Literature Review Purpose

Literature Review Purpose A literature review is part of an academic paper where prior to presenting your new data/theories/positions on a topic you review the previous literature on the subject to es

Literature Review Purpose

A literature review is part of an academic paper where prior to presenting your new data/theories/positions on a topic you review the previous literature on the subject to essentially give the “state of the subject,” thereby setting the stage for your own contributions building off what went before.  You don’t have to “reinvent the wheel,” but you do need to establish what the current wheel looks like. So, imagine you are doing a paper on the topic the articles assigned are about and are filling your reader in on what is “out there” in the literature prior to you providing your new policy or analysis or findings on that subject. “Evaluating” the article does not mean just agree/disagree, but examining how well the author presents the argument in terms of validity and elegance of the idea.  It is NOT a time to do “opposition research” where you try to find other sources that might provide opposing positions.  Nor is it equivalent to a movie review where you tell me whether you liked it or not. The object is to identify and “deconstruct” the main arguments, demonstrating a clear understanding of the author’s arguments.

Imagine your Intro as part of a bigger paper, and your literature review is a PART of that paper that will provide the background or introduce some interesting ideas or theories on that topic.  But leave your analysis of the big paper topic out for this assignment, or at least until the conclusion.  For this assignment, your analysis should be focused on the articles themselves.

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Literature Review Directions

  • You may have one or more articles.  Adjust your organization to that number.  I want ONE unified review.  Do not write a separate response for a 2nd article.  You may have the option to read additional articles for extra consideration, but you then must write MORE.  IE, still a detailed evaluation of each article, NOT a superficial response to more articles.
  • What you write must be about the reading(s).  I do NOT want an essay on the topic that the article is about. I want a response to/evaluation of the reading(s). (I don’t want an essay of your opinion with just an occasional reference to the article(s) if they support your point. I want a review of the article(s) and how they prove THEIR point, tied together with a theme.)


Find unifying theme for the articles.  What is that “Big Paper” about? Set up the article(s) – What is the topic? Why is it relevant? Why is it important?  Why are we reading THESE articles?

In the BODY paragraphs:

  1. Identify and Summarize the reading: Title, author, premise/thesis.  What is the thesis?
  2. Choose a key or essential argument, statistic, etc. from the reading and explain it. What are the most important ideas,  theories, or data sets? Are there references to other theories/studies that are important (Dunning-Kruger effect, Hofstader, Gilens and Page…)?
  3. Evaluate the argument.  Strengths? Weaknesses? What would you add? What did author fail to see?    Focus on the big picture,  not minutiae.
  4. Repeat b and c for same article and then subsequent articles repeat a,b,c.  The more depth the better.


Evaluate the sum of the arguments.  What is the impact/importance of this data?  Does it MATTER (what are  the implications if true)?  Why/Why not? How does it contribute (or not) to our understanding of the main subject? Connect back to your specific questions and ideas in the intro.  Restate them.  Then “close the circle” and provide answers or insights based on the readings.

  • Try to apply ideas and theories presented in the Textbook!
  • Should have paragraph developmental sequence.  Typically should be 7 paragraphs as pretty much a minimum. DOUBLE SPACE.  12 point font. You do not need title info at top – Canvas gives me your name, the date submitted and it is automatically submitted under the correct assignment.
  • YOU “frame” your discussion based on ideas generated from the class chapters or current events. Try to make CONNECTIONS between the article and what is going on in American politics, but the FOCUS is the ARTICLE!

TEMPLATE (Use this structure until you master the process- fill in blanks with article specifics):Intro:

“Power is the key explanatory variable in political science.  Power is defined as….  It is important to get a fuller picture of power because of… Questions around the concept include…  IN order to get a better picture of how power is manifested in the US, I will examine the following X articles, 1., 2., and 3 (with title and author).  This examination will give us better insight into ideas of….” (Power here is an example of what you COULD use.  You MAY use it if it fits, but the preference is that you come up with your own unifying idea.  DO NOT use power for every response.)


Par 1 “The 1st article is “…” by …  In this article, author 1 examines…  One of the interesting arguments they make is … supported by Figure 1, which shows…  The data seems to support the idea that… which the author suggests is caused by… this analysis seems valid, because  …

Par 2  “A second interesting argument in the Author 1 article is…, which also addresses the concept of …  As author shows in Chart 2… The data seems to support the idea that… which the author suggests is caused by…  this analysis seems valid, because  …

Par 3 “The 2nd article is “…” by …  In this article, author 2 examines…  This is similar to Author 1, but takes the approach/focuses on… One of the interesting arguments they make is … supported by Figure 1, which shows…  The data seems to support the idea that… which the author suggests is caused by… this analysis seems valid, because  …

Par 4 “Lather rinse, repeat.”

Par 5 “Lather, rinse.”


“The preceding article(s)/analysis confirm/reject the idea that Power is…  Each article took a slightly different approach but all/none seemed to agree on cause/effect of phenomenon being examined (power, etc).  When one examines the questions of… (connect back to ideas/themes/questions from you Intro, restate them), one could argue that… which is consistent with author X, which is inconsistent with author X.  I would argue that…  This article is valuable in identifying trends or problems with…. It is valuable/not valuable to understanding why/how/when/what x happens/is happening…  The implications of this to/for the World/US/Democracy/Society/Progress are….”

Final Rules/Hints

  • We will do a number of these.  Your last one should be better than your first.  I grade the 3rd one harder than the 1st.
  • Student work will be submitted to TURNITIN to check for plagiarism.
  • DO NOT post links or refer to alternative articles as your response.  I don’t care if you agree or disagree with my choices, but you have to read THEM, not your choices. Show me you read it and understand it – that is the first expected outcome.  2nd outcome is that you understand it enough to critique it.  If you choose to get info from other sources as part of your response, link them, but use them ONLY to support YOUR positions, not as the position itself.  But my preference is that you NOT use outside sources.  Instead focus on the author and your reaction to their arguments.  If that is not clear, ask for more elaboration. If you DO use the source you are responsible for its validity.  If it is not valid in my opinion, or is not responsive to the readings (ie the reading preempts the arguments, postdates them, is superior, etc.) then I will deduct points from you not them.
  • So we should not need a bibliography for the lit reviews. All references should be to the assigned reading so a simple in text citation (“According to McKay…”) is fine.  Exact quotes from articles must have quotation marks.  If you use the text simply use a parenthetical (Gadde, pg. XX).  You might use a definition or material from elsewhere, if so, then a citation should be given and a full bibliography entry at end of your review.
  • TO turn in: Click SUBMIT ASSIGNMENT. Please copy and paste into “Text Entry” box and click SUBMIT ASSIGNMENT.

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