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What is a literature review?

A literature review is... 

  • simply a summary of existing scholarship on a particular topic 
  • commonly a prelude to further research
  • usually near the beginning of a thesis or dissertation, directly after the introduction. There are exceptions to this, so it is always advisable to confirm this with your supervisor
  • based on secondary sources – that is, what other people have already written on a subject
  • not concerned about discovering new knowledge or information
  • almost entirely focused on relevant academic literature and the data collected or theories put together by recognised experts in the field.  Popular or non-academic sources may be brought in occasionally to illustrate a point, but the central focus is always on academic sources

A literature review will... 

  • try to look at as much of this existing research as possible
  • review major scholarly books in the relevant area
  • also take a keen interest in journal articles, which in many subjects give more up-to-date material than books
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