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Literature Reviewing

Research Cycle - Discover

Literature reviewing - what it is and what it is not

A literature review is a piece of writing intended to summarise, compare, evaluate, and synthesise important literature sources relating to a particular topic area. To review literature means to analyse and evaluate it, not just describe what the sources say. To synthesise literature means to bring it together, so we discuss the literature as a body of evidence on a topic through comparing and contrasting the individual sources together. 

Sometimes a literature review can be a stand alone piece of work, but it can also be just one section or chapter of a wider piece of work such as a dissertation or thesis. The expectations of a literature review can change across different subject fields so it is important that you follow specific guidance given in your assignment brief and by your module team.

You may be asked to document the methods of searching for and selecting the literature you are including in your review, if so you may find it useful to look at the section on this guide on Systematic Approaches. If you are in the School of Health and Social Care there is a Literature Reviewing page on the SHSC Subject Guide which gives health and social care specific guidance.

      It is not:

• A list or annotated bibliography
• An essay
• A simple summary or paraphrasing of sources of evidence
• Just descriptive writing
• Primary research

5 Top Tips

  1. Are you clear about what a literature review is and is not, and the expectations of your assignment brief?  

  2. Allocate plenty time to each stage of the process - planning, searching, reading, and writing. Try to schedule yourself a timetable from starting to your assignment deadline to help you stay on track.

  3. The planning of your topic and search are very important as poor searching could lead to missing out on finding key sources of literature.

  4. Have a clear plan for how you are going to store and manage your literature sources before you start searching - consider using a reference manager.

  5. Analysis and synthesis are key parts of the write up of the review, make sure you look at the further guidance on the Writing Your Review section of this guide.

Help & Advice

You can take a look at the Subject Guide for your school for more tailored information on finding and using literature sources within your particular subject area. You can also contact your Subject Librarian directly for support with undertaking a literature review assignment.

Further Reading