Researching for your literature review: 1. Literature reviews

Literature reviews

What are they?

A literature review examines and evaluates the scholarly literature on a topic.

literature reviews can be selective, comprehensive, standalone or part of a larger work

Adapted from Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students -


All research, whatever the discipline, needs to be situated in relation to what has already been done in the field.

Reviewing the literature helps you:

  • find out what is already known about a topic in order to locate gaps and justify the research being undertaken
  • locate the work of important theorists whose ideas will inform the research
  • identify useful methodologies, methods and documentary sources


For comprehensive literature searching it is important to be systematic in your approach. This includes developing a plan for your search (including the search terms you will use and the resources you will search), and keeping records of the searches you carry out.

How to find literature reviews

A good starting point to conducting your own literature review is to read some published literature reviews on related topics.

Search the Search catalogue or databases using your topic keywords and put the term "literature review" in the Title field.

Alternatively, some databases may allow you to do a topic search and refine your results to document type Literature Review or Review (see example below from Scopus database).

limit by document type in scopus database

Literature Review process

6 steps in the literature review process - Searching is step 2

Lawrence A. Machi and Brenda T. McEvoy, 2nd ed., The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success (California: Corwin, 2012), 5.

Image by Charles Darwin University

Literature Review vs Systematic Review

You might have heard the term 'Systematic Review'. A systematic review goes further than a literature review in that it aims to locate and evaluate all studies, published and unpublished, relevant to a specific research question. 

Systematic reviews use explicit, systematic methods to minimise bias and enable verification and replication. Those produced by the Cochrane Library are often considered to be the 'gold standard'.

Click the table below to read about some different review types.

A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies

Show me an example!

Literature reviews may vary across different disciplinary areas.

If submitting your review for publication the requirements will be outlined by the journal that you choose.

Examples of published literature reviews:

Health example
Francesca Gany, Patricia Novo, Rebecca Dobslaw, Jennifer Leng

Education example
Elena Novaka, Rim Razzouka, Tristan E. Johnson

Tourism example
Daniel Leung Rob Law Hubert van Hoof Dimitrios Buhalis

Marketing & Management example
Mads Hovmøller Mortensen

Disaster medicine example
Adam Lebowitz

Psychology example
J Nowlan, V Wuthrich & R Rapee

Radiation sciences example
AZ Kibrom & KA Knight

Social work example
Andrew J McCormick

Design example
CJ Normark & A Garling

Music example
A Creech & S Hallam