Essentials of Literature Review for Undergraduates

The library is currently developing a self-paced short online literature review course. The expected launch date is January 2022.

While you are studying you may have an assignment to write, a report or a project that requires you to do a literature review. 

As you read more academic information you might start to come across literature reviews. These are reviews of existing and related literature in an area of research.  Key purpose of a literature review:

  1. Provide context for your research
  2. Demonstrate a knowledge of current literature in the field
  3. In reviewing the literature it allows you to highlight any gaps in existing literature and Identify how your research fits in.

How do I write one?  

Approaching a literature review for the first time can be a little daunting. If you are unsure about how to approach one, it can be a good idea to read some examples, but do keep in mind that it your literature review will be informed by the literature and your interpretation, this might help you to decide how to structure your own literature review. There isn’t always a right or wrong approach. 

Finding the right information:

Paul Oliver (2012) describes a literature review as the ‘foundations upon which the rest of your work is built’ (p.1)

With this in mind the important first step in a literature review is to find relevant, quality and academic literature on which to base your literature review on. You might refer back to the Find it section or make an appointment with your Subject librarian.

Source: Oliver, P. (2012) Succeeding with your literature review: A handbook for students. Open UP study skills. Maidenhead, Open University Press.

Structure and purpose:

Often you approach one as you would any other piece of academic writing. Plan the structure of your review.

Spend some time thinking about the purpose of your literature review. A good literature review will take time to construct and write. The approach you take to reviewing the literature may well start to take shape as you read the literature. For instance as you start to review the literature; there may be key themes that emerge, there may be key research studies, theories and models or perhaps there is a development of the research topic over time.

As you are developing your literature review, it will be good to link it in to your own research idea and often your literature review can set the scene for the rest of the work.

General advice:

A literature review should not be a narrative and simply a description of the existing literature. You want to start critiquing the literature and building a context for your research area. Remember one of the purposes of the literature review can be to demonstrate your knowledge of the literature,

How long should it be?

This is a little difficult to answer. Usually your project outline will provide some guidance. When you find that you are going over points again, this is sometimes a point at which to stop and review. In some areas of research you will find there is quite a depth of literature to draw from, in others you may find there is relatively little. It is very important to make sure that you have read the key texts in the area.

Keeping records and notes when you are writing a literature review to make sure that you cite and reference accurately is important! This can mean that you are citing a great deal in your literature review.  Keep in mind this is the key purpose of the review, to demonstrate an understanding of literature in this field and by citing you are signposting to the literature. Reference management tools can be really useful when you are writing a literature review.