17.317 | Spring 2006 | Undergraduate

U.S. Social Policy

Study Materials

The following information was made available to the students in the course.

Finding Sources

Library Catalog

You’ll find a treasure trove of material here. A good strategy: once you find a relevant book, look at the subject headings, then search by those subject headings. For an overview of your topic, look for a book published by a major think tank/research entity, such as Russell Sage Foundation, Brookings, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Urban Institute, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. They often publish books on social policy issues, and these can be great sources of information and other citations.

The library catalog will also yield government reports, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working papers, etc. Some of these items are available electronically. As a general rule, I’d start with a couple of books on your topic if you can find them, in order to get an overview, then start looking at more specific materials like scholarly articles, government reports, etc.


From these electronic archives you can do keyword searches and download scholarly articles. You can access these through the library Web site. Also, if you see helpful articles cited in a book or article you’re using, you can find them through these archives. Note that JSTOR doesn’t have the most recent 2-4 years’ worth of articles (they have a rolling embargo), but the other archives do. In JSTOR note that you can focus on specific fields, like poli sci, ec, sociology, etc.

Government Documents and Reports

For many of your topics, you may want government figures about how many people receive a given program, etc. I’d start with the Statistical Abstract, available at the U.S. Census Bureau. You may also find stats at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Commerce Dept Web sites. Agencies that run your program will also have data.

Public Opinion Sources

There are two main archives that allow keyword searching for survey items, the Roper Center archive at UConn, and the Odum Institute at UNC. To access the Roper database, go to the Vera electronic databases page on the library Web site, and type in Lexis Nexis Academic. Once on their site, click on “Reference” under “Academic Search Forms” and then click on “Polls & Surveys.” From there you can do keyword searches; you probably want to limit to a certain time period, because you’ll get a lot of items on most of your topics.

Odum Institute Public Opinion Poll Question Database. The keyword search engine has national Harris polls as well as a large number of state polls.

Another source of public opinion data is the journal Public Opinion Quarterly. It has a feature in each issue where public opinion questions to some topic, like welfare or health insurance, are summarized.

Interest Group Web sites

If there are interest groups active in your policy area, you may want to look at their Web sites to explore their policy stands, political tactics, and resources levels (membership size, etc.) They may also have reports with useful information.

Think Tank Web sites

Lots of think tanks issue reports in these policy areas in addition to publishing books. See Russell Sage Foundation, Brookings, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Urban Institute, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities; there are others as well.

Thought Magazines

You may also find helpful articles in the major thought magazines, such as The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Nation, The Weekly Standard, Commentary, The New Yorker, etc. Just be aware of each magazine’s ideological bent.


The three most common citation methods for this kind of paper are:

  1. embedded citations - (Smith 1994, 137) or (Kaiser Family Foundation 2003) with a list of works cited at the end of the paper
  2. author-date only footnote citations with a list of works cited at the end of the paper
  3. full footnote citations where the full bibliographical information is given in the footnote the first time the work is cited, with author-date citations subsequently.

Any of these formats is acceptable, but if you have many citations of a “bulky” nature, like poll results, you may find full footnote citations best. If you use full footnote citations you don’t need to include a works cited list at the end.

For these last two methods, I would prefer footnotes to endnotes.

To cite polls, mention the polling organization, the poll title, date administered, and sources (either the published source, if you got it from a book or a journal like Public Opinion Quarterly, or the URL if you got it off the Web). Example: Kaiser Family Foundation, “Americans and Health Care,” June 2-4, 2002, www.kff.org . . .

Other Tips for Writing

Use of the first person is acceptable: “I was unable to locate survey questions specifically about X, but examination of polling about a related issue, Y, reveals Z.”

You may find it helpful to use headings to set off the various sections of your paper. But they are optional.

The introduction: Don’t be cryptic and don’t save information to be revealed later. Don’t write, “Most observers believe that X and Y are the most important factors in the politics of Z issue, but I find something different” and then just go on without saying what you found. Just say everything up front. This is a social science research paper, not a Victorian novel.