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Literature Reviews: What, Who & Why

Introduction

A literature review is a piece of writing that describes, summarises and evaluates existing information on your topic. It is a critical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses and the theoretical basis of current knowledge.

The literature review highlights relationships, or lack thereof, between resources and helps you identify gaps within the literature. It is designed to find out how much we know about a particular topic according to the research that has been conducted so far.

Doing a literature review for most of us is an evolving process rather than a list of jobs that are tackled one after the other, as shown in The literature review process diagram.

This guide will assist undergraduate and postgraduate students and researchers with completing this process.

What it is

It is something that:

It is not:

  • relates to a specific topic
  • something done at the end of your research
  • provides a focused critical analysis
  • simply a publishing requirement
  • addresses the strengths and weaknesses of key literature resources 
  • a descriptive piece of writing
  • provides an original interpretation of the topic
  • a platform to report new data
  • regroups content that highlights relationships, or lack thereof, between resources

Who & what type?

Undergraduate students

Need to do a standalone literature review which is a single assessment piece. It is used to explore a topic in detail and depth.

Postgraduate students & researchers

Need to do a literature review as part of a larger body of work which may be included in theses and dissertations, research articles or research proposals. It is usually used as the justification to support the need for you to do your research and outline the overarching theoretical framework you will use.

Why do you need to do a literature review?

The reasons or purpose(s) for doing literature reviews is to: 

Understand your topic
  • what knowledge there is on your topic
  • how proven this knowledge is
  • what methodologies have been used
  • key concepts and theories
  • inconsistent evidence or arguments
  • current gaps in knowledge
  • possible research questions
Update the reader
  • bring your reader up to date
  • further your reader's understanding of  the topic.
Demonstrate your knowledge
  • your understanding of the topic’s theory
  • your understanding of the research process
  • your ability to critically analyse theory; and
  • that you’re up to date with key literature.
Provide support for your larger body of work
  • justify your research question
  • justify your research methods
  • provide context for your research question.

The literature review process

The A-Z of literature reviews

Click image to view interactive tutorial: The A-Z of Literature Reviews

© Produced by the University of Manchester

 

Writing the Literature Review (Part 1)

Note: You can access Parts 2 and 3 of this series from the end of this video.

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