Junior Qual Guide

The qualifying examination is normally undertaken during the second semester of a student’s junior year, concurrently with taking Sociology 311. The requirement is satisfied by submitting a paper that critically engages analyses in peer-reviewed journal articles of a specific sociological phenomenon by two modern sociologists working from different theoretical approaches, methodologies or data sets. The first key objective is for students to learn how contemporary sociologists identify, analyze, and formulate questions, respond to contributions made by prior scholarship, construct empirical research projects, and use findings to engage ongoing debates. An ideal article pairing considers a specific, common topic that the authors approach from different theoretical foundations, different research methodologies or types of data, and/or with different conclusions about factors, dynamics, or mechanisms responsible for a given phenomenon. This format gives the Department the opportunity to assess how well students are able to explore literature in a sociological subfield and to become familiar with the continuity of theoretically-motivated empirical research in that scholarly community. The second key objective is to prepare students for undertaking work on their senior thesis.

The paper to be submitted is a 15-16 page, double space exercise and is due soon or sometimes immediately after spring break. Students should prepare to devote a significant amount of time to the junior qualifying exercise, consisting mainly in participating in Sociology 390. Many do the bulk of the qual writing during the spring break period.

Note that the qualifying paper is not itself a literature review, although accomplishing its core tasks (outlined below) requires students to review and map the relevant sociological literature.

Selecting authors, articles

Students focus on peer-reviewed research articles written  by two different sociologists (or sets of sociologists) in their paper. They will analyze two journal articles for their qual. 

The authors must be sociologists speaking to debates within sociology over the social world. They should also be modern or contemporary sociologists writing in the last decade or so, and not classical sociologists. Ideally, students choosing their own authors will select one article that student has read or learned about in a sociology course that they are taking or have taken.  Students would then choose a second author who either cites, or is cited by, the author(s) of the first article, and identify how each approaches a sociological puzzle. The two papers may not share an author, and both research articles must report results from empirical analyses. Both choices must be vetted by faculty. Proposals for mixing formats and other alternative formats are welcome; the Department’s aim is to facilitate and shape, but not constrict, students’ engagement with the literature.

Elements of the exercise and paper

The junior qualifying exercise requires students to accomplish four sets of tasks, which can be used to organize the format of the paper submitted.


Formulate and state the basic research question the two authors pursue in their work, and briefly describe the broader context or debate in which the question is posed. What questions do they raise and together address? What broader intellectual space do they occupy?

  1. On average, an introduction runs 2  pages and might refer to the broader sociological traditions or research streams of which the articles are a part or say something about the sociological significance of the phenomena they both study.
  2. This section should also briefly address the general conclusion of the paper. The conclusion should flow from the student’s overall assessment of the contributions, strengths and weaknesses of the two works.

Exposition and integration

Extract, outline and contrast the ways in which the two authors construct their research, including the theories and methods they use to address the question and their core findings.

  1. On average, this section runs roughly 8pages (~4 pages per article). It should summarize and compare the two pieces of work, describing the thesis, theoretical approach, research design, methodological strategies, findings and interpretive conclusions of each article.
  2. This section should also address how each article speaks to the other. It should address the relative strengths and weaknesses of each work and how the authors speak to each other or the broader debate. Do the authors agree or disagree about the nature of the phenomenon they study and about the processes or factors that might matter for the outcome of interest? Does one study use a method or approach that the other should use or should have used?

Impact in the field

Assess how the authors’ research speaks to one another and shapes research and debate in the field.  In this section, students will assess how the authors have been read by others and how they have contributed to the debate or understanding of the phenomenon of interest. 

  1. On average, this section runs approximately 2 pages. Have the studies been read by others in the field? How have they been reviewed and been cited by peers? How do they move the debate forward or reshape the ways sociologists think about a social phenomenon?
  2. This section should look at how the articles have been received, using a bibliographic search for citations. Students should review 4-5 articles that cite each of these papers and include a brief summary analysis of how the citing articles view your articles and build on or reject their work.

Conclusion and research prospectus

Draw a general conclusion and consider what should be done to further address the research question or deal with issues not addressed by the two papers. In conjunction with these aims, this section includes a brief proposal for future research.

  1. On average, this section runs 2-3 pages. What are the basic conclusions you derive from your analysis of the two papers and their impact on the field?
  2. What new or unresolved questions arise? How should we address them? This should be considered as a first attempt at a thesis proposal, and should emerge organically and clearly from the two works discussed in the paper. The new or unresolved questions arising from the texts should be included here, as well as what suggestions you would have for pursuing those questions empirically.  

The final paper should be no longer than 16 double-spaced pages in 12 pt font.

Resources for literature review

Note that the junior qualifying exam is not meant to be simply a literature review. However, accomplishing the key tasks of the qual - understanding how authors formulate a research question, situating authors’ work in a broader context, and assessing how that work contributes to ongoing research and debate - requires that students review and map the relevant sociological literature. Students can access tools for reviewing the sociological literature on the department website.

Submission checklist for the final paper

Required Elements of the Document

  • Cover page, including:
    • Student’s Full Name
    • Title of Paper
    • Date of Submission
    • Student’s Mailstop Number
  • Abstract
    • Approximately 150 words
    • On its own page
  • Introduction
  • Summary and Integration
    • Include analysis of methodology
  • Impact in the Field
    • Include both how other articles review the paper and citation analysis
  • Conclusion and Research Prospectus
  • Works Cited List

Proper Formatting

  • ASA Citation Format
    • Citations should be provided in text (not in footnotes or endnotes) and should include the author’s last name, date published, and page number.
      • Example: (Baker 2002:35)
    • “Works Cited” should be at the end of the document, on its own page, in alphabetical order by author’s last name, double-spaced, with a hanging indent.
    • Refer to for further formatting specifications.
  • Margins should be set to 1” on all four sides.
  • Font should be set to Times New Roman 12pt.
  • Page numbers should be on the top right hand corner; no page numbers should be included on the cover page or abstract page. Page numbers should include the students’ last name in the following format:
    • Baker 2
  • All text in the document should be double-spaced.

On the date the exam is due (refer to cohort-specific documents for this information), complete and properly formatted quals should be posted on the Junior Qual: Submissions section of Department of Sociology Moodle page.