December 4, 2009

What is a hole in the literature?

The idea of a “hole in the literature” is misleading. Academic publishing usually does not revolve around filling in a gap in something we do not know about, at least not in the social sciences.

For example, if you think you cannot study middle class black attitudes towards whites because so many others have done that, you are wrong. In fact, you may well be better off studying middle class black attitudes towards whites than middle class American Indian attitudes towards Asians (a study of which may well not exist), because the former idea might be an easier base with which to engage in the scholarly literature about racial attitudes.

You cannot get a journal article or book published simply because no one has studied a phenomenon before. You have to figure out how what you plan to study will contribute to already existing knowledge. Moreover, you have to explain how your research will challenge or build on what we already know.

It is not an easy task; that is why most people take years to finish their dissertation, and few graduate students publish before getting their PhD. However, it is feasible, evidenced by the daily publication of scores of articles. And, it does get easier with practice.

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