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What is a Literature Review?

All who have attempted to write a thesis or dissertation have invariably felt the need for writing a proper literature review. It is an inherent part of any dissertation and thesis and often forms one of the first chapters. Since it is one of the first chapters of a thesis or dissertation, research scholars often begin their research work by taking the first steps in the preparation of a literature review.

Everyone going through higher education must have tackled the problem of writing a proper literature review. But what is a literature review? Literature review is nothing other than a comprehensive, systematic, written summary of all available, relevant literature on a research topic. It is a detailed record of all the research that has been conducted on the topic so far. Undoubtedly there may be subtle variations as to the volume and depth of the available literature depending on the subject. For instance, a very common and popular subject must have had innumerable studies on it and consequently the available literature on that will be quite voluminous. On the contrary, a relatively new or unimportant subject may have attracted only scant attention so far and consequently, the available literature on that subject will be scarce. Another point to be noticed is that some topics will have only recent studies based on them whereas very common, old topics will have pretty old research work on them. Care must be shown to decide whether we want all available literature, whether we need only recent sources, etc.

As part of the literature review we have to make a collection of all available material on the topic and make a judicious selection of everything that is of relevance or importance. That forms the subject matter of our literature review. We have to analyse the collected literature to see how it is related to our specific topic. We identify similarities to and divergences from our arguments in the research domain and identify the gaps in the existing research body. In our research our attempt is to fill those gaps and to supplement what has already been done on the topic. That is the significance of a good literature review.