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SOCI 441: Inequality & Social Justice Capstone: Literature Reviews

Literature Review

A literature review provides an evaluative review and documentation of what has been published by scholars and researchers on a given topic. In reviewing the published literature, the aims are to explain what ideas and knowledge have been gained and shared to date (i.e., hypotheses tested, scientific methods used, results and conclusions established); to identify the weaknesses and strengths of these previous works; and to identify remaining research questions.  A literature review provides the context for your research, making clear why your topic deserves further investigation.

A literature review involves both a literature search and writing. The purpose of the literature search is to:
• Reveal existing knowledge
• Identify areas of consensus and debate
• Identify gaps in knowledge
• Identify approaches to research design and methodology
• Identify other researchers with similar interests
• Clarify your future directions for research

(List above from Conducting A Literature Search, Information Research Methods and Systems, Penn State University Libraries)

It can be helpful to develop a comprehensive approach to review different sources and where you will search for each. Below is an example that shows the tools, individuals, and resources to use, consult, and search to conduct a comprehensive literature review.

Utilize Current Awareness Services

  • Identify and browse current issues of the most relevant journals for your topic
  • Setup email or RSS Alerts, e.g., Journal Table of Contents, Saved Searches

Consult Experts

  • Identify and search for the publications of or contact Sociologists, Scholars, Librarians, employees etc. at institutions, organizations, and agencies

Where to Search

  • Annual Reviews and Bibliographies – e.g., Annual Review of Sociology, 12 Significant Sociological Publications on The Human Dimension of Disasters: How Social Science Research Can Improve Preparedness, Response, and Recovery

  • Internet – e.g., Discussion Groups, Listservs, Blogs, Twitter, Social Networking Sites, etc.

  • Grant Databases – e.g., National Science Foundation, Sociological Initiatives Foundation

  • Conference Proceedings – e.g., American Sociological Association

  • Newspaper Indexes – e.g., Lexis Nexis Academic, Ethnic NewsWatch

  • Journal Indexes/Databases and EJournal Packages – e.g., Social Sciences Full Text, Taylor & Francis Journals

  • Citation Indexes – e.g., Sociological Abstracts, Web of Science

  • Specialized Data – e.g., American FactFinder/U.S. Census Bureau

  • Book Catalogs – e.g., library catalog, WorldCat

  • Search Engines – e.g., Google, Yahoo, Bing, Directories, e.g., Google Directory, InfoMine, Yahoo Directory

  • Digital Collections – e.g., Archives and Special Collections Digital Photo Project, Natives of Montana Archival Project (NOMAP), Digital Public Library of America

  • Community groups/institutions/organizations – Lambda Alliance, Poverello Center, National Coalition Building Institute

Search Tips

Searching for resources is an iterative process. Use the strategies below to narrow or broaden your search when you find too many, or too few, sources for your project.

  • Use multiple full-text databases (e.g., Social Sciences Full Text, Academic Search Complete) and indexes (e.g., Sociological Abstracts, Web of Science) to locate the widest range of sources
  • Notice how articles you find are described and use those keywords or subject terms in subsequent searching to refine and focus your search
  • Search using opposites, or remove opposites, to broaden or narrow your search results (e.g., social justice OR social injustice)
  • Search for sources that have been cited in a key source (use Web of Science and Google Scholar)
  • Utilize limiting features within databases (e.g., source or publication type, publication date)
  • Utilize boolean operators - AND, OR, NOT - to construct your search (e.g, rural NOT urban, homelessness OR homeless persons, homelessness AND poverty)