Literature review

The ability to review and report on relevant literature is a key academic skill. A literature review situates your learning within the context of the wider academic community in your field and reports your view of the articles.

The aim of a literature review is to show your reader that you have read and have a good grasp of the articles. The review will be guided by your research objective or by the issue or thesis you are arguing and will provide the framework for deeper understanding.

It is very important to note that your review should not be simply a description of what was said in the articles in the form of a set of summaries but take the form of a critical discussion, showing insight and an awareness of differing arguments, theories and approaches. It should be a synthesis and analysis of the articles, linked at all times to your own purpose and rationale.

Literature reviews can comprise the following elements:

  • An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review
  • Division of works under review into categories (e.g. those in support of a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative theses entirely)
  • Explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research

Although you clearly need to write in an academic style, it can be helpful to imagine that you are telling a story. The thread running through the story is the explanation of why you decided to do the study that you are doing. The story needs to be logical, informative, persuasive, comprehensive and, ideally, interesting. It needs to reach the logical conclusion that your research is a good idea.

Practical tips:

  • It is strongly recommended to start writing the review early, perhaps immediately.
  • Come up with a such title for your literature review that reflects your focus. ‘Literature review’ is a bit boring title for independent thinking. 
  • Include subtitles in your text, and be sure to include an introduction chapter and a conclusions chapter.
  • Make sure that your original thoughts and your own arguments are included in a literature review  It is not enought to just repeat what was said in the articles or class.
  • Please pay attention to technical requirements
    • The paper size should be A4, the font size is 12 pt, the font Times New Roman or other easy-to-read, standard-size font, and line spacing is 1.5.
    • Please use standard margins
    • The minimum length of an assignment (3000 words) means the minimum length of the text itself, including title, subtitles and possible footnotes and excluding a possible separate title page, and the list of sources.


© Markku Sotarauta - est. 1998