
should be protected
when they leave the
park
 Interestingly, combining
all the “too broad” topics
on the left can produce
an appropriately narrow
topic by focusing your
attention at the specific
spot where those broad
themes converge.
What’s Narrow Enough?
 Bad
 Endangered species
 Environmental
protection
 National Park Policy
 Yellowstone National
Park
 Federal wolf
management
 Ranchers’ rights
 Threats to livestock
 Each of these is too
broad
 Good
 Whether the
Yellowstone wolves
should be protected
when they leave the
park
 Here’s another
difference. On the left
we have “topics.” On the
right we have a
“research question.”
Consult your course
syllabus for a further
elaboration on this
distinction.
Produce a Bibliography
 Preface – thinking about…
 Primary v. Secondary Sources
 Scholarly v. Popular Sources
 Getting an Overview
 Digging Down Deep
 Using One of the Approved Styles
Primary v. Secondary Sources
 Primary: An original, first-hand
document; it has not been previously
published, interpreted or translated.
 Secondary: Interprets and analyzes
primary sources; information is “once
removed.” Secondary sources are
often based on primary sources.
Primary or Secondary?
Historical records like birth certificates or deeds*
Autobiographies*
Reviews of plays, films, books, etc.
Original published research reporting a lab experiment*
Works of art and literature (paintings, poems, etc.)*
Editorials in newspapers & magazines
Correspondence, diaries and other personal papers*
Textbooks, encyclopedias, etc.
Transcripts or recordings of interviews or proceedings*
Government documents like bills, laws, or court
decisions*
 Published research reviewing the literature of a certain
field
 * generally primary but see next slide










Primary or Secondary?
 The distinction between primary and secondary
will sometimes depend upon the context of
your research.
 The commentary of entertainers like Rush Limbaugh,
Bill O’Reilly, or Stephen Colbert, who appear to differ
only in the degree to which they take themselves
seriously, would almost always be a secondary source
– and a poor one at that.
 However, if your topic is the “political rhetoric of
Stephen Colbert,” then (and only then) his
commentaries are a primary source.
Scholarly v. Popular Sources
 Written by scholars
for scholars
 Typically detailed
and lengthy
 Always formally
documented
 Example: American
Political Science
Review
 Written by
journalists for a
general audience
 Typically general
and short
 Documentation
informal or absent
 Example: CQ
Weekly Report
For more detail see: http://www.cornellcollege.edu/politics/courses/allin/262/pfinder-1.pdf
Research Step #1
 Getting an overview on your research
question
 Do you want Secondary or Primary
resources?
 Do you want Scholarly or Popular
resources?
Research Step #1
 Getting an overview on your research
question
 Do you want Secondary or Primary
resources?
 Secondary resources will be more general
and more accessible.
 Do you want Scholarly or Popular
resources?
 Popular resources will be more general and
more accessible.
Research Step #1
 Getting an overview on your research
question
 Google for the Web
 Google News for really recent stuff
 Lexis-Nexis News for a much longer time
frame
Research Step #2
 Digging Down Deep
 Do you want Secondary or Primary
resources?
 Do you want Scholarly or Popular
resources?
Research Step #2
 Digging Down Deep
 Do you want Secondary or Primary resources?
 Primary resources are more reliable. You are not
depending on someone else’s interpretation.
 Do you want Scholarly or Popular resources?
 Scholarly resources are going to be more detailed
and reflect greater author expertise.
 Getting an overview and digging down deep are
different tasks, and they require different tools.
Different kinds of sources are appropriate for
different purposes.
Where Do I Find Primary Sources?
 Laws & Bills?
 Lexis-Nexis
 Court Cases?
 Lexis-Nexis
 Organization Opinions?
 PoliticalInformation.com
 Google search limited to “.org” domains
 Government Documents?
 First Search: GPO
 GPO Access
 Google search limited to “.gov” domains
Where Do I Find Scholarly Sources?
 Lexis-Nexis
 Law Reviews
 EBSCO Host
 Academic Search Premier
 Social Science Abstracts
 Military & Government Collection
 First Search
 GPO
 PAIS
Looking for Sources Generally
 The previous suggestions are quite generic.
 You want to search with a purpose.
 Ask yourself what you want to know, and think
about where you are likely to find it.
 Ask Tonnie Flannery for help.
 Don’t be afraid to use Google and Wikipedia, but
don’t stop there. And don’t assume that
everything you read is correct.
 In the modern era, anybody can find
information. The critical intellectual skill is to
have the wisdom and tools to distinguish good
sources from bad.
Primary & Scholarly Source Portals
 Cole Library: Research by Topic
 Social Sciences
 Politics
 Department of Politics
 Internet Sources for Government, Politics
& Law
Use One of the Approved Styles





APSA
Chicago/Turabian
APA
MLA
Links to the Approved Styles
 Guidance on Documentation in Your OnLine Syllabus
 Cole Library: Politics
Summary
 Find a Topic & Construct a Research
Question
 Produce a Bibliography
 Preface
 Primary v. Secondary Sources
 Scholarly v. Popular Sources
 Getting an Overview
 Secondary & Popular Sources
 Digging Down Deep
 Primary and Scholarly Sources
 Use One of the Approved Styles