A Literature Review Is Not:
- just a summary of sources
- a grouping of broad, unrelated sources
- a compilation of everything that has been written on a particular topic
- literature criticism (think English) or a book review
So, what is it then?
A literature review is an integrated analysis-- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings that are related directly to your research question. That is, it represents the literature that provides background information on your topic and shows a correspondence between those writings and your research question.
A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment. Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.
Why is it important?
A literature review is important because it:
- Explains the background of research on a topic.
- Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
- Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
- Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
- Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
- Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.
What is a Literature Review?
A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, dissertations, conference proceedings and other resources which are relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory and provides context for a dissertation by identifying past research. Research tells a story and the existing literature helps us identify where we are in the story currently. It is up to those writing a dissertation to continue that story with new research and new perspectives but they must first be familiar with the story before they can move forward.
Purpose of a Literature Review
- Identifies gaps in current knowledge
- Helps you to avoid reinventing the wheel by discovering the research already conducted on a topic
- Sets the background on what has been explored on a topic so far
- Increases your breadth of knowledge in your area of research
- Helps you identify seminal works in your area
- Allows you to provide the intellectual context for your work and position your research with other, related research
- Provides you with opposing viewpoints
- Helps you to discover research methods which may be applicable to your work
Greenfield, T. (2002). Research methods for postgraduates. 2nd ed. London: Arnold.