Literature Review

A literature review examines and critically evaluates the most relevant, recent and scholarly research on a particular topic. A literature review can stand alone or be part of a larger piece of work, such as a report, research proposal or thesis.

The requirements of a literature review can vary, so check the requirements for your particular assessment. Some general guidelines for writing a literature are explained below.

The content of a literature review centres around conveying what knowledge is available on a topic and analysing the material found. Therefore, your literature review  needs to:

  • identify existing scholarly knowledge on a particular topic
  • compare and contrast current research
  • evaluate the research and support your evaluation
  • identify problems or gaps in existing knowledge

If the literature review is part of a research project, you will also need you to:

  • show how your research links to current knowledge
  • highlight how your study is attempting to address the gap in the research
  • provide a rationale or justification for your study

You may be asked to include a lay summary. Click here to learn more about lay summaries.

A literature review has the same basic structure as an essay: an introduction, a series of body paragraphs, and a conclusion. 

The introduction should define the topic, provide an appropriate context for reviewing the literature, and explain the organisation of your literature review. 

The  body should be organised on the basis of ideas, rather than authors. In other words, the literature should be grouped according to common themes. Ways to group studies meaningfully are suggested in the writing guide (see link below). You may be able to use headings and subheadings to organise your work (check this with your teacher). 

The conclusion should summarise the major findings of the literature review. The conclusion should also make an evaluative statement about the current literature on the topic, point out major gaps or flaws, and outline areas for future study.

The style of language used in a literature review is often evaluative and demonstrates your perspectives of the literature. Evaluative language can be positive/endorsing or negative/less endorsing.

Examples of words with positive evaluative meaning include important, significant, necessary, crucial and effective. You might also use positive/endorsing phrases such as There is strong evidence that….., Johnson’s (2014) study demonstrated..…., This concept is central to…..

Examples of words with negative evaluative meaning include inconclusive, questionable, insignificant, unclear and weak. Examples of negative/dis-endorsing phrases include There is little evidence in support of…., Johnson (2014) claims that.... yet.....,  This argument does not take into account......