The overall purpose of a literature review is to demonstrate a knowledge of the existing body of research in a particular topic area. In other words, it retrospectively undertakes a critical analysis of the pros and cons of existing important studies and research and shows which issues require new or further study – how the body of knowledge could be improved. As such, it is a useful way of arguing for new research to be done - for example, as part of a proposal for a research project or dissertation or as a report on the state of existing research.
When do we write literature reviews?
A literature review could be set as an assignment at the beginning of a course in order to get students ‘up to speed’ with the existing research in a given field of study
A literature review often forms part of a dissertation or research project proposal, making an argument or producing justification for the new work that the researcher proposes to carry out.
A literature review is thus a report on the current state of research in a given area of study that comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the research (landmark studies or writings) within a given field and perhaps gives recommendations for possible future study
One last use for a literature review is that it can form the introductory section for a completed dissertation or project which gives the context into which the new research fits
A literature review should gradually develop and refine a research problem or question that requires further academic investigation. As such, it should be a critical review of the landmark studies demonstrating their strengths and shortcomings in relation to a specific area of study (we shall discuss the process of getting started and defining an area of investigation below).
Theatre critics, despite being called critics, will often say what is good about a play or stage musical as well as what is bad. Likewise, a