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Write a literature review: What is a literature review?

Reviewing the Literature with Literature Reviews...

Literature reviews

The literature review cycle - Image created by University of Sheffield

Literature Review Cycle Image


 What are literature reviews?

Literature reviews are literally reviews of the literature ( the academic writing e.g. academic books, journal articles etc. ) that have been published on a particular research topic.  They aim to identify what is already known on the topic at that time.  The steps involved in this research journey are

  • Selecting a research question 
  • Searching the literature that has been published in the area
  • Managing the literature search results
  • Synthesizing the research literature
  • Writing an assessment review
  • Rethinking, refining and reworking your review in an iterative process until you are satisfied

Why are literature reviews necessary?

They are necessary for several reasons. They are an essential part of the research process.  They give an overview of a topic's theoretical background. Researchers use literature reviews to identify gaps in existing knowledge and to set the context for their research studies. Students can be asked to complete a literature review as part of their course to help them understand a topic more deeply. Writing a literature review can enable a student to demonstrate what they have learned about a topic and develop their own connecting ideas within that topic further.





There are different types of literature reviews.

A stand alone literature review can be a single work in its own right.  Examples include

  • A class assignment
  • A review article

Literature reviews can also be component parts of larger bodies of work. Examples include

  • A thesis / dissertation
  • An academic journal article introduction

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