SOCIOLOGY 2950 – “Social Research”

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 the Literature to 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 “Popular DatabasesAcademic Search Premier 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.

Find Scholarly/Academic Articles from Sociology & other Disciplines’ Journals

From MU Libraries’ gateway page, click on “Search more databasesSociological Abstracts the database that covers the field of sociology in-depth, indexing over 1,800 journals. This is where you will find scholarly research articles written by sociologists. Similar to the MERLIN catalog, you can start by searching by key words and then see what the subject (descriptor) is to find more on the topic. You can also search by author or by a specific journal title and other elements. Here’s an example of an article found by doing a key word search on, “feminist theory” and “body image” Leavy, P., Gnong, A., & Ross, L. S. (2009). Femininity, masculinity, and body image issues among college-age women: An in-depth and written interview study of the mind-body dichotomy. The Qualitative Report, 14(2), 261-292. Retrieved from Click on the link above to see a model of how the research is presented, including the introduction, literature review, research methodology section, data analysis, discussion of results and conclusion. JSTOR is another good database choice since it covers most of the core journals in Sociology and other disciplines and contains the full-text for all. Keep in mind that it is a journal archive and does not have the latest issues of any journal. Use a database that is frequently updated such as Academic Search Premier or Sociological Abstracts or another called Scopus, to search for recent articles. If your topic is from a related discipline, such as Psychology, Social Work, Education, Political Science, or Health, find the relevant databases by starting at the “All Subjects” page from the MU Libraries Databases listings. Google Scholar is a sub-set of Google that provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles, from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly organizations. Keep in mind that Google Scholar is a complement to rather than a substitute for library databases. If MU Libraries subscribe to or have access to the item online, you will be able to click the Find it @MU button to get the full text.

Research Tips

-Break your research question into essential key words and connect with AND, e.g., “Are neighborhood watch programs effective in reducing crime?” becomes neighborhood watch AND crime –Brainstorm synonyms to use and connect with OR, e.g., “domestic violence” OR “spouse abuse” OR “interpersonal violence” Don’t get stuck on one term when there may be several ways to express it. -Use “Advanced Search” -Put quotes around a phrase, e.g., “health care policy” “body image” -If it’s an option, limit your search to “Academic Journals” or “Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals” -Use wild card/ truncation symbol (*) to get plurals and variant endings, e.g., prison* AND gang* -Limit your search to the abstract to increase the likelihood of relevancy. -When you find a good article, always look at the references listed at the end. Often one good article can lead you to other similar articles, and help identify authors and classic works on your topic that you wouldn’t want to leave out. -If you’re looking at the references and want to follow-up by finding an item that seems useful, first determine if it’s a book or an article. Go to the MU Libraries’ gateway page and from the “I need to . . .” box on the left, click on either Find a Specific Article or Find a Specific Book . Fill in the form with the information you have and click on finditatMU to see your options. -For items that are neither books nor articles, for example, a research report from an organization or government agency, or a conference paper, Google Scholar or Google Books may be useful to locate the item.

Find the Full-text of Journal Articles

If you’re looking at results in one of the databases listed above, just click on the button next to the article citation. The article will display if it’s available electronically. If there is no online access, you’ll be give the opportunity to look for a print copy in the MERLIN Catalog If electronic coverage is not available, check the MERLIN Catalog to see if we have a print subscription to the journal. MU Libraries does not subscribe to all journal titles. If you find a journal article that you need, but cannot find the article using Find it @ MU, logon to (our interlibrary loan service) and fill out a journal article request form (available on the Libraries Gateway page under “About the Libraries.” You will need to register the first time you use ILL@MU. Usually you will receive the article electronically via e-mail within a few days of placing your request.

Find Statistics and Opinion Polls

American Factfinder a gold mine of socio-economic and demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau Opinion Polls click here for a list of wide-ranging public opinion and polling resources

Find Books

From the MU Libraries’ gateway , choose the MERLIN Catalog. Type in words describing the topic you are researching. Once you have a list of hits, select one that looks on-target, then examine the subject headings for that item. Try clicking on that subject to retrieve similar items.
  • If you do not find enough books on your topic to meet your needs, change your search to “ALL MERLIN.” By doing so you will be checking the library holdings at UMSL, UMKC, UMR and MU all at once.
  • Still not enough? Click on the MOBIUS Catalog button. This expands your search to about 50 additional libraries in our state network.
  • Most books you find through MERLIN or MOBIUS are requestable online, simply by clicking the “Request Item” link. Books requested through MERLIN or MOBIUS normally take about three working days to arrive.
  • You may request books not listed in MERLIN or MOBIUS via “Request an item (ILL@MU)” on the MU Libraries’ homepage .

Find Background Information

Here are three online encyclopedias/handbooks focused on sociological issues: Encyclopedia of Social Theory George Ritzer, editor Encyclopedia of Sociology Edgar F. Borgatta, editor-in-chief 21st Century Sociology Clifton D. Bryant and Dennis L. Peck, co-editors

Using ASA Citation Style

Here are two sites that can help you with formatting your paper in ASA style: American Sociological Association’s site Another useful site at Cal State

Need More Help?

Stop by, call (573-882-4581), or e-mail (, Ellis Library Reference Desk, First Floor, South, Ellis Library.