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Sociology 2950: Social Research: Literature Reviews

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a summary of previous research on a topic. The purpose is to help you explain how the question that you’re investigating fits into the larger picture and why you’ve approached the topic the way you have. It allows the reader to be brought up-to-date with the state of research on the topic and familiarizes her/him with contrasting perspectives and viewpoints on the topic. It helps you answer for the reader, “Who cares?” by laying out why it is important and worthy of study. Link to more info:

How do you find a literature review?

Before you delve into the Sociology or other academic journals, you might want to get a better understanding of your topic or phenomenon by doing some reading in more general or popular sources. This can help you to narrow or focus a topic and help you decide what might be an appropriate “lens” through which to view your topic.

From MU Libraries’ gateway page, click on “Databases

Academic Search Complete: Index to major journals and magazines in all subject areas, so especially good for interdisciplinary topics. Many articles are full-text. Updated continually. Click on “Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals” to limit search results to research articles. Keep in mind that this database covers all subjects (besides Sociology, for example, Education, Political Science, Mass Media, and Psychology), so there is breadth but not depth in any one field. Here are two results from the same search on “hurricane katrina and race.” Note that one is a brief newspaper article and the other is an in-depth, 17 page research journal report.

“Political Memo; Conservative White Voters Hold Sway in an Altered New Orleans Electoral Landscape.” Adam Nossiter. New York Times; 5/ 7/2006, p35.

“After the Storm: How Race, Class, and Immigration Concerns Influenced Beliefs About the Katrina Evacuees.” Shelton, Jason E. and Coleman, M. Nicole. Social Science Quarterly. Sep 2009, Vol 90,Issue 3, p480-496. 17 p.

CQ Researcher: Weekly report focusing on one issue in-depth. Covers many topics in the news of interest to sociologists such as immigration, crime, education, gender, family and popular culture.

Newspapers can be a good source of information, especially for an emerging phenomenon or local issues. Although usually brief, newspaper articles can often lead you to experts on a topic, advocacy groups, help identify key incidents and players and give you “clues” to follow up on in research journals. From the MU libraries’ Databases page, click on the “By type” tab at the top of the page and then, “Newspaper Articles” for a listing of choices.

Contexts is the title of a new magazine published by the American Sociological Association that seeks to make sociology more accessible to the public. The “discoveries” section, especially, can be a good place to look for ideas for your research paper. You can also see examples of how sociologists are writing about popular issues and it’s a good source for visual sociology.