SW 340 Advocacy for Policy Change: Identify Social Problem & Historical Context

Places to Start

Deciding on which policy to analyze for your paper can be challenging. Consider taking the following steps in advance to avoid hurdles in completing your assignment. 

1. Do some preliminary reading on the policy before committing to it.


Preliminary reading before you decide fully on your policy helps you figure out which aspect of the policy are most interesting to you. 

2. Consider the amount of information available on your policy in relationship to needs of the assignment.

  • Policies at the federal level can an overwhelming amount of components. Based on your reading, chose a specific part of the policy to analyze, and let that guide your search for information. For example, rather than trying to analyze the Violence Against Women Act, you could analyze the part of the VAWA that allows for battered immigrants to the U.S. to self-petition for deferred action. 
  • Is it a policy at an individual agency or in a small town? Policies implemented at agencies or other small governmental and institutional bodies are less likely to have information readily available. If you decide on a policy from a small entity, build context by examining how that policy connects to broader or similar policy concerns and efforts.
  • Is it a policy that has not yet be enacted? Finding information describing the impact of a policy not yet in place is not possible, so you'll need to look for information on similar policies that have been enacted elsewhere (e.g. other states). 

Using Wikipedia

Wikipedia can be a very useful resource, as long as you keep some things in mind:

  • The most useful part of a wikipedia article are the references at the bottom of the page;
  • Wikipedia is good at providing a basic introduction to a topic, and it also often provides you with important details such as the bill numbers of related legislation;
  • Wikipedia pages about controversial issues (e.g. gun control, abortion) are often revised, sometimes with a lot of inherent bias. Keep your critical reading hat on! Often on these articles you will see a message from Wikipedia that the article's neutrality is disputed.

Search Wikipedia

Think Tank Search

Think tanks are institutions or organizations that are affiliated with universities, governments, advocacy groups, foundations, non-governmental organizations, and businesses that generate public policy research, analysis, and activity. (Harvard Kennedy School, Library & Knowledge Services)

Opposing Viewpoints in Context

Search across Federal and State Websites

U S A dot gov logo


Encyclopedias provide summaries of topics, key issues, and point you to related research.