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Essays, Literature Reviews and Reports

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a collection of literature that is analysed (reviewed) and compared against each other to demonstrate an understanding of a topic. In a literature review you identify relevant theories and previous research in the area. Bell states that "literature reviews should be succinct and.. give a picture of the state of knowledge and major questions in your topic area."

Literature reviews are usually a part of a dissertation, although some modules may require a standalone literature review.

Why are literature reviews important?

Literature reviews are important as they allow you to gain a thorough awareness and understanding of current work and perspectives in a research area to support and justify your research, as well as illustrating that there is a research gap and assisting in the analysis and interpretation of data.

What should I put into a literature review?

  • The historical context.
  • The contemporary context of your research.
  • A discussion of the relevant underpinning concepts and theories.
  • Definitions of the key terminology used in your own work.
  • Current research in the field that can be challenged or extended by your own research.
  • Justification of the significance of your research.

How do I structure a literature review?

Look carefully at what is expected from you for your literature review. Sometimes they might focus heavily on one piece of literature, while others may focus on two or three, and some would like a vast body of literature to be included. Whatever the expectation, they usually follow the same structure as an essay:

10% Introduction

80% Main Body

10% Conclusion

The introduction should explain how your literature review is organised.

The main body should be made up of headings and sub headings that map out your argument.

The conclusion should summarise the key arguments in a concise way.

When should I start writing my literature review?

Starting writing your literature review as early as possible can help you in understanding the research and understanding how it will be used. This will help in creating an overall structure when writing later versions of the literature review and in comparing and linking different pieces of research. 

There are example essay extracts available on Do It Write (click here) to help you understand what they're asking from you. 

The books below provide good background reading for carrying out and writing your literature review.