Literature review

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By the end of this unit you should be able to:

  • understand the purpose of a literature review
  • identify and briefly explain the components of a literature review

Introduction - what is a literature review?

A review of the literature is:

  • a "re" view or "look again" at what has been previously written about a topic or subject matter
  • a compilation of the research that has been published on a topic by recognized scholars and researchers
  • a background that helps describe an issue or problem you are wanting to explain or solve

The purpose of a writing a literature review is to convey to the reader the knowledge and ideas that have been established on a topic and to identify any missing gaps, strengths or weaknesses there are on the topic

A literature review is often part of the introduction to an essay or research report but sometimes you will see journal articles that are 'literature reviews'.

Steps to completing a literature review

  1. To write a literature review you must begin by having a particular topic that you are interested in.
  2. Then you need to find information that is relevant to the topic - this is where your skills in Searching for Information will come in handy.
  3. Once you have collected the information you need to evaluate each piece of information you have collected to see how they contribute to the understanding of the topic.
  4. Finally you need to organise the information as outlined below

A literature review should include:

  • an introduction that provides a general overview of the topic or issue that you will be writing about -
  • grouping of similar findings into categories, for example authors that support a particular idea or have found similar results and those that had opposing ideas or found alternative results
  • clear explanations of what is known about the topic highlighting differences and similarities
  • clear conclusions about what is clearly known and accepted about the topic and identifying areas that might be further explored

Useful websites and resources


The tutorial on this website was developed for postgraduate students however there are some excellent video clips and information that clearly explain the purpose of a literature review, tips for writing a literature review including the various stages of writing a literature review.

To access the online tutorial click here.

This unit is taught in the following courses: