Literature Review

What is a literature review?

The literature review is a review of the previous literature on your study topic. It looks only at secondary sources, so it should never be used for presenting your own results – that will come later in your own results section.

Why is the literature review important?

The literature review shows where your research sits within the context of your field of study. It demonstrates the previous research done in your area and allows you to identify or demonstrate gaps in the research that your study aims to fulfil. Finally, the literature review also provides information that you will use to build your own argument. You will  refer back to your literature review regularly throughout your dissertation.

You may also review literature on things not directly related to your topic, such as research methodologies.


You should try and get a good coverage of the previous studies in your area. It is important not to focus only on studies that appear to agree with your own hypotheses, but to include papers that might contain results that are not easily explainable with your hypothesis or that appear to contradict the consensus of opinion. Without testing your own results against the findings of such papers, the reliability of your work could be in doubt.

As the literature review is a major part of the paper, we will have a few posts on this issue, looking at where to find papers for a literature review, the various types of literature review and the differences between a literature review and an annotated bibliography.

Further reading

What next?

In the next post we will look at how to conduct a literature review, such as where to find papers and how to choose which papers to use.

This post is part of a series of posts about each of the sections of a dissertation. Get access to them all from here:

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