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Political Science: Literature Reviews

A guide to reliable resources on Political Science at Transylvania University Library.

Starting your literature review

1. Use this guide as a starting point. Begin your search with the resources linked from the political science subject guide. These library catalogs and databases will help you identify what's been published on your topic.

2. What came first? Try bibliographic tracing. As you're finding sources, pay attention to what and whom these authors cite. Their footnotes and bibliographies will point you in the direction of additional scholarship on your topic.

3. What comes next? Look for reviews and citation reports. What did scholars think about that book when it was published in 2003? Has anyone cited that article since 1971? Reviews and citation analysis tools can help you determine if you've found the seminal works on your topic--so that you can be confident that you haven't missed anything important, and that you've kept up with the debates in your field. You'll find book reviews in JSTOR and other databases. Google Scholar has some citation metrics. 

4. Stay current. Get familiar with the top journals in your field, and set up alerts for new articles. If you don't know where to begin, APSA and other scholarly associations often maintain lists of journals, broken out by subfield. In many databases (and in Google Scholar), you can also set up search alerts, which will notify you when additional items have been added that meet your search criteria.

5. Stay organized. A citation management tool--e.g., RefWorks, Endnote, Zotero, Mendeley--will help you store your citations, generate a bibliography, and cite your sources while you write. Some of these tools are also useful for file storage, if you'd like to keep PDFs of the articles you've found. To get started with citation management tools, check out the resources listed on the "Citation" tab. 

Locating Lit Reviews

1. Consult Annual Reviews. The Annual Review of Political Science consists of thorough literature review essays in all areas of political science, written by noted scholars. The library also subscribes to Annual Reviews in economics, law and social science, sociology, and many other disciplines.

2. Turn to handbooks, bibliographies, and other reference sources. Resources like Gale Virtual Reference and assorted handbooks (Oxford Handbook of American Political Parties and Interest Groups and other political science handbooks in our collection) are great ways to get a substantive introduction to a topic, subject area, debate, or issue. Not exactly literature reviews, but they do provide significant reference to and commentary on the relevant literature--like a heavily footnoted encyclopedia for specialists in a discipline. 

3. Search databases and Google Scholar.  Use the recommended databases in the "Articles, Books or Background" tab of this guide and try a search that includes the phrase "literature review."

4. Search in journals for literature review articles. Once you've identified the important journals in your field as suggested in the section above, you can target these journals and search for review articles. 

5. Find book reviews. These reviews can often contain useful contextual information about the concerns and debates of a field. Ebsco databases are a good source for book reviews, as is JSTOR. To get to book reviews in JSTOR, select the advanced search option, use the title of the book as your search phrase, and narrow by item type: reviews. You can also narrow your search further by discipline.

6. Cast a wide net--don't forget dissertations.  Dissertations and theses often include literature review sections. While these aren't necessarily authoritative, definitive literature reviews (you'll want to check in Annual Reviews for those), they can provide helpful suggestions for sources to consider. Try searching ProQuest and limiting to "thesis or dissertation" to find such resources. 

Understanding the Literature Review

Understanding a literature review...

  • What?  Overview /survey of a small body of scholarly research (i.e. books, articles, conference papers, theses, dissertations, etc.) in a particular discipline.
  • Why?    Often a required component of grant and research proposals. They are also a common preface to theses, dissertations, and scholarly articles.
  • Scope?   Determined in large part by your research needs and/or restrictions.  (Summary or critical evaluation) 


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Beth Carpenter
Transylvania University Library
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Helen Bischoff
Transylvania University Library
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Lexington, KY 40508-1797