A literature review is an evaluative and critical account of published research in a specific area of study. A good example of a literature review effectively summarises, evaluates, analyses and synthesises the ideas to support your own argument.
A literature review is often part of a dissertation or larger project and it is a useful way of justifying the need for your research, by highlighting a gap that your research is intended to fill. You should make sure that it is made clear to the reader what the relationship is between existing research, your project and any other relevant information.
It is also a good way of highlighting inconsistencies or differences between existing pieces of research. Do other academics agree with each other in the field you’re studying? Has someone made a mistake in their research that you’ve spotted? Has someone jumped to a conclusion or failed to back-up their argument?
If your literature review is part of a larger project, it should identify areas for further research or study as well as aiming to gather a new perspective on a particular topic, giving context to the research problem.
However, a literature review is not a description of previous research. A common mistake that students make is producing an essay that simply describes other people’s work. It needs to be clear and concise and not reflective; it can take many drafts to strike the right balance, so you should plan your time carefully.
Equally, you should try not to be overly critical; look at the strengths and weaknesses of previous research and think about themes and other connections you can draw in order to make your writing flow coherently.
Different subjects will take different approaches on how to structure a literature review. You should speak to your course tutor or project supervisor to check if there are any specific structuring or presentation requirements in your department before you start writing. However, a brief description of what different subject areas expect in a literature review and tips on where to get started are available in the longer Literature Review Guide. Alternatively, you can speak to your tutor or the Librarian, Hannah.