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PSCI 3300: Introduction to Political Research

Library research guide for PSCI 2300

What is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

A literature review is a synthesized account that evaluates the publications in a subject area, which are written by scholars or researchers. Literature reviews are used in a variety of contexts:

  • standalone article
  • introduction to a research paper
  • introduction to a research prospectus
  • an early chapter in a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation

Note that a literature review evaluates the literature; it does not simply summarize it.

What a Literature Review is Not?

A literature review is NOT:

  • an annotative bibliography
  • descriptive list
  • summary of your readings

You need to be evaluating the literature and explaining how it leads to your research question or supports your thesis statement.

Why Do a Literature Review?

You may have been told you're required to do literature review, but don't know why you have to go through the process. Remembering some of the "whys" may help you focus and write your literature review.

Standalone article:

  • Updates readers and the author on the current research, theories and methodologies in a subject area
  • Demonstrates that you can evaluate the literature

Research paper:

  • Sets the context for your thesis statement for the reader
  • Focuses your thesis statement
  • Demonstrates you can evaluate the literature


  • Explains the context of your research proposal and definitions in the field for a general audience
  • Demonstrates to professionals in the field that you are familiar with the literature relevant to your proposal and can evaluate it
  • Updates you on current research, theories and methodologies that will help focus your proposal

Thesis or Dissertation:

  • Allows you to determine whether your research question is original
  • Helps you focus your research question and hypothesis
  • Teaches you the important historical and current facts, theories, models, and methods in your topic area
  • Sets the context for your research question
  • Demonstrates to professionals in the field that you know how to do advanced literature searches and evaluate literature


Online Resources

“The most common mistake that students make in writing a literature review for a research paper is to lose sight of its purpose. You include the literature review to explain both the basis for and contribution of your research project. The literature review should be focused on issues directly relevant to your study and should be organized in a way to call attention to the contributions of your research. The purpose of the literature review is NOT to show that you have read a lot of material.”

 (Ashley Leeds, Rice University(page 2-3): 



Need More Help? Try these Books:


  • Bloomberg, L.D., & Volpe, M. (2008). Completing your Qualitative Dissertation: A Roadmap from Beginning to End. Los Angeles: Sage
  • Machi, L.E., & McEvoy, B.T. ( 2009). The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Sage.
  • O'Hara, M., Wainwright, J., & Kay, J. (2011). Successful dissertations : The complete guide for education, childhood and early childhood studies students. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing.

This class page is based on the 2011 presentation, "The Literature Review Process," created by librarian Annie Downey.

Additional Links