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Literature Review

What is a literature review?

A literature review is an evaluation of current research papers on the topic area of a new study, with the goal of discussing their theory, research designs, data collection methods, findings, strengths, limitations, and settings as they relate to the new study

A literature review is carried out at the start of your research and is produced as a separate document or as part of a larger piece of work (e.g., as a chapter in a thesis).

The purpose of a literature review is to:

  • set the stage for your research hypothesis or query.
  • make certain that your study is unique (i.e., not already published)
  • determine how your research fits into the existing body of knowledge.
  • identify any past related research's strengths and flaws
  • give recommendations for additional research.

A good literature review is:

  • Focused. It is relevant to your topic and fulfils the above-mentioned objective of a literature review. It is not required to include all you have read.
  • Analytical. It's focused on ideas and relationships between ideas, rather than just the authors.
  • Critical. It draws parallels between various concepts/theories. Your own interpretation and judgment must be clear.

Find examples of literature reviews

You can find examples of literature reviews in journals, and in theses (usually found in the second chapter).


Most databases allow you to limit searches to 'review articles'. Review articles are a great place to start your literature review.

Review articles:

  • are written by subject matter experts
  • give a research literature synthesis
  • provide a synopsis of the research topic
  • describe research developments and suggest future directions
  • identify where research gaps exist
  • identify the field's primary authors
  • incorporate a comprehensive bibliography
  • are often well-cited.

Students’ Repository

Locate a Final Year Project from your School and check out the literature review chapter.

Where to search when doing a literature review

When performing a literature review, try to be as thorough as possible. It is critical to understand where to go for information.

Follow the steps to discover the finest databases for searching for information on your study subject.

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

Finding grey literature

What is grey (gray) literature?

Grey literature is research that is published outside of commercial or academic journals. Grey literature may not appear to be a typical book or article. It might be in the form of a PDF or a report, for example, but the content should still be of excellent quality.

Examples of grey literature include:

  • Government reports
  • Policy statements and issues papers
  • Conference proceedings
  • Pre-prints and post-prints of articles
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Research reports
  • Geological and geophysical surveys
  • Maps
  • Newsletters and bulletins
  • Fact sheets

Who makes grey literature?

  • Industry bodies
  • Private companies
  • Government bodies
  • Pressure or activist groups
  • Academics and Higher Degree Research students

Why use grey literature?

In several areas, grey literature is an important source of current research.

Grey literature is frequently produced by industry and government agencies and is made available online more quickly than other sorts of publications.

It's essential to go through grey literature, such as theses and dissertations, to see what other people are doing on your subject.

Evaluating grey literature

Because grey literature does not go through the same peer-review process as commercial publications, it is critical to double-check it.

To assure the quality of information acquired from grey literature, cross-check it with information derived from other sources.

Use the same skills you would use to evaluate any other material:

  • Consider the author, their affiliations and qualifications.
  • Examine reference lists to identify who and what additional sources were used.
  • Any data gathering and analysis procedures should be clear.
  • Examine literature reviews in theses to identify search tactics and potential biases.
  • Verify the date and currency of any information and seek an update if it is older.
  • Examine the dates of references to ensure that the writers are not depending on outdated material.

Tips for using grey literature

  • If you come across PDFs of available grey literature documents, please be sure to download them (they can sometimes vanish if the website link breaks).
  • Look for grey literature on the websites of relevant organisations. You may, for example, visit the websites of the World Health Organization, the Department of Primary Industries, the Department of Education, or other organisations related to your topic.

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