What is Literature REview?

When readers come to your dissertation you need to persuade them that your research is relevant and interesting.  Part of this process is to situate your research in existing knowledge and understanding, identify the gaps of existing work and demonstrate how your research is worth doing as a result.


Your literature review should provide a critical evaluation of the scholarly articles and books relevant to your particular dissertation question to show where your research fits, and how and why it is relevant.  So, think of the following questions when you are searching for the relevant literature:


  • Has anyone done any research similar to the one you are about to do?
  • What is already known/ NOT KNOWN about the subject/question area?
  • How might your research add to this understanding, or challenge existing theories and beliefs?
  • What concepts/theories are you using?
  • What concepts and theories and how are they the same/different to those that others have used?
  • How do they enable you to unlock/unpick/open up your material/data?


Your literature review should guided by the questions, gaps and issues you have identified in your research proposal


How to do a literature review?

  1. Identify key words
  2. Web-based and library catalogue searches, e.g.:
  • University of Sussex Library Catalogue: journals and books
  • Computerised databases (for example see Media and Film subject guide on the 
library website).
  • Google Scholar, Web of Science (via library website
  • British Library catalogue ( or
  1. Locate relevant work
  2. Read abstracts/skim read – do not read every book you come across!
  3. Design literature map, including bibliographic details
  4. Draft summaries of relevant articles/book/resources – enables you to form your thoughts 
and avoids you having to read books twice to know what they are about
  5. Be careful about plagiarism – be clear to keep verbatim text in quotation marks with 

Structure and narrative of a literature review

As with any piece of extended writing, structure is crucial. Don’t forget you are telling a story and taking your reader on a journey.


Common Thread: You will need to have a common thread running the story. This thread is your own research question and the reasons why you are doing the research. You will need to return to this consistently throughout the literature review to indicate to the reader why the literature you are evaluating is relevant.


Logical Progression: When you tell the story it needs to be logical – taking your reader progressively on their journey from the start to the final destination. The final destination will effectively be the logical conclusion to why your research is a good idea. Once you have established your structure you need to outline it for your reader – you need to tell them where you are taking them, ie. What the final destination will be and how they will get there.


Themes: There are many possible structures, and you need to establish one that will best fit the ‘story’ you are telling of the reason for your study. One of the ways you could structure your story/journey is through the themes of your question. These are the core elements of your question that make up your overall question.



There is no set model for a literature review. If you are stuck have a look at some journal articles you have enjoyed and see how they have constructed theirs.


Literature Review Report Marking Criteria


The criteria below are what your assessment will be marked against. You should take the time to mark your own Literature Review Report using the criteria below before you submit your report.


The way to mark your own report is to go through each of the criteria below under ‘Strengths’ and give yourself a score of between 1-5 (1 being low and 5 being high) depending on how well you think you have done. If you are scoring 5 for each of the criteria then you are looking at getting a first for your report. If you score 1-3 on any or all of the criteria, you should re-visit the report until you are sure you have scored at least 3 or above.


It is also worth you looking at the criteria under ‘Weaknesses’ to ensure that you are not scoring on any of those as they will bring your mark down.


Strengths of a Good Literature Review Report


  • Your introduction is good guiding the reader into your forthcoming literature review.
  • Your literature review report is well written
  • Your literature review report is clearly structured
  • You have read widely and clearly identify relevant literature beyond your three texts
  • Your engagement with the literature demonstrates understanding
  • Your engagement with the literature demonstrates breadth of knowledge
  • Your engagement with the literature demonstrates depth of knowledge
  • You clearly identify and summarise the core concepts in the literature
  • You consistently remind the reader of the relevance of the literature
  • You clearly identify gaps in the literature


Weaknesses of a Poor Literature Review Report


  • Your engagement with the literature is simplistic and your understanding appears superficial
  • You make a number of unsubstantiated claims and need to either reference them or take them out.
  • The structure of your literature review is not clear
  • You need to pay attention to your language and clarity of expression
  • At times, you are rather repetitive and could make better use of the word count
  • You rely too much on quotes. When you rely on quotes it does not demonstrate understanding. Moreover, it is not always clear and would often be better articulated if you put it in your own words.
  • You have made a number of spelling and grammar mistakes that do not aid easy reading.
  • You do not appear to have followed the guidance offered in the notes for Literature Review Report.