5 Reasons the Literature Review Is Crucial to Your Paper
  • 3-minute read
  • 8th November 2016

5 Reasons the Literature Review Is Crucial to Your Paper

People often treat writing the literature review in an academic paper as a formality. Usually, this means simply listing various studies vaguely related to their work and leaving it at that.

But this overlooks how important the literature review is to a well-written experimental report or research paper. As such, we thought we’d take a moment to go over what a literature review should do and why you should give it the attention it deserves.

What Is a Literature Review?

Common in the social and physical sciences, but also sometimes required in the humanities, a literature review is a summary of past research in your subject area.

Sometimes this is a standalone investigation of how an idea or field of inquiry has developed over time. However, more usually it’s the part of an academic paper, thesis or dissertation that sets out the background against which a study takes place.

Like a timeline, but a bit more wordy.
Like a timeline, but a bit more wordy.

There are several reasons why we do this.

Reason #1: To Demonstrate Understanding

In a college paper, you can use a literature review to demonstrate your understanding of the subject matter. This means identifying, summarizing and critically assessing past research that is relevant to your own work.

Reason #2: To Justify Your Research

The literature review also plays a big role in justifying your study and setting your research question. This is because examining past research allows you to identify gaps in the literature, which you can then attempt to fill or address with your own work.

Find this useful?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.

Reason #3: Setting a Theoretical Framework

It can help to think of the literature review as the foundations for your study, since the rest of your work will build upon the ideas and existing research you discuss therein.

A crucial part of this is formulating a theoretical framework, which comprises the concepts and theories that your work is based upon and against which its success will be judged.

A framework made of theories. No, wait. This one's metal.
A framework made of theories.
No, wait. This one is metal. Our mistake.

Reason #4: Developing a Methodology

Conducting a literature review before beginning research also lets you see how similar studies have been conducted in the past. By examining the strengths and weaknesses of existing research, you can thus make sure you adopt the most appropriate methods, data sources and analytical techniques for your own work.

Reason #5: To Support Your Own Findings

The significance of any results you achieve will depend to some extent on how they compare to those reported in the existing literature. When you come to write up your findings, your literature review will therefore provide a crucial point of reference.

If your results replicate past research, for instance, you can say that your work supports existing theories. If your results are different, though, you’ll need to discuss why and whether the difference is important.

"Contrary to previous research, this study suggests that pigs can actually fly. This may have major implications for the production of bacon."
“Contrary to previous thought, our study suggests that pigs can fly. This may have implications for bacon production.”

Comments (22)
Elyna Aku
10th May 2018 at 10:49
This article was helpful in enhancing my knowledge about research and the purpose for literature review. Thank you.
    Ruth kombor
    30th January 2021 at 21:30
    This is really simple and well structured. Thanks
      6th June 2021 at 08:37
      Your article is well defined and easily understood. Keep it up
      Lois Monday Kajang
      26th July 2021 at 06:11
      Thank you very much, is very simple to understand.
Moono Hantete
28th March 2019 at 12:32
The article is so helpful and explicit. Just to add on the importance of literature review, it creates researcher to appreciate what other researchers contributed by supporting their findings.
Roland Eriya Rwamanyonyi
18th September 2019 at 19:04
This article is very useful especially to some of us who're still taking research classes. Actually literature review helps to appreciate what other researchers came up with and sharpens someone's mind towards the research project one is undertaking. Bravo the writer.
Indira Das Molugumati
9th March 2020 at 06:11
Wow. Well explained in a brief note. Thank you and really benefitted with quick understaing on the importance of the literature review.
7th June 2020 at 14:41
Well explained ,send me a name of an author
Rebecca kimanzi
17th July 2020 at 17:42
The article is very helpful,thanks.
2nd September 2020 at 15:44
i benefited a lot for this article.....
6th October 2020 at 13:25
This article is very helpful,thanks
14th October 2020 at 09:19
It's really helpful. Thank you
11th November 2020 at 11:56
more than helpful
    Subhash sukdeo pawar
    13th August 2021 at 09:21
    Its very useful to write the answer in exam.
Chernor S. Barrie
21st November 2020 at 10:43
This article is helpful especially for we the research student. GOD bless the team........
Pradip Lal Karna
3rd April 2021 at 00:23
very useful and interesting article in regard to any research work
Galerone Phuthego
11th April 2021 at 11:50
very useful information that guides instructors in research
Dwyne Pingushan
29th August 2021 at 07:45
this piece helped a lot in my assignment
22nd November 2022 at 15:50
You really summarized,, it is very simple to understand
    25th November 2022 at 18:42
    Hi, Edin. Glad you found this useful!
13th January 2023 at 17:20
It help me to understand and appreciate literature review. thanks.
    15th January 2023 at 14:34
    Thanks, Felix! I'm glad this was helpful to you.

Got content that needs a quick turnaround?

Let us polish your work.

Explore our editorial business services.

More Writing Tips?
Trusted by thousands of leading
institutions and businesses

Make sure your writing is the best it can be with our expert English proofreading and editing.