A literature review is an analysis of what has already been published on a question or issue. You discover key themes as you research and you synthesise the most interesting and relevant information in your review. It is an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of one topic. It may form the beginning of a bigger project, for example a report or dissertation, as it explores what is already known on a topic. You will learn to read widely, see patterns and relationships and summarise relevant information. These are all essential skills for research, report writing, and professional practice.
How can I get started?
Step 1: Before you start
Look at the brief and criteria, and any relevant examples tutors have shown you.
Step 2: The question
Establish the question or concept you want to investigate in your literature review. You may need to do some preliminary research on the general topic first to decide what is interesting or worthy of investigation.
Step 3: Research
For a literature review you will need to be systematic with your research to make sure you identify relevant information. You may decide to look in specific databases, or review all results returned for specific keywords. If you are researching a niche topic, you may need to think creatively about where you can find information and how you can expand your search terms.
You will come across lots of overlapping ideas in the material you read. Make notes on all texts so that you don’t get confused. You could create a template for your notes, or map the evolution of concepts on large diagrams.
Also as you research, you will notice themes and patterns emerging. Decide which ones will become sub topics of your literature review.
Step 4: Plan
Bring together relevant information. Think carefully about how research has evolved over time and how you will move from the general topic to specific concepts or issues. Decide which topics and sub-topics you will cover in your review.
Step 5: Write
Get a first draft down on paper. Try to paraphrase most of the information to create a coherent narrative rather than stringing together quotes from different authors. Save quotes for the most important and complex theories. As you redraft, make sure the evolution in ideas is clear to your reader. Make it clear how information connects together and why the information you have selected is important.
This short extract of a literature review illustrates how you can introduce topics, organise your review under headings and bring together references in your writing. Compare this example to literature reviews from your course to identify what you are expected to produce.
Below is an annotated paragraph from the extract. Move the slider at the bottom to see the different features of this paragraph.
Infographic: Keep on track writing a literature review
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