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ENG213: Writing and Research About Literature

Librarian Pro Tip - Read the Article More Than Once!

Scholarly articles are complex pieces of writing. They are written by scholars, for scholars, and the authors assume that readers will have extensive background knowledge of the field. As a student, you will need to work harder than a professional sociologist to fully understand a scholarly article. This is not a bad thing. You just aren't as familiar with sociological research as a practicing sociologist because you're still in college.

Follow these steps for reading success. You should read the article 3 times.

  • READING 1: In your first reading, do not read the article from start to finish.
    • Read the title, the abstract, the introduction, sub-headings, and conclusion.
    • Put a question mark (?) next to any word or concept you do not understand. You will revisit these later.
    • Write down 1 or 2 sentences that summarize the article. This sentence should answer the question: What is this article about?
  • READING 2: Now that you're oriented to the article and know the basics of the author's study, your second reading will allow you to pay attention to important details you missed the first time around.
    • Read the beginning and end of sub-sections. Pay particular attention to topic sentences (authors make important points in the first sentences of their paragraphs).
    • When you come across the words/concepts you put a "?" next to during the first reading, look them up so that you know what they mean (consult your textbook, an encyclopedia, the web...)
    • Answer 3 questions:
      • 1. What is the purpose of the article?
      • 2. What are the author's main arguments?
      • 3. What new contribution does this article make to the field of sociology? (Essentially... why does this study matter?)
  • READING 3: This is your final pass - review sections that still confuse you.
    • Take notes on the authors' arguments, evidence, and findings. (You might find it helpful to paraphrase in the margins)
    • Answer 1 final question: Did the authors succeed in making their argument?

Synthesizing Sources

Literature review paragraph example

The example below is taken from the body of a literature review on the relationship between national identity and nature conservation. This paragraph discusses how humanities scholars have approached the concept of wilderness.

Early work in environmental humanities tended to take a sharply critical approach to wilderness, focusing on the cultural construction of supposedly ‘natural’ landscapes. The rise of climate change awareness in the 1980s had been framed by narratives about “the end of nature” (McKibben 1989), in which a once-pristine wilderness is degraded by humans to the point of disappearance. In response to this popular discourse, environmental historian William Cronon critiqued the concept of a pure, pristine nature to be preserved from human influence, arguing that ideas like “wilderness” are themselves products of particular human cultures and histories. In his influential essay ‘The Trouble with Wilderness’ (1995), Cronon traces how the ideal of untouched wilderness, anxiety over its loss, and the political will to preserve it has been central to American national identity, entwined with religious motifs and colonial frontier mythologies. Following Cronon, the racial and class politics of wilderness preservation was a theme taken up by several scholars in the late 1990s and early 2000s, who researched the material effects of conservation politics on indigenous and rural Americans (Catton 1997; Spence 1999; Jacoby 2001). The US National Park system became the dominant paradigm for analyzing relations between conservation, nationhood and nationalism. However, this approach has sometimes led to a narrowly US-centric perspective that fails to engage closely with the meanings and materialities of “wilderness” in different contexts. Recent work has begun to challenge this paradigm and argue for more varied approaches to understanding the socio-political relations between nation and nature.

The example combines the thematic and chronological approaches. This section of the literature review focuses on the theme of wilderness, while the paragraph itself is organized chronologically.