A literature review is not a summary of the literature. You need to engage deeply and critically with the literature. Your literature review should show your understanding of the literature related to your research topic and lead to presenting a rationale for your research.
It focuses on:
An annotated bibliography can be a useful way of taking notes as you read in the literature and think about what you are reading. It allows you to collect both a summary of the key points from different readings, as well as a critical assessment of the literature and comments about how it relates both to your own research and to other literature.
An annotated bibliography has two main sections:
Start with a summary or a description of each source, taking notes of the aim, methodologies, main arguments, overall findings and scope and limitations of the study.
Critically analyse the value of the material and the sources you are reviewing.
Writing a reflection for your annotated bibliography includes writing a few sentences explaining why or why not the source is useful or helpful for your research or how it relates to the overall theme of your research. This section of the annotation will be particularly useful when you come to building an argument for your research in your literature review.
Where the literature review fits into your thesis depends on the structure of your thesis. Your thesis might follow one of the three following structures:
Remember that in all theses, you will likely also refer to the literature throughout the thesis – for instance in providing a rationale for the study in your introduction, justifying your methodology or linking your discussion back to the literature.
The overall structure of your literature review should follow:
An important part of writing a literature review is to construct your identity as a graduate researcher. In other words, when writing your literature review, you need to develop a voice of authority.
Amongst other things, developing a voice of authority involves learning how to:
Another central part of developing your researcher identity is writing your literature review critically. Writing critically means that you do not simply summarise or find fault with pieces of literature. It also involves:
In your review, your evaluation of the literature can be significantly enhanced by clearly indicating your stance or position towards the cited sources.
A literature review is a critical analysis of the literature related to your research topic. A literature review is not a summary of the literature.
"Research and Writing Skills for Academic and Graduate Researchers" by RMIT University Library is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0. Cover design by Dr. Lisa Cianci. Artwork ‘Luwaytini’ by Mark Cleaver, Palawa (underlayed), All rights reserved. Cover image: Human Skills by Vicons Design from Noun Project.