Examiners of dissertations regularly have to endure “literature reviews” that consist of extended lists of mini-summaries of books. Indeed, quite often “dissertations” amount to little more than a list of book-summaries masquerading as an argument. While there are excellent courses on qualitative and quantitative methods, most students have learnt how to conduct literature reviews exclusively through the method of learning by doing. Ultimately, there is no alternative to this age-old method. However, this essay is premised on the belief that a brief attempt to understand the general function of a literature review in political science should make learning by doing easier and more productive.
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