What is a literature review?

A literature review is a critical analysis of published sources, or literature, on a particular topic. It is an assessment of the literature and provides a summary, classification, comparison and evaluation. At postgraduate level literature reviews can be incorporated into an article, a research report or thesis. At undergraduate level literature reviews can be a separate stand alone assessment.

The literature review is generally in the format of a standard essay made up of three components: an introduction, a body and a conclusion. It is not a list like an annotated bibliography in which a summary of each source is listed one by one.

Why do we write literature reviews?

At university you may be asked to write a literature review in order to demonstrate your understanding of the literature on a particular topic. You show your understanding by analysing and then synthesising the information to:

How to write a literature review

Determine your purpose

Work out what you need to address in the literature review. What are you being asked to do in your literature review? What are you searching the literature to discover? Check your assignment question and your criteria sheet to know what to focus on.

Do an extensive search of the literature

Find out what has been written on the topic.

What kind of literature?

Select appropriate source material: Use a variety of academic or scholarly sources that are relevant, current and authoritative. An extensive review of relevant material will include — books, journal articles, reports, government documents, conference proceedings and web resources. The Library would be the best place to search for your sources.

How many resources?

The number of sources that you will be required to review will depend on what the literature review is for and how advanced you are in your studies. It could be from five sources at first year undergraduate level to more than fifty for a thesis. Your lecturer will advise you on these details.

Note the bibliographical details of your sources

Keep a note of the publication title, date, authors’ names, page numbers and publishers. These details will save you time later.

Read the literature

Analyse the literature you have found

In order for your writing to reflect strong critical analysis, you need to evaluate the sources. For each source you are reviewing ask yourself these questions:

Write the review

Structure of a literature review

Introduction

Your introduction should give an outline of

Body paragraphs

Each body paragraph should deal with a different theme that is relevant to your topic. You will need to synthesise several of your reviewed readings into each paragraph, so that there is a clear connection between the various sources. You will need to critically analyse each source for how they contribute to the themes you are researching.

The body could include paragraphs on:

Conclusion

Your conclusion should give a summary of:

Checklist for a literature review

Have I:

Further information

Studywell resource - Reading and taking notes.

Studywell resource - Writing structure overview

RMIT University - Literature review