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Literature review assignments

A literature review assignment is a critical analysis of previous research about a specific topic. This is different from a literature review for a research project, where you use past research findings to identify and justify your new research topic.

An effective literature review assignment involves:

  • Organising and synthesising previous research around key themes or issues
  • Evaluating previous research by:
    • Identifying and grouping similar research findings
    • Identifying and grouping contrasting research findings
    • Aligning research findings with your position
  • And other features, depending on your specific assignment task

Example synthesis of literature

Synthesis of literature

For each theme that you write about, you can organise literature in this way. It makes the research findings, as well as your own position, clear for your reader.

Sentence starters for writing about significance (PDF)

An effective literature review assignment may also involve:

  • Critiquing research, such as:
    • Identifying limitations of past research
    • Suggesting areas for future research

Example of identifying limitations and future research

Identifying limitations and future research

Sentence starters for writing about limitations (PDF)

Sentence starters for writing about areas of future research (PDF)

Journals are collections of articles which focus on particular topics. These articles are published periodically, such as four times a year.  One common purpose of an article is to report on new research. For a literature review assignment, journal articles can provide you with up-to-date content on topics you have to write or talk about. To efficiently read journal articles, you need to:

  • Quickly decide if the article is relevant for your literature review assignment
  • Understand the structure so that you can find specific kinds of information

First page skimming

Information on the first page of the article will often help you decide if you should read further.

Journal article first page

Abstract structure

Journal abstract

Abstracts are particularly good for quickly deciding if the content matches what you need for your literature review assignment. They are usually organised into distinctive parts that provide an overview of the whole article.

Reading shortcuts

It is not always necessary to read the whole article. Two common shortcuts are:

  • Scanning: Use section headings of the article to find specific kinds of information.
  • Top and tail reading: slowly read the introduction section and then the conclusion to get a more detailed overview.

Common sections of a journal article

Journal articles commonly have distinctive parts (eg, Abstract, Literature Review, Discussion…). Each part has a clear function, which helps you to find specific information. (You may not need to read the whole thing.)

A reading grid can help you organise content from readings before you start writing your literature review assignment. Each row can match specific parts of each reading.

LRA reading grid

Once you have organised your content, reoccurring themes are more visible.

LRA reading grid themes

For example, in the findings row, one reoccurring theme is the negative relationship between Facebook use and Grade Point Average.

LRA themes and sources