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Literature reviews

A standard section of a thesis or major project is the literature review. As the name suggests, a literature review involves the author examining the existing literature on a chosen topic, but you might be wondering: what's the point? Consider the following explanation of the purpose and function of the literature review:

A literature review uses as its database reports of primary or original scholarship, and does not report new primary scholarship itself. The primary reports used in the literature may be verbal, but in the vast majority of cases reports are written documents. The types of scholarship maybe empirical, theoretical, critical/analytic, or methodological in nature. Second a literature review seeks to describe, summarise, evaluate, clarify and/or integrate the content of primary reports. (Cooper, as cited in The Literature Review, 2014, para. 1)

Therefore, a literature review examines primary resources (that is, previously published reports of original research) and evaluates the relationship between the resources and the focus of the thesis/major project/OCP.

You might still be wondering the point of preparing a literature review:

According to Bourner (1996), there are good reasons for spending time and effort on a review of the literature before embarking on a research project. These reasons include:

  • to identify gaps in the literature to avoid reinventing the wheel (at the very least this will save time and it can stop you from making the same mistakes as others)
  • to carry on from where others have already reached (reviewing the field allows you to build on the platform of existing knowledge and ideas)
  • to identify other people working in the same fields (a researcher network is a valuable resource) to increase your breadth of knowledge of your subject area
  • to identify seminal works in your area to provide the intellectual context for your own work, enabling you to position your project relative to other work
  • to identify opposing views to put your work into perspective to demonstrate that you can access previous work in an area
  • to identify information and ideas that may be relevant to your project to identify methods that could be relevant to your project (as cited in The Literature Review, 2014, para. 3) 

Please see below for additional resources on writing a literature review. 

Literature review resources

"Get lit: The literature review" (Dr. Candace Hastings, Texas A&M University Writing Center)

Literature reviews (University of Waterloo)

SAGE Research Methods (requires login with RRU username and password)

Literature review tutorial (American University Library)

Sample outline: See the sections relating to the literature review section of a major research paper in Outlining a research paper (©2011 Amy L. Stuart, Associate Professor, University of South Florida)

Sample literature reviews

"Critical thinking and transferability: A review of the literature" (Reece, G., 2002)

"The use of owner resources in small and family owned businesses: Literature review and future research directions (pdf)" (Yilmazer T., & Schrank, H., 2010) 

To search for additional information, please visit WriteAnswers and search the FAQs. If you're a RRU student, you can also use the WriteAnswers contact form to send your questions directly to the Writing Centre. We'll send you a private reply as soon as we can, which is typically within one business day of receiving the message.