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Political Science

Provides free and subscription resource recommendations in general and various political science subfields. Includes listings of the most widely used political science data and statistical resources.

What's a Literature Review?

A literature review is an examination of existing primary and secondary scholarly literature, including books, journal articles, working papers, and other scholarly materials. A literature review can be as brief as a one-page summary, or as comprehensive as a full-length scholarly article such as those found in the Annual Reviews. Literature reviews provide scholarly, informative overviews of published literature that help researchers remain up-to-date in their disciplinary areas. Finding relevant articles for a literature review can often be a time-consuming, difficult process and you will likely spend a good deal of time searching for books, articles, dissertations, theses, conference papers, and other resources that will contain good literature reviews. Literature reviews allow scholars to do the following:
  • Acquire a better understanding of the current state of knowledge in a particular discipline or field of study, providing context for a research project.
  • Identify key concepts, theories, methodologies, and other findings related to their research topic, which helps researchers in build theoretical frameworks based on established theories and concepts.
  • Identify gaps in a disciplinary area where there is a lack of research or conflicting findings, and highlight major questions that should be addressed in further literature.

Types of Literature Reviews

There are various forms of literature reviews and it's important that you understand their differences. If you are required to find literature reviews for a research project, make sure to check with your instructor or research advisor if they require you to locate a particular type of literature review. Here are the main types:
  • Narrative literature reviews provide a general, qualitative summary of the literature. Narrative reviews focus on only a few studies that describe a topic of interest and are not systematic. Undergraduates writing research papers for the first time are usually assigned to write this type of review.
  • Systematic reviews follow a structured and rigorous methodology to systematically gather, analyze, and synthesize all relevant studies on a specific topic of literature. Systematic reviews use specific criteria to decide what literature to include in the review. Systematic reviews are primarily used in the medical and psychological literature.
  • Meta-analyses combine empirical statistical analysis research and data from multiple studies. The terms meta-analysis and systematic review are often used interchangeably.
  • Scoping reviews map the literature in a broad sense to identify key themes and gaps. Unlike systematic reviews, which have a narrow focus, scoping reviews are broader in scope and explore a diversity of the available literature in a given field.

Resources for Locating Literature Reviews

Published literature reviews of all types are found in a variety of research databases. It is important to search different databases to locate relevant reviews. Regardless of the databases used, the following searches can be helpful:

  • "literature review" OR "review of the literature" AND "your research topic/question/key terms"
  • "systematic review" AND "your research topic/question/key terms" 
  • "meta analysis" OR "meta-analysis" AND "your research topic/question/key terms"
  • "scoping review" AND "your research topic/question/key terms"
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