Literature Review

A literature review identifies what is already known aboug your area of research. It is a synthesis of the information listed in your bibliography or annotated bibliography.

A literature review fulfills several purposes in a research project. According to Tolich and Davidson (2011, p. 73) the literature sets out to answer the following questions:

  1. What have others said about this topic?
  2. What theories address this topic?
  3. What do these theories say?
  4. What research has been done previously?
  5. Is the existing research in agreement, or is there disagreement?
  6. Are there flaws or contradictions in the existing literature?


Steps to create a literature review


  • Identify the keywords to use for searching. You may need to think broadly, for example, if searching binge drinking amongst adolescents, you might also use "teenagers," "alcohol abuse," or "adolescent risk behaviours."

  • Remember to cover research that addresses the topic from all sides to avoid bias in your literature review.

  • Use library databases and talk to librarians for assistance.

  • Ensure you search for credible literature from reliables sources.


Search for relevant literature


  • Organise the literature into:

    - highly relevant
    - relevant
    - may be relevant
    - don’t think it is relevant but keep just in case.


Organise the information according to relevance


  • Sort the literature into groups according to subject, ideas or other aspects/themes relating to your topic. Use a matrix format with key themes in row headings and articles listed separately in column headings. Make notes for each article according to the relevant themes.
  • Organise the themes and literature logically so that the current state of knowledge is revealed.


Sort the literature according to subject or idea


Write an annotation for each article covering the following:

  • Introduction/Overview of the content (e.g., “This article investigates . . .”).
  • Aims and research methods used (e.g., “The authors use . . ., "The authors
    investigated . . .”).
  • Scope of the research (e.g., “The research focuses on . . .”).
  • Identify parts that are relevant (e.g., “The conclusion/finding/ of . . . is relevant to my
    topic as it relates to . . .”).
  • Strengths or limitations of the research (e.g., “However, this study . . .,” "Limitations to this study are . . .").
  • Conclusions (e.g., “The authors conclude that . . .”).
  • Reflection regarding how this research fits with your research project (e.g., “This article will provide the basis of . . .,” “This article provides supplementary information . . . ," "This article will provide supporting/contradictory evidence . . .").

Write annotations


Construct an outline to place the main points in logical order (remember to structure around ideas and themes rather than authors and studies).

  • Look for trends and an easy flow of ideas.
  • Place general information first, then increasingly focus on the specific, leading to your research question


Construct a plan


  • Include the following sections:
    • Introduction: Introduce the context of your topic, the aims and scope of your research, and an outline of the key themes.
    • Body: Address each theme and ensure there is a logical flow from one theme to the next.
    • Conclusion: Write a summary of the major findings of current research, including area of agreement or disagreement, inconsistencies, and areas that have not yet been researched.

Write the literature review



Material adapted from the following sources:

Student Learning Support Centre. Victoria University of Wellington. (n.d.). Writing a literature review. Retrieved from


Useful Guide

Bibliography and Annotated Bibliography



Tolich, M. N., & Davidson, C. (2011). An introduction to research methods: Getting started. Auckland, New Zealand:


Updated January 2016