* My PhD students have largely learned to avoid subjecting me to these reviews as I have given them heaps of painful feedback over the years. The post today is due to the other two categories of folks.So, the tendency is to label a section of a chapter or an article "Literature Review" which, for all intents and purposes can be read as "Beware, here lies boring and largely irrelevant stuff." There are two ways to write this stuff (well, more than two, but why not dichotomize wherever one can): list a heap of stuff written in the field; or discuss why previous work is insufficient and how one is building one's argument by relying on the various arguments made by others. If the latter, then name the section or sections more descriptively.
If you cannot cut all the literature that you think is tangential to your argument, put it in the footnotes.
Saideman's rule number one for writing--just because you read something or learned something does not mean it is relevant. Saideman's rule number two--edit before submitting to Steve or anyone else. The problem is that if you bury your argument in a heap of lit review, the person reading it might not be able to find the argument or care that much when he/she does because the attention will be focused on the heap of extraneous literature and not on the logic of the argument.
Of course, I have written crappy lit reviews and some of them have even gotten published. Students should read stuff in the field not just to get the arguments, but figure out what styles of writing work best. If nearly every piece in a journal has a "literature review" sub-heading, then ignore my plea and follow the model for that journal. Read the best articles that review literatures (Annual Review of Political Science has many good ones) or heaps of pieces written by Jack Levy (like this one or this one).
More is less, less is more. Yes, some reviewers want heaps of literature, but if you put it in the notes, you should be ok. As long as you cite me.**
** That is a joke. For jokes, see Marx, G. (1939).