Luther's last will and testament, Lutheran Archives, Budapest

Writing Research Papers and Theses

John Roxborogh

How to write a literature review

Literature reviews are commonly required for masters and doctoral theses, if not to form part of the finished thesis itself, then certainly as part of the process. They are important for formulating the thesis project, identifying key figures to engage with, a manageable historical time period, and for establishing an appropriate methodology and critical framework.

When you have completed your review you should have a title you can talk about with others. It will enable you to state succinctly what is the topic of the thesis, who or what you are studying, and what are two issues which define your research interest.

A good literature review should indicate:

1. That you have identified quality sources that are significant for your project.

2. That you have identified all known sources of material that is relevant directly to the subject of your research.

3. That you are familiar with quality literature that relates to parallel studies of similar topics, but in a different period or geographical or cultural context.

4. That you have located material which discusses the appropriate methodology for carrying out your research.

5. That you have a bibliography which indicates that you have exhausted the normal finding aids for scholarly articles, books and other resources, including archival and oral sources and primary documentation where appropriate.

6. That in your reading of this material you have identified what are the key critical issues, what is the state of scholarship on the topic, and what are the options for a critical framework which will enable you analyse what is going on.

7. That you know not only the topic area and period of your study, but what are one or two defining issues which will shape your thesis.

See also

Chris Hart, Doing a literature review : releasing the social science research imagination. London: Sage Publications, 1998.