Fundamentals of Social Research
Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.
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Writing Literature Reviews
According to the Style Guide of the APA (2001, p. 3), “The writing process initially requires a thorough review and evaluation of previous work in the literature, which helps acquaint one with the field as a whole and establishes whether one’s idea is truly new and significant.”
Familiarity with the previously published work in your area of interest allows you to avoid needlessly repeating work that has been done before, to build on existing work, and, in the end, contribute something new to your field.
As you will no doubt realize in your own reading of the scientific literature, the writers who contribute most to the literature are those who write clearly and concisely.
Our focus will be on the primary sources of information in the social and behavioral sciences. By primary we mean original—the reports appearing in academic journals. Secondary sources, on the other hand, are research summaries in publications like textbooks, popular magazines, and newspapers. These are problematic for the social scientist because they provide only general descriptions of research findings; they generally will not tell us about the methodology used to obtain those results.
Journals in the social sciences typically contain reports of empirical research. This usually means that the study is based on numerical measurements that are summarized and analyzed using statistical methods. These can be intimidating, but a careful reader can usually determine what an author is saying even if the advanced statistics are not directly understood. Take comfort in the fact that authors do not generally present statistics in isolation. They provide definitions of basic concepts, explain why they chose the methodology they did, and discuss the results of their statistical analyses.
Caveat: It is essential that you carefully read all the articles that you cite. Only reading the abstracts at the beginning of an article may mislead you because of the lack of detail.
Modification History File Created: 07/24/2018 Last Modified: 07/24/2018
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