Writing in Sociology at Queens College

The Literature Review


crucial step in any research project is the literature review. The following tips will help you put together a literature review that will please your professor and, more importantly, help you to write a stronger paper.

  1. Go to the library. Some of your library work can be done from a computer at home or at another location on campus. But whether you reach the library over the internet or on foot, the library is the place you need to start.
  2. Decide what kind of material you need to gather. Will you use journal articles, books, or both? Will you look at websites? Newspapers? For most classes, you will need to use scholarly sources.
  3. What are scholarly sources? That simply means that you will want to use research that goes through an academic review process. The finding sources section of this website will direct you to scholarly sources. Ask your professor or the librarian about any material that you are unsure about. Journal articles and books published by a University Press are almost always acceptable scholarly sources.
  4. Other sources. There are plenty of great sources that are not "scholarly". You might want to check with your professor to see if he or she will permit you to use these. Non-scholarly sources are particularly good if you are doing research rather than a literature review.
  5. Read your sources and take notes! The notes will form the core of your paper. Make sure to clearly write down where all quotes and ideas come from. You will need to cite these in your paper. If you do not cite material, that is plagiarism - a very serious academic offense. When in doubt, cite.
  6. Cite? If you haven't cited material before, you may want to talk with your professor about his or her expectations and preferred citation format. If you mention an idea that was in one of the books you read, then you must put the name of the author and the year of the book at the end of the sentence. It will look like this (Dillon 2001). Citations tell your reader where to look if he or she wants to learn more about that idea. They also acknowledge that your own thinking on an idea has been informed by this person's work. It is a way of giving authors credit for their ideas and research. At the end of your paper you should have a bibliography (a works cited page). If you don't know what one looks like, look at the bibliography at the back of one of your academic books.
  7. Quotes. If you quote directly from a source (use the exact words), then you need to include the page number in your citation (Dillon 2001, 1). If you paraphrase an idea or take a fact or statistic, you should also include the page number in your citation.
  8. Original research. If you are doing a paper with original research, the material that you get from the library will form your literature review - a review of existing research that comes before you present your research findings.
  9. Library research. If your paper is based on library research, then once you have read and taken notes on your sources, you are ready to write.