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Communication Studies: CMJ 593: Rhetorical Ethnography

Research resources for Communication Studies.

Welcome to the CMJ 593 Course Guide!

This guide will provide you with resources and strategies for developing literature reviews for the final course projects in Dr. McGreavy's course. 

Need help? Contact Jen Bonnet at Fogler Library!

NB: The guide structure has been adapted from the University of Arizona Libraries.

The Literature Review

A literature review brings together scholarly works on a topic, and is intended to:

  • explore compelling questions, problems, concepts, or issues that you would like to address
  • discover relationships between ideas
  • connect your ideas to existing literature on your research topic(s) 
  • demonstrate your knowledge of a topic
  • demonstrate your ability to critique and synthesize various strands of the conversation taking place around your topic
  • indicate your capacity to identify research gaps, areas for further consideration, and/or disagreements in the literature

The literature review forms the core of your project, serving as the foundation on which you will build your position or thesis, situate your own ideas or findings within a larger context, and develop your contribution to the scholarly conversation around your topic. 


A literature review tells a story, but the research process that goes into that storytelling is nonlinear. There are likely many lines of study/angles/perspectives on your topic. In this vein, a literature review is iterative and ongoing. You may do any or all of the following as you prepare your papers for this class...

A. You will likely conduct an initial literature review to:

  • explore and better understand the existing research on your topic
  • develop your own perspective on an issue or problem
  • demonstrate what you know about your topic.

You may have an initial thesis or hypothesis that, once you become more informed on your topic, you revise (sometimes multiple times).

B. As you further refine your research questions or interests, a more focused literature review will help you flesh out your ideas and focus on the concepts that are important to your particular area of inquiry.

C. As you conduct your ethnography or field experience, other questions may arise, and further literature searching may become important. 

D. Once you've completed your field experience, you will want to situate your findings in the literature. This may come, in part, from previous research you conducted, and in part from new approaches or themes that may have emerged in the field and that you want to further understand or expand upon.

As you begin:

1. Discuss your research with your instructor, colleagues, classmates, and librarian(s) to figure out which resources might be a good fit, or to identify research strategies you may want to use. Consider a wide range of resources that may be useful to you, and the various scholarly perspectives it would be important to include.

2. Look at other literature reviews to get a sense of the realm of options that exist. You may want to use one or two as a model, or to stimulate ideas around the organization of your own review.

3. Critique each resource you select for your literature review, considering issues of authority, currency, research methodology, novelty, bibliography/supporting evidence, and perspective/bias.

4. As you read, note major concepts that are important to your research. Abstracts and section headings can help you quickly grasp the primary themes of an article and help you decide how/if the article fits with your research question(s). 

5. Identify how the resources you have selected relate to concepts you are exploring or have already discovered (some may apply to many or one concept) and/or how they diverge or present new perspectives. An annotated bibliography can help you organize your thoughts and begin to synthesize the literature, but ultimately, your literature review will be a coherent synthesis of these concepts rather than a list of items with summary descriptions.

6. Categorize your resources in meaningful ways that help you to organize your thoughts around your topic. Examples include major concepts or themes that emerge in the literature you collect, pro/con/alternative views, theoretical approaches, methodological approaches, type of source (primary, secondary). 

Depending on the complexity of your topic, or how you organize your thoughts, you may want to map your research concepts in order to visualize your topic. One tool you could use is


Library Catalogs

Selection of Scholarly Databases related to Course Topics

A list of all of Fogler's databases can be found here.

Bibliographic Management

LibX Toolbar

LibX is a browser add-on you can download for Firefox and Google Chrome. It facilitates access to Fogler Library resources from anywhere with an internet connection. 

Features of LibX:

  • Search the Library's catalog directly from the LibX toolbar.
  • Gain quick and easy access to e-journals, especially from off-campus, by reloading pages through the UMaine Library proxy.
  • Quickly discover if you have access to citations in a bibliography using LibX's right-click menu.
  • Turn the web into a library catalog to find out if books on Amazon, Wikipedia, and other popular websites are available to borrow from Fogler Library.
  • Search Google Scholar from within a bibliography – it's a click away from any web page.

Interlibrary Loan
The Fogler Library Interlibrary Loan Department works with other libraries and information providers to obtain research materials not held by Fogler Library. This service is free for students, faculty, and staff. Place a request here.

Journal Articles
Below are journal articles with various approaches to literature reviews that come from authors' ethnographic fieldwork. You will find these articles through OneSearch.

  • "Spaces of play, spaces of responsibility: Creating dichotomous geographies of outdoor citizenship", Katrina M. Brown; Geoforum 55:22-32 (2014)
  • Evelyn Y. Ho (2006) Behold the Power of Qi: The Importance of Qi in the Discourse of Acupuncture, Research on Language and Social Interaction, 39:4, 411-440, DOI: 10.1207/s15327973rlsi3904_3
  • Cantzler, J. M. (2007). Environmental justice and social power rhetoric in the moral battle over whaling. Sociological Inquiry, 77(3), 483-512. doi:10.1111/j.1475-682X.2007.00201.x

Below are examples of edited volumes or conference proceedings that take additional approaches to literature reviews.

The following books have sections on literature reviews, with the final two books offering advice for presenting your research.


Jen Bonnet's picture
Jen Bonnet
5729 Fogler Library
University of Maine
Orono, ME 04469-5729


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