What is Literature Review? Importance, Functions, Process,

What is Literature Review?

A literature review is a critical and comprehensive analysis of existing research, studies, articles, books, and other relevant sources on a specific topic or subject. It serves as a foundational step in the research process, helping researchers understand the current state of knowledge, identify gaps in the literature, and establish a context for their own study.

In most research reports or research papers, you will see that literature review is an essential element and it forms the basis for advancing knowledge, facilitates theory development, discovers new research areas and closes old ones. When researchers want to understand the management dilemma, they study various books, articles and all other available sources.

In the research reports, the researchers present a summary of their search, study and evaluation of the literature that is already available related to the research topic. When the researcher presents a summary of their study of present literature in addition to their analysis of how this literature is related to or essential for the current research report; then, this process is known as literature review.

For example, in a research paper titled ‘Attrition Analysis in a Leading Sales Organisation in India’, authored by Mamta Mohapatra (International Management Institute, New Delhi, India), Amisha Gupta (Birlasoft, New Delhi, India) and Nikita Lamba (Genpact, New Delhi, India), literature review is presented as follows:

Organisations and researchers usually conduct literature review in order to establish how their own research fits within the context of existing literature.

Apart from these, some other objectives of carrying out literature review are:

  • Develop an understanding of how each source of literature helps in understanding the research problem

  • Examine the interrelationships among different variables

  • Find out ways to interpret earlier similar researches on the topic under study

  • Rectify the conflicts that exist among previously conducted studies

  • Get an idea regarding the required sample size

  • Get an estimate of how much variance is there in the variables of interest

  • Understand the type of relationship that exists among variables

  • Determine the research method that can be used in the research

Importance of a Literature Review

There are various reasons for carrying out literature review. Majorly, literature review helps in:

  • Assessing the current state and level of research on a given topic

  • Identifying experts related to particular research

  • Identifying questions that need further research and exploration

  • Identifying what methodologies have been used in the related past studies and what methodology should be used in current research

  • Justifying a proposed research methodology

  • Indicating the originality and relevance of the given research problem

  • Demonstrating the preparedness of a researcher to complete the research

Functions of a Literature Review

Some of the major functions of literature review are:

  • Establishing a context for the research

  • Demonstrating that the researcher has actually read related literature extensively and is aware of most theory and methodology related to the given research topic

  • Providing a shape for the research under consideration

  • Establishing a connection between what the researcher is proposing and what he has already read

  • Demonstrating how the findings of researcher can be integrated with the already existing research findings.

  • Revealing the differences or areas of gap between present and earlier research findings

  • Improving researcher’s research methodology

  • Expanding researcher’s knowledge base

  • Ensuring that the researcher is carrying out new research that has not been carried out earlier

Process of a Literature Review

The second step in the research process is to carry out the review of already existing literature. Before engaging in literature review, the researcher must be clear as to what is the area and topic of research. There are four steps involved in the literature review process as shown in Figure:

Search the Existing Literature in Your Field of Interest

In the literature review process, the first step is to find out what research has already been done in the area that the researcher has chosen. This step involves preparing a list or bibliography of existing sources of relevant literature such as books, journals, abstracts of articles on your research topic, citation indices and digital libraries.

Review the Literature Obtained

After the researcher has identified related literature including journals, books, research papers, etc.; the next step is to study, evaluate and analyse the literature critically. This study of literature helps a researcher identify themes and issues related to the research topic.

An evaluation of literature helps in:

  • Identifying the different theories and their criticism

  • Identifying different methodologies used in different studies including their sample size, data used, measurement methods

  • Assessing if the researcher’s theory is confirmed beyond doubt

  • Preparing a list of different opinions of different researchers and researcher should also add his/her opinion about the validity of these different opinions

Develop a Theoretical Framework

Since carrying out literature review is a time-consuming activity but the researcher has to do it within a limited time. In order to do so, the researcher usually establishes a boundary and parameters for the research work.

Also, the researcher must sort information obtained from all the sources of literature. For a researcher, the theoretical framework acts as a base on which he can further or extend his research. At times, the researchers may modify their research framework after analysing the available literature.

Write the Literature Review

The last step in literature review is to make a summary of all the literature that the researcher has studied and reviewed. Usually, writing a literature review starts with a write-up on the main theme of research followed by the important ideas on which the research would focus. After this, the all the major themes and sub-themes to be discussed are organised and related.

This will help the researcher in structuring the literature review. The researcher should also identify and describe the theories and studies that are relevant for the study under consideration. The researcher should then list and describe all the gaps that are present in the current body of knowledge. In addition, the researcher may also explain the recent advances and trends in the given research field.

To conclude, the researcher should compare and evaluate his findings on the basis of research assumptions, related research theories, hypotheses, applied research designs, variables selected and potential future work speculated by the researchers.

Finally, the researcher must acknowledge, cite and quote all the sources that he/she has used in his research. One specific characteristic of literature review is that the researcher must ensure that he gives due credit to all people who have contributed in the research work.


How to Write a Literature Review

While writing the literature review, the researcher must adopt or adhere to certain strategies as follows:

  • Establish a focus around the central theme and ideas of the research

  • Describe what a reader can expect from the given research study

  • Organise the literature research to include basic elements such as introduction, body and conclusions

Types of Sources for Review

A researcher usually uses secondary data for literature review. Some of the major and widely used sources for literature reviews include articles in professional journals, statistical data from government websites and website material from professional organisations.

Apart from the previously mentioned sources, certain other sources of data can also be used by researchers that provide them first-hand information that is important for the study. These sources include reports, theses, emails, letters, conference proceedings, company reports, autobiographies, official reports, research articles, etc.

Apart from these, the researcher may also refer to other such as review articles, academic journals, books, newspapers, documentaries, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, bibliographies and citation indexes.

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