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PSC 400 - Humanitarian Action in World Politics (Spring 2018)

A research starting points guide for students in Prof Abdelaaty's PSC 400 course

Scholarly Articles

Research Methodology

There are a variety of methods you can adopt for your research strategy, and a variety of methods you are likely to see in scholarly sources you uncover.  Research methodology will differ depending on whether:

  • you are doing (or reviewing) an empirical study, gathering (or reviewing) quantitative data or qualitative information
  • If you are seeking (or reviewing) very current sources, or
  • delving into more deeply historical research
  • engaged with a critical analysis


Library Research Strategy Fundamentals


1. Consider your topic, and/or related subtopics, based on your knowledge or skills, or research, in terms of:

  • A hypothetical research statement;
  • A question;
  • A phrase

ex.   The American government's response to the potential of, and actuality of, humanitarian crisis in a war torn Syria.

2. Ask yourself basic subsidiary questions about your topic.  The questions may start with;

  • How
  • Why
  • Where
  • When
  • What
  • Who

ex.  What specific policies and policy related initiatives or statements have the two or three most recent U.S. Presidential administrations pursued in the realm of relations with Syria in the context of humanitarian concerns?  What are scholars finding and saying on such matters?

3. From those questions, translated to match whatever your specific topic and country/regional focus may be, boil down the broader concepts into sets of key words or short phrases.  Often it can help to group the sets of words and phrases into similar conceptual groups (HERE, CONCEPTS ARE IN ALL CAPS, AND TERMINOLOGY YOU MIGHT USE FOR DATABASE SEARCHING FOLLOWS THOSE CAPITALIZED CONCEPTS)

"Syria*", "Middle East," "global," "international,"
AID:  "Humanitarianism," "Economic Assistance," "Foreign Aid," "Development Aid," "Humanitarian Assistance," "Humanitarian Relief," "Emergency Relief
INTERVENTION:  "Intervention," "Military Intervention," "Peacekeeping," "Peacekeeping Forces,"
HUMAN RIGHTS:  "Human Rights," "OHCHR," "High Commissioner for Human Rights," proper name(s) of specific international treaties linked to human rights
GOVERNMENTS/INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS: American, America, "United States", President*, Obama, Trump, Bush, "Syrian Government," "Bashar al Assad,"  proper name(s) of other key international organizations or country or region names
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: "foreign relations," "international relations," "foreign affairs," "international affairs," "diplomacy," "diplomatic," conflict," "competition," "crisis," "war," "peace"

Additional search strategy considerations - An asterisk placed at the end of a root of word, will retrieve varying endings of that root within most article databases {e.g., typing in Syria* brings back "Syria" "Syrian," "Syrians," etc.} || Enclose phrases in quotation marks to keep those terms together (e.g., "Middle East")

4. Use those terms when searching with information tools such as Library search engines (at SU, that is called SUMMON (or alternatively ' classic catalogs,' databases, or Google or Google Scholar.

5. Prior to reviewing dozens of individual articles, you may want to get general, background information on your topic if you know very little about it.

        ex. look to encyclopedias, books or book chapters, scholarly review articles in annual review articles or handbooks or reviews of the literature** in article form, etc.

**For instance, in addition to looking to other encyclopedias or to the CQ Researcher database mentioned on this guide, the database called "Annual Reviews" - consists exclusively of extensive literature reviews identifying recent and seminal scholarly discussion on topics covered.  Specifically, within Annual Review database, select "political science" under the journals a-z link - then try searching one or more of your key words or phrases (do not type in too many concepts all at once!) - looking specifically to recent results from the Annual Review of Political Science.  If your locate an Annual Review on your topic, subtopic or region or country of interest, two follow-up tasks would be to: a) closely review that one annual review article to build background knowledge (considering additional search words or phrases you encounter that may also represent terms you wish to employ in subsequent database searching AND b) identify some of the specifically cited references to articles or books in that annual review(s) and determine if those sources are available via SU Libraries.  Recall, if at times they are not - you also can request some of them via Interlibrary Loan. You can try similar search queries in the Annual Reviews database using the Annual Review of Sociology or Annual Review of Economics or Annual Review of Anthropology

6. Be open to employing sources in various physical and digital formats

      ex. Electronic sources, printed materials, perhaps in some limited instances - microforms (less common unless seeking deeply historical primary sources)

7. Use search tools recommended on this guide to uncover current scholarship, including peer-reviewed research on your topic.

The Research Process; Getting Started

For a more conceptual look into one way to consider a start to finish overview of a research process, visit the series of websites from SU Libraries entitled: 

The Research Process - Getting Started

If struggling with use of the primary sets of research tools offered at the SU Libraries website, consider reviewing this instructional handout: