Literature reviews

Why write a literature review?

The first step of any research project is to review the field. So let’s think about surveying, synthesising, critically analysing and presenting in more detail. A literature review does the following.

  • Identifies gaps in current knowledge.
  • Avoids reinventing the wheel – i.e. it saves you wasting time researching something that’s already been done.
  • Allows you to show that you are building on a foundation of existing knowledge and ideas – i.e. carrying on from where others have already reached.
  • Identifies other people working in the same field. Knowing who’s already working in your area and getting in touch with them can be an invaluable source of knowledge and support.
  • Demonstrates the depth of your knowledge about your research.
  • Identifies the important works in your area and shows that you’ve read them.
  • Provides an intellectual context for your own work, and enables you to position your project in relation to others in the field.
  • Identifies opposing views.
  • Puts your own work in perspective – are you doing something completely new, revisiting an old controversy in the light of new evidence, etc?
  • Demonstrates your research skills – i.e. you not only know about work in your area, you also know how to access it.
  • Identifies information and ideas that may be relevant to your project.
  • Identifies methods that may be relevant to your project.