If you are proposing a research topic that has a substantial amount of previously published work already in place, the prospect of delivering a good literature review can seem like a daunting task — so many books and articles with so many citations!
You may be tempted to save time by restricting your review to the last decade, but this can be a critical failure point.
This Study Guide explains why literature reviews are needed, and how they can be conducted and reported.
Related Study Guides are: Referencing and bibliographies, Avoiding plagiarism, Writing a dissertation, What is critical reading? The focus of the Study Guide is the literature review within a dissertation or a thesis, but many of the ideas are transferable to other kinds of writing, such as an extended essay, or a report.
A poorly executed scientific literature review can destroy a research thesis in four easy steps: It’s not about maximizing the quantity of material reviewed, nor should the objective be to read “everything” about your proposed topic – for some topics that would be a physical impossibility.
Focus on the relevance of the material to your proposed topic, and map out a logical framework for analyzing that material.The purpose of writing a literature review is to establish your authority in your research.Without that established credibility, your research findings are dismissed as nothing but your opinions founded on some basic methodologies.Increased ease of access to a wider range of published material has also increased the need for careful and clear critique of sources.Just because something is ‘published’ does not mean its quality is assured.The ability to review, and to report on relevant literature is a key academic skill.A literature review: To some extent, particularly with postgraduate research, the literature review can become a project in itself.It can also establish a framework within which to present and analyse the findings.After reading your literature review, it should be clear to the reader that you have up-to-date awareness of the relevant work of others, and that the research question you are asking is relevant. Be wary of saying that your research will solve a problem, or that it will change practice.Staff and students in your area can be good sources of ideas about where to look for relevant literature.They may already have copies of articles that you can work with.