A Literature Review Is Not:
- just a summary of sources
- a grouping of broad, unrelated sources
- a compilation of everything that has been written on a particular topic
- literature criticism (think English) or a book review
So, what is it then?
A literature review is an integrated analysis-- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings that are related directly to your research question. That is, it represents the literature that provides background information on your topic and shows a correspondence between those writings and your research question.
A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment. Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.
Why is it important?
A literature review is important because it:
- Explains the background of research on a topic.
- Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
- Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
- Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
- Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
- Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.
Example of a short literature review in sports medicine is available here.
An example of a student literature review in psychology and lecturer's comments is here.
A literature review in a proposal to investigate how indigenous peoples choose plant medicines.
An example of a literature review on language and gender with annotated comments.
Below is an example of a lit. review from the social sciences
See the following link.
From Vaughan Dickson and Tony Myatt, “The Determinants of Provincial Minimum Wages in Canada,” Journal of Labor Research 23 (2002), 57-68:
In the last few years, prompted largely by the work of Card and Kruger (1995), numerous articles on the employment effects of minimum wage legislation have appeared. This renewed interest in how minimum wages affect employment leads naturally to another question: What factors determine the minimum wage? Despite the ubiquity of minimum wage legislation, this question has received surprisingly little attention. One reason may be that in the U.S. the minimum wage is legislated at the federal rather than at the state level of government. Since this federal wage changes only occasionally, most U.S. studies have been limited to cross-sectional studies that focus on how the characteristics of the states, and the party affiliation of legislators, influence the vote on proposed changes in the federal minimum wage (Silberman and Durbin, 1970; Kau and Rubin, 1978; Bloch, 1980; Seltzer, 1995). However, as pointed out by Baker et al. (1999), Canada offers some unique advantages for minimum wage studies: Since the Canadian minimum wage is under provincial, not federal jurisdiction, there has been substantial variation in the level and timing of changes in the wage across provinces, thus providing the opportunity to explore a relatively rich panel data set. To date, only one... study (Blais et al., 1989) has investigated the determinants of provincial minimum wages using a pooled data set extending across eight years (1975 to 1982) and nine provinces....
As noted, U.S. studies have usually been cross sectional and have examined what variables influenced congressional voting for increases in the federal minimum wage. For example, Bloch (1993) related state wage levels and proportions of unionized employees to votes by senators to amend the 1977 and 1989 Federal Labor Standards Act and thereby increase the minimum wage. For each year he found only the union variable increased the probability of an in-favor vote - and only for Republicans, since Democrats almost universally support minimum wage increases. An earlier contribution is Silberman and Durden (1976) who examined congressmen's votes for the 1973 amendment to increase the minimum wage. Using variables for each congressional district, they found larger political contributions by unions and larger proportions of low-income families increased the probability of an affirmative vote, while larger campaign contributions from small business and larger proportions of teen-age workers reduced the probability. Kau and Rubin (1978) expanded Silberman and Durden's analysis to five separate cross sections covering five legislated increases in the federal minimum wage between 1949 and 1974. They found that higher state wages and a measure of the congressperson's liberalism were always positively and significantly associated with votes for, while percentage of blacks in the state was negatively related, but not significant, in all the cross sections. Unionization in the state's work force and political party of the legislator were never significant; the latter result probably occurred because northern and southern Democrats typically voted on opposite sides.
More recently, Seltzer (1995) explored support in both the House and Senate for the 1938 introduction of the federal minimum wage law. He found variables representing small business and low-wage workers decreased support for the bill, while ideology (liberals for, conservatives against) was also important. To anticipate future problems, Seltzer emphasized that not only are some variables inevitably theoretically ambiguous (a low-wage worker may rationally support or oppose minimum wage increases depending on whether job loss is expected), but also the coefficients on some variables must be interpreted cautiously. For example, should the coefficient for a variable measuring teen workers in the labor force be interpreted as their demand for higher wages, or does the coefficient better reflect the demands of well-organized firms that disproportionally hire younger workers?
In contrast to the U.S., Canada presents a better opportunity to study variations in minimum wages across jurisdictions and time, so it is perhaps surprising that the only study, to our knowledge, that examines Canadian minimum wage determination is Blais et al. (1989). They related the minimum wage, measured as the minimum wage divided by the average manufacturing wage, to the percentages of union workers, women, and 15 to 19-year-olds in the labor force, the current year unemployment rate, the inflation rate, the percentage of employment in small firms (less than 20 employees), and a "convergence" variable that measures average manufacturing wages in a province divided by average wages in Canada. This model was tested with ordinary least squares for a pooled sample covering nine provinces for the years 1975 to 1982, with no fixed effects for provinces or years. All variables had negative coefficients that were significant at the 5 percent level, except for the union variable which was, unexpectedly, negative and insignificant....
Abizadeh, Sohrab and John A. Gray. "Politics and Provincial Government Spending in Canada." Canadian Public Administration 35 (Winter 1992): 519-33.
Akyeampong, Earnest B. "Working for Minimum Wage." Perspectives on Labour Income. Statistics Canada Catalogue 75-001E (Winter 1989): 8-20.
Baker, Michael, Dwayne Benjamin, and Schuchita Stanger. "The Highs and Lows of the Wage Effect: A Time-Series Cross-Section Study of the Canadian Law." Journal of Labor Economics 17 (April 1999): 318-50.
Blais, Andre, Jean-Michel Cousineau, and Kenneth McRoberts. "The Determinants of Minimum Wage Rates." Public Choice 62 (July 1989): 15-24.
Bloch, Farrell E. "Political Support for Minimum Wage Legislation: 1989." Journal of Labor Research 14 (Spring 1993): 187-90.
Card, David and Alan Kruger. Myth and Measurement: The New Economics of the Minimum Wage. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.
Cox, James C. and Ronald L. Oaxaca. "The Political Economy of Minimum Wage Legislation." Economic Inquiry 20 (October 1982): 533-55.
Fortin, Pierre. "Unemployment Insurance Meets the Classical Labor Supply Model." Economics Letters 14 (1984): 275-81.
Kalt, Joseph P. and Mark A. Zupan. "Capture and Ideology in the Economic Theory of Politics." American Economic Review 74 (June 1984): 279-300.
Kau, James B. and Paul H. Rubin. "Voting on Minimum Wages: A Time-Series Analysis." Journal of Political Economy 86 (April 1978): 337-42.
Mueller, Dennis. Public Choice II . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Peltzman, Sam. "Toward a More General Theory of Regulation." Journal of Law and Economics 19 (August 1976): 211-40.
Salop, Steven C. and David T. Scheffman. "Raising Rivals Costs." American Economic Review 73 (May 1983): 267-71.
Seltzer, Andrew J. "The Political Economy of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938." Journal of Political Economy 103 (December 1996): 1302-42.
Silberman Jonathan I. and Garey C. Durden. "Determining Legislative Preferences on the Minimum Wage: An Economic Approach." Journal of Political Economy 84 (April 1976): 317-29.
Simon, R.J. Public Opinion in America, 1936-1970. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1974.
Sobel, Russell S. "Theory and Evidence on the Political Economy of Minimum Wage." Journal of Political Economy 107 (August 1999): 761-85.
Stigler, George. "The Theory of Economic Regulation." Bell Journal of Economics and Management Science 2 (Spring 1971): 3-21.