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Writing a Literature Review for Undergraduates: Getting Started

Kia ora! This is a guide for writing literature reviews for undergraduates. This guide provides quick links to resources and help, to support your research.

A literature review means finding, reading and summarising the published research relevant to your question, in other words finding out what is already known about your topic. Once you have read and critically reflected upon the relevant literature, you should be able to identify major themes as well as compare and contrast the various perspectives.

The stages of a literature review are to: 

  • Define your terms
  • Use appropriate search strategies
  • Select relevant materials
  • Group materials in a way that makes sense for the argument you want to make
  • Compare, contrast, analyse and synthesize what you’ve read
  • Set the context for your research

An undergraduate literature review may be for an essay, research report, annotated bibliography, or a literature assignment. This may require you to find a small selection of literature, for example ten relevant articles. If you are asked to write a literature review, check on Moodle or with your tutor for instructions. You may be asked to do an annotated bibliography as a first step.

In all cases, follow these general guidelines:

  • Think about your key words! Read your course outline. What have you been asked to do? What are you really searching for? Are there alternative words to express this? 
  • The next step of your literature review is searching for high-quality, peer-reviewed academic resources. This includes sourcing journal articles or academic books through Library Search, exploring specialised databases or examining theses.
  • Read strategically with these guides to Reading at University from Student Learning.
  • Read critically: See Sage Research Methods on Critical Thinking.   
  • Evaluate your sources: See Sage Research Methods on Evaluating Evidence Effectively.
  • Keep a research diary to record what you’ve done and collect and correct your references as you go.
  • Check Moodle or your Course Outline to make sure you are using the correct referencing style.