Chat now!

Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Sociology Guide: Literature Review

This guide is designed to help students do research within the fields of sociology, anthropology, and criminal justice.

Books to Help

What is a Literature Review

The literature review puts your research in the context of existing literature. It will include literature relating to yours in any relevant ways and usually includes many references. A literature review is NOT a summary of what exists. Instead it analyzes, interprets, and critically examins existing research relating to your research and sets the base for your research to sit on.

Your literature review should:

  • provide an overview of the topic
  • identify developments in your narrow field of study
  • identify gaps in the literature that can lead to new research (including yours)
  • validate the originality of your research
  • evaluate research methods used by existing research and in your study
  • identify errors to avoid
  • identify the experts in your narrow field
  • show how articles differ from each other

Your objectives should be to:

  • establish your credibility (how well do you know what exists in your field)
  • show the relevance and significance of your research questions
  • show why you have chosen your research methods and your approach to your research problem

Conduct a Literature Review

1. Determine your information needs

  • What are the concepts you are researching?
  • What are you looking at in terms of possible research methods?
  • What areas of research may have an influence on your research questions?
  • What theories are you using?

2. Consult general works

These will help you understand the terminology and basic knowledge of the area you wish to research. They can also help identify prolific researchers/authors.

Reviews and meta-analyses are good sources for these.

Look at the Annual Reviews of Sociology to see if there are articles of interest:

3. Find journal articles to meet your information needs

  • Note that journal articles are more up-to-date than books and are more likely to report on recent research.
  • Conference proceedings can be even more up-to-date than journal articles but the full-text of these are often not available.
    • You may need to personally contact the presenter to see if they can provide you with a transcript/paper of their talk.
  • Searching is a trial and error process - do not limit yourself to one set of terms or one database.
  • Set up search alerts to have your successful searches run automatically and get new results in your e-mail.
  • Use the Social Sciences Citation Index to look for who has cited good articles since they were written (note that this technique is most important for papers that were published 2 or more years ago).

4. Almost any items that Briggs Library does not own is available through Interlibrary Loan.

Writing a Literature Review

Will be added later this week for now, check out

How to write a literature review from Scribbr.


  • Saves citations from databases (journals, books, other reference types)
  • Inserts citations into papers in Word, Pages, Open Office Writer, and other word processors
  • Organizes your PDF articles
  • Available to all SDSU students, faculty, and staff
  • Provided by the South Dakota Board of Regents
LibGuides Footer; South Dakota State University; Brookings, SD 57007; 1-800-952-3541