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Literature reviews - research guide

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What is a literature review?

A literature review is a critical analysis of published texts, or literature, on a particular topic. The review should describe, summarise, evaluate, classify and compare this literature. A literature review gives an overview of:

1) What has been said; 2) Key writers; 3) Prevailing theories and hypotheses; 4) Questions being asked; and 5) Appropriate and useful methods and methodologies.

Why is a literature review important?

A literature review:

  • Identifies areas of prior research to prevent duplication of effort
  • Clarifies important definitions and terminology
  • Examines each text’s contribution to knowledge of the topic
  • Describes the relationship of each text to other texts
  • Interprets previous research and resolves conflicts amongst previous studies
    • Examines each text’s contribution to knowledge of the topic​
    • Describes the relationship of each text to the others
    • Resolves conflict amongst previous studies
  • Influences future research or reviewer’s own research project
  • Identifies knowledge gaps and identifies areas for further research
  • Places your research in the context of the existing literature
  • Focuses your knowledge of the topic and aids the design of your research
  • Creates a theoretical framework for your research

What does a literature review demonstrate?

Your literature review should:

  • Show that you understand the topic and why it is important
  • Demonstrate your ability to access relevant and current literature in the field
  • Demonstrate your ability to objectively evaluate research and highlight trends in the area
  • Provide an overview of the topic with clear and justified links to your conclusion

Starting a literature review


Featured resource

SAGE Research Methods (SRM) allows researchers to explore methods and concepts to help them design research projects, understand particular methods or identify a new method, conduct their literature review and research, and write up their findings. Since SRM focuses on methodology, it can be used across  disciplines.

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