Literature reviews

In research writing, you need to demonstrate how your research makes a contribution to knowledge in your academic field. Writing a literature review is an important step in this process.The literature review is a survey of the current state of knowledge on your topic or issue. It establishes what is known or not known, and therefore where there are gaps in knowledge that your study could fill. In doing so, the literature review provides a rationale for your research in terms of what has gone before, and a justification of its value and significance. The literature review is therefore never just about the literature but where your study fits within the literature, justifying the central research question that you ask and the tools, techniques or methods by which you address your research question/s or aim/s.

Depending on the nature of your research project and the specific purpose for which you're engaging with the literature, the literature review might be integrated within your introduction, it might occupy a key section of that introduction, be allocated its own chapter and / or it might be dispersed throughout your work.

How you approach doing a literature review, whether you may need to write a traditional literature review, conduct a systematic literature review, or use grounded theory, will also be dictated by the type of research you are doing. Whichever method you are using, when it comes to literature review writing, you need to think about a number of things: the purpose of the review, where it will be placed in the thesis, and what the scope and focus of the literature review will be. The following pages give advice on how to do this.

Purpose of traditional literature reviews>>


References and further resources

  • Hart, C. (2009). Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination. Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Feak, C. B., & Swales, J. M. (2009). Telling a research story: Writing a literature review. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Fink, A. (2010). Conducting research literature reviews: From the internet to paper (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Jesson, J., Matheson, L., & Lacey, F. M. (2011). Doing your literature review: Traditional and systematic techniques. Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Machi, L. A., & McEvoy, B. T. (2009). The literature review: Six steps to success. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.
  • O'Leary, Z. (2004). The essential guide to doing research. London: Sage Publications.
  • Randolph, J. J. (2009). A guide to writing the dissertation literature review. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 14(13), 1-13.
  • Ridley, D. (2008). The literature review: A step-by-step guide for students. London: Sage. 
  • Webster, J., & Watson, R. (2002). Analysing the past to prepare for the future: Writing a literature review. MIS Quarterly, 26(2), xiii-xxiii.