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Mathieu Ouimet and Pierre-Olivier Bédard

This chapter highlights literature review. Reviewing the published literature is one of the key activities of social science research, as a way to position one’s academic contribution, but also to get a bird’s eye view of what the relevant literature says on a given topic or research question. Many guides have been created to assist academic researchers and students in conducting a literature review, but there is no consensus on the most appropriate method to do so. One of the reasons for this lack of consensus is the plurality of epistemological attitudes that coexist in the social sciences. Before initiating a literature review, the researcher should start by clarifying the need for and the purpose of the review. Once this has been clarified, the actual review protocol, tools, and databases to be used will need to be determined to strike a balance between the scope of the study and the depth of the review.


The literature review is a key component of a dissertation. It serves to contextualize the aims and objectives of the project, and in terms of the research process it helps to sensitize issues of interest that the student might want to direct their attention towards when they begin collecting and analysing data. This chapter provides an introduction to the literature review and examines its purpose in relation to the research process. Beginning with a short exploration of the nature of a literature review and its relationship with theory, the chapter goes on to examine the different types of review before detailing the key content. By the end of the chapter, students should have a good understanding of the role of the literature review in research and how it informs every aspect of the research process.


M. Meta-Analysis  

A Solution to Deal with Scientific Information Overload when Conducting Research Syntheses

Noémie Laurens

This chapter illustrates meta-analysis, which is a specific type of literature review, and more precisely a type of research synthesis, alongside traditional narrative reviews. Unlike in primary research, the unit of analysis of a meta-analysis is the results of individual studies. And unlike traditional reviews, meta-analysis only applies to: empirical research studies with quantitative findings hat are conceptually comparable and configured in similar statistical forms. What further distinguishes meta-analysis from other research syntheses is the method of synthesizing the results of studies — i.e. the use of statistics and, in particular, of effect sizes. An effect size represents the degree to which the phenomenon under study exists.


This chapter deals with the first step of the research process: the formulation of a well-crafted research question. It explains why political research should begin with a research question and how a research question structures the research process. It discusses the difference between a topic or general question, on the one hand, and a focused research question, on the other. It also considers the question of where to find and how to formulate research questions, the various types of questions scholars ask, and the role of the ‘literature review’ as a source and rationale for research questions. Finally, it describes a tool called the ‘research vase’ that provides a visualization of the research process, along with different types of questions: descriptive, explanatory, predictive, prescriptive, and normative.