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American Foreign Policy

Assignment  **  Finding a Policy Issue  **  Background  **  Scholarly Context

Assignment

For this class, you'll be writing a policy analysis paper. You can analyze:

-the general policy of the U.S. toward another state or government in a certain period of time;
-the shifting choices of the U.S. government on a specific foreign policy issue; or
-the changing use and/or misuse of a significant policy instrument by the U.S. toward another state or government.

We'll talk about how to identify a specific foreign policy, as well as how to research its context, both political and historical.

 

Finding a Policy Issue

You will already know your general area of foreign policy that you'd like to pursue, but you may need help finding a particular policy or time period on which to focus.

- The website of the U.S. Department of State is an excellent place to explore if you're still looking to narrow your focus a bit.

1) Hover your mouse over the headings at the top of the site ("Policy Issues," "Countries & Regions," etc.).  The lists that pop up may give you an idea of a direction to take.
2) If you already have a general idea of your area of interest, e.g., national security, you can type it into the keyword search in the upper-right.  The results list will be overwhelming, but the suggestions on the left might help you narrow your focus.

- CQ Weekly (accessible from the library homepage; choose "Databases," then "Databases A-Z")

1) In the Advanced Search screen (linked on the left side of the page), choose "Foreign Policy" from the "Topic" menu.
2) Type in a keyword or phrase related to your area of interest in the "Words or Phrases" box.

 

Background

After you have more specifically identified your focus, explore the following to find background information, context, names of key political players, and specific legislative actions that affected policies.

All of the resources below are accessible from the library homepage; choose "Databases," then "Databases A-Z".

- Academic Search Complete

Even though this is a specialized political science research project, Academic Search Complete is still an excellent place to start gathering background information and context.

1) If your policy issue was affected by a specific event in history (e.g., security interests in Afghanistan before and after 9/11), try narrowing the dates of your search to only results published before the event to read about the way things used to be.
2) After you learn more about key political players and the dates specific policies were enacted, search for those people's names and experiment further with date ranges to pinpoint primary sources.

- CQ Weekly

You may already have used CQ Weekly to narrow your topic, but be sure to explore it further.  Content in CQ Weekly dates back to 1983, and includes detailed reporting on congressional activity.

1) Use the "Quick Search" box on the left to type in focused keywords related to your established topic (e.g., Kosovo "national security").
or
2) Refine your "Advanced Search," using more specific terms and, if appropriate, a date range.

- LexisNexis

LexisNexis is the library's most comprehensive news resource.  Use it to find newspaper and magazine articles from the time of your policy's enactment, as well as transcripts from radio and television media.  You do need to know a bit about your topic in order to use LexisNexis most effectively.

1) Try a "Search the News" search for the name of a policy, key political player, country, etc. If you get far too many results, click the "Advanced Search" link to refine your search and choose a date range.
2) Explode the "Subject Areas" tab on the left - there's a "Government & Politics" link.  The search box that comes up will focus your search in sources that relate specifically to politics and government.  Certain government documents are also included here.

- Helpful websites

Background Notes/Country Fact Sheets - From the U.S. State Department, these publications include facts about the land, people, history, government, political conditions, economy, and foreign relations of all countries in the world.

The World Factbook - Provided by the CIA, the World Factbook provides national-level information on countries, territories, and dependencies.

FDys - The U.S. Government Printing Office's Federal Digital System (FDsys) offers free online access to official publications from all three branches of the Federal Government, including bills and laws, the Congressional Record, the Code of Federal Regulations, and Presidential materials.

 

Scholarly Context

After you feel that you understand the basic facts about your policy, its history, and its effects, you may find it helpful to see if you can identify some scholarly articles that analyze the same issue you're exploring. The following two databases will be good places to find these secondary sources:

- Political Science Complete
- Academic Search Complete

Both are EBSCO databases and will operate similarly to each other.  After you conduct your first keyword search, make a note of the words/phrases listed under "Subjects:" in each relevant result.  If you reconstruct your keyword search using these terms, then run a "Subject" search, your results will be much more refined.

- Public Affairs Information Service (PAIS)

This resource combines scholarly sources (books, academic journals) with government documents, working papers from NGOs, and both national and international news agencies.

1) Stack your related search terms above each other, e.g., "Afghanistan" AND "9/11" AND "national security"
- Select the "peer reviewed" box to narrow your results appropriately; you may also want to narrow by a specific date range and/or to English
- Click into results that look good, then notice the words/phrases next to "Subject" (below the abstract); by using this language in your next search and doing a "Subject" search, you can retrieve even better results 

 

**Help! There's no link to the full text!*

1. If there's a full-text link in the database you're in, just click on it!

2. If you don't see a full-text link, go to the library homepage and select "Journals & Magazines." Enter the title of the journal to see if the full text is available somewhere else.

3. If Augustana doesn't own the article you're looking for, click on "Interlibrary Loan" under "Research Tools" on the left side of the homepage. It's free, and you'll usually get the article within 3-5 days.

 

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Need help? Ask a librarian!

Created by Anne Earel, Reference Librarian. Updated November 2014.