Reviewing the literature

Learning outcomes

The literature review provides a comprehensive review for your research area and is necessary to identify works that have been published and to identify gaps in the literature.

It enables you to:

  • investigate previous research, find out what’s been done before
  • consider theoretical frameworks
  • identify ‘gaps’ in existing knowledge to find out if your study is worth doing
  • identify seminal works
  • determine/clarify/justify your research question/problem
  • select the most appropriate methodology and research techniques.

A literature review sets the context for your research and provides the framework for interpreting the results of your research.

More information is available in our Systematic Review LibGuide, including our service charter outlining the Library’s support for Southern Cross University researchers.

There are many types of reviews in addition to literature reviews and systematic reviews.

For example:

  • Scoping review  – introductory assessment of available research literature, identified by the nature and extent of research evidence
  • Rapid review – assessment of what is already known using systematic methods to search and critically appraise 
  • Critical review – demonstrates author has researched the literature comprehensively and evaluated its quality
  • Meta-analysis – uses quantitative methods to synthesize and summarise results

See the Grant and Booth reference for more information about these and other types of reviews.

Grant, M. & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Multidisciplinary databases are useful for finding all types of reviews:

Use the information in the Apply search strategy module to learn how to search for reviews in multidisciplinary databases. You will need to refine your search results by limiting publication types to ‘reviews’.

When searching these databases, be aware that your results may include different types of publications all grouped together as reviews e.g. book reviews, literature reviews, and systematic reviews.

Specialised discipline databases are useful for finding systematic and other comprehensive types of reviews.

Recommended databases include:

A literature review is an integral part of doing research, necessary to learn about the current state of knowledge of a topic. A literature review will usually form the introduction of a journal article or the introductory chapter in a thesis.

Conducting other types of reviews form a research project in themselves and so are a more substantial undertaking.

If you are conducting a review as a research project, it is important that you correctly state the kind of review that you are doing in your methodology. You will also need to include your search strategy (or strategies) and state the databases or other sources that you searched. This is necessary to ensure that your research is reproducible.

Note that a systematic review is a very detailed and comprehensive type of review. It is unlikely that your project will require or meet the specific methodological approach of a systematic review. More commonly, many research projects are a systematic literature review, distinguished by a systematic approach to searching and reviewing the literature.

The Library provides support for Southern Cross researchers undertaking reviews. Before contacting your Liaison Librarian, please review our Systematic Review Service Charter to find out which specific services we can assist you with.

Information about the methodology for conducting a systematic review in different disciplines:


Comprehensive searching