Research Methods: Doing a literature review

Eira Patterson | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Writing your literature review

Style of writing

It is important to write clearly and not to over complicate the ideas being presented. However the writing needs to adopt an academic style. The best way to develop this is to do lots of reading of a range of different academic work. A useful exercise when looking at developing your style of writing is to make a list of useful words and phrases that you could adopt in your writing, for example:

  • different ways of saying that a particular author stated something e.g. proposed, asserted, etc.
  • language used for signposting e.g. for opening paragraphs or linking sentences together
  • the range of ways used to compare ideas and findings e.g. similarly, in contrast, etc.

How to review of the literature critically

First it is necessary to establish what a critical review of the literature means in practice. Critical evaluation goes beyond summarising the key ideas from the literature, it also involves synthesis and analysis. The meaning of these concepts will be explored, as they are key concepts that underpin reflective and analytical writing, however how they can actually be implemented in practice is often not well understood by beginning researchers.


This process of synthesising ideas can take the form of:

  • exploring the relationships between related concepts, theoretical frameworks and research findings;
  • at the most advanced level, identifying new links that have not been established previously. (adapted from Bryman, 2008)

In order for synthesis of ideas to be effective, it is necessary to make use of appropriate words to introduce ideas at the start of paragraphs and sentences and those that link the ideas together within sentences. For example in order to signpost that you are about to present ideas or findings that support one another, begin paragraphs or sentences with words or phrases like similarly, also or in addition.

Critical analysis

Critical analysis within your literature review could take the form of:

  • identification of gaps in the existing research within the particular field being studied
  • application of theoretical frameworks to analyse findings
  • critical review of alternative views or contradictory findings from research
  • identifying different viewpoints in the literature and critically appraising the evidence available to support or challenge these.

As in the case of synthesis, the choice of words to link ideas together is important for signpost critical analysis. For example words that could be used to start sentences or paragraphs include: Alternatively…; Alternative views are presented by…; However

Critical analysis of a particular research study could involve:

  • carrying out a considered and justified examination of the methods, findings and interpretation in research papers, approaching these from a critical viewpoint, questioning the approaches used and conclusions drawn from the data
  • explicitly discussing the theoretical perspectives underpinning the research study

(adapted from Langdridge and Hagger-Johnson, 2009).

Useful questions to support critical evaluation of a research study:

Is the research focus clear and does the research answer the questions set out at the start of the article?

Has the analysis of the data been well developed?

Are the conclusion supported by the data presented?