How to write a literature review

How to write a literature review 

The aim of a literature review is to show your reader (your tutor) that you have read, and have a good grasp of, the main published work concerning a particular topic or question in your field. This work may be in any format, including online sources. It may be a separate assignment, or one of the introductory sections of a report, dissertation or thesis. In the latter cases in particular, the review will be guided by your research objective or by the issue or thesis you are arguing and will provide the framework for your further work.


A literature review should demonstrate to your reader that you are able to:

  • Understand and critically analyse the background research
  • Select and source the information that is necessary to develop a context for your research

It also:

  • Shows how your investigation relates to previous research
  • Reveals the contribution that your investigation makes to this field (fills a gap, or builds on existing research, for instance)
  • Provides evidence that may help explain your findings later.


A literature review is a piece of discursive prose, not a list describing or summarising one piece of literature after another. It’s usually a bad sign to see every paragraph beginning with the name of a researcher. Instead, organise the literature review into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theory. You are not trying to list all the material published, but to synthesize and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your thesis or research question.


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