Public Affairs & Policy Management

Pick a research topic

  • Read your assignment instructions carefully
  • Pick a topic that interests you and meets the criteria of the assignment
  • Identify key concepts of your research topic
  • Do some background reading on your topic using Wikipedia

Identify key concepts

Subject specific dictionaries and encyclopedias are useful for helping you figure out the jargon of a discipline and can give quick overviews of a topic to get you started. You can often pick up keywords to use in your search strategies from these sources:

Developing a good search strategy is important

  • Search strategies and Omni video
  • Search strategy mapping exercise
  • what is your assignment?
  • what is the main topic?
  • what aspect of the topic is of interest to you?
  • who has an interest in that topic?
  • what other language might they be using to talk about that topic? do they spell it differently?
  • when was it relevant? is it a new idea, or a long standing issue?
  • what other factors play into your issue? climate, population, government, geography, etc.
  • and each new discovery may mean you need to restart your search process

Sample search:

  • Some suggested subject headings or keyword search terms:
    • public policy
    • evaluation
    • administration
    • health 
    • environment

Once you've decided which terms are the most useful for your search, combine them in a boolean search.

For example: "environmental policy" AND (evaluation OR assessment) AND canad*

  • putting quotes around a multi-word phrase will search specifically for those words, in that sequence
  • the brackets keep together a variation in phrasing
  • the * will look for alternate endings/spellings
  • AND/OR will modify a component to narrow or expand your results (the capitalization of AND/OR varies from database to database, it is better to get in the habit of capitalizing them)


 Use database filters to narrow down and focus the results you find. For example: 

  • books, or Journals, or Scholarly and/or Peer Review
  • Publication Date (past 5 years?)
  • Discipline
  • Subject

Key Databases

Good to know:

  1. Use RSS Feeds or Create Alerts to have citations sent to you as a database is updated. Search Alerts can be set once you're logged into Omni's My Library Account as well as in most databases. They can help researchers stay current with automatic e-mail alerts
  2. Within a database, limit your search to scholarly (peer-reviewed) articles when it is appropriate to disregard other resources.
  3. Never limit to full-text only as we may subscribe to the journal you find from another vendor.  Use the Get it! icon to search for the full text when it is not immediately available.
  4. For additional relevant databases, look at the Subject Guides that best relate to your topic, such as Political Science, Economics, Law, Communication and Media Studies, etc.

Find missing citations, track references and find related articles

Why is this important?

  • Cited Reference Searching guide
  • keeping track of how many times and where a publication is being cited can help you gauge the impact that article has in your discipline
  • if the article has been cited, you may find a link to the citing article/author
  • to locate current research based on earlier research
  • to find out how a particular research topic is being used to support other research
  • to track the history of a research idea
  • to track the research history of a researcher
  • to determine how well your own published research is cited for promotion/tenure considerations
  • don't forget to keep track of your searches! Literature Reviews: Keep Track (UBC)      

Web of Science    

  • Select Cited Reference Search from just above search box.
    • You have the article        
      • Randell Hansen and Desmond King, 2001.  "Eugenic Ideas, Political Interests, and Policy Variance... "  World Politics 53.2:237-263. 
    • Enter one author in cited author box
      • Hansen R*​  (use surname, first initial and truncation symbol)          
    • Retrieve abbreviation of journal name from list provided, and enter year of publication.  World Polit
      • From the list, select the article and click on Finish Search - top right.
      • Results show the article has been cited 37 times - the most recent in  2013.
  • Note the option Create Alert to be notified of any future citing of this article.


  • Choose Author Search from top tool bar.
    • Enter author's name and affiliation if known
      • Trimble, Linda
    • Select displayed result.  All published articles by the author will be listed.  Click on article for citing references. "Linda Trimble and Shannon Sampert. 2004. "Who's in the Game? The Framing of the Canadian Election 2000 by the G&M and National Post," Canadian Journal of Political Science 37.1:51-71  has been cited 18 times. 

Tips for effective searching -

  • If you find one relevant article for your research it can lead to other relevant papers by the following:
  • using the databases, including Omni, look to find all papers & books published by the author or co-authors
  • explore the bibliography in the paper for sources
  • using Web of Science or Scopus, look for articles that cite the article you found.    Remember, some databases will also list citing articles but those lists are limited to the current database.  The Web of Science and Scopus are more comprehensive, with coverage from multiple databases. 
  • Remember to see if an citing article has itself been cited.


Grey literature is an important source of information for research in public policy that: 

  • adds a valuable global perspective
  • provides detailed overviews on specific populations
  • may be only source of local information

Grey literature is defined as "information produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing" ie. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body." —ICGL Luxembourg definition, 1997. Expanded in New York, 2004

Library resources


News Sources

Consult the News Guide for details of news sources. Tips for searching.

Public Policy Collections and Working Papers

Related websites

Theses and dissertations

Further Grey literature resources

What is the Difference Between Data and Statistics?

Data are the raw materials out of which statistics are produced, usually available as digital files for manipulation in statistical software.  Statistics are facts or figures that tend to be aggregate counts, totals, sums, or averages.



Relevant databases include

Content last reviewed: April 28, 2021