Literature reviews

Most students write a literature review as part of their thesis or dissertation, but in some degree programmes, coursework assessment of a module may involve writing a literature review.

A literature review is a comprehensive survey of published research on a particular topic. It summarises, synthesises and critically evaluates relevant research. It reveals trends and controversies, and identifies areas where further research is needed.

Writing a good literature review requires:

  • the ability to locate, understand, record and categorise complex information from multiple sources
  • good critical thinking and critical reading skills
  • the ability to evaluate other people’s findings and conclusions
  • the ability to identify key contributions, trends and controversies, and gaps in current knowledge

As you can see from the above list, writing a literature review is a cognitively-demanding task. This is why only students on postgraduate degrees or in the final stages of an undergraduate programme are normally expected to write literature reviews. One effective way of learning to write a literature review is to look at good models in your subject. You can find excellent models in review articles published in academic journals. Note, in particular, how the review is structured and how language is used to report and critically evaluate research.

Read more about the literature review