Remember those product labels: "As Seen on TV"? These days they should probably say "I Saw it on The Internet!" In either case, Buyer Beware!
Unlike most library materials, which have a "seal of approval" from recognized authorities, Web-based information ranges from highly reputable to completely ludicrous. In order to make sure you are keeping credible with your sources, a few simple guidelines can help.
To see these guidelines, click here.
If you're working from home--or anywhere off-campus--you will need to log in to the library system to access many of our resources, like specialized databases.
To do so, go to the Smathers Libraries home page, and click on the green "Off-Campus Access" button in the upper left. Then you can log in using your Gator1 ID and password, or set up a "Virtual Private Network."
How Do I Find Stuff?
Actually, Google can be a useful tool for finding scholarly political science information. But it's only one tool. In order to efficiently find scholarly information, you should be able to pick and choose information tools as part of a sensible Information Strategy. A good information strategy will often involve a mix of library resources and tools from the open web, like Google, Amazon.com and others.
If you're just starting a paper or project on an unfamiliar topic, your first task is to orient yourself, and get a general sense of the subject, along with some context and background. Several kinds of resources are useful for that.
Speaking of Google...(and Wikipedia)
When you're learning about a new area, Google can be a reasonable tool to use. And in many cases, one of the first "hits" you'll get will be Google's best friend, Wikipedia. Is Wikipedia a scholarly resource? Well...let's just say it can often be a good place to start, but not a very desirable place to end up. Wikipedia often provides a good overview of a subject or topic (and research suggests it has a respectable degree of accuracy), but it's not the kind of source you can cite in a paper. It can give you a working orientation to an area, but you will need to confirm key points and facts with more serious scholarly materials.
Beyond Wikipedia, Google and other search engines will also turn up a wide range of other sources, ranging from very good to very bad. The key here is evaluation--you will need to be able to determine which of your "hits" are well-targeted for your topic, and equally importantly, which of these are credible and reliable. For more on this, take a look at the "Evaluating Web-Based Information" box immediately to the left.
But remember, whatever you might be able to find with Google, you can often find better, faster information by using resources from the UF Libraries! The following types of resources should be helpful.
Subject Encyclopedias and Handbooks
When you hear "encyclopedia" you probably think of Encarta or Britannica, right? Actually, subject encyclopedias are far more specialized, focusing only on a particualr subject or area. For example, the UF Libraries provide access to resources like the International Encyclopedia of Political Science and the Encyclopedia of Political Theory.
Subject encyclopedias (and a similar resource, subject handbooks) can be conveniently accessed via the Project Starters link collection. You can click on Sage e-Reference for a listing of online encyclopedias and handbooks) or Reference Universe for a general listing of reference resources.
Encyclopedias offer short, general articles about a variety of topics, and they can be one of the best places to start your research. For a listing of political science-related encyclopedias, click here.
Books can also be a good place to start. Many books will have at least some introductory material on a topic, often contained in the first chapter, or the introductory sections of other chapters. Try to look for books with general-sounding titles, since these will often tend to give a more general overview. For example, Elections in America is more likely to give a general overview of this topic than Gubernatorial Elections in the South: 1964-1980.
You can search for books with the UF Library Catalog. Go to www.uflib.ufl.edu and click the "Library Catalog" tab, then type in your search terms.
You can also do a wider search, and look for books held by any of the eleven state university libraries in Florida. To search all these libraries, start with the UF Library catalog, as above, and then, when you have generated search results, look in the upper right corner of the results screen. You will usually see this message: Show XXX items that you can request statewide. This will be followed by a UBORROW bug . Just click on this bug to see relevant titles from all Florida university libraries. If you see something you like, you can request it using your "4 by 4" UFID number, and it will arrive at the Library within a few days.
Even though some assignments may ask you to look at journal articles, they are often not the best place to start a research project. Journal articles tend to be fairly specialized, with a rather specific topic focus. Given this, they are useful when you have your topic narrowed down, and well understood, but typically this isn't the case at the beginning.
That said, there are two ways to get more general, "starter-type" information from journals. First, many journal articles will have a literature review early in the article. This is where the author reviews the previous studies in a particular area, and these can be useful sources of information. Second, a small percentage of journal articles are "review articles." These do not present original research, rather, they summarize the existing state of research in an area at a particular time. Review articles are a great help, if you can find them, so if you encounter one you should bookmark it or save the author, title or other citation information. As with books, you can often spot review articles by the title: for example, "Voting in Senate Elections: A Review" or "Current Knowledge on U.S. Senate Elections."
For more specific information about these areas, click on the appropriate tabs right above this box.
For strategies on finding more advanced information, click on the appropriate tabs right above this box.
Need help with a library task or function? These video tutorials will give you a good guide.
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