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The Importance of Literature Review in Research Writing

A Ph.D. in English, Dr. Kim teaches at Murray State College. He also keeps honeybees.

Why Literature Reviews?

Doing a careful and thorough literature review is essential when you write about research at any level. It is basic homework that is assumed to have been done vigilantly, and a given fact in all research papers. By providing one, usually offered in your introduction before you reach your thesis statement, you are telling your reader that you have not neglected the basics of research.

It not only surveys what research has been done in the past on your topic, but it also appraises, encapsulates, compares, contrasts, and correlates various scholarly books, research articles, and other relevant sources that are directly related to your current research. Given the fundamental nature of providing one, your research paper will be not considered seriously if it is lacking one at the beginning of the paper.

1. It Creates a Rapport with Your Audience

A literature review helps you create a sense of rapport with your audience or readers so they can trust that you have done your homework. As a result, they can give you credit for your due diligence: you have done your fact-finding and fact-checking mission, one of the initial steps of any research writing.

As a student, you may not be an expert in a given field; however, by listing a thorough review in your research paper, you are telling the audience, in essence, that you know what you are talking about. As a result, the more books, articles, and other sources you can list in the literature review, the more trustworthy your scholarship and expertise will be. Depending on the nature of your research paper, each entry can be long or short. For example, if you are writing a doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis, the entries can be longer than the ones in a term paper. The key is to stick to the gist of the sources as you synthesize the source in the review: its thesis, research methods, findings, issues, and further discussions mentioned in the source.

You need to familiarize yourself with the scholars who came before you

You need to familiarize yourself with the scholars who came before you

2. It Helps You Avoid Incidental Plagiarism

Imagine this scenario. You have written a research paper, an original paper in your area of specialization, without a literature review. When you are about to publish the paper, you soon learn that someone has already published a paper on a topic very similar to yours. Of course, you have not plagiarized anything from that publication; however, if and when you publish your work, people will be suspicious of your authenticity. They will ask further about the significance of repeating similar research. In short, you could have utilized the time, money, and other resources you have wasted on your research on something else. Had you prepared a literature review at the onset of your research, you could have easily avoided such mishaps. During the compilation of your review, you could have noticed how someone else has done similar research on your topic. By knowing this fact, you can tailor or tweak your own research in such a way that it is not a mere rehashing of someone else’s original or old idea.

3. It Sharpens Your Research Focus

As you assemble outside sources, you will condense, evaluate, synthesize, and paraphrase the gist of outside sources in your own words. Through this process of winnowing, you will be able to place the relevance of your research in the larger context of what others researchers have already done on your topic in the past (See Reference 1).

The literature review will help you compare and contrast what you are doing in the historical context of the research as well as how your research is different or original from what others have done, helping you rationalize why you need to do this particular research (See Reference 2).

Perhaps you are using a new or different research method that has not been available before, allowing you to collect the data more accurately or conduct an experiment that is more precise and exact thanks to many innovations of modern technology. Thus, it is essential in helping you shape and guides your research in the direction you may not have thought of by offering insights and different perspectives on the research topic.

Many Different Types

Depending on your area of specialization, a literature review can take various forms: argumentative review, integrative review, historical review, methodological review, systematic review, and theoretical review (See Reference 1).

  • An argumentative review is written to present an opposing view to a given position. This will be valuable to persuade others to join you in supporting your thesis.
  • An integrative review is composed of examinations and critical analysis on a given topic to introduce a need for new research. For example, you can use it on the spreading of a pandemic plague, arguing how the old methods of gathering and analyzing the data were inadequate and how modern technology, such as DNA analysis, will help make the same research more accurate.
  • Similarly, a historical review will assess all the historical records of scholarship chronologically while a methodological review examines the research methods alone—a collection of data, their critical analysis, interpretation, and research results, for example.

A literature review in any field is essential as it offers a comprehensive overview and recapitulation of the given scholarship from past to present, giving the reader a sense of focus as to which direction your new research is headed (See Reference 3).


  1. Wesleyan University: Library []
  2. The University of Southern California: USC Libraries []
  3. The University of North Carolina: The Writing Center []
How can you face an audience without the confidence of being well-read on your subject matter?

How can you face an audience without the confidence of being well-read on your subject matter?

Questions & Answers

Question: How can we use marketing research to make money?

Answer: Without marketing, you can never know what type of business is needed in an area where you want to set up one. Marketing research is designed to give you the necessary data:who, what, when, where, why, and how.

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