How to empirically review the literature?

By on September 28, 2015
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Empirical research according to Penn State University is based on “observed and measured phenomenon. It derives the knowledge from actual experience rather than from theory or belief”. The empirical review is structured to answer specific research questions within a research paper. Therefore, it enables the researcher to find answers to questions like; What is the problem? The methodology used to study the problem? What was found? What do the findings mean?

Components of empirical review

The key components of empirical review are defined in the figure below. Each of these components will be explained with the help of examples.

Empirical research
Empirical research

Example 1

When we need to conduct an empirical review on more than 10-15 studies, it is important to be crisp in the presentation of information in a minimum number of words. The following example reflects this point precisely.

Nearly two decades ago, Kalleberg and Leicht (1991) (Authors) conducted a comparative study using longitudinal data (Methodology) in the United States to identify the factors affecting survival and success of small businesses started by men and women (Objective). That time concept of women entrepreneurship was at a very nascent stage in India. The research findings revealed that the likelihood of success for women’s businesses was the same as the likelihood of success for men’s (Findings). This is contrary to the general belief that women are inferior when it comes to entrepreneurship. Also, the factors affecting the survival and success of entrepreneurship behaved in similar ways for both men and women (Kalleberg and Leicht, 1991). Therefore, we can conclude that there is no difference with respect to success when it comes to comparing entrepreneurship among the two genders (Implications).

Example 2

When each study has to be presented individually and more elaboration is needed, then the following approach of the presentation can be adopted.

“Impact of FDI on Indian Economy” (Title) by Devajit (2012) (Author)


This study tries to find out how FDI is seen as an important economic catalyst of Indian economic growth by stimulating domestic investment, increasing human capital formation and by facilitating the technology transfers. The main purpose of this study is to investigate the impact of FDI on economic growth in India.


An empirical review of previous studies in the period of 2008-2011.


Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a strategic component of investment is needed by India for its sustained economic growth and development through the creation of jobs, expansion of existing manufacturing industries, short and long term projects in the field of healthcare, education, research, and development (R & D), etc. The government should design the FDI policy in such a way that FDI inflow can be utilized as a means of enhancing domestic production, savings, and exports through the equitable distribution among states by providing much freedom to states. In this way, they can attract FDI inflows at their own level. FDI can help to raise the output, productivity, and export at the sectoral level of the Indian economy. However, it can observe the result of sectoral level output, productivity and export are minimal. This is due to the low flow of FDI into India both at the macro level as well as at the sectoral level.


Therefore for further opening up of the Indian economy, it is advisable to open up the export-oriented sectors and higher growth of the economy could be achieved through the growth of these sectors.

Key points to keep in mind when writing an empirical review

  1. The studies should be discussed in chronological order in order to determine the progress in research over a specific period of time
  2. There should be a link between the two studies which are discussed simultaneously and henceforth. Unless you form a link between studies, there won’t be any flow in your writing. The link can be formed in the form of arguments or agreements.

Example 1: In agreement

Furthermore, a study by Lall & Sahai (2008) was conducted to study of the issues & challenges faced by women entrepreneurs, using the data collected from women entrepreneurs in Lucknow, India. Various psychographic variables were identified including the degree of commitment, challenges in entrepreneurship & future expansion plans. The characteristics of entrepreneurship were identified as self-esteem, self-image, entrepreneurial passion and the ability to handle future operational and expansion problems.

According to the study, an increasing number of women have been found to work in family-owned businesses. However, they work with low statuses and more challenges. Another similar study (in agreement) conducted by Gupta (2008), on women entrepreneurs across the country, highlighted the constraints. This includes lack of finance, support from family, and male dominance in the society, which were constricting the entry of women entrepreneurship in India.

Example 2: In an argument

Nearly three years later, Surthi and Sarupriya (2003) conducted research on women entrepreneurs in India to study the psychological factors which affect women entrepreneurs. As per the findings of the research, demographic factors like; marital status, type of family, and the way they cope with stress affected women entrepreneurs. In addition, women who were living in a joint family experienced less stress in comparison to the ones living in a nuclear family. This is because the ones living in joint families were able to share their problems with their family members. (In argument) while this study identified the factors which were affecting women’s entrepreneurship, a study conducted by Mohiuddin (2006) was to determine the reasons which contribute to women opting for entrepreneurship in India. The reasons which came forward after the end of the study were; 1) economic needs; 2) personality needs, 3) utilization of knowledge gained through education; 4) family occupation and 5) to pass the leisure time.

  1. In addition, the variables identified in each empirical study have to be used to form the conceptual framework at the end Literature Review chapter.
  2. Similarly, in order to refine your empirical review further, a meta-analysis is conducted. In meta-analysis statistical tools are applied to combine the results of different studies. This is done in cases when the number of studies to be analyzed is more than 25.




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