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POLSC 165 - Political Science Research Methods - Stephens

A guide to finding and evaluating scholarly sources for Stephen's Fall 2018 POLSC 165 class

What is Research?

Twenty-first century students don’t need to spend a lot of time learning how to find information. After all, many of us are online every day retrieving information: reconnecting with people on Facebook, finding open classes through PiratesNet, downloading driving directions, weather forecasts, song lyrics, recipes, and other pieces of information that get us through the day.

But information retrieveal is not research!  Research requires that you find information, of course, but it also demands much more from you. The MLA Handbook defines research in terms of exploring ideas, probing issues, solving problems, or making arguments relating to existing ideas.  Yes, students need information to complete these tasks, but the depth and breadth of information needed moves far beyond a single source.  Within the research process students also need considerable time to read the information they find, time to reflect on new information in terms of what they already know and what they are learning, and time to write multiple drafts of speeches/papers so that they can present your research as clearly, logically, and successfully as possible.


Research is a Conversation


Scholarship as Conversation:

Scholarship is a Conversation image

Knowledge and understanding are developed over time by scholars, researchers, and professionals debating and discussing issues from varying points of view.

Think of the sources you read to explore your topic (articles, books, films, videos, images, or websites) as different threads in a conversation. Just like blog comments, each source expresses different ideas, observations, discoveries, or interpretations of the problem or issue.




 As you read your sources, try to figure out how they relate to each other:

  • Do they agree? 
  • Do they contradict each other?;
  • Do they help you understand your issue from a different perspective? 

So when you read your sources, think about the story they're telling you and about what they each have to say about that story.

By actively reading your sources as if you're participating in an interesting, complex discussion, when you write your paper, you'll be able to demonstrate to your teacher that you have a deeper understanding of your topic and you'll become a part of the professional discourse about your topic.

What is a Literature Review?

The goals of a literature review are different from a research paper

A literature review should:

  1. define and clarify problems
  2. inform the reader about a subject by summarizing and evaluating studies
  3. identify inconsistencies, gaps, contradictions, and relationships in the literature
  4. suggest future steps and approaches to solve the issues identified

Your teacher is giving you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the evidence, methods, and modes of discourse in the literature about your topic so that you can enter the conversation.

A Research paper attempts to answer a question.  A literature review identifies what questions still need to be answered.