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2011 MBBS Honours Literature Review Structure & Content II . Year 3 Honours Workshop 3C A/Prof Di Eley, MBBS Research Coordinator. MEDI3009 – Scientific Literature Review (marks to MEDI 3009 only) Related to your project’s research question .

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2011 MBBS Honours

Literature Review Structure & Content II

Year 3 Honours Workshop 3C

A/Prof Di Eley, MBBS Research Coordinator



  • Pose further questions or arguments associated with their project and research question

  • Provide evidence that the relevant literature has been critically analysed and thoughtfully integrated into the review

    • i.e. this is not an annotated bibliography.

  • Thoughtfully argue and/or discuss the literature related to the project and provide logical conclusions or suggestions based on the review.

  • Criteria for Marking: Literature Review

  • 1. The topic is briefly introduced and provides the reader with the overall context of the project and a point of reference.

  • The aims of the project are clearly stated

  • The research question(s) and/or hypothesis is clearly stated

  • Criteria for Marking: Literature Review

  • 4. There is evidence that the relevant literature has been critically analysed.

  • An outstanding review will thoughtfully integrate the literature and argue or discuss the topic(s) related to the project and how the student’s work will add to this body of knowledge.

  • Criteria for Marking: Literature Review

  • 5. Accuracy and consistency in format

    • Line spacing of 1.5

    • Font can be Times New Roman, Calibri or Arial

    • Font size must be 12 point

    • All pages numbered consecutively.

    • All margins minimum 2.0cm & maximum 2.5cm

    • No longer than 5,000 words

      • does not include references, tables, figures & appendices


List-like writing that lacks synthesis

Smith (2003) investigated X and found Y. Jones (2000) looked at B and found C. Adams (1995) verified that M causes N..... ..

Like giving the reader one piece of a jigsaw puzzle at a time.

You must put all the "pieces of the jigsaw puzzle" together and then describe the resulting picture to the reader.

Point out what parts of the picture are clear, what parts are fuzzy, and what parts are missing altogether.

Then identify the goal of your research i.e. bring one of the "fuzzy areas" into "sharper focus", to "fill in one of the holes", or to "develop the picture into new directions"


  • Making an "original" contribution

  • Research is supposed to make an "original" contribution to human knowledge

  • As a writer your challenge is to demonstrate that you are not simply repeating what has already been done before. If you are – that’s okay but you need to justify why.

    • Some doubt about the previous findings,

    • Methodological weakness,

    • Need for a confirmatory study with an improved methodology,

    • Previous results need updating.

  • As you review the existing literature, you need to identify any limitations, deficiencies, or gaps in existing knowledge or practice that need to be addressed. 


Not being sufficiently critical

The purpose of a literature review is not just to summarise what is currently known about a topic.

Also to provide a detailed justification for your research.

Ultimately your review should be in the form of an argument.

Develop the argument by pointing out "holes" in the jigsaw puzzle that need filling or "fuzzy" parts that need clarifying.

Then frame this within the context of your research and research question as being a promising line of investigation


  • Not discriminating between relevant and irrelevant materials

  • A literature review is not about demonstrating how much you've read

  • It should provide a description of how certain parts of what you have read establish the foundation for, motivate, and frame your research

  • All literature you cite needs to have clear reason for being there

  • Background material is important for orienting the reader.

    • But you must ask yourself: What does the reader really need to appreciate, what comes next, and what is ‘trivia' or unimportant and can be left out?


  • Lack of a clear organisational structure

    • Using a mind map or plan can help to address this problem.

  • Exclusion of landmark studies

    • This suggests to the reader that the student "isn't on top of the field".

  • Relying on material that is likely to be out-of-date

  • Adopting a parochial perspective

    • (i.e. if you were to mostly cite papers produced by the research group you are a member of or if you were to look mainly at the literature on a topic produced in one country or continent).


  • convince the reader as to the significance, importance of the research questions being considered.

  • convince the reader that the thesis will make an original contribution.

  • critically review the different methodological approaches in your field to investigate questions like yours so as to justify your research.

  • use the results of previous research to identify a promising direction for future research.

  • need to be framed as arguments, not merely summaries.

  • demonstrate your professional competence in the field.



  • First pass: familiarisation

    • What's been done? What's already known?

  • Second pass: organisation and critical review

    • Organise/sort the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle (your literature) into piles of similar/related pieces.

    • Organise around themes/issues/questions rather than individual papers.

    • Critical review means identifying things like:

      • assumptions

      • methodological weaknesses

      • gaps, controversies, problems

      • new ways of using things or putting things together.

  • Third pass: placing your own research within the field

  • Why Am I Doing This?



  • Common problems include:

    • Getting "buried"

    • Losing your way/focus - "How do I know if I'm getting anywhere?“

  • In addition, the writing process is difficult and messy because:

    • You're trying to coordinate many sources

    • You're trying to convert a "cobweb" of ideas into a linear sequence

    • You may be trying to handle language & ideas you are still yet to fully master

  • Consequently, expect to have to write many drafts:

    • Just start writing – anything

    • Outline, outline, outline......

    • Create a table of thoughts; a mind map

    • Look for repetition, common themes – outline again....

    • Approach it as an argument

  • How much background to provide?

  • All writing should be purposeful, so ask yourself, "Why does the reader need to know this particular background?”

  • Is the work seminal (i.e. original and influential)?

    • Important to distinguish between papers that do something important (are highly cited) and those which "merely" fill in the details ... unless those details are relevant!

  • Will you build on, improve, extend, or "demolish" their work?

    • To challenge a common assumption in the literature, you don't have to list every paper that's ever made that assumption, a representative list will do. You are only trying to convince the reader that the assumption is common.

Citing previous research

Two primary ways to cite the work of others authors

Information prominent – focus on the information provided & the information is given primary importance.

"For viscoelastic fluids, the behaviour of the time-dependent stresses in the transient shear flows is very important (Boger et al., 1974)."

Author-prominent - the author's name is given more emphasis. It serves as the subject of the sentence, followed by the citation and then the information.

"Close (1983) developed a simplified theory using an analogy between heat and mass transfer." (strong)

"Several authors have suggested that automated testing should be more readily accepted (Balcer, 1989; Stahl, 1989; Carver and Tai, 1991)." (weak)

  • When in doubt

  • Always go back to your

  • Research Question

  • Remind yourself

    • what are you doing, and

    • why are you doing it