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Literature reviews

Planning your search strategy and how to find, store, organise, evaluate and critique information for your literature review.

What this guide covers

1. Select a topic; 2. Search for literature; 3. Survey the literature; 4. Appraise the literature; 5. Write the review

The literature review process involves a number of steps.

This guide focuses on:

  • searching
  • storing
  • organising
  • evaluating.

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a survey and critical analysis of what has been written on a particular topic, theory, question or method.

"In writing the literature review, the purpose is to explore what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, what approaches and viewpoints have been adopted, and what are their strengths and weaknesses."

Source: "Focus and frame". (2008). In Eriksson, P. & Kovalainen, A. Introducing Qualitative Methods: Qualitative methods in business research (pp. 44). London: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9780857028044.

Literature review resources

Get an overview on doing a literature review:


Types of literature reviews

The type of literature review you do will depend on a variety of factors:

  • Your discipline
  • The purpose - undergraduate assessment, PHD thesis, journal article?
  • Your lecturer or supervisor's requirements.

Always follow the guidelines outlined by your lecturer or supervisor or consult the instructions for authors (for journal articles), when conducting your literature review.

Types of literature reviews

  • Narrative or traditional literature review:
    • is an overview of the significant literature on a topic
    • typically includes a critical analysis of each work included
    • demonstrates the reviewers knowledge of the topic.
  • Annotated bibliography: 
    • is a list of citations of research sources (books, journal articles, websites etc) on a topic
    • includes a brief summary and analysis or evaluation of each citation = the annotation.
  • Systematic literature review:
    • a critical assessment of all research studies on a particular research question
    • has specific criteria for collecting and evaluating the literature
    • includes a synthesis of the findings of the included studies.
  • Systematic quantitative literature review
    • This method developed by Griffith University's School of Environment bridges the gap between traditional narrative review methods and meta-analyses to enable students to produce results that are reliable, quantifiable and reproducible.

What is the difference between a literature review and a systematic review?

The requirements of narrative literature reviews are usually quite different than systematic reviews. However, you may be required to adopt some of the characteristics of a systematic approach when doing your literature review. Check the guidelines or criteria that have been set by your supervisor so you know what is expected of you.

Characteristics of reviews

Characteristic Narrative Systematic
Scope Presents the significant literature, or a sample of the literature, on a topic A comprehensive, systematic search for all the relevant literature on a topic must be conducted
Search strategy Search strategy does not have to be included Details of the search strategy are included
Inclusion/exclusion criteria The criteria for selecting what literature to include does not have to be documented Inclusion/exclusion criteria for selecting the literature is documented and defined in advance
Quality and methodology The quality and methodology of the literature may not affect the decision to include it Comprehensive assessment of the quality and methodology of each study is conducted to decide on inclusion
Presentation of included literature A summary of the included literature is provided A synthesis of the findings of all the included studies is provided
Interpretation The reviewer’s own beliefs may influence their interpretation of the findings The reviewer must present an unbiased, objective interpretation of the findings

Related information and guides

Further help