Why do a literature review?

Importance of Literature Review

  • Literature reviews examine and evaluate scholarly literature on a particular topic
  • A literature review is written as either a stand-alone document or part of a larger piece of work.
  • Details only what is necessary for a given purpose — it does not include everything you’ve read on the topic.
  • Focuses on ideas and relationships between ideas, not just on the authors.
  • Compares previous research studies, various sources of information, and different concepts or theoretical perspectives.
  • the purpose of a review is to critically discuss previous research, so it needs to evaluate it.
  • Provide context for a research hypothesis or question.
  • Ensure the research is original (i.e. not already published).
  • Identify where and how new research fits into the existing body of literature in a particular field of study.
  • Highlight the strengths and weaknesses of previous research on a topic.
  • Make recommendations for further research.

Literature’ in this context refers to scholarly publications, not literary art. The collection to be discussed by a reviewer might include books, government reports and media broadcasts where relevant, but it will mainly be made up of research articles, which are published in peer-reviewed academic journals.

Review’ in this context means extended written discussion of publications, not just summarising them. A scholarly review of literature might be conducted on any topic that is researched and written about — what matters is that the reviewer appraises various sources of information, and discusses them.

The’ literature does not mean everything published on a topic, but a selection. Carefully selecting publications worth discussing in relation to a research project is a key part of the reviewer’s task, and involves broad reading and tough choices. Defining what is in and out of the collection to be discussed is hard work, and will be done differently by each reviewer.

A review of literature on a technical or medical topic might be approached very differently from a review of literature on a humanities topic. An undergraduate level literature review assignment is very different in scope and purpose to a literature review chapter in a PhD thesis… which is different from the literature review phase of a published journal article… which is different from a stand-alone published review article. The size, complexity and style of a literature review can vary greatly according to the norms of particular disciplines, and the time and space allocated to the task.

Being ‘critical’ of the literature is not a matter of finding fault. It is often a matter of finding value in what has been done by others. Being critical means asking questions, and discovering the relevance, value and limitations of previous studies. It’s careful, informed appraisal, aiming to identify what is most useful from past studies for the new study being proposed or presented. It’s a matter of carefully explaining how the work of others informs the new research project’s vision and planning. It’s about the proper analysis of previous publications — in terms of their findings and their method of creating and analyzing data, and their theoretical perspective.



This blog demonstrates a basic process for generating a literature review.

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Pranjal Jain

Design Researcher; Initiator of HCI4SouthAsia; Ex-chair of Srishti SIGCHI Chapter; Startup Community Enabler