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Assessment types

Literature reviews - laptop and books

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a critical evaluation of relevant literature published on a particular subject/topic.


The purpose of a literature review is to look critically at existing literature on a topic and use that information to create a theoretical framework for your research to identify gaps in the knowledge.

What does the literature say about your topic?

  • What are the main ideas and theories (theoretical framework)
  • How the research was carried out (methodology)
  • Identify areas of agreement and disagreement
  • What is missing? Identify any problems or gaps in the literature

Remember to analyse and synthesise the different sources (don’t just describe them). Look for similarities and differences between ideas or theories in the different sources. Don’t analyse the sources one by one; instead combine your analysis of what they have to say about your topic.


1. Define the topic and search
  • Choose and refine your topic of research or research question
  • Select credible literature that is relevant to your study and important to the field
  • Be selective (read for relevance)
2. Read and analyse
  • Ask yourself questions about what you read (methods used, conclusions and its relevance to your topic)
  • Think about your research question as you read. Your ideas about this may change as you find out more
  • Take notes, including references. Consider using a research matrix
  • Look for common themes, patterns, arguments and trends in the literature. How has knowledge evolved within the field, what is generally accepted and what is emerging?
3. Write
  • Don’t just describe or summarise the literature
  • Critically analyse and evaluate: comment on strengths and weaknesses
  • Synthesise the research: be clear about connections to your topic and relationships between the sources. What are the areas of agreement or disagreement between experts in the field?
  • Identify any relevant gaps in the existing knowledge.

Writing a literature review

This video from University of Melbourne explores how to analyse and critique the literature rather than just describing. It looks at the language of literature review and some example analysis.

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