36 Introduction: Literature Reviews –Daunting but Clarifying

The literature review is that section of your thesis that provides an analytical summary of published materials relating to your research question. It categorizes, compares and evaluates the findings of key works in the field. The review points out strengths and weaknesses in this existing research to establish a context and need for new research (KSU Writing Center, 2021).

This might seem straightforward but the literature review can be either the most daunting task of undergraduate research or it can be surprisingly fun. Daunting, because it supposes the valuable but painful endeavour of seeing how your limited work-in-progress will compare to the seemingly unending run of expansive final products in peer-reviewed journals. Besides being a gobsmacking amount of information to summarize, reading papers which are often meticulously written, researched, and edited by experts in the field can produce a rousing feeling of impossibility at completing one’s research to a similar degree. Simply put, an amateur belting Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” at a karaoke bar would tend to have their confidence shaken if asked to compare their ‘cover’ against Carey’s. One might think of the literature review similarly, as it asks new researchers to consider where their work can exist alongside a pantheon of experienced minds and passionate contributions. Naturally, it can be hard to see how one can contribute. This chapter is aimed at helping you to build the confidence to confront what might seem to be a daunting challenge.

On the fun side, Greetham (2019) likens the searching process to a treasure hunt. Doing a literature review entails hunting through books, chapters, articles, conference papers, websites dissertation, new sites or any place else that contains information relating to your topic (Gretham, 2019, p. 92). The mere task of skimming through titles, abstracts and content can inspire ideas on how you will do your own research. The materials you source provide ideas on methods, arguments, and analytical strategies, which can be useful to your own project. Hence, the literature review can be the most clarifying part of the research process.
Greetham (2019) suggests that, apart from treasure hunting, the literature review entails mapping out the territory. The mapping exercise entails systematically taking stock of and recording the following:

  • Current issues
  • Methods
  • How researchers analyze, synthesize and evaluate data
  • Gathering up-to-date references,
  • Consulting classic texts and
  • Documenting sources (Greetham, 2019, p. 93).

As an undergraduate reading this, you might be thinking about the literature review with a feeling of dread, not adventure. However, keeping sight of the end goal is useful. You are designing research to make a contribution to the field, and the literature review helps you develop your own contribution through honest comparison to what has been said before. If conducted efficiently, you will come out of the literature review process with a host of similar studies that can provide you with concepts, methods, and gaps in which to structure your own work. Though a steep climb in the beginning, a good literature review can reinforce your confidence and objectives in conducting research. This will allow you to be more confident when your findings are unique and more clear about the research and writing conventions of your discipline. Before that, however, it is necessary to demystify the tasks involved in conducting this pivotal step of research.


Greetham, B. (2019). How to write your undergraduate dissertation. Macmillan.
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Practicing and Presenting Social Research Copyright © 2022 by Oral Robinson and Alexander Wilson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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