The Library

English Literature and Creative Writing

Literature Reviews

The information on this page is designed to assist with Literature Reviews, supplementing the instructions of Tutors and module handbooks with resources and advice from the Library.

You may also wish to explore our page on Dissertations and the Skills for Learning pages on Literature Searching and Literature Reviews.

Library resources

You can find other useful books on literature searching and reviewing on the Library Catalogue, many written to support more specific topics. However, the following general titles may help you to get started:

Finding other resources to search

Discover is an excellent starting point when conducting a literature review as it searches through the vast majority of our electronic resources. However, it is also a good idea to search relevant individual databases for a more subject-specific perspective.

When you find a relevant article, you should then follow the trails from it to other useful information:

  • Follow up relevant-looking references.
  • Look up what else the author has written.
  • Look at what else that journal has published.
  • Find the article on Scopus or Google Scholar, and see who has cited it in their subsequent research.

You may also wish to look at theses, dissertations and projects from other academic institutions: details on how to access these sources of information are available on this page.

Remember that searching is not a linear process. The more reading that you do, the more additional keywords, authors, topics and questions you are likely to encounter with which you can expand or refine your original list of search terms. This is a positive sign, as it shows you are expanding your knowledge of your subject and it is a key part of the process of conducting a comprehensive literature review.

Need a book or article which we don't have in stock?

If you are a final year undergraduate, a postgraduate student or member of academic staff, and require access to a book or journal article which we do not have in stock, we can obtain it for you as an interlibrary loan.

You can request this service from the interlibrary loans box of the Library tab in MyBeckett.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a review of the existing literature, journal articles, books and evidence published on a given topic. It is a critical and evaluative account of any published work around your research field, including a description and analysis of existing knowledge of the topic, the identification of any gaps in the existing body of knowledge, and an explanation of how your research might contribute to and further develop current understanding of the subject.

A literature review is not simply a description or summary of each individual paper. It should instead be organised around the findings of the articles considered, and is therefore an opportunity to identify common themes and issues as well as highlighting opposing arguments.

Choosing a topic

Before deciding upon a topic, it is a good idea to conduct a 'scoping' or formative search in Discover, just to make sure that there is enough relevant material for you to consider, read and analyse.

Also, remember that conducting a literature review is your opportunity to find out more about a topic that interests you. If you cannot think of a topic:

  • Read back through past lecture notes to find inspiration.
  • Browse through current journals in your area to see what other researchers are investigating.
  • Look out for news stories which may be relevant to your topic.

Video: How to read a scholarly article

A Reference Librarian at Kishwaukee College Library has produced this helpful video on how to read a scholarly article:

Developing a search strategy

Your search strategy is your plan of action for searching. It is important to ensure that your searching is systematic, and does not omit any potentially useful results. To achieve this, you should consider the following points when forming a search strategy and devising a list of terms to search for:

  • Think of synoyms and alternative search terms for your topic keywords - the essential words which describe your topic.
  • Further deconstruct your keywords - are you sure you have thought of all of the possible ways to describe your topic? It may be helpful to use a thesaurus for clues, or discuss your topic with someone else.
  • Look at the keywords listed in relevant articles. How have previous authors described your subject?
  • Where are you going to search for information? These databases may provide you with some ideas.

Then, when conducting searches, remember that:

  • Academic databases such as Discover have Advanced Search tools, which you can use to target your searching more precisely.
  • You can also add 'Boolean operators' to searches (or use these tools as Advanced Search options), adding AND, OR and NOT between search words to refine your results. NOT is particularly helpful, allowing you to eliminate irrelevant results. For example, you might wish to run a search for 'Animation NOT Disney'.
  • Truncating allows you to search for various different endings of a word by using an asterisk. For example, 'cinema*' will search for cinema, cinematic, cinamtography, cinematographist, etc.
  • By enclosing a phrase within quotation marks you can search for keywords grouped together in a certain order - e.g. "kitchen sink drama".
  • Think too about how to limit your search. Do you want to find only peer-reviewed and scholarly journal articles, or also grey literature? Is your research going to cover a specific time period, such as the last 10 years? Are you applying any geographical limits? Remember that while using Discover, you can use the filters on the left hand side of the results screen (under 'Refine results') to apply any of these limits. Use the help function in other databases to find out how to limit your search in them.

Finally, record the databases you have searched, the search terms you have used and any limits applied - you will need this information to ensure that your searching is systematic and methodical, and then also for writing up your methodology!

Writing up

Here are some suggestions to help with writing your literature review:

  • Allow plenty of time to both research and write your literature review.
  • Also ensure to allow plenty of words to let your work develop, and for your review to follow various arguments and counter-arguments.
  • Be selective about the literature you include - try to select papers with varying viewpoints, to ensure that you have plenty to discuss.
  • As this is your literature review, don't forget to include your own voice - but use the evidence to support your arguments.
  • Use quotes sparingly and paraphrase wherever possible.
  • If necessary, you can book an appointment with your Academic Librarian (contact details above) who can offer advice on how to find relevant resources including journal articles, statistics and more.

Structuring your literature review

You should consult your Tutor or module handbook regarding exactly how to organise your literature review. However, a literature review would normally have the following basic structure:

Introduction. This is where you introduce your research topic: what it is, why it is important and how it fills any gaps in the available knowledge. The introduction should outline any main themes or chronological developments and also outline the organisational structure of the review.

Body. This is where you discuss the sources and articles used, as well as any controversies and points of debate. The body of your review can be arranged chronologically if you want to illustrate how arguments and views have changed over a given time period, or it can be arranged thematically by themes and subtopics. Another way in which your review can be organised is by theoretical arguments e.g. positivist, anti-positivst, and sociocultural evolutionists, or rational choice theory vs social learning theory.

Conclusion. This is where you summarise what you have learnt from your literature review and highlight any suggested areas for further research.