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Public Policy: PP 221

Identifying a public policy to research

Step 1: Pick a topic that interests you

The most important thing is that you pick a topic you want to spend the entire semester exploring!

Step 2: Narrow in on a specific policy

Search for news stories about general public policy and see what specific examples they link to in the stories.

This is a quick reminder that, as a Gettysburg College student, you can create free accounts to read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal online.

Check a few think tanks to see what policies they have been analyzing recently.

Congressional Research Service reports can provide overviews of recent policies worth studying.

Step 3: Track the discussion back to the source of the policy

Oftentimes, this will mean finding the original regulation or legislation, although it could mean tracking down a memo or official announcement of some kind.

Step 4: Get more specific

Depending on the policy you select, you may need to refine your scope so you aren't stuck trying to cover too much. Analyzing the entire American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 won't really work for this assignment, for example, but focusing on the legislation's emergency rental assistance provisions is more doable.

Advanced search strategies

Boolean Operators

Use Boolean operators to connect search terms and expand or limit your searches.

Venn diagrams demonstrating the functions of the AND, OR, and NOT Boolean operators

Phrase Searching

Put quotation marks around words to perform a phrase search that will only retrieve results that contain the exact phrase somewhere in the text or in the metadata.

housing crisis will retrieve more results than "housing crisis" but will also contain results where the two search terms are not in close proximity to each other


Truncate search terms by using a wildcard symbol like the asterisk (*) to find similar or related terms easily.

For example, a search for educat* will return results that contain education, educational, educate, educated, educators, etc.

Google Site Searching

Google site searches help you eliminate noise from your Google searches by only retrieving results from a particular website or top-level domain.

A Google search for "renewable energy" will only show hits that appear on the Environmental Protection Agency's website

Analysis vs. advocacy

  • Complexity vs. Simplicity: Trying to make the underlying issue at hand sound simple instead of highlighting its nuance should be a warning that someone is trying to persuade you.
  • Data vs. Anecdote: If an anecdote is being used to further illustrate a point originally made using data then it’s more likely to be analysis; anecdotes without data are more characteristic of advocacy.
  • Comprehensiveness vs. Selectivity: Analysis presents information that was drawn as broadly and inclusively as possible while advocacy uses data selectively to make a case for an existing agenda.
  • Transparency vs. Opacity: If the group/individual freely makes raw data available for others, that tends to be indicative of an analyst’s approach.
  • Dispassion vs. Passion: Frequent appeals to pathos are a warning sign that we’re in the realm of advocacy and not analysis.
Anderson, R. (2015, July 20). Advocacy, analysis, and the vital importance of discriminating between them [Scholarly Kitchen post]. Retrieved from


Zotero logoZotero is citation-management software that exists to make your life easier. If you're interested in setting it up and seeing how it works, here is what you need to do:

  1. Visit and create a free account
  2. Visit and download both the desktop application and the browser connector for your preferred browser
  3. Open the desktop application and navigate to Preferences > Sync so you can connect your free account to your downloaded application
  4. Skim for an overview of how it all works

Email Kevin ( or schedule an appointment if you want to learn even more about Zotero's features and functionality.