Getting Started on Your
General Guide for Postgraduate
There is no one single correct method to writing a literature review. Therefore, this resource is a guide only. Check with your supervisor/lecturer/school to ascertain whether there are any specific requirements for your literature review before proceeding.
What is a Literature Review?
A literature review is an examination of the research that has been conducted in a particular field of study. Hart (1998) defines it as:
The selection of available documents (both published and unpublished) on the topic, which contain information, ideas, data and evidence. [This selection is] written from a particular standpoint to fulfil certain aims or express certain views on the nature of the topic and how it is to be investigated, and
The effective evaluation of these documents in relation to the research being proposed (p. 13).
What is the Purpose of a Literature Review?
To demonstrate your scholarly ability to identify relevant information and to outline existing knowledge.
To identify the ‘gap’ in the research that your study is attempting to address, positioning your work in the context of previous research and creating a ‘research space’ for your work.
To evaluate and synthesise the information in line with the concepts that you have set yourself for the research.
To produce a rationale or justification for your study.
Initially, you may read quite broadly on the topic to enrich your understanding of the field. This is useful for refining your topic and establishing the perspective that your research will take. For example, reading broadly may help you work out where there are gaps in the research, which may provide you with a niche for your research. It may also enable you to establish how your research extends or enhances the studies already done. However, remember that the literature review needs to relate to and explain your research question. Although there may seem to be hundreds of sources of information that appear pertinent, once you have your question you will be able to refine and narrow down the scope of your reading.
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What are the key sources?
What are the key theories,
concepts and ideas?
What are the epistemological and
ontological grounds for the
What are the major issues and
debates about the topic?
Literature search and
review on your topic
What are the political
What are the main questions
and problems that have been
addressed to date?
What are the origins and
definitions of the topic?
How is knowledge on the topic
structured and organised?
How have approaches to these
questions increased our understanding
Some of the questions the review of the literature can answer Source: Hart, C. (1998) Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination, Thousand Oaks, Sage, p. 14.
What do I need to be able to do in order to write a literature review? Please be aware that the following steps are not necessarily linear and you may have to revisit them at various points. Remember that undertaking your literature review is really an on-going process throughout your thesis. However, there will be times when you focus more specifically on reviewing the literature.
Identify your research question. This is essential in helping you direct and frame your reading.
Identify and locate appropriate information. Consider searching library catalogues, data bases, CD Roms, media releases, research publications etc.—these will depend on your discipline. If you are a postgraduate and are unsure about how to use the library’s print, electronic or internet resources effectively, then make an appointment for a Research Consultation with the UNSW library (this can be done online at...
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