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HSS 501/2/3 - Economics: Literature Reviews

What is a Literature Review?

A "literature review" is a type of scholarly writing that examines and evaluates significant published works (literature) on a particular topic.

The goal of a literature review is to provide an overview of a number of published works (scholarly journal articles, books, dissertations, etc.) on a particular issue or area of study, and provide a summary and evaluation of each work. Literature reviews do not have a traditional thesis or an overarching argument, but they are organized around a specific research question.

Here are the four main components of a literature review:

  1. Topic Overview. What issue, subject, or research question is being examined? What are the different components of the issue, or ways to approach it? What is the goal of the literature review?
  2. Summaries of the Literature. Describe the specific works of relevant literature you have found in your research. What stance does each work take on the topic? Who are the authors and what are their credentials? Consider dividing the literature up into categories (pro/con, topic approaches, etc.)
  3. Literature Evaluations and Comparisons. How do these works compare to each other in the landscape of this particular topic? Consider strengths and weaknesses, objectivity, persuasiveness, methodologies, timeliness, value of the data, and so on.
  4. Conclusion. Which pieces of literature are the strongest? Now that the publishing landscape has been described, where are there new opportunities for research?

Literature Review Tips

• Search for works to included in your literature review using the tabs in this guide. Remember to read carefully, check bibliographies, and make note of authors or studies mentioned in any articles.

• Literature reviews are NOT meant to cover all the literature on a given topic. Choose only those that appear most significant and relevant to your topic.

• Think of a literature review as an extended annotated bibliography in the format of a paper. Your review will analyze, condense, synthesize, and present the ideas and concepts from those works into your words.

• Questions to keep in mind when reviewing specific academic works: What was the research question of the article you are reviewing? Who funded the research? What possible bias or perspective does the author or funding body bring to the article? How does this article help answer (or not) your research question?

Find more guidance and tips for outlining your own literature review here: