I suggest you do the following to learn more about your topic of interest/research question:
Use Google Scholar http://scholar.google.com/ to identify relevant articles. Make sure you vary your search terms. You will probably have to be quite precise about what you are interested in to get coherent results. This is an explorative, learning process.
1) Identify “core articles/books”
− What are the heavily cited articles or books? Make sure they don’t just contain the search terms but are actually relating to your specific question!
− If you read the abstract and they are not what you are looking for, stop reading and look for something else.
− Check that they are referenced in the literature/theory discussion of recent papers.
− Reverse search who cites those works on google (but beware irrelevant citations)
− Try to identify the most important articles/books.
− Google scholar allows you to very easily cite articles (click cite and then copy).
− Pick one referencing style and stick with it.
− Make a list of the 5 (or more) most important articles or books.
− Do some actual reading, please. But be efficient and ruthless: Read the abstract. If it’s not about the topic you want, stop there. Read the intro and maybe flip through to tables or figures. Again, if it’s not about your topic stop there. Only read the rest later.
−2) Identify ”key words”, key terms phrases, learn the “jargon”, make a list.
− What are the keywords they use to describe the issue you are interested in. Adjust you search to include those. Learn what the jargon is. NB: The welfare state literature is spread over Politics, Economics and Sociology, and the jargon are sometimes quite different between disciplines. This is tongue in cheek, but there is some truth
3) Identify “key authors”
− What else have they written?
− Any relevant recent work? Any textbooks or ‘review articles’ that may help?
4) Identify relevant recent work.
− Using your most successful/fitting search terms, identify some more recent articles by narrowing the range to e.g. after 2010 or 2015 only. Make sure they actually relate to your research question. If they do, go to the theory or literature section where they talk about the work that has been done in the past (it’s often not called literature review, but something like that is almost always there). Read what they say what the important theoretical ideas and debates are and check whether they cite the works you identified in Step 1.
− In other words, be opportunistic, these are experts that have done a literature review for you! Exploit their theory/literature section for understanding debates, update core references NB: But, beware that they are also trying to ‘sell’ their paper. Also, realistically, papers in economics journals will not be useful for identifying literature from other fields.
− Figure out where the research frontier lies. What are the questions these papers ask,and how do they go about answering them?
5) Look for ‘review articles’ or chapters in the ‘Oxford Handbook’ (or textbooks?).
− Sometimes they are called just that and you can search for them using your research-question-search-terms. Additionally, you should look whether there are any articles/chapters relating to your ideas here:
Annual Review of Political Science http://www.annualreviews.org/journal/polisci
Annual Review of Sociology
Annual Review of Economics https://www.annualreviews.org/journal/economics
Journal of Economic Perspectives http://www.aeaweb.org/jep/
Chapters in the “Oxford Handbook of…” (e.g. the Welfare State, Political Economy..) Free online on campus via https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com
6) Articles to emulate.
− If you have some idea what you want to do, it can often be helpful to identify one or two articles that you would like to ‘emulate’ in terms of either the way they are set up, or especially in terms of methods and research design. This is not about plagiarism,obviously, but about using published work to guide you in terms of methodological choices. Be upfront about who you ‘follow’. This also *very* helpful for me in our discussion, as it establishes a common basis of understanding of what you want to
At this point you should have a list of at least 5 core (i.e. cited/discussed) articles, 2-3 recent articles and perhaps 1-2 review articles all talking about the same thing. If they are not connected to each other (not citing the same main works for example), be more specific about your question and repeat steps 1 to 5.
Congratulations, you have hopefully arrived at your ‘core reading list’. Time for some actual close reading. Take notes to summarise articles. Add relevant references to your ‘reading list’. Start a list of ideas and potential research questions!
Based on what you have read by now: What are the main ideas in the literature? What are the main debates (theoretical and empirical)? Write this down. You will forget this by April if you don’t. A paragraph or a couple of paragraphs are sufficient to refresh your memory in the future.
This is an iterative process. Your research question and your key words and reading list will probably evolve as you read what has been done in the literature, so you will have to go back and forth between the steps above.
Ultimately you should arrive at specific research question that flows from the literature you have read. At that point you should have a document containing a clearly defined research question, a core reading list, a list of keywords. Prepare a document containing information on all of the points below.
The other questions ask you about the empirical part of your project. You should have some basic ideas about what kind of research design you would likt to use, and where you get the relevant data etc.
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