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Political Science: Literature Reviews

Literature Reviews

What is a literature review?

A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area. It can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.


Writing a literature review

A literature review, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not the sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that you will not just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them, one at a time.  As you read widely in your topic area, consider instead what themes or issues connect your sources together. Do they present one or different solutions? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? How well do they present the material and do they portray it according to an appropriate theory? Do they reveal a trend in the field? A raging debate? You may want to pick one of these themes to focus the organization of your review.

(This section was adapted from the University of North Carolina Writing Center's Guide to Literature Reviews.)


Sources to Help You

Writing a Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix

Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

TIP:  Look for other literature reviews in your subject area to see how they are written.  Use the keyword "literature review."

The Writing Process

Research is only half of the equation when you're working on an academic project.  You must now synthesize your ideas and sources into a logical, coherent product.  Here are some links that will help you with this process.

Subject Librarian

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Key Features of Empirical Research

These are some key features to look for when identifying empirical research in political science.

NOTE: Not all of these features will be in every empirical research article, some may be excluded, use this only as a guide.

  • Statement of methodology
  • Research questions are clear and measurable
  • Individuals, group, subjects which are being studied are identified/defined
  • Data is presented regarding the findings
  • Controls or instruments such as surveys or tests were conducted
  • There is a literature review
  • There is discussion of the results included
  • Citations/references are included

Some useful keywords may be...

  • Action Research
  • Case Studies
  • Ethnography
  • Evaluation Methods
  • Evaluation Research
  • Experiments
  • Focus Groups
  • Field Studies
  • Interviews
  • Surveys
  • Qualitative Research
  • Research