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Genres in academic writing: Literature reviews

You may be asked to write a literature review. This may either be part of a larger piece of work such as an extended essay, report or dissertation. Or it may be a separate peice of work. If it is part of a report, it may be part of the introduction or it may be a section to itself. If so it usually comes after the introduction and before the methods.

Any study you carry out, whether it is laboratory or library based, cannot depend completely on your own data, but must be situated in a context of what is already known about the topic in question. This context is provided in the literature review.

The main purpose of the literature review is to justify your research.  It is not simple to show how much you know about the topic. So do not simply create a laundry list (Rudestam & Newton, 2001, p. 56). You justify your research by by summarising the literature with the intention of showing that there is a gap in the knowledge, which you will fill.

A possible structure is:



Describe the context to the reader.

Explain why it is particularly important


Summarise the studies you have read

Justify their inclusion


Evaluate the studies

Support your evaluation


Identify a gap in knowledge

Justify your research


Come to a conclusion about you have read, identifting gaps

Explain how you will fill the gap(s)

End matter

(See Ridley, 2008 for more information)

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