Literature Review

This guide provides information to understand the purpose of a Literature review, search for information, analysis; synthesis of the literature and writing the review.

What is a literature review?

What is a Literature Review?

A Literature Review

  • investigates and appraises material that has been written on a particular topic
  • can serve as a framework for an ensuing study or piece of research, such as a thesis
  • raises questions and identifies areas to be explored.


The Process

Literature review flow chart


The function and format of your literature review will depend on your academic level

  • Undergraduate assignment
  • Masters dissertation
  • PhD thesis


Your review could be

  • essentially descriptive and topic focused;
  • analytical and summative; OR
  • an analytical synthesis covering all known literature on the problem


Understanding the literature review process - a video overview (9 minutes)

Video of understanding a literature review


Succeeding with Your Literature Review by Paul Oliver

Cover art for book

Succeeding with Your Literature Review will enable you to:

  • Design a literature review

  • Conduct a logically-planned search for relevant literature

  • Determine which literature is most suited to inclusion in your study

  • Analyse the literature, drawing comparisons and connections where appropriate

  • Appraise the strengths and weaknesses of relevant literature

  • Write logically and rationally about the key features of literature

  • Write a literature review in a sound academic style

  • Understand how to relate a literature review to other elements of your study or dissertation.

Different types of reviews

Types of reviews

  • Narrative or traditional literature review –
    • is an overview of the significant literature on a topic
    • typically includes a critical analysis of each work included
    • demonstrates the reviewers knowledge of the topic
  • Annotated bibliography –
    • is a list of citations of research sources (books, journal articles, websites etc) on a topic
    • includes a brief summary and analysis or evaluation of each citation = the annotation
  • Systematic literature review
    • a critical assessment of all research studies on a particular research question
    • has specific criteria for systematically collecting and evaluating the literature
    • includes a synthesis of the findings of the included studies
  • Systematic quantitative literature review
    • This method developed by Griffith University's School of Environment bridges the gap between traditional narrative review methods and meta-analyses to enable student's to produce results that are reliable, quantifiable and reproducible.
  • Systematic review
    • ​​​​​​A systematic review is an appraisal and synthesis of primary research papers using a rigorous and clearly documented methodology in both the search strategy and the selection of studies.This minimises bias in the results. The clear documentation of the process and the decisions made allow the review to be reproduced and updated. There are many differences between a systematic review and other types of reviews.

Common problems with literature reviews

If you are writing a literature review as a post-graduate higher degree research student or as a researcher, you might find the follow links of use.

Common problems with conducting a literature review

University of Queensland Literature reviews: Common problems

How to critically examine your literature review and correct common mistakes (a comprehensive guide)

University of Queensland Reviewing the literature: A short guide for research students.