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CRIM 250W : Research Methods in Criminal Justice

a guide to resources for CRIM 250W

Getting Started

From your research question try to identify the keywords of your topic and place them in a search matrix.

For example:

Does Megan’s Law (registration and notification laws) reduce recidivism among convicted sex offenders?

Megan's Law Recidivism Sex Offenders
Notification Laws


Notice how the terms registration and notification laws relate to the concept Megan’s Law. Both are broader terms, but registration is much broader then notification laws.

As you begin to build your matrix think about whether the terms are narrow or broader then your original research question. Sometimes it may be beneficial to re-craft the research question with terms that you discover so that you better convey what you intended.

What is next?

Go to the University Libraries' home page.

Type in the key terms that you identified from your research question.

Search Strategy: this type of search should be familiar to the majority of researchers. Most of you have seen the commercial where the kid types in Google the phrase "how do you ask a girl out" and hopes for the best. This is typically called a keyword search.

For the keyword search megan's law recidivism sex offenders there are almost 3,000 hits.

Before we explore our results, we need to address an important question that you should always ask when you use a resource to discover information.

What is this resource searching?

LionSearch essentially allows you to search, in one place, a suite of resources that the Libraries subscribe to. This includes the physical materials in the Libraries as well as some key article databases.

For those that think Google is searching the whole Internet and everything the University Libraries own, this is most definitely not true!

Limiting to Scholarly and Peer-reviewed articles

What practical benefit [beyond the fact that I am required by the assignment] is there for me to find scholarly/peer reviewed articles? How will this help me do this assignment more efficiently?

Definition: a literature review is a summary of the research that has been conducted in the past on a research topic that the author is addressing.

What does this mean for you? This means if you find one scholarly article you have found many! Scholarly articles are part of a scholarly network. Also, you have found an example of what it is you are trying to create.

So how do I do it?!

Search Strategy: every database allows you to limit your results by Scholarly and/or Peer-Reviewed articles

Limiting our LionSearch keyword search megan's law recidivism sex offenders to peer-reviewed journals reduces the number of results to around 300.

Subjects &Descriptors

Let’s return to the idea of building our Search Matrix.

Does Megan’s Law (registration and notification laws) reduce recidivism among convicted sex offenders?

Megan's Law Recidivism Sex Offenders
Notification Laws
  child molesters


Search strategy: when you search for these terms in a database, notice what subject terms [sometimes called descriptors] are used to describe your search results. If any of the terms from your matrix are used by the database then use them to “limit your search”.

For example, using our LionSearch peer-reviewed article results from the keyword search megan's law recidivism sex offenders:

Look at the Subject Terms listed on the left side of the page [make sure you click on the more... link and sort A-Z] you will find the term recidivism.

By limiting to records that are assigned that subject term you now only have about 100 results.

Look again at the subjects to see if there are terms [broad and narrow] that you can add to your search matrix. For example, child molesters could be added as a narrower term under the concept sex offenders.

Search strategy: as you develop your search matrix use different combinations of these search terms. Also, remember that you can search by subject rather than searching by keyword which may help make your results more relevant.

Note: If you don’t have enough results then you need to broaden a search term. If you have too many results think about using a narrower search term.

Subject Databases & Google Scholar

There are many different resources that you can search. Keep in mind that sometimes searching in a small universe of information can be more efficient.

Google Scholar

Using Google Scholar at rather than Google will help focus the quantity of information you are searching to material that is more scholarly in nature. However, you will still need to do some investigation as to whether or not the article is scholarly or peer-reviewed. A simple way is to see if it contains a review of literature [summary of research].

Google Scholar is limited to keyword searches. However, it is typically larger than subject databases.

Note: make sure you set your Google Scholar preferences so that you can retrieve full-text articles through this resource:

  • Choose Settings on the Google Scholar default search page.

  • Choose Library Links from the left menu, then search Pennsylvania State University [Note: searching Penn State will not work].

  • Click the Save button to retain your preferences.

Now, if your Google Scholar search includes results that are available in Penn State Libraries' full text databases, a link for Get it!@Penn State will appear.

Click on the Get it!@Penn State link to display options for obtaining the full text from Penn State Libraries' subscriptions.

Subject Databases

Use Libraries-subscribed subject databases that are core for you research topic. To find these databases use the Libraries' Research Guides.

For this assignment the most likely candidates for your topics are:

Note: Subject databases are focused material and provide powerful tools for searching by descriptors and subjects.

Following Citations

If all peer-reviewed articles contain a literature review, what does this mean for you? This means if you find one scholarly article you have found many! Scholarly articles are part of a scholarly network.

Search strategy: look at what other articles are cited in the references of the article you have found. Some databases will allow you to simply click on a link to see the records for the references. Sometimes you will need to look at the article itself.

Search strategy: take the title of the article you found and copy it into Google Scholar to see what other scholarly articles cite this article in their literature review.

Review Articles

Three Types of Review Articles

Book review

Description: book reviews are articles that will often provide you with a summary of the book as well as a critical analysis by someone other than the author.

There are indexes or journals that are strictly devoted to publishing review articles of books. However, it is more useful to find book reviews in scholarly journals for particular subject domains for a more critical analysis. You can do this in LionSearch by limiting your search to Scholarly Journals and the type Book Review. Or you can search in a subject domain search engine like Sociological Abstracts and limit to the type Book Review.

Law review

Description: a law review journal is a journal typically published by students at a law school or a bar association. Often these are reviews of legal cases and a discussion of legal issues and are not considered empirical research. They will often be used by lawyers to discover relevant cases for their client's case.

Note: there are some exceptions where cases are used in scholarly research, but they will not be found in this type of journal.

Law Reviews, Legal News, and Periodicals. This is an excellent research guide put together by the University Libraries to resources in legal research as well as a list of law review journals.

Review journal

Description: a review journal in academic publishing is an academic journal devoted to the review of progress of empirical research in some particular area or topic during a preceding period often through the means of its publishing review articles.

Other Review Journals

There are other review journals, but I’m not aware of a comprehensive list. Typically, the title of the journal has the word review, but this is not set in stone. The best way to recognize a review article is to see whether or not it has a section in it that describes the author's method of research. If not, it is most likely a review article.