Senior Literature Review Fall 2018

How to Assemble a Reading List


I talked for about half the class about techniques you can use in assembling a reading list. Then everyone worked on their own while I hovered.

Places to start

One super easy way to get a reading list is to just pick up someone’s syllabus. I had someone do this with an old syllabus I had on personal identity, for instance.

Another pretty easy way to go is to get an edited collection of essays written on a topic. Coleman is leaning to doing that with a collection on meta-ethics. You can assume that the editors know more than you, so why try to re-invent the wheel?

If you find a collection of essays, you might look at the editor’s introduction. That can function as a kind of literature review, although it is often restricted to the essays in the collection.

Publishers like putting out things they call “Readers” or “Companions.” They include essays meant to cover the topics in an area of philosophy, such as theories of truth (in Pasakalina’s case) or Plato (Russell). If you can find one on your idea, that will serve as a good guide to what your list might include. If it has a good bibliography, you might even be able to use that to assemble your list.

If you have an article you know you like, you should start with that. Search google scholar and PhilPapers to see who has cited that article. Those are very likely to be on the same topic and some will even directly address the article you started with. Having authors who are in conversation with one another is highly valuable in a literature review. In class, I went over a couple examples to show how this works.

There are encyclopedias, such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. These are particularly good sources of bibliographic material. I often find the entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia to be too long and detailed to be useful in getting up to speed on something I don’t know much about; I have slightly better luck with the other two. But the bibliographies are excellent in all of them. Of course, your mileage may differ; just don’t worry too much if you feel you aren’t getting much out of an entry.

Above all, you should check in with faculty members early and often. They will have a good sense of what will work. So talk with them if you are completely clueless or if you have a list that seems too long. Or even if you think it’s just right! This is something you cannot do too soon.


We want works from professional philosophers. That’s the point of the exercise: researching the professional literature on a topic.

We also want material of high quality. Generally speaking, books published by university presses such as the Oxford University Press, Cambridge, Harvard, or Princeton will fit the bill. I also distributed a list of especially prominent journals in the field; they will be safe too. That isn’t to say that publications from other sources are necessarily bad. It’s just that these are the safest bets.