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How do you do a review of related literature?


A review of related literature (RRL) is a thorough review of the previously published literature on a subject related to your thesis or dissertation. This is an important part of your paper because it provides the context for your research. Your review of related literature not only helps the reader to understand the significance of your research but also helps your assessor to know what you can and can’t realistically achieve.

In a review of related literature, you discuss the knowledge and results from the current literature that is relevant to your research topic. You may also discuss any gaps or inconsistencies in the existing literature and, if appropriate, outline how you intend to address these gaps and navigate these inconsistencies in your study. In other words, since the review of literature is a comparative and evaluative form of writing, you should analyze, compare, and contrast the existing literature to evaluate its strength and limitations.

To undertake an RRL, therefore, you first need to identify relevant literature. You can do this through various sources, online and offline. Ensure you are saving all applicable resources because you will need to mention them in your paper. When going through the resources, make notes and identify key concepts of each resource to describe in the review.

Before starting the review, determine how you want to organize the review, that is, whether you wish to discuss the resources by themes, dates, the extent of relevance, and so on.

Tip: You can use a well-known method known as the ‘pyramid structure’ to help lay out your findings. Using this method, you first give a broad overview of the field, and then in the subsequent sections, you describe the work of individual researchers in more detail.

When writing the review, begin by providing the background and purpose of the review. Then, begin discussing each of the identified resources according to the way you decided to organize them. For each relevant resource, you can state the title, its author, year of publication, and date before describing its key concepts and ideas.

Finally, in the synthesis, you explain how the various concepts of each resource link with each other. You may decide to do this through a table or matrix, or do it in a synthesized manner.

This is a very rough summary of how to do an RRL, so I’d strongly recommend you read more on the subject before starting your own, as this is understandably what most students struggle with it.