A literature review, or literature survey, can be either a key component of a larger paper such as a report or dissertation, or you may be asked to write one for its own sake. This book shows you how to write a present a review appropriately.
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Table of contents
A literature review can also be known as a literature survey. It can be either a key component of a larger paper such as a report or dissertation, or you may be asked to write one for its own sake.
A literature review describes the existing and established theory and research in your report area. You are providing a context for your work.
A literature review can also show where you are filling a perceived gap in the existing theory or knowledge, or you are proposing something that goes against existing ideas.
Example of a full dissertation (link opens in Solent Electronic Archive; log in details needed)
|Literature review example (PDF opens in new window)|
Literature reviews start with literature searches - use your lecture notes or reading lists to begin the process, and then allow your range of research to grow as you make more connections between texts and other sources.
Remember that there is a huge amount of advice on how to carry out and evaluate your searches in the Research book.
Keep details of all sources
You will have to return to your books and write references for them all so make sure you keep details. At all stages of your literature search remember to note down details such as:
- Year of publication;
- Name and location of the publisher;
- Page numbers for quotes or key ideas;
- URL for webpages;
- Journal details for articles or essays.
This will help if you find you need to go back to a reference you have used before. It is also essential in order to compile an accurate bibliography, which will be required when writing up your research.
Whilst the abstract or publisher’s comments on the cover of a book give you some idea of the content, do not be tempted to use this material for the purpose of your review.
The information contained here is no more than a sales pitch to get you to buy/read the book. It is only by reading the core material that you can establish its worth and place it in context.
Set your context
The purpose of your literature review is to set your own work in a context of research and theories that other people have developed. You are making it clear that you understand your area of study well by showing your knowledge of other researchers.
A good review will show where others have been before you, but equally importantly where they have not been. If you can identify 'virgin territory' - areas that other people haven't fully investigated - this can provide interesting avenues for your own research.
- Read widely but not necessarily in any depth to give yourself an overview of the material. You can then focus in on those aspects which have relevance to your project.
- Become selective - Pick out the authors and works who say the most about the topic you are investigating, and whose work you can use to support the arguments you want to develop.
- Read the most relevant material in depth and with a critical eye. What work relates to your topic? Which authors do you agree or disagree with?
- Have a thesis statement in mind while you work - a plan of what you hope to achieve and say in the paper.This plan may change as you go through your research, but it will give you direction, and help you to select the most relevant authors for your literature review.
Set out your findings
Review the existing literature in terms of both history and theme.
The review should be more than a furniture catalogue in which every book gets a two line entry. It should show that ‘the writer has studied existing work in the field with insight’. (Haywood and Wragg 1982 p.2)
Remember to establish in your Literature Review:
- What the principle themes are
- What is relevant and irrelevant to your work
- Why the relevant work fits into your study and how you will adopt it.
Don't merely paraphrase or describe the texts.
Avoid writing A says this, B says that and C says the other.
Present it correctly
The short passage below is an example of what you might expect from a literature review. There is no fixed format and you may need to modify your style according to the type of material you are presenting.
However, the essay approach here allows more flexibility for making comparisons. It highlights specific areas of interest and draws attention to areas of concern, instead of a book by book listing.
In considering the independent nature of cats, Williams (1983) in a study conducted in Southern Australia found evidence to suggest that not all of the feline species exhibited this trait. Similar findings were reported from studies in Sumatra by Dr. Kifzal Eppah (1987), Westcott (1988) and later by Prof. Edward Clarke (1991) working in the department of Zoology at Koopora University, New Zealand. However, what is noticeable here is that all these studies were carried out in the southern hemisphere, whereas results from studies conducted in North America and Europe produced a very different set of results.
For a longer and more detailed example of a literature review:
See pages 33-38 of Doing Your Research Project by Judith Bell (1993) Open University Press, ISBN 0-335-19094-4. Use the link below to find it:
Literature Review checklist
Make sure you:
- Use your lecture notes or reading lists to begin your research
- Keep reference details for all the books, article, websites, etc. that you have researched
- Read widely at first, but not in depth
- Read in depth into the authors that you have identified as most relevant to your work
- Examine the relevance of the writing and its impact on your own study
- Present your findings in a clear and narrative structure
- Give references (in text and in a reference list) for the works used in your literature review.
Cite your sources properly; don't plagiarise!
|Literature Review summary (PDF opens in new window)|
Plagiarism is taking the words, theories, creations or ideas of another person and passing them off as your own.
Plagiarism can be deliberate – copying a passage from a book or journal or pasting something from the internet into an assignment without referencing the original source.
You can also commit inadvertent plagiarism which is where you unintentionally repeat some of the information you have read in the course of your research. You must ensure you do reference ALL material that comes from another source so question yourself as to whether you have read the information elsewhere and go back to your sources to locate the reference.
Plagiarism can also result from not referencing correctly. You must ensure you know how to reference your work using the style advised by your tutor.
Watch this video to find out more about avoiding plagiarism:
Plagiarism is a form of academic misconduct. Southampton Solent University has clear guidelines on student academic conduct and procedures for dealing with academic misconduct. Make sure you are familiar with these by looking at the links on this webpage:
|Student academic misconduct (Weblink opens in new window)|
To avoid plagiarism, make sure you include references within your assignment to all sources you use and then include full details of all the sources in a reference list at the end of your work.
To find out more, download the Avoiding plagiarism summary below.
|Avoiding plagiarism summary (PDF opens in new window)|
Test your understanding of what plagiarism is by clicking on the links below.
|What is plagiarism? quiz (Opens in new window)|
|Plagiarism defined quiz (Opens in new window)|
|Do you plagiarise? quiz (Opens in new window)|
If you'd like some more help with Literature reviews you can:
- Ask your lecturer for guidance.
- If you are a disabled student you can also contact Access Solent for guidance and support.
- View the glossary to help you understand the words used in Literature reviews.
- Read a book or ebook from the reading list found in Extra resources.
- Visit recommended websites in Extra resources for further guidance on Literature reviews.
If you have any feedback about Literature reviews or additional material you'd like to see in the course, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to all staff and students at Southampton Solent University who contributed to this course.
Read a book or ebook from the Literature Reviews reading list.
The following titles are available from the library:
This is currently being updated.