Pathfinder: Policy

The following Pathfinder is intended to step you through the basic library research process for identifying resources relating to the the area of Social Policy. Its purpose is to help social workers locate information that will better enhance their own knowledge and understanding of how policy issues influence social work practice. Policy issues cover numerous topics that may effect local, federal, or international laws. Examples of general topics include: welfare, social policy, population policy, economic policy, health policy, urban policy, etc.

Consult the Steps to Research and Writing a Paper for more detailed information.

References to book and journal titles and their call numbers and locations are specific to items owned by the MSASS Harris Library and Case Western Reserve University libraries (although in most cases the resources can be found in other academic and public libraries). The websites that are included at the end of the Pathfinder are intended as a starting point for research on the Internet and are not meant to be inclusive.

1. Start by locating resources that provide an overview of your topic.

This will help you define terms in that discipline and provide background information in your subject area. Encyclopedias, handbooks and subject specific dictionaries offer good places to start.

Some titles specifically related to policy are:

Blau, J., & Abramovitz, M. (2010). The dynamics of social welfare policy (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Congressional Quarterly, Inc. (1965 – 2010). Congress and the nation: A review of government and politics in the postwar years (Vols. 1-12 & Indexes). Washington, DC: Author.

Day, P. J. (2009). A new history of social welfare (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

Karger, H. J., Midgley, J., & Brown, C. B. (Eds.). (2007). Controversial issues in social policy (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Karger, H. J., & Stoesz, D. (2010). American social welfare policy : A pluralist approach (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Midgley, J., & Livermore, M. (Eds.). (2009). The handbook of social policy (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Moniz, C., & Gorin, S. (2003). Health and health care policy: A social work perspective. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Shafritz, J. M. (Editor-in-chief). (1998). International encyclopedia of public policy and administration (Vols. 1-4). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Weiner, R. R. (2005). Lake effects: A history of urban policy making in Cleveland, 1825-1929. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.

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2. Search the online catalog for additional books that will give you the history, context,definitions and theories.

Define the terms that you want to use when you are doing a search for materials. If you do a subject search in the online catalog, the system limits you to using predefined Library of Congress Subject Headings. Click here for more information on doing a subject search.

Some subject headings for policy (in alphabetical order):

  • Adoption
  • Child welfare
  • Domestic relations
  • Economic policy
  • Family policy
  • Housing policy
  • Medical policy
  • Population policy
  • Public policy
  • Public welfare
  • Social policy
  • Urban policy

Doing a keyword search will give you many more titles than a subject search and may help you focus the results. When you do a keyword search the system looks in the title, subject and table of contents fields. Click here for more information on doing a keyword search.

To do effective keyword searching, you will need to think of concepts and terms related to your topic. Consulting a thesaurus will help you find synonyms for concepts. Click here for a list of thesauri owned by the Harris Library.

In addition to the subject headings above, here are some general terms (in alphabetical order) to use when searching for information on policy. When you narrow your search you will make an additional list specific to your topic.

NOTE: Using a system’s truncating symbol (in this example, the asterisk “*”) at the end of the root word will provide you with records using variations of that word.

  • Accountability
  • Advocacy
  • Federal policy
  • Legislative policy
  • Multiculturalism
  • Policy analysis
  • Policy implementation
  • Poverty
  • Social justice
  • Social welfare

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You can do a key word search from this pathfinder. Enter your search terms just as you would from the keyword search menu in the online catalog and then click on “search.”

Search the Library Catalog for:


3. Find some general articles on your topic.

After you have located books on your topic, you will want to look for general journal articles in your subject area. Case and OhioLINK offer several general databases. These include: Academic Search Complete, Lexis-Nexis Academic, Article First (OCLC), Social Sciences Index and TOPICsearch. These databases are interdisciplinary and most provide a mix of popular magazine articles and scholarly research articles. You can find these databases by choosing the Research Databases option in the Library Catalog. Note: Access is limited to authorized users.

TIP: When you search in general databases, you will sometimes retrieve citations to book reviews related to your topic. These book reviews may be helpful in leading you to book titles and/or authors in your area of interest.

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4. Search subject specific databases for more scholarly journal articles.

Once you have assembled general journal articles on your topic, you can begin focusing on scholarly research articles. Citations, abstracts and, sometimes, the full-text of journal articles are found in a variety of databases available through Case Western Reserve University and OhioLINK to authorized users.

Case and OhioLINK databases are available by clicking on Research Databases in the Library Catalog.

The World Wide Web also makes available a range of databases. Some of these require a subscription fee to be paid; others are free.

Literature on policy is found in many disciplines. Some of the databases that will have articles on this topic include: Ethnic Newswatch is available electronically through the Case Research Databases list and through the Library Catalog . It indexes and provides the full-text of over 260 leading periodicals and newspapers published by the ethnic and minority press in the Americas. The database has search options in both English or Spanish with over 1 million articles (over 200,000 in Spanish). Coverage is from 1990 forward.

Family & Society Studies Worldwide (1970-present) is available electronically through the Case Research Databases. It is a core resource on family and gender related topics. It covers over 800,000 records drawn from journals, books, conference and working papers government reports, and websites in the social science disciplines. Citations from the Inventory of Marriage & Family Literature and the Australian Family & Society Abstracts are included.

Historical Abstracts is available electronically through the
OhioLINK Research Databases
. This database selectively indexes articles from over 2100 journals published in 50 languages. It includes some books and dissertations. It covers all areas of world history: political, diplomatic, military, economic, social, cultural, religious and intellectual. This database corresponds to the printed publication of the same name. Coverage is from 1955 to present.

LexisNexis Academic Universe is available electronically through the OhioLINK Research Databases. It provides current information by allowing access to domestic and international newspapers, trade journals and newsletters, and magazine articles. Full-text is available. Searches can be done by region or state by choosing the U.S. News category. The database also provides current articles related to the business, legal and medical fields.

LexisNexis Congressional Universe is available electronically through the OhioLINK Research Databases. It offers access to a variety of information by and about the United States Congress provided by Congressional Information Service, Inc. The database allows users to search an index of congressional publications from 1970 to the present; retrieve CIS Legislative Histories for public laws going back to 1970; find testimony from congressional hearings; track bills as they move through the House and Senate. Search the Congressional Record and Federal Register.

Social Sciences Citation Index is a database available electronically through the OhioLINK Research Databases. It is a multidisciplinary index to the world of social sciences, and indexes over 1400 journals in fifty disciplines. The database allows cited reference searching (searching by cited work) as well as traditional search methods. Abstracts are not included. Current and retrospective coverage is from 1956 forward.

Social Work Abstracts is available electronically through the Case Research Databases list. It contains more than 45,000 records from 1700 social work related journals. Topics covered include service delivery, social work practice, homelessness, aging, child and family welfare, community organization, and substance abuse. The coverage is from 1977 to the present. This database corresponds with the printed publication
Social Work Abstracts

SocINDEX is available electronically through the Case Research Databases and the OhioLINK Research Databases. SocINDEX includes citations, abstracts, and some full-text for all subdisciplines of sociology. SocINDEX provides data mined from more than 500 “priority” coverage journals as well as 1,040 “selective” coverage journals. It also includes indexing of books, reports, and some other formats. Also included is a useful sociology specific thesaurus for subject term searching. It replaces Sociological Abstracts in the OhioLINK database.

Sociological Abstracts is a database available electronically through the OhioLINK Research Databases. It indexes 2600 journals in sociology and related disciplines from over 55 countries. It also contains citations to many relevant dissertations and conference proceedings. Sociological Abstracts is an excellent source for information related to general community practice issues. The coverage is from 1963 through June 2005. This index corresponds to the formerly printed publication Sociological Abstracts. OhioLINK stopped subscribing to updates from this database effective June 2005, as a result nothing after that date will be present in the database. Check
SocINDEX for current information.

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CAUTION: The setup will vary for different databases. In many databases if you type in a phrase the system will look for the exact phrase. It does not add an “and” between words. So if you type “urban poverty homeless” you will get zero results because it will look for those words in that exact order. It is often clearer to enter one term at a time and combine the end results.

TIP: Look in the descriptor field and/or use the online thesaurus to lead you to additional terms.

NOTE: Online databases are distributed nationally and are not specific to Case Western Reserve University. The University will not own all the journals that are cited in thedatabases. Click here for information on finding journal titles in the online catalog.

5. Browse current issues of journals that contain literature on your topic.

Click here for a list of journals to which the MSASS Harris Library subscribes.

Journals that are most likely to contain information on the topic of policy include:

Administration in Social Work online at: Taylor & Francis Online. E-Journal Portal. (Public catalog.)

Journal of Aging & Social Policy online at: Taylor & Francis Online. E-Journal Portal. (
Public catalog)

Journal of Disability Policy Studies online at: E-Journal Portal. (Public catalog)

Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services online at: Taylor & Francis Online. E-Journal Portal. (Public catalog)

Journal of Policy Practice online at: Taylor & Francis Online. E-Journal Portal. ( Public catalog) [Formerly: Social Policy Journal.]

Journal of Social Issues online at: OhioLINK. E-Journal Portal. ( Public catalog)

Social Forces online at: JSTOR, OhioLINK. (Public catalog)

Social Policy online at: EBSCOhost Research Databases. E-Journal Portal. (Public catalog)

Social Policy & Administration online at: OhioLINK. ( Public catalog)

Social Policy Journal online at: Taylor & Francis Online. (Public catalog) (Ceased) [Title changed to: Journal of Policy Practice]

Additional journals that cover general topics in sociology and social studies are available in the Electronic Journal Center and the
E-Journal Portal.

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6. Do a web search on the Internet for additional information.

Information located through the Internet can provide supplemental material to scholarly research articles. Material retrieved from websites should always be evaluated for currency, authorship, bias and accuracy.

Following are selected websites that might be helpful when looking for information on policy:

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)

Information on this site includes resources relating to caregiving, Medicare, nursing homes, and research on aging, as well as AARP’s legislative and policy efforts. Under topic area Policy and Research is the Research Center called AgeSource Worldwide where you will find links to Internet Resources on Aging. The Internet Resources on Aging has “over 900 of the best sites on the web for people age 50+.” The list is searchable by topic or browse the topics or an alphabetical list. A copy of the Thesaurus of Aging Terminology covering the subject terms used is available in the Harris Library. The site also provides links to services that are available to its large membership base.

American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

AEI is a conservative think tank engaged in research in the areas of economics and trade, social welfare, U.S. politics, international affairs and defense policies. The site provides access to its publication, The American Enterprise.

American Public Human Services Association

The mission of APHSA is to “develop, promote and implement public human service policies that improve the health and well-being of families, children and adults.” This site provides information on key health and human services issues and policies under the Policy and News Room menu headings. It also includes Links to a large number of umbrella organizations.

Background Notes

The U.S. Department of State publishes Background Notes on approximately 170 countries worldwide. These are brief, factual online pamphlets with information on each country’s culture, history, geography, economy, government and current political situation. Some print copies are also available for in-library use in the Government Documents Dept. of Kelvin Smith Library.

Brookings Institution

Search for press releases, research summaries, articles, policy updates and policy briefs on foreign policy, economic issues and governmental studies.

Cato Institute

The Cato Institute is a nonpartisan public policy research foundation headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Institute has a libertarian bias and (according to its Web site) encourages policies and opinions “consistent with traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty and peace.” The site provides links to its reports and recommendations in a variety of national and international public policy issues.

Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development

The Center, which is affiliated with the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, seeks to address the problems of persistent and concentrated urban poverty. It is dedicated to understanding how social and economic changes affect low-income communities and their residents. The Center maintains the Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing Area Network on Data and Organizing (NEO CANDO) – a free and publicly accessible social and economic data system covering the entire 17 county Northeast Ohio region, or for specific neighborhoods within the region. (NEO Cando was formerly the Cleveland Area Network on Data and Organizing (CANDO) – a database of statistics on income levels, education, vital statistics, crime, and housing in Cleveland neighborhoods.) The full-text of some publications of the Center are available online.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)

The CMS (formerly the Health Care Financing Administration) is the federal agency that administers Medicare, Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). This site provides information on statistics, laws, eligibility requirements, and research related to these three programs.

The Coalition on Human Needs (CHN)

CHN promotes adequate funding for human needs programs, progressive tax policies and other federal measures that address the needs of low income and other vulnerable populations. CHN tracks many human needs issues at the federal level and provides members and general public with federal analyses, news reports, and Congressional updates. This is an easy web site to navigate and resources are current.

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Economic Success Clearinghouse

(Formerly: Welfare Information Network) A section of the Information Resource Center at The Finance Project. The Economic Success Clearinghouse “connects you to resources about effective policies, programs and financing strategies that help low-income and working poor families.”–The website.

Guide to Careers in Child and Family Policy

This site covers career opportunities in child and family policy. At the same time it serves to identify organizations in child and family policy that can serve as “information resources” in their own right. (Entry contributed by Professor Aloen Townsend.)

Heritage Foundation

According to their Web site the Foundation’s mission is “to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values and a strong national defense.” The site includes commentaries and working papers on a variety of issues.

HUD User

Produced by the Office of Policy Development and Research of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, this site offers a Bibliographic Database that provides access to abstracts of over 10,000 reports, books and articles on housing and community development issues. The full text of the annual State of the Cities report is also available on the site, along with a related data system focusing on 114 selected U.S. cities.

Influencing State Policy

The goal of this site is to assist social work faculty and students in their understanding of the formation, implementation and evaluation of state-level policy and legislation. Features of the site include links to other resources in areas such as welfare reform, federal government, and general policy issues. Sample assignments and student projects are also part of the site. Click on the flag to go to your state to see what new policies or programs are developing as well as the latest, “breaking” news.

Manhattan Institute for Policy Research

A think tank that (according to its mission statement) “develops and disseminates new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.” The site points to editorials from other newspapers on policy issues and includes a summary of its own projects in areas such as education reform, welfare reform, crime reduction and faith-based initiatives.

Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC)

This nonprofit, nonpartisan social policy research organization distributes working papers and findings relating to policies and programs for low-income people. The full text of most reports is available on the site (Acrobat Reader required).

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MOST (Management of Social Transformations Programme)

MOST is a research programme of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Its objective is to establish links between researchers and policy makers in the area of social science research. The Clearinghouse offers up-to-date information on the projects, publications and activities of the MOST Programme. It features Best Practices in the fields of poverty eradication, social exclusion, and indigenous knowledge. The site has a global focus.

Moving Ideas Network

Moving Ideas Network (MIN), formerly the Electronic Policy Network, explains complex policy ideas to a broader audience such as journalists, activists, students and citizens. MIN is a consortium of over 100 progressive public policy organizations and advocacy groups and its site is an excellent place to begin policy-related research on the web. Spotlight and In The Fight are current awareness sections that keep members up to date on the latest issues concerning policy. Some member organizations include:

National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH)

The NCH is a national advocacy network of homeless persons, activists, and others committed to ending homelessness through public education, policy advocacy, and grassroots organizations. Its site provides information on Legislation and Policy including advocacy efforts, existing and pending laws, and government committees with jurisdiction over homeless and housing programs. Facts About Homelessness includes fact sheets on various aspects of homelessness. Each sheet summarizes facts and issues and contains a list of recommended reading for further research. Other links from the home page lead to Internet Resources and descriptions of NCH Projects and programs.

National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)

The National Conference of State Legislatures is a bipartisan organization dedicated to serving the lawmakers and staffs of the nation’s 50 states, its commonwealths and territories. The site provides links to all of the state legislatures. Its Policy Issues section leads you to major topics (such as Human Services, Education, Health, Juvenile Justice) that are then subdivided into specific issues.

National Resource Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness

This organization’s site provides Annotated Bibliographies on over thirty topics, a link to its Publications (some of which are available online), two Referral Lists of national organizations focusing on issues of housing, mental health and homelessness, and an extensive annotated list of Links. It also provides information on federal research projects in the area of homelessness and mental illness.

National Youth Advocacy Coalition

“The National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYAC) is a social justice organization that advocates for and with youth people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) in an effort to end discrimination against these youth and to ensure their physical and emotional well being… We are committed to addressing the connections between race, gender, class, and sexual orientation; and to bridging the gap that exists between adult LGBTQ civil rights organizations and the mainstream youth movement.” Under Learn about legislation there are links to Current Legislation (summaries and status information about key bills); search forKey Votes (the congressional roll call votes); and tips on how to Communicate with Elected Officials. Click on Youth Connections where you will find links to both programs and nationwide resources.

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Ohio Revised Code

This searchable version of the Ohio Revised Code is provided by Lawriter, LLC. It is organized in a book-like interface that includes a table of contents and lists individual sections of text. It includes all bills passed, filed, and with a specific effective date. Also included is the Ohio Administrative Code which includes all bills filed by or with a specific effective date. Check the website to find out the effective dates as they are constantly changing. (Policy News and Information Service)

This section of the Web site provides public policy resources on dozens of issues including education, technology and healthcare. is non-partisan and free to users. enjoys active participation by leading think tanks, advocacy groups, businesses, policy analysts, professors and other policy organizations.

Public Agenda

Public Agenda (PA) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit public opinion research and citizen education organization. PA has addressed a wide range of issues through its research and citizen education work, including school and health care reform, national security, AIDS, crime, economic competitiveness and the environment. This site is easy to use. The user can search a variety of “hot” issues and obtain background information to understand an issue, along with detailed public opinion information. Interviews, surveys, charts, quizzes are just a few ways that the information is presented on this site.


RAND’s mission is to “improve policy and decision making through research and analysis.” The Research Areas section of the site offers information on the organization’s research efforts in such areas as child policy, social welfare, education, health, international policy and more. You can find PDF copies of many RAND reports by going to Publications and then Browsing by Topic.

Social Security Administration

This site provides extensive information on social security benefits, regulations and programs. Excellent information on the history of social security and policy-related aspects of the program can be found in the Resources section under History, Research & Data. Also includes Benefit Calculators, a section on the future of Social Security, and a publications section.

The Urban Institute

The Institute gathers data, analyzes policies, evaluates programs, and informs community development to improve social, civic, and economic well-being. Involved in all 50 states and abroad in more than 28 countries, the organization shares research findings with policymakers, program administrators, businesses, academics, and the public online and through reports and scholarly books.

Welfare Information Network

SEE: Economic Success Clearinghouse.

Welfare Rights Organizing Coalition

WROC is made up of families who currently receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). WROC organizes groups of women and men to watch how welfare policy is implemented at their local welfare office and how it is made at the legislature level.


In the search area type in the word “policy” and follow the screens.

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7. Evaluate the information you have collected from books and articles.

Consult the bibliographies of the books and articles you have selected. This will lead you to additional references and authors to investigate. Make notes of the gaps in your literature so that you can use this information when you do additional searches.

Click here for more information on evaluating the information you have collected.

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