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Writing the literature review

A literature review is a critical analysis of the literature related to your research topic. It evaluates and critiques the literature and establishes a theoretical framework for your research topic. 

A literature review is NOT a summary of the literature. You need to engage deeply and critically with the literature.  Your literature review should show your understanding of the literature related to your research topic and lead to presenting a rationale for your research. It focuses on

  • the context of the topic
  • key concepts, ideas, theories and methodologies
  • key researchers, texts and seminal works
  • major issues and debates
  • identifying conflicting evidence
  • the main questions that have been asked around the topic
  • the organisation of knowledge on the topic
  • definitions, particularly those that are contested
  • showing how your research will advance scholarly knowledge (generally referred to as identifying the ‘gap’)

Steps in writing a literature review:

  1. Identify key words or descriptors
  2. Create a search query
  3. Identify relevant literature sources
  4. Search the literature and collect relevant materials
  5. Critically read and analyse the literature
  6. Structure the literature review
  7. Write the literature review.

Before you engage with the resources on this page, try this quiz to see how much you already know about literature reviews (click at bottom of the page).

This module has the following resources:


 What examiners want 

Discipline-specific activities and resources: 

   Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) and Geospatial Sciences

   Business, Social Science and Education

   Art, Architecture and Design, Media and Communication

Here are two tip sheets you’ll find useful when writing your literature review:

Reporting verbs

Using matrices to organise your literature

2. Writing as identity work

This interactive workshop explores

  • constructing your identity as a graduate researcher/lit. review writer
  • metaphors that express the construction of the literature review
  • developing a voice of ‘authority’

Download this pdf in order to complete the video activities more easily:

Activity 2 The Scholarly Voice (PDF)

Activity 4  Critiquing the Literature (PDF)


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