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Education: What is a literature review?


Why perform a literature review?

What is literature?

- Books

- Journal articles

- Newspapers

- Government/Official Information

- Information on the Internet

Doing Your Literature Review PPT

Why perform a literature review

You will need to read and review what other people have written about your subject area for three reasons:


(1) You need to set the work you have done into context.


(2) You need to show why you are doing this particular project – why did this work need to be done? How does this work fit into the other work that has been done? Why is it interesting? Who would like to know the results?


(3) It can also be helpful to look around the problem for helpful ideas, and compare your work to prior research.


A literature search needs to be systematic and focussed. It must also be evaluative – you need to critically evaluate each reference you find to determine if it is worth pursuing.

What is literature?

In an academic context, literature does not mean great works of fiction, but the information that has be written on a particular subject. Literature can be a book, a book chapter, a journal article, a conference paper, a newspaper, a government report, a webpage, a thesis...


Books can be instructional (textbooks), an overview of a subject, or an in-depth view of a specific subject.  Books are available in the traditional paper format, as well as electronic. This is particularly useful because they can be searched for a particular idea.


To find books relevant to your research you can use the online catalogue, Library Search, or you can browse the shelves.

Journal articles

Journal articles are the published results of research carried out in universities. Articles are assessed for reliability and quality before they are published, so you can be confident that a journal article contains trustworthy research (they are peer-reviewed). 

To find journal articles relevant to your research you need to use online databases. Journals themselves might be available electronically or they may be in print format. If Middlesex does not have the journal, you may need to use other libraries or the inter-library loan service.


Newspaper articles are written for the general public by journalists. They present a range of information in different articles. They usually provide a summary of events (who, what, why, when, how) and are very up to date. But, their purpose is to sell newspapers.

To find newspaper articles relevant to your subject you can use an online database called ‘Proquest’ to search.

Government and Offical Information

All legislation, guidance, advice, standards, official statistics, and other publications from UK government agencies are available on the web. Depending on your topic, these can be an important source of information that will inform your project.

Information on the Internet

“Web searching is free. Unfortunately you get what you pay for.”


It is easy to use a search engine (e.g. Google) find something about your topic on the Internet, but it is very difficult to find relevant things. You should equip yourself with the skills needed to assess what you find for quality.


Currency - how old is the information/article or site?

Authority - who is the author/site creator?

Relevance - is it what I need?

Purpose - what is the purpose of the information?