A literature review investigates and appraises existing knowledge, research, material and sources that have been published on a particular topic. It can serve as a framework that informs the development and focus of an ensuing study, such as a thesis, article or research report. It can also be a stand-alone piece of research, such as an essay or conceptual article.
Literature reviews provide analyses that demonstrate a deep understanding of the existing literature, and commonly identify gaps and areas for future research to examine. Importantly, literature reviews are diverse in their format and purpose:
This guide recognises the diversity of literature reviews. Rather than listing prescriptive advice, it aims to provide general guidance on the literature review process and share resources with you to help you get started.
An annotated bibliography is a list of citations (articles, books, or other resources), each followed by a short descriptive paragraph that summarises the source's content and evaluates its relevance to the topic in question. For more information on how to write an annotated bibliography:
A systematic review appraises the literature in relation to a clearly-formulated question. It generally follows a strict protocol, with well-defined inclusion and exclusion criteria for the literature, data or studies assessed in the review, to ensure the transparency and reproducibility of the conclusions drawn by the review. To find out more about systematic reviews:
Maximise the quality, scope and appropriateness of the literature you review. When commencing a search:
Reviewing a good range of the available literature on your topic is an important consideration. The tips below may be useful in helping you search for literature, and decide what literature to include in the scope of your review:
Want to revisit the fundamentals of library research? The Research Essentials guide is a good starting point.
Looking for examples of other theses to learn from and be inspired? The Finding Theses guide is highly recommended, especially for PhD students.
Want to keep up-to-date with the latest research? Visit the Staying Current guide for tips and tricks to setup alerts and manage information flows for you as a researcher.
When results are conflicting, you might find it useful to ask the following questions:
The structure of your literature review will be based largely on your discipline and your topic. Your review is also influenced by how you decide to organise your argument(s):
Organise your literature review according to an approach that best fits your topic. This means that you should not be too attached to an idea or template of how the literature review should ‘look’; instead, seek out effective models of literature reviews written in your discipline area. Broadly, the structure of a review may comprise the following elements:
Body (i.e. where you critically analyse the relevant literature)
Any material you get from a source, even if you write it in your own words, needs to have a citation or footnote. Check the guidelines for your literature review, or speak to your supervisor, to determine which citation style you should be using.
Use the following platforms to find resources on literature reviews:
Search with keyword combinations such as:
Create more searches by combining these keywords with the name of your discipline or subject area. For example:
Also click on the following subject heading searches in the library catalogue: