Structuring your Literature review
A literature review is meant to demonstrate your knowledge of the existing research in your field. The key word here is ‘review’: not only should you have familiarized yourself with the research, but also engaged with it in a critical way. In that sense, a literature review is key to positioning yourself as a credible, authoritative researcher. It is therefore important to get it right.
The different parts of a literature review
- The first part of a literature review is an up-to-date, representative summary of the research in your field. This involves introducing important papers and their theories, findings or conclusions. Remember to not just describe the research, but also present your own critical evaluation of the literature. You need to adopt a critical stance on the work being discussed, either positive, neutral, or negative. You may identify inconsistencies, faults with a chosen methodology, lack of supporting evidence, etc. You may also compare and contrast findings across several studies, to identify areas of consensus or disagreement.
- The second part of a literature review, you highlight any gaps that exist in the research to date. This is very important, as this is where you pave the way for the relevance of your own study. Here you may point out the need to investigate further questions, or to use a different protocol/sample/setting to answer previously investigated questions, for instance.
- At the end of your literature review, it is good to summarize the main findings and state how your study fills the knowledge gap(s).