What is a Literature Review?

A Literature Review is a study of the original and primary scholarship on a particular topic (i.e. the existing literature or sources). It does not study the topic itself, just the research that has been conducted on that topic. The aim of a Literature Review (when it is conducted as part of a thesis or dissertation) is to review, summarise, analyse and evaluate these sources in order to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and to identify a gap in the current literature that the thesis aims to fill.

A Literature Review is normally included in a thesis as a separate chapter after the Introduction, or as a section within the Introduction. The Literature Review provides the background to and justification for the research that the researcher has undertaken and is now reporting in the thesis.

A Literature Review can also be conducted as a self-contained piece of research (i.e. as an assignment on its own and not part of a thesis). This article has been written about Literature Reviews written as part of a thesis or dissertation, but the information is also relevant for students completing a Literature Review for an assignment.

Why conduct a Literature Review?

A review of the relevant literature on a particular topic is a vital component of all research degrees. It is normally carried out by the researcher at the beginning of the degree or initial stage of the research. There are many reasons why a review of the current literature should be conducted before beginning a research project or conducting original research. These include:

  • To identify any gaps in the current literature (i.e. to see what other researchers have not yet done in this field)
  • To avoid unnecessarily repeating work that has been carried out by other researchers
  • To begin your research by building on the knowledge and achievements of others (i.e. to begin where others have left off or identified areas for future research)
  • To identify important research, sources, views and theories in your field
  • To identify other researchers working in the same field and to create a network of colleagues
  • To increase the breadth and depth of your knowledge in your field
  • To allow you to understand and explain the context into which your thesis will fit
  • To develop ideas on how best you could undertake your own research project

How do I conduct my review of the literature?

There are four stages involved in conducting a Literature Review. The first stage is to define your project. To do this you will need to know the topic or field you wish to write your thesis on. You need to be able to define the topic or field to be examined.

The second stage is to search for the literature. This involves searching through libraries, journal databases, the internet and other places to find all the relevant sources (i.e. all the current literature on your topic). You will be looking for books, monographs, journal articles, conference papers, theses (published and unpublished), reports, papers, and studies on your topic.

The third stage is to evaluate and analyse the literature you have found. You will evaluate the sources to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and to discover which sources make the most significant contribution to the field. You will analyse and interpret the literature in order to discover what information is relevant to your thesis. At this point, you will begin dividing the literature into categories. How you divide the literature will depend on your topic, and on the literature itself.

The fourth stage is to write the Literature Review itself.

What should my Literature Review contain?

The introduction should contain:

  • A definition of the topic or field under consideration and the objectives of the Literature Review, thus providing the appropriate context for the review
  • An introduction to the overall trends, conflicts, conclusions or themes in the literature that will be discussed in the Literature Review
  • An indication of how the sources have been divided for discussion in the Literature Review
  • An indication of the gap found in the literature that the thesis aims to fill

The body should contain:

  • A division of the literature into categories for review. One way to divide the literature is by sources supporting a particular position, sources against that position, and sources that provide a different position. Another way to divide the literature might be by the type of research method used in the study, for example qualitative or quantitative
  • A summary and analysis of each of the sources, a discussion of their strengths and weaknesses, an explanation of what they contribute to the field, and a description of how the sources differ from each other. How much detail you provide on each source will depend on its importance
  • A discussion of the gap identified in the current literature and how your thesis will attempt to fill it
  • Remember to structure the body of the Literature Review as you would an academic essay, making sure it is well organised and structured, and has topic sentences and ‘sign posts’ that ensure the argument flows well

The conclusion should contain:

  • Conclusions regarding which sources make the most valuable contribution to the understanding and development of the area of research, maintaining the focus established in the introduction
  • A summary of the gap identified in the current literature and how your thesis will attempt to fill it

The final stage: Professional editing

Once you have written your Literature Review, the final step to completion is to have it professionally edited by an academic editor at Elite Editing. This will ensure that your work is presented in the best possible way, in polished, formal academic language, and free from grammatical and other errors.

Our qualified and experienced thesis editors will also be able to check that you have followed all the conventions for a Literature Review, and point out if you have failed to complete any of the components correctly.

You might choose to have your Literature Review edited as soon as you have written it, or you may prefer to wait until you have completed writing your entire thesis and have the whole thesis edited at once. Either way, Elite Editing is here to help. You can read more about our thesis editing services for information on how we can assist you to complete your postgraduate degree.


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