Literature Reviews

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a critical summary and analysis of current scholarship on a topic. The material may be empirical, theoretical, critical, analytical, or methodological in nature and the literature may include multimedia and web-based material along with the more traditional book, report and journal article formats.

Why is a literature review important?

Literature reviews are important because they:

  • Build knowledge and identify research methodologies and seminal works in your field.
  • Help focus and refine your research question by articulating the knowledge gap.
  • Provide the intellectual context for your work and situate it within the field.
  • Ensure you will not be replicating existing knowledge or reproducing technical errors.
  • Identify other researchers in your field.
  • Identify the distinctive contribution your research will make and to produce a rationale and justification for your study.
  • Show how research findings are discussed and presented in your discipline area.

For each resource, ask these questions:

  • Has the author clearly defined the problem/issue and has its significance been clearly established?
  • Could the problem or topic have been approached more effectively from another perspective?
  • What is the author's research orientation and theoretical framework?
  • In a research study how sound are the basic components of the study designed? How accurate and valid are the measurements? Is the analysis of the data accurate and are the conclusions valid and logical?
  • Who is the intended audience of the material?
  • Is there an objective basis to the reasoning or is the author merely trying to prove their already held beliefs?
  • How does the author structure the argument?
  • In what ways does the item contribute to your understanding of the problem? What are the strengths and limitations?
  • How does the item specifically relate to the research you are about to undertake?

Conducting literature reviews

How you approach doing a literature review, whether you need to write a literature review or conduct a systematic review, will be dictated by the type of research you are doing. Whichever method you use, when it comes to literature review writing, you need to think about several things:

  • The purpose of the review.
  • Where it will be placed in the thesis.
  • What the scope and focus of the literature review will be.

Planning and writing the literature review

There are several steps to developing a literature review and they are not necessarily sequential.

  • Identify: Formulate your research question to help frame and direct your reading. Compile a list of references and determine the most appropriate system with which to file them, see managing your references using EndNote.
  • Document: Keep a record of literature relating to your topic and make sure you can retrieve it again if necessary. Note why you have chosen each piece while it is fresh in your memory.
  • Ensure Relevance: Prioritise the literature you have identified and note its importance. Screen literature before downloading or printing to avoid being overwhelmed by volume of material retrieved.
  • Retrieve: Make copies of the most important literature first.
  • Revise: When taking notes ensure you reference articles accurately so you will be able to cite them if necessary.
  • Plan: Having a sense of the overall review will make it easier to write. It can be useful to draw diagrams of how the literature fits together to provide you with the big picture.
  • Begin Writing: Start with an introduction that details what you intend to cover, how it will be organised and boundaries such as what is outside scope. Then discuss the literature in a logical and coherent way, concluding with a paragraph that relates to your research project. Abide by the academic conventions of your subject field.

Obtaining resources

You may request purchase of resources not held by the Library, or obtain them through a Document Delivery request.

If you need further assistance, Library Study Smart can help, or you may request a research consultation with your School Librarian.