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Graduate Student Library Resources and Services: About Literature Research

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What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is an evaluative report of information found in the literature related to your selected area of study.  The review should describe, summarise, evaluate and clarify this literature.  It should give a theoretical base for the research and help you (the author) determine the nature of your research. Works which are irrelevant should be discarded and those which are peripheral should be looked at critically.

A literature review is more than the search for information, and goes beyond being a descriptive annotated bibliography. All works included in the review must be read, evaluated and analysed (which you would do for an annotated bibliography), but relationships between the literature must also be identified and articulated, in relation to your field of research.

"In writing the literature review, the purpose is to convey to the reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. The literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (eg. your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries."(http://www.utoronto.ca/writing/litrev.html)

Content credits below.

Purpose of a Literature Review

In general, the literature review should:

  • provide a context for the research
  • justify the research
  • ensure the research hasn't been done before (or if it is repeated, that it is marked as a "replication study")
  • show where the research fits into the existing body of knowledge
  • enable the researcher to learn from previous theory on the subject
  • illustrate how the subject has been studied previously
  • highlight flaws in previous research
  • outline gaps in previous research
  • show that the work is adding to the understanding and knowledge of the field
  • help refine, refocus or even change the topic

Credits

The above two boxes are courtesy of CQ University Libraries, Literature Review Tutorial.  Accessed 22 Oct 2009, and used with permission.

Definitions

Article: A written piece on a specific topic found in a journal, periodical, magazine, or newspaper

Peer Reviewed Process: When an article is submitted to a scholarly journal, it is evaluated by experts in the field who examine the article's originality, quality of research, clarity of presentation, etc. and determine if the article falls within the scope of the publication. Also known as refereed, scholarly or academic.