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POLS 3700: Research Methods in Criminal Justice: Research

Handbook of Criminological Methods

The SAGE Handbook of Criminological Research Methods (2012) - Exhaustive resource about doing research in criminal justice subjects.  Especially helpful when used while reading original research articles for critiques and paper assignments.

Developing a Research Question

Research Questions are concrete, are measurable, and answer a pressing research need.

Steps in Developing a Research Question

1) Define: define the broad area you want to study (for example, "private prison efficacy," "alternatives to use of police force on the mentally ill," "prison educational opportunities and recidivism")

2) Describe:  describe the problem in simple terms (for example, "X number of lethal force incidents in Y community involve mentally ill individuals undergoing a psychotic break.)

3) Specify:  specify what we (the larger research community) don't know about this topic (for example, "Does the creation of specially trained police units to deal with mental health problems decrease lethal force involving individuals experiencing a psychotic break?" or "Are strategies adopted by larger municipalities able to be scaled down for smaller populations with the same results?).  Too broad a question will hinder you in being able narrow down to a single answerable question, too narrow a question will hinder you in finding enough research to answer.

4) Create:  create your research question based on the information you've gathered.  Make sure your question is concrete, specific, measurable, and answerable.

You may go between these three steps multiple times before hitting on a good research question.  Don't be discouraged if you try a few dead ends before you have gathered enough information to write your research question.

Finding Scholarly Research

These databases index scholarly articles and legal research for Criminal Justice.

Criminal Justice Abstracts (EBSCO) 

Covering major journals in criminology.

National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) Abstracts (EBSCO)

Covers the fields of law enforcement and criminal justice from 1970 to the present.  

Political Science Complete (EBSCO) 

Citations, abstracts, and indexing of the international serials literature in political science and its complementary fields.  

What articles are acceptable to use?


Though not scholarly research, these are great places to start your research.  These academic encyclopedias give background information, basic statistics, and will help you get a firm grasp of your paper topic.

21st Century Criminology: A Reference Handbook (2009) (SAGE) 

Provides definitive overviews of 100 key topics covering traditional criminology and its modern developments.  

Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment (2002) (SAGE) 

A comprehensive introductory tool covering the fields of law enforcement, justice, and corrections.  

Encyclopedia of Criminological Theory (2010) (SAGE) 

A reference source surveying contemporary criminological theory. 

Encyclopedia of Law Enforcement (2005) (SAGE) 

Cover state and local, national, and international law enforcement.  

Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime (2003) (SAGE) 

Over 200 entries explore murder, violent crime, profiling, deterrence, investigation, punishment and more.  

Encyclopedia of Prisons and Correctional Facilities (2005) (SAGE) 

Detailed and authoritative descriptions of the major prisons in the United States.   

Encyclopedia of Race and Crime (2009) (SAGE) 

Examines race and ethnicity and their impact on crime and the administration of justice.  

Encyclopedia of Victimology and Crime Prevention (2010) (SAGE) 

Examines crime within the context of its victims and its possible prevention.  

Encyclopedia of White-Collar & Corporate Crime (2005) (SAGE) 

Covers corporate, organizational, governmental, financial, and political crimes.  

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