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This guide is an introduction to the Literature Review process - including its purpose and strategies, guidelines and resources to help you get started

What is a Literature Review?

What is a literature review?


The aim of a literature review is to show "that the writer has studied existing work in the field with insight" (Haywood and Wragg, 1982). It will enable you to:

  • Define and limit the problem you are working on
  • Place your study in a historical perspective
  • Avoid unnecessary duplication
  • Evaluate promising research methods
  • Relate your findings to previous knowledge and suggest further research


As can be seen from the purposes above, the literature review is an exploration of an area, which at best will provide definition and a framework for a piece of research. Most students are not experts in their chosen field before they start their reading. The idea of the literature review is to develop a good working knowledge of the research in a particular area. The final written review should reflect the results of this preliminary research. So, a good literature review raises questions and identifies areas to be explored. The review should give an idea of the work that has been carried out in the subject area, preparing the reader for the study that is to follow.


You need to view the work of others with insight to review critically. As described by Caulley (1992), an effective review analyses and synthesises material, and it should meet the following requirements:


  • Compare and contrast different authors' views on an issue
  • Group authors who draw similar conclusions
  • Criticise aspects of methodology
  • Note areas in which authors are in disagreement
  • Highlight exemplary studies
  • Identify patterns or trends in the literature
  • Highlight gaps and omissions in previous research or questions left unanswered
  • Show how your study relates to previous studies and to the literature in general
  • Conclude by summarising what the literature says

Basic Guidelines for a Literature Review

Basic guidelines for a literature review

  • Establish your research questions and organise your literature into logical categories around topics.
  • Begin the literature review with an introduction to the topic. What is its significance and importance?
  • Critically analyse the literature relevant to the research question stating the content of the literature, implications of this knowledge, any gaps or deficiencies and inconsistencies or conflicting viewpoints.
  • Ensure you make your own interpretations and that you have written a critical and evaluative review.
  • The conclusion draws together important points and shows how the information answers the question.
  • Establish if more research is needed, especially if there are inconsistencies or conflicting points of view.
  • Avoid plagiarism - acknowledge sources of ideas and quotations to add authority and credibility to the work.


Higher Degree Research Students
book a consultation appointment with your Senior Research Librarian



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