The aim of a literature review is to show 'that the writer has studied existing work in the field with insight' (Haywood and Wragg, 1982: 2). It is not enough merely to show what others in your field have discovered. You need to view the work of others with insight to review critically. An effective review analyses and synthesizes material; and it should meet the following requirements (Caulley, 1992):
A literature review has a number of purposes. It enables you to :
As can be seen from the purposes above, the literature review is an exploration of an area, which at best will provide definition and a framework for a piece of research. Most students are not experts in their chosen field before they start their reading. The idea of the literature review is to develop a good working knowledge of the research in a particular area. The final written review should reflect the results of this preliminary research. A good literature review therefore raises questions and identifies areas to be explored. The review should give an idea of the work that has been carried out in the subject area, preparing the reader for the study that is to follow.
A good literature review presents a clear case and context for the project which makes up the rest of the thesis. Even if you are writing your review before you start your data collection, it is important to make clear the relationship of previous research to your thesis project.
This relationship between past work and your rationale is the most important influence on the structure and length of your literature review. Keep in mind that your purpose is important, because it will help to focus and direct your reading.
Caulley, D. N. (1992). Writing a Critical Review of the Literature. La Trobe University; Bundoora.
Haywood, P. & Wragg, E. D. (1982). Evaluating the Literature. Rediguide 2. University of Nottingham School of Education.
Because the nature of a literature review is to be dependent on what other authors have said, it is vital that you develop good referencing skills. These skills should be put into use the moment you first pick up a piece of written material. As soon as you pick up an article, put the publication details into your selected referencing system. The University Library has site licenses for three referencing products: EndNote, EndNote Online and RefWorks. Additionally, there are free and subscription reference management programs available on the web or for loading onto your computer - these include Zotero, Mendeley, Citavi and Papers. It is important to choose one that suits your needs. Refer to the Library's Managing References guide for more information.
Reference management programs can be used to:
This online tutorial explains why an annotated bibliography is an integral part of the research process. Lecturer and researcher Dr Carolyne Lee interviews three research students to discover how the process of compiling an annotated bibliography helped structure and develop their work. The tutorial explains how to put together an annotated bibliography including the elements for each entry.
Particularly useful for Honours and Higher Degree students.
Discuss your research-specific information needs in a one-on-one research consultation with library professionals. Consultations are tailored to your needs and experience.
Much of the content of this site has been compiled from guides created by the University's Learning Skills Unit, now known as Academic Skills, and by University of Melbourne Library colleagues. The creator of this site acknowledges and thanks these staff for their contributions.