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SOC 692: Special Topics in Sociology

Class resources

You will be conducting a literature review of the topics surrounding a research interest of yours. You will be finding at least 15 academic sources (scholarly books and peer reviewed articles). Keep in mind, a literature review is not simply a summary of 15 related articles that come up in a library search, but essentially a map of key research surrounding a specific issue or topic. Your map should be accurate and comprehensive. It serves to track the development of research in a specific area, and when combined with a research question and study as you will be conducting, it contextualizes and connect your study to others, defines key concepts and variables you will be using, and identifies gaps within the existing literature. When done in the correct order, a literature review helps you arrive at the appropriate research questions and helps you design a proper study. 

This is a good overview of what a literature review is and what purpose they serve

Make use of the many research databases and book collections accessible to you through the Michael Schwartz Library to find literature for your review.




Citation Mining

A large part of finding literature is reading backwards; identify key pieces of literature relevant to your topic that have been cited in the papers you already have found. If you keep seeing the same study or theory being cited, that's a good indicator that it should be included in your review as well (if it turns out to be relevant to your topic). 

Moreover, the number of times an article has been cited overall may be an indicator that its worth your attention. We care more about content than citation metrics, but if part of the literature review is mapping significant contributions to the field, this can be a useful approach. 

Use citation indexes to determine the number of times an article or book has been cited, and even see the literature that cites that work.

Not every article you find will end up being useful. These are some guidelines to follow when evaluating source - especially academic papers - for use in your literature review.


When selecting a source for inclusion in your literature review, you are generally looking for primary sources - original, unique contributions to the scholarly body of knowledge. This means you are generally looking to the methodologies, results, and conclusions of scholarly research papers, and not focusing on the paper's own literature review. While reading this part of an article is important for context, the unique contributions will typically come from the methods, results, and conclusions. If the literature review you are reading is resonating with you, attempt to track down the original citation.

Reliability and Reputation

Is all peer review the same? Are all journals given the same authority in any given field? Not necessarily. While its good to limit your searching to the library, Google Scholar, or other portals for peer reviewed literature, there still going to be some questionable results that need to be evaluated. There are outright predatory journals that take author fees and perform low quality or no peer review, and then there are individual journals or publishers that exist in more of a gray area. While most predatory or questionable journals are open-access, which means that they are free for the reader, this does not mean that open-access equates to lower quality. Although no longer actively updated, a good cautionary list is Beall's list. As both of these links indicate - each journal or article should ultimately be judged on its own merit - look out for poor methodologies, the overuse of self-citation, and a lack of transparency about the publication and peer review process. There isn't a science to this and there is sure to be some bias involved, but often times things just 'look off'. Here is a useful guide on factors to consider (this may be more depth than needed for your purposes on this assignment).

Another dimension to evaluating scholarly sources is impact factor and the number of times an article has itself been cited. This guide has resources on both journal impact factor and identifying the number of times an individual article has been cited. Generally, higher impact factors of journals and a higher number of citations for an article means that other scholars find that work to be important - but it certainly is not the only metric that should be used. 

Methodology, Results, and Conclusions

As said earlier, ultimately articles and journals should be evaluated on their own merit - if the peer review process is sound, and if the study has been done in a scientific and ethical way, than the results can be considered. Factors that might be weighed - sample size and collection methods - are the subjects of the study self-selected? Is the sample size seemingly small for the kinds of conclusions being drawn? Is the sample homogenous? If so, how might that influence the wider applicability of the study? 

In addition to paying attention to how the data was collected, you'll want to think about if the methodology and results or conclusions match up. Are the authors claiming causation when the methodology only allows for us to claim correlation? Is the sample size so low that the generalizations in the conclusion don't stand up to scrutiny? 

In most cases, these are things peer reviewers look for in the review process, and would either correct or reject. However, its a good practice to be generally critical of the literature you come in contact with, and questions along these lines can help you to separate weaker studies from stronger studies. 


We must properly cite the work of others so that we give them credit for their scholarly contributions. However, we also include citations so that our readers can find the work and consult it themselves. To properly cite other's work, we include an abbreviated in-text citation, usually just an author's last name and year of publication, in the body of the text when we reference their work. The in-text citation points the reader to a reference or works cited entry, which includes more details about the cited work.

In the social sciences, we generally use APA format (American Psychological Association) or ASA (American Sociological Association to cite sources.

For APA guidelines and examples, look at the Online Writing Lab guide, or consult the APA 7th edition Handbook. This is another well organized guide.

For ASA guidelines and examples, consult the ASA website or this library's guide.

Managing Citations

You will want to use a citation manager to keep track of and organize the papers and books that you find. Citation managers will also usually aid you in making citations while you write; a very useful tool for staying in writing mode rather than citing mode! 

At CSU we support a free citation manager called Zotero. There is a complete guide on how Zotero can be used.