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How to Write a Literature Review

What it is, the purpose, strategies, guidelines, and resources to help you to get started.

What is a Literature Review?

The purpose of a literature review is to show "that the writer has studied existing work in the field with insight" (Haywood and Wragg, 1982).  An effective literature review analyzes and synthesizes material.  Literature reviews synthesize the work of others with insight and criticism, and should meet the following requirements (Caulley, 1992):

  • Compare and contrast different authors' views,
  • Group authors who draw similar conclusions,
  • Criticize aspects of methodology,
  • Note areas of disagreement,
  • Highlight exemplary studies,
  • Identify patterns or trends in the literature,
  • Note gaps or omissions in previous research,
  • Point out unanswered questions,
  • Show how your hypothesis/research relates to previous studies,
  • Show how your hypothesis/research relates to the literature in general,
  • Conclude by summarizing what the literature says.

A literature review has a number of purposes. It enables you to :

  • Clarify your research topic,
  • Identify experts and important published works.
  • Place your research into a historical perspective,
  • Avoid unnecessary duplication,
  • Evaluate promising research methods,
  • Relate your findings to previous knowledge and suggest further research.

Most students are not experts in their chosen field. Literature reviews enable one to develop a good working knowledge of the research in a particular area. Literature reviews raise questions, identify areas to be explored, summarize and criticize research, and prepare the reader for the study--your research--that is to follow.


  • Establish your research question; organize your literature into topics around the question.
  • Begin the literature review with an introduction to the topic. What is its significance and importance?
  • Critically analyze the relevant literature; state the content of the literature, implications of this knowledge, and any gaps,deficiencies, inconsistencies or conflicting viewpoints.
  • Write a critical and evaluative review of the literature; make your own interpretations.
  • Draw together important points in the conclusion; show how the information answers the question.
  • Establish if more research is needed, especially if there are inconsistencies or conflicting points of view.
  • Avoid plagiarism - acknowledge sources of ideas and quotations to add authority and credibility to the work.