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CRIM/SOC 388 Sociology of Punishment: for Elizabeth Perkins' students

Policy Implications?

Research Methods?

Getting and Evaluating Articles

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What is Peer Review?

It is the quality control system for scholarship.  It means that articles in a peer-reviewed journal must be scrutinized by experts before they are published.  SYNONYMS = 'academic', 'juried', 'refereed', 'scholarly'.

How can you tell when something is peer-reviewed?

1) When you are looking at a print copy, of an entire issue of a journal, the editorial board of scholars with academic credentials and institutional affiliations will be listed somewhere.  These are the 'peers' that review each published article.

2) Use a check box limit in your database search (when available).

Literature Review

What is a Literature Review?

The purpose of a literature review is to give an accurate and complete accounting of the current state of knowledge for whichever research question is being addressed.  It is an essential feature of scholarship because without it the reader cannot judge how well-informed the author is or how novel and  original the answer is.

Often a literature review is a section of a scholarly article or book (usually toward the beginning) which summarizes and evaluates previous scholarship.

Sometimes the entire scholarly work is nothing but a literature review.  For an example of this type take a look at the Annual Reveiw of Sociology within our Annual Reviews online subscriptions.  


The quantitative and the qualitative approaches

-- from The A-Z of Social Research 2003

There are two general methodological approaches in the social sciences: quantitative and qualitative. While they are not totally understandable as opposing approaches, they do adopt a very different position on the fundamentals of the relationship between ideas and evidence.

The departure point of quantitative research, as its name suggests, is numerical measurement of specific aspects of phenomena. It is a very structured approach; in it competing explanations must be formulated in terms of the relationship between variables. The first step is to condense what one is studying into a number of key attributes or dimensions. These are generally taken as indicators or variables. Measurement is not only very important in this approach but it has to be as exact as possible. Hence, when choosing indicators it is very important in quantitative research that one searches after variables which are: (a) representative of what they are a proxy for (that is, the valid operationalisation of concepts); and (b) able to take a numerical form (that is, they vary either absolutely or by level of degree). These variables then become the basic building blocks of analysis. In a next step, the researcher elaborates a set of competing explanations and propositions (in terms of postulating differences between or relationships among variables). Thirdly, statistical analysis is performed to establish whether these differences or relationships can be identified. The ultimate goal in this type of work is to find as small a set of variables as possible which explain as much as possible. The broader philosophical thinking which informs this approach is that to know something one must establish general sets of relationships which are robust across as many instances or cases as possible. Generalisation is the goal – the main reason why the researcher is interested in establishing relationships is to demonstrate that these are general features of social life. As Ragin (1987) points out, this kind of approach is well suited to testing theories, identifying general patterns and making predictions. It is therefore deductive in nature.

The qualitative approach is based on intensive study of as many features as possible of one or a small number of phenomena. Instead of condensing information, it seeks to build understanding by depth. It is not so much that qualitative research is not interested in breadth but rather that it defines breadth holistically to refer to the ‘all roundedness’ of one or a number of social phenomena (rather as in the quantitative approach to study as many different instances as possible). Qualitative research seeks meaning (rather than generality as with its quantitative counterpart) and contributes to theory development by proceeding inductively. Meaning is achieved not by looking at particular features of many instances of a phenomenon but rather by looking at all aspects of the same phenomenon to see their inter-relationships and establish how they come together to form a whole. To establish the distinctiveness of what one is studying can be an achievement in this approach. One does not in qualitative work separate out something from its context. Rather the phenomenon is studied in its context with the view that it is impossible to understand it apart from it. ‘Context’ could refer to different things though. It could mean, for example, the setting within which something occurs, or it could refer to the meanings and understandings which the people involved have about something. Diversity, which includes similarities as well as differences, is considered interesting for its own sake, whereas in the quantitative approach diversity can cause the researcher problems because it may challenge the existence of general relationships (the demonstration of which is the goal of this kind of research). The focus in qualitative research is on configurations – how combinations of attributes and conditions come together.

Subject Guide

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Tom Kmetz
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Camden-Carroll Library
Morehead State University
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