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Econ480: Economics Senior Thesis 2023: Doing a Literature Review

What is a Literature Review?

Purpose: "To summarize what is known about some issue or field on the basis of research evidence, and/or what lines of argument there are in relation to that issue or field." (from The Sage Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods).

Where do you see literature reviews?

  • Stand-alone articles (e.g., articles in the Journal of Economic Literature are often literature reviews)
  • An early section of an article or thesis, setting the stage to show how a new study fits into the existing literature (nearly all scholarly journal articles will include a lit review section)

Choosing Your Sources

You probably can't be exhaustive, so selectivity is key.

Try to cite the most relevant and important articles. (Look at information in Google Scholar on how often the article has been cited).

Tracing citations both backward and forward is a key element: look at both an article's bibliography, and the articles citing that article.

Writing the lit review

  • Organize into sections that present themes or identify trends (a literature review is NOT a list describing one piece of literature after another). Possibilities for organizing the body of the literature review include:
  • Chronological
  • Thematic
  • Methodological
  • Within any such organizational scheme, you might further divide the works reviewed into categories (e.g., those in support of a particular argument and those against).
  • Other sections you might want to include:
  • Methods/Standards: How did you select your sources (e.g., did you only use peer-reviewed journals)? How did you decide to present your information (e.g., you present your information thematically, to address one question at a time)?
  • Questions for Further Research: Do you see unanswered questions in the field?
  • Use direct quotations sparingly, and also be succinct in describing the literature you are citing. Report the methodologies, the key measurements, and the findings.   

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