THE LITERATURE SEARCH
The first thing to do after you get an idea for a piece of research is to find out what has already been done on it. Don’t neglect this part of the research process. You need to make a heroic effort to uncover sources. People will know it if you don’t, and without that effort you risk wasting a lot of time going over already-covered ground. Even worse, you risk having your colleagues ignore your work because you didn’t do your homework. Fortunately, heroic efforts are pretty easy, what with all the resources available for scouring the literature.
Begin by looking through volumes of the Annual Review. There are Annual Review volumes for psychology (every year since 1950), anthropology (every 2 years from 1959— 1971 and every year since 1972), sociology (since 1975), public health (since 1997), and political science (since 1998). Authors who are invited to publish in these volumes are experts in their fields; they have digested a lot of information and have packaged it in a way that gets you right into the middle of a topic in a hurry.
Also contact people on listservs and networking groups that deal with your research topic. If there are central figures in the field, contact them by e-mail and request a time when you can call them on the phone. Yes, by phone. E-mail may be convenient for you, but most scholars are just too busy to respond to requests for lists of articles and books. On the other hand, many scholars will talk to you on the phone if they think they can really help.
All you need is a few key references to get started. Don’t worry about the key references being out of date. The ISI Web of Knowledge eliminates the problem of obsolescence in bibliographies.