Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Writing a literature review

Students are usually asked to write literature reviews for two reasons:

(a) as a standalone review of the current state of research on a particular topic


(b) as part of a research project where you need to put your research in the context of the research that has previously been done on the topic

Sometimes people think that a literature review is just a list of all the information sources that relate to a particular topic.  But it's not a list!  A literature review includes a description of the scholarly works that relate to a topic, an evaluation and analysis of those works and an overview of the topic in light of those works. 

So, these are the main steps involved in compiling a literature review:

(1) Identify the topic of your literature review: don't pick a topic that is too broad or you might not be able to review all of the relevant literature!

(2) Search for literature: scholarly literature includes books, journal articles, conference papers, theses, reports etc.  A good place to start searching in One Search on the Library Catalogue.  See this tutorial if you need help getting started.

(3) Evaluate the information you find: consider your sources.  Are there sources which support your argument?  Which oppose it?  Do the sources offer an objective viewpoint on the topic or are they biased?  Are they persuasive?  Is the author an expert in the subject area?  Is the source an important addition to the research on the topic?

(4) Analysise your findings: having reviewed your sources individually, what are the common themes?  How do the sources relate to one another?  Can you identify gaps in the literature?  If your literature review is part of a research project, how does your study fit into the existing research?  Prepare an overview of the topic using individual sources of information as evidence. 

Your literature review will be a story of the research on your topic - the history, the current status and the future opportunities.


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