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Reviewing the literature. Why & How?. Literature review. Is a summary of the literature relevant to the subject of your research. It should be critical - try to avoid simply cataloguing previous work but evaluate it as well. It should be accompanied by references listing your sources.

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literature review
Literature review
  • Is a summary of the literature relevant to the subject of your research.
  • It should be critical - try to avoid simply cataloguing previous work but evaluate it as well.
  • It should be accompanied by references listing your sources.
  • It should be as comprehensive as necessary for the purposes of the particular report.
why review the literature
Why review the literature?
  • Identify gaps in current knowledge
  • Avoid “reinventing the wheel”
  • Set work in context
  • Avoid previously identified problems
  • Acknowledge and refer to previous work
    • Avoid plagiarism
conducting a literature review
Conducting a Literature review
  • Identify the major "themes" relevant to your project in the literature.
  • Summarise the major points made in the articles you have read.
  • Comment critically on the literature you have read
    • Is there a general consensus or are there varying viewpoints? If the latter, how credible are the various perspectives?
    • Are there any “gaps” current research
    • How does your proposed project fit into the current research?
read critically
Read Critically
  • Evaluate content
  • How reliable
    • Sources
  • How are the arguments made?
    • Evaluate the evidence
    • Is a particular “line” being taken?
    • Tone of language
    • Conclusions based on evidence
keep records
Keep records
  • Source of information
    • Record full bibliographic details
  • Summary of content
  • Photocopies - be sparing
  • It is generally better to summarise the article in your own words than to photocopy.
    • Photocopy only key articles.
bibliographic details
Bibliographic details
  • Author(s)
  • Year of publication
  • Title of article (in full)
  • For journals
    • volume, part, pages
  • For books
    • Edition
    • (Chapter and/or pages)
    • Location and Name of Publisher.
  • Keep these records in electronic format.
  • Libraries: Books and Journals
  • Various databases
    • On line searchable databases
    • CDROM databases
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Internet (though beware)
primary secondary sources
Primary & Secondary Sources
  • Primary
    • Research journals/reports
    • Original books
    • Patents etc.
    • All primary sources have undergone process of review.
  • Secondary
    • Review articles
    • Textbooks
    • Internet (mostly)
  • A literature review should consist largely of primary sources
  • References indicate your sources and provide authority for your evidence.
  • References may be used to
    • justify and support your arguments
    • enable comparisons with other research
    • express things better than you can
    • demonstrate familiarity with the field of research
  • You should avoid using references to
    • impress readers with the scope of your reading
    • name drop
    • as a replacement for expressing your own thoughts
    • misrepresent other authors.
using references
Using references
  • References comprise two parts
    • The citation in the text
    • The list of references or bibliography at the end
  • The citation alerts the reader to the source you have consulted for this particular piece of evidence.
  • The list of references enables the reader to go and read the original source, should they so wish.
  • So; both are essential.
citing references
Citing References
  • By name (The Harvard System)
    • Smith (2000) showed that ...
    • It has be argued that … (Jones 1999)
    • With multiple authors list both authors if there are two or use et al after the first author’s name for more than two
  • The Number system
    • Smith (6) showed that …
    • It has been argued that7 …
    • Only use superscripts if they are not to be used for other purposes.
listing references
Listing References
  • Citing by name
    • List in alphabetical order of first author’s name
    • Single authors before joint authors, date order (a, b, c etc for more than one in a year).
  • Citing by number
    • Either
      • Numbered in order of first appearance in text
    • Or
      • Numbered in alphabetical order
advantages disadvantages
  • Harvard system
    • Authors name serves as a reminder
    • Easy to Add/removing citations
    • Can make text look cluttered & interrupt flow
  • Number system
    • Takes little space
    • less distracting for reader
    • Adding/removing citations involves renumbering.
  • Use whichever you feel comfortable with, but be consistent


Bell, J., (1999), Doing your research project, 3rd Edn, Buckingham, Open University Press

Luck, M., (1999), Your Student Research Project, Aldershot, Gower.