General Instructions: For this assignment you will write a short research paper on a specific kind (or dimension of) inequality in contemporary American society. This paper will be a literature review – a paper that starts with an open-ended question and then presents existing research that addresses/answers that question. This is different from many of the papers that students are asked to write, where you start with an argument/thesis and then find evidence to support your argument. The goal is to teach you how to think like a social scientist – starting with a question, looking for evidence from research that answers the question, and synthesizing information from sources. If the sources you find offer different answers to your research question (e.g., contradictory explanations for the same outcome), then you will discuss these differences in your review and assess how convincing they are, based on the evidence you’ve come across.
Selecting a Topic: You may choose from a wide array of topics, as long as they have to do with inequality (of some kind) within present-day American society. For inspiration, you can read news articles, look at the assigned readings, look at social media, think about issues that matter to you in your own life, etc. You can also start looking for what information (if any) is available about your subject. You can choose a topic that we are covering in this course, but you will need to go beyond the lectures and assigned readings to gain a deeper understanding of the issue. Examples of appropriate topics are the gender pay gap, intergenerational wealth inequality, occupational segregation between men and women, racial disparities in access to healthcare, etc.
Developing a Research Question: Once you’ve come up with a potential topic (or topics), and begun collecting basic facts about it, you must come up with a specific research question related to your topic. The research question is a question you will try to answer by finding and synthesizing information from credible sources. The research question for this paper should be a “why question” – a question about the explanation/causes of some outcome. The outcome – i.e., thing you are explaining – can be a disparity between groups, a change over time, or a difference between the U.S. and some other country in terms of inequality. For example, you can ask why women, on average, do a greater share of housework than men; why college graduation rates are higher for Asian Americans than African Americans; why income inequality has increased in the U.S. in recent decades, or why the rate of childhood poverty is higher in the U.S. than in other OECD countries. For help getting started, see the handout called “Mapping Your Research Ideas” on the course website.
Here are some basic guidelines for your question:
• It should be succinct (no more than a couple of sentences)
• It should be open-ended (not just yes or no, and multiple answers are possible)
• It should be specific enough to answer in 6-8 double-spaced pages
• It should be something that can be answered through research (not a question of morality or philosophy)
• It should be “sociological,” with a focus on social conditions (rather than psychological conditions, genetics, etc.).
As you find sources, you may need to broaden, narrow, or otherwise adjust your question depending on the sources you find. It’s fine to change your research question; doing so is a normal part of the research process. In the end, however, it’s important for your literature review to pose a research question that is clearly addressed/answered by the information from the sources you describe in your paper; if the question doesn’t fit with the sources, then one or the other should be changed.
Format: Your paper should be 6-8 pages long, double-spaced, with 12-point font and normal margins. I recommend using headings (like “Introduction” and “Conclusion”) to break your paper up into sections.
At the top of the first page, please put a title for the paper and your name. (You can have a separate title page if you prefer).
At the end of your paper, have a list of references that begins on a separate page. The list of references does not count towards the 6-8-page requirement. Be sure to check that all of the sources you use are included on it. Please follow the American Psychology Association (APA) style for formatting your list of references. (You do NOT have to follow all APA rules, like needing an abstract). For information on how to format it, see the handout on the course website called “List of References in APA Style” or Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab’s APA Formatting and Style Guide.
Organization: Your paper should be organized into the following sections. You can use headings to separate sections or sub-sections.
1. Introduction (1-2 paragraphs)
A. A brief description of the issue/problem (to set up your research question)
B. Optional: why this issue/problem is important to understand
C. Your research question (which should be very clearly stated)
D. Short summary of the answer(s) you found.
2. Review of Sources (the bulk of your paper. You can break this into sub-sections)
A. Describe information/evidence from sources that addresses/answers your RQ.
B. Make sure it’s clear how the specific information links back to your question.
C. Point out (and explain) similarities or differences between the sources
i. Make it clear if the sources provide similar or different answers to your RQ
ii. If different, explain if they are complimentary or contradictory
D. All of the information here should come from the sources and your analysis of them, not from your own personal experience or opinions.
3. Conclusion (1-2 paragraphs)
A. Restate research question
B. Summarize the answer(s) based on the sources you found. Re-cite the sources.
i. If relevant, point out conflicting answers from different sources.
C. Optional: give your own opinion on what should be done to address the problem.
Sources: You must find at least 5 credible, scholarly sources that answer/address your research question. Examples of credible, scholarly sources are studies published in academic journals, books written by professors and published by academic presses and reports from trustworthy research organizations. You can also draw on literature reviews (but make it clear you are citing a review, not the original works discussed in the review). These kinds of sources are generally written by someone with expertise in the topic (e.g., they have training in doing research) and include citations to other sources to support the claims they make. While they are not always 100% accurate, you can usually trust the information you obtain from these kinds of sources, or at least assume they are not deliberately attempting to mislead you. For more on the distinction between scholarly and non-scholarly sources, see this “Scholarly vs Popular Sources” handout.
You can also use non-scholarly sources to get basic facts and information about your topic (descriptive statistics, historical context, etc.). For example, you might cite a newspaper article or government report for a basic statistic about inequality. However, the focus of your paper should be on reviewing scholarly sources that have addressed/answered your research question.
I highly recommend recording the citations for online sources as you find them, rather than just bookmarking them. You can use a citation generator like Zotero. However, be sure to check that all the necessary information is included; citation generators don’t always work.
Recommended Databases and Search Engines:
• Google Scholar – https://scholar.google.com/ – Allows you to search for a wide variety of academic books, articles, and research reports. Make sure you are logged onto your UCLA account so that you get access to the sources.
• JSTOR – allows you to search for and access a wide variety of academic articles. You can limit your search to sociology-related journals. To access it, login through https://www.library.ucla.edu/.
• UCLA Melvyl – https://ucla.on.worldcat.org/discovery – allows you to locate books at the UCLA libraries and other libraries. You can also request books to pick up. In addition, many books are now available online. When searching, you can restrict your search to “Online Content and Media” if you want to only see items that you can read online.
• Pew Research Center – https://www.pewresearch.org/ – has useful reports on demographic trends, public opinion, and political participation in the U.S.
• U.S. Federal Reserve Research – https://www.federalreserve.gov/econres.htm – publishes reports on inequality
• U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research – https://www.nber.org/ – publishes working papers related to inequality
• UCLA Library’s News Guide – https://guides.library.ucla.edu/news – This is a guide to the various newspapers that you can access through UCLA, both present-day and historical.
• UCLA Library’s Sociology Research Guide – https://guides.library.ucla.edu/sociology – more helpful information about finding sources
Evaluating Sources: You need to make sure that the sources you find are trustworthy – that they are providing accurate information about your topic. When you come across an unfamiliar source, ask yourself:
• Who is the author? Is this someone who is knowledgeable about the topic?
• Where was the source published? Is it a respected organization? If it’s an online source, is the website trustworthy?
• Is the source providing facts or just opinions? Do they have a clear bias or an agenda?
You also should consider if the source is useful for writing your paper:
• Does it provide an answer to your research question?
• If not, does it at least have statistics or facts for describing your topic?
• If not, does it point you to other sources that might be more useful?
Don’t just go with the first few sources you find without first making sure they give you facts, evidence, or arguments that you can cite in your paper. For journal articles, you can look at the abstract at the top of the article to help you decide whether or not it sounds relevant and worth reading in more detail.
In-Text Citations: Please follow the American Psychology Association (APA) style for in-text citations. You must include an in-text citation anytime you are drawing on information from a source in a paragraph. The in-text citation can either go after the first sentence or at the end of the paragraph. If you are unfamiliar with how to cite sources in APA style, or need a refresher, I highly encourage you to read the handout In-Text Citations in APA Style posted on the course website. You can also find a useful guide to APA style at Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab, at https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/. In addition, whenever you make a factual claim, you need to back it up with an in-text citation to a credible source. Don’t make claims that aren’t confirmed by sources.
Academic Honesty: All students are expected to comply with the university’s policies on academic integrity. For this paper, you must not:
• Plagiarize another work by failing to cite the source of the ideas you use
• Plagiarize by using a direct quote from a work without putting it in quotation marks
• Re-use any work you submitted for a previous class, unless you get explicit permission from the Professor.
• Writing part, or all, of a paper for another student
Academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Students’ office. For more information, see the Student Code of Conduct’s section on Academic Dishonesty.
Submitting your Final Paper: You will submit your paper on the course website, at link to submit. Save your paper as a .pdf or .docx file before submitting it. A service called Turnitin will check your paper for evidence of plagiarism. Papers that are e-mailed will not be accepted. Papers that are submitted late will have points deducted for each day they are submitted after the due date.
• email your TA or Professor Speer, or come to our office hours
• Ask peers for help with brainstorming or proofreading
• UCLA Online Research Tutorials: https://uclalibrary.github.io/research-tips/tutorials/
• Ask a librarian: https://www.library.ucla.edu/research-teaching-support/research-help
• Help with writing from the Undergraduate Writing Center, http://wp.ucla.edu/wc/
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