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Research Guides

Literature Review: What is a literature review?

What is a literature review?

"A literature review is the comprehensive study and interpretation of literature that addresses a specific topic. If your literature review is a preliminary review prior to a larger study, the purpose of the review is to provide a critical account of the literature in a particular area in order to demonstrate why a new research study is required. The aim of the researcher is to review and critique the literature relating to the topic of enquiry, in order to demonstrate their understanding of both the research and the methods previously used to investigate the area. If you are undertaking a literature review for this purpose, you must systematically search, critique and combine the literature to demonstrate a gap in the existing research base and justify your proposed research question. If your whole research project is a literature review, you will seek to answer a specific question in your review" (Aveyard, H., 2010, p. 2).


This video was developed for graduate students, however, understanding what a literature review is and how to write one is important for undergraduates as well.  Keep in mind that the breadth and depth of your literature review will depend on the requirements of your assignment.

What can a literature review do for me?

  1. Help you to narrow down your topic.
  2. Help you to "build your case."
  3. Show you how others (scholars and researchers) have handled methodological and research design issues in areas related to your topic.
  4. Introduce you to measurement tools that have been used effectively in prior research.
  5. Reveal limitations of prior research that may be addressed by your proposed study.
  6. Provide information as to whether your topic would be valuable as an empirical study.