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One essential skill is to be able to read and review literature critically but fairly. By reading widely you are more likely to become aware of the major issues surrounding an area/field of education. Researchers and authors display a wide variation in their choice of focus and approach to learning, thinking, researching, analysing, interpreting and so on. A reconnaissance of such a range allows you to identify the main issues, particularly those important/relevant to you. Some of these issues may then form an agenda for your own work.


How do I review articles and other literature?

What questions might I ask?

What should I write?

The purpose of a literature review is to demonstrate that you have an extensive knowledge of the work that has been published on a particular topic or a question in your field of study. For example, if you are writing a literature review for your dissertation, you need ensure that your review is guided by your research aims and objectives, as this will provide you with the framework for your research and the remainder of your dissertation.
Here are some helpful points to consider when conducting a critical literature review:

1. What is the main area under review discussion?
2. What are the main findings?
3. Where does the author's data and evidence come from? Are they appropriate/sufficient?
4. What are the main issues raised by the author?
5. What questions are raised?
6. How well are these questions addressed?
7. What are the major points/interpretations made by the author in terms of the issues raised?
8. Is the text balanced? Is it fair/biased?
9. How does all this relate to:
        - Other literature on this topic? Comparisons! (Very significant for dissertations!)
        - Your own experience, ideas and view?
10. How can you summarise all of the above points? (Highlights of your discussion)
11. Your conclusions about the literature?
You need to remember that an effective literature review is always one that is critical. Once you have read a sufficient amount of published work and had a grasp of the relevant literature, the key is to communicate your knowledge and understanding in the form of a critical discussion or a debate, rather than a simple description or a summary. Your critical discussion should consider different arguments, opinions, and approaches in order to offer a comprehensive analysis of the relevant published literature. Whilst doing so, you should always remember to link your discussion to your own research purpose or rationale. Remember a good critical review will always raise questions and identify the areas for further research, highlighting the main controversial views on the particular topic.

In summary, here are the key points to write an effective critical literature review:
  • Compare and contrast differing viewpoints on a topic, grouping studies with similar conclusions together.
  • Highlight areas of controversy.
  • Highlight studies with significant contribution to the relevant literature.
  • Emphasize the gaps in the literature.
  • Be critical about the methodological approaches used in previous studies.
  • Explain clearly how your study relates to published literature.
  • Link your study aims and objectives to previous studies.
  • Identify areas for further research.
  • Conclude your review by summarising the main discussion points and findings in the literature.