Why Write a Literature Review?
  • 2-minute read
  • 9th July 2015

Why Write a Literature Review?

The short answer? To make your project more robust. Writing a critical literature review allows you to get to grips with the key themes, concepts and arguments in your field.

This, in turn, helps you to refine your research. Think of the literature review as the theoretical foundation of your thesis: if your selection of works is ill-considered, then the entire structure of your research may appear unsound.

Interrogate Past Research

A literature review prevents you from covering old ground, encouraging you to build on work covered by previous research. That said, it is important that you engage critically with past studies.

Simply listing previous works and their main themes won’t be enough. Rather, the review should be thematic and comparative, weighing up the views and evidence of one body of work against another and expanding upon the differences (or similarities) between them.

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You will earn points for demonstrating that you can extract the key arguments from the literature discussed and weave them into your own study. The depth of your analysis could mean the difference between a pass and a distinction.

A Quick Guide

So, how do you achieve this? Well, like anything about a research project, your approach will depend largely on your research question and objectives. However, some basic guidelines are as follows:

  1. Identify the key works in your subject area, starting with a general overview then narrowing down to a select few for discussion.
  2. Objectively compare and contrast the selected literature, but address your own biases if necessary (reflexivity can be a strength in your work).
  3. Always consider the relevance of the literature to your own research questions and objectives. Literature reviews can become unwieldy, so this is an important way of keeping your discussion on track.
  4. Focus on the most up-to-date works, but don’t ignore the classics if relevant.

TOP TIP: A key skill that markers look for is the ability to pick the essential elements from a study. Try writing a few words that capture the core arguments of the work you’re reviewing.

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