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1) Choose a specific social policy to research (this works best with a federal law, or U.S. Supreme Court decision)
2) Determine the history & intent of that specific policy
3) Analyze the policy's consequences & implications, especially related to social welfare
5) Use a variety of information sources, with an emphasis on scholarly sources
Getting Started on Policy Research
"Policy" can refer to anything that establishes requirements, legal or otherwise.
Legal policy generally comes from laws, regulations, and court case decisions. These can be federal, state, or even in the example of regulations, municipal.
Sometimes you will have a specific policy in mind that you want to research (i.e. the Affordable Care Act, or Roe v. Wade). But often, we have just a topic that we are interested in, and need to find a related specific policy. Here are some tools to help discover policies by topic:
Search for issues on a topic, and then look at the Chronology section to get a history of policies. Remember that cases are often listed as "The Supreme Court finds" and laws are often designed as "President xx signed" or "Congress enacted".
The Congressional Research Service, a branch of the Library of Congress, provides requested research reports for Members of Congress. Many of these reports, providing detailed overviews of policy, are freely available.
From the Legal Information Institute, you can browse cases by topic.
Finding Scholarly Information
For interpretation, historical background, and implementation effects of a policy, you need to find secondary sources of information. The best analysis usually comes from materials written by scholars, or experts, and published either through a editorial review process, such as books published by academic publishers, or a peer-review process, used by many scholarly journals.
Fogler Library's catalog is the place to look for books, both print and electronic. To have a book sent to another library location, click on the Request button on the top of the page. You will be asked for your name and barcode (on the back of your MaineCard). Access a basic tutorial here.
This database covers policy related information, some of which is scholarly. It also includes reports from Government and non-governmental organizations.
Tools to Help Locate Specific Policies
Once you have a good understanding of your particular policy, you will be ready to read the actual document. This sometimes is possible to find by a Google search, but make SURE it is coming from a government source. Below are some other tools to help you locate and read your policy.
Includes the U.S. Supreme Court Library; can search cases with the U.S. Reports citation (xxx U.S. xx) through 2014. This database can also help you find the legislative history documents for Federal laws; use the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library to get detailed background information. Best to search by Public Law (P.L.) number.
When we don't have access to books or articles you need through the Request service or Article Linker/LINK to Full Text, you can use Interlibrary Loan. Access a tutorial here to learn how to create an account, and another here to learn how to place a request.