Topic Selection and Digesting Scholarly Material

CJ4600 Unit 1

Topic Selection and Digesting Scholarly Material


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In Unit 1 and through out this senior seminar course, we will discuss becoming a good consumer of research and literature. The ability to digest scholarly research is a helpful tool, especially for students interested in continuing their education beyond an undergraduate degree. In order to do so, we will review techniques that are useful in breaking down the anatomy of an article and understand the focal point of the article. We will put these skills to the test when we use scholarly research to build a literature review, which in turn, will be used to complete the final project. The final project will require students to brainstorm and come up with an idea to solve a current criminal justice issue. The topic selected for Unit 1’s assignment will be the topic of the final paper. In selecting a topic, it is recommended that we select something of interest because once the topic has been approved it cannot be changed since it will be used over the course to build different steps into the final project. It is highly recommended when selecting a topic that time is spent reviewing the options available in Picking a topic of interest will aid in the writing process sine it is typically easier to write about something that sparks interest. The topic selection is a choice and will not be assigned.

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Anatomy of an article

When reading an article, although the entire article is of importance, there are certain parts that need to become the focal point. It is recommended to first skim through the abstract of the article. The abstract is the first thing available on any scholarly type article. The abstract is there to provide a snapshot of what the article addresses, and the outcome of the study. From the abstract, we can figure out what type of article it is: a review of the literature, a meta- analysis, or an empirical article. An empirical article is not only scholarly, in that it has been peer-reviewed, it also involves an actual study. For purposes of this course, in building of the literature review only articles that conduct an actual study can be used. An article must be scholarly first, and if we remember back to research methods, an article is considered scholarly if it went through a peer review process, the type of publication, the authors of the paper, and the journal in which the article appears. After the scholarly onus is met, then the article must meet the requirement of being empirical. Please note, that although literature review, meta-analyses, and ethnographies are scholarly they do not contain actual studies that either test a theory or involve a quasi-experimental study.


The introduction covers an overview of supporting evidence for the study, along with the hook of what makes the study needed or different from existing research. After the introduction, a literature review will follow. Literature reviews are usually broken down chronologically, or organically by topic. For instance, if we were writing a literature review about Routine Activities Theory by Cohen and Felson, our literature review would need to show support for the components of the theory. The literature review could be writing and contain headings such as, Hawley’s theory of humans following a pattern, target suitability, motivated offenders, and lack of guardianship. Alternatively, the literature review could be put together chronologically starting with the inception of the theory in 1979, then the work of the Brantinghams and target hardening, followed by Felson’s additional research on the theory, and other researchers who have expanded upon the theory. As long as the literature review flows and is easy to follow, it can be put together either way as long as it retains clarity. The introduction and literature review portion is very important, however, for the purposes of this class and as a preemptive measure to prevent plagiarism, please only skim through these sections.


Articles where an actual study was conducted will also contain a section dedicated to methodology and sampling. These sections are very important, and we should pay very close attention to them. In these sections, the researcher(s) explain what research questions and/or hypotheses are being explored. Additionally, they will identify how the data was collected and the specific methodology employed. Furthermore, if a secondary data source was utilized it will be indicated in this section. This is also the section where the variables are identified. This section of the article will identify the concepts and explain how they were operationalized. Thinking back to methods, operationalization answers how it was measured, and is the step that converts a concept into a variable. Again, if we remember back to research methods there are two variables that we are extremely interested in: the independent and dependent variables. Our independent variables, or the predictor variables, which goes by the call sign X, and our dependent variable, or the outcome variable, which goes by the call sign y, are being tested to see how they may be linked in a particular study. The researcher (s) is interested to see if a correlation exists between variables.


Also remember back to methods and the charge that correlation does not mean causation.


Following the methodology section, usually, is the data analysis section. This section contains information pertaining to the types of variables and the associated tests run with the data. In our combination of methods and statistics, we know that the type of data drives the statistical test that can be run. For instance, most regression models cannot be run on dichotomous data. Accompanying the statistical analysis are the results from the actual study and charts illustrating the findings. The charts are very helpful in showing us a picture of what was found, and the statistical significance if any. Beyond the analysis section, are the discussion, and conclusion. In the discussion portion of the article the researcher (s) will discuss any limitations encountered during the study and the strengths and weaknesses. In the conclusion, the results are applied and it is used to discuss policy and future research initiatives. Over the next few weeks, we will be discussing evaluations of current programming and the strengths and weaknesses of those programs. Additionally, we will discuss the different limitations that impact studies. For instance, a limitation of a study could be that the program was only tested on male volunteers and the researcher is unsure if the same program would have a similar outcome with female volunteers.


For purposes of this course, the most important sections are the abstract, the methodology section, the results, the discussion and the conclusion. All of the information needed to populate the charts for the literature build will be found in these specific sections.


Writing a Literature Review

The anatomy of an article provided the foundation and acts as a precursor to writing a literature review. In order to prepare a successful literature review we should be mindful of a few things. First, it is best to gather all of the information and scholarly resources prior to writing the literature review. For purposes of this course, we should not entertain writing the literature review prior to receiving feedback on the literature review build. When reading the fifteen scholarly resources that will be used for the literature review, be mindful of themes that emerge, these themes will later serve as sub-headings for the literature review. Next, it is important to check that the resources being used are available through the Kean University databases (ex. EBSCOhost and ProQuest) and they are saved or downloaded for future reference. It is very difficult to write about an article without being able to access the full text of the article. Thirdly, keep track of important information and finally be certain to keep the reference for appropriate APA citation.


After the topic has been selected, and the literature build has been completed it will be time to start on writing the actual literature review. There are many techniques that can be used in providing a summary of the information. Certain students have found it best to create a PowerPoint and dedicate a slide an article then the summaries can be rearranged if needed. Another suggestion is to dedicate an index card per article and manually sort the index cards until the sub-headings develop organically or chronologically. Beyond providing a summary of the article, they will be used to provide support in the final paper to illustrate prior framework. The best way to support a statement is to first acknowledge both sides of an argument, and find strong supporting evidence. In review, the way to determine if the supporting evidence is strong is to see what type of journal was published, who the authors are, and how many times the article has been cited by other researchers.


The aim of this specific literature review is to identify common themes and/or variables in prior research on your specific question. However, be mindful of use of direct quotes. Quotes should not be used and if they are used, extremely sparingly. Please remember you are not the first person to engage in research on this question. You should pay particular attention to the findings of the articles. Additionally, think of evaluating and comparing prior research on your topic, and identifying implications and limitations of prior work. Finally, consider what aspects of your research question have not been fully explored yet. When you write your literature review you will be addressing these questions. Furthermore, we will explore comparing and contrasting studies. How do the different studies relate to one another? Which studies are stronger, and why (e.g. better methodology)? Which studies are weaker? What is new, different, or controversial about the various studies? How do the methodologies differ (e.g. empirical articles vs. review articles; quantitative vs. qualitative; longitudinal vs. cross-sectional designs)? While reviewing the articles keep these questions in mind, and use helpful tools to highlight or call attention to this information making it easier to revisit in the future.





Cohen, L., and Felson, M. (1979) Routine Activities Theory.

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