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Guide to Writing a Literature Review


The purpose of a literature review is to critically evaluate all of the significant literature surrounding a particular topic or research area. As well as providing a description and summary of the literature to date, it should also evaluate and analyse the material and present it in an organised manner. The literature review might be a self contained unit or it could form an introductory chapter in a thesis or dissertation.

Why do a literature review?

The purpose of the literature review is to:

  • provide an analysis and overview of the current state of research on a particular topic.
  • provide the reader with an idea of popular theories in the field, contrasting perspectives and gaps in the research.
  • This helps you to justify why you have chosen this area for your own research.
  • enable you to position your work relative to that of previous research.

The components of a literature Review

The literature review should be composed of 4 stages. These are:

1) Problem formulation

  • You should think about your research topic and identify central areas and issues.
  • Next you should compile a list of keywords to help you when searching for materials on your topic.

2) Conducting your literature search

This involves sourcing the literature pertinent to your research topic. Material could be in any format such as books, journals, websites, multimedia sources etc. It is at this stage that the library will be most useful to you.

There are a number of library resources that might be useful to you when conducting your search:

  • The library catalogue– You can search the catalogue to find materials (books, journals etc) that are available in the library.
  • SEARCH FIND IT! - simultaneously searches the library catalogue PLUS online databases, online journals, ebooks, articles, and material freely available online. The library recommends that you use this comprehensive discovery search tool.

  • Search Options - search for materials by subject discipline, search other libraries, Google scholar, Arrow repository.

  • Online databases– the library subscribes to a number of online databases covering a variety of subjects. These can be accessed through the library website on Databases A-Z
  • Journals. Journals in print format covering a number of subject disciplines are shelved to the left of the entrance to the library.
    Journals in electronic format and print can be searched for online by logging on to Journals A-Z.
    You can search by journal title, search within a particular journal for your topic, or browse by discipline.
  • Library PC’s– there are a number of PC’s on the mezzanine level of the library where you can access the internet and look at web resources related to your topic.
    Library laptops are available to borrow for three hours within the library.

The resources that you find in the library or electronically could help you to find more material on your topic. Make sure to consult the bibliographies in books, journal article references and links pages on websites which will point you towards other useful material.

3) Evaluating the data

Before including any material that you have found in your literature review you must evaluate your results to ensure that the information you have found is relevant, accurate, reliable and current. There are a number of criteria you can use to decide this:

  • what is the content of the source? ( look at contents pages, indexes, abstracts etc.)
  • who are the intended audience? (books aimed at the general public may not be specific enough)
  • Who is the author?
  • What is the edition and publication date? (i.e. is the information recent)
  • Is the source from a well regarded journal?
  • Has the work been reviewed and what do they say?

You need to carefully evaluate web sources as they are not always reliable or accurate. Some other things to keep in mind when evaluating web sources are:

  • what is the domain of the site? (i.e. is it an educational or government site or just someone’s home page),
  • when was it last updated?
  • Have reputable sites got links to this site?

4) Analysing the material

At this stage you must read, interpret and structure the data that you have gathered and finally you must write the review. The review must consist of:

  • An Introduction– here the topic should be specified, overall trends and conflicts in the literature should be outlined and gaps in previous research identified. It is also very important at this point to justify your reasons for writing the review.
  • A body– this will be the bulk of the review and here you will discuss each piece of literature in turn. Research studies should be presented in a logical order e.g. chronological, thematically etc. Previous studies should be summarised and critically evaluated.
  • A conclusion– discuss which studies have made the greatest contribution to the subject. Evaluate the current general state of research in this area and finally discuss the research opportunities in this area.

Resources on writing and research

Online Tutorial on How to write a literature review

This tutorial is aimed at those students involved in research and outlines the purpose of a literature review. At the end of the tutorial students will demonstrate an understanding of how to write a literature review.
Go to tutorial (this tutorial is under reconstruction)
Please provide your feedback on this tutorial, or e-mail the library.

Library books

The library holds a small collection of books with advice on conducting your research and writing. These are held at 808.02 and 300.72.

Library Guides

There are a number of other print guides available in the library on writing, research, referencing and using library resources. There are also some useful online guides available. To view a complete list of online guides go to the guides homepage.

Library online tutorials

There are a number of online tutorials aimed at students seeking to research their projects and course assessments, including tutorials for 1st year students, and those seeking basic study skills.
Go to tutorials

Useful websites

Websites on writing literature reviews:

Citation and referencing

While writing your literature review you will have to properly cite the sources you have used.

See Cite them right - the essential referencing guide.
See Citation Managers/Referencing Software And Guite to writing styles and citing sources.
You can refer to the library guide for using the Harvard style or you could take the library tutorial "How to reference your sources". This tutorial uses the Harvard system.

Other citation styles commonly used are the Turabian/Chicago style (in Sciences) and the MLA style (in Engineering). Please consult the following links for tips on how to use these styles:

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