Prof. Jonathan Edward Tetteh Kuwornu-Adjaottor
Posted 18th January 2022

After writing the thesis proposal, what next? Review of literature is what follows. In this article, I discuss the following: what is literature review? Why is it important for your research? What types of literature do you need to review for your thesis? Techniques of doing literature search. Some questions to ask when evaluating literature.A suggested template for literature review.

  1. What is Literature Review?

Literature review is the appraisal of literature related to your thesis topic as documented by some writers, theorists, authorities, and researchers. It is an objective critically written summary of published journal articles, books and other documents that describe the past and current state of information to justify a proposed research.

  1. Importance of Literature Review for Research

A literature review is important because it helps the researcher to clarify the theoretical and conceptual issues that are related to a researcher’s work so that he or she can formulate a research design correctly. A good literature review strengthens the researcher’s claims and gives him or her the opportunity to create new knowledge either in support of other researchers, or disprove some of their findings.

  1. Types of Literature Review

There are basically three types of literature review.

  • Primary Literature Review: This type of review appraises articles or documents with fresh and original researches that are documented in journals, conference proceedings and theses. They are primary literature because their findings are the result of first-hand work. Primary literature is peer-reviewed, indexed, and published for the first time.
  • Secondary Literature Review: This deals with specific subjects, books, monographs, and generalizations where the information described does not come from the author’s own work but is from the work of others that he or she refers to. It also deals with the interpretation and evaluation of original findings. Examples are books, journal articles, documentaries, biographies, and annotations.
  • Tertiary Literature Review: This refers to merged knowledge from primary and secondary sources that deal with summaries, abstracts or annotations of primary and secondary sources. Examples are encyclopedias, atlases, reviewed articles and so on. The tertiary literature review is rarely used for academic purposes.
  1. Techniques of conducting Literature Search
  • Categorize the keywords of your topic and search scholarly databases online. Start with general keywords and slowly narrow down your search. Identify the main concepts and theories that are relevant to your research problem and hypothesis.
  • Identify your research objectives, nature of your study and type of problem and research questions. This will help you concentrate on relevant studies.
  • Utilize academic libraries, electronic sources, primary and secondary sources. It is important to focus mainly on primary sources such as original works, first-hand accounts of events and literature, including diaries, creative works, letters, newspaper articles, reports, photographs, financial records, memos, and so on.
  • Review the literature you have selected to review critically by considering every angle of the issue. Pay attention to who argues for or against your claims. Look for strengths, weaknesses and limitations of their studies.
  • Your search also includes refereed academic journals, conference proceedings, theses and dissertations as such pieces of literature usually contain current qualitative and quantitative research findings. When you cite opinions state that they are opinions and not substantiated facts. Use website citations sparingly; they lack academic standing.
  • When doing a literature review, you need to read a lot of papers that are relevant to your topic; hence, you must organize them properly so that you are reminded of who said what? You can do this by creating a folder on your computer in which you arrange your reviewed articles accordingly. Index and reference them properly to facilitate the writing of the reference section of your thesis.
  • When doing a literature review, read the abstract of the article first. Generally, you may not have to read the rest of the paper unless critical issues are discussed in other sections. Look for the results and conclusion of that article in the abstract. While reading scholarly articles, look for the gap in the knowledge and see whether there is any direct relationship to your investigation. Take notes as you review literature.
  • Sometimes you may not find articles in support of your claims; never state that nothing has been written about your research topic. Maybe you have not carried out an adequate investigation. Perhaps the topic is discussed in detail in other languages, but you are not aware of it. In such a situation, you could state that that: “To the best of my knowledge, no study has been conducted on…” Nevertheless, try your best to find materials to support your research question, hypothesis and your problem statement. Endeavor to acknowledge the source of your information.
  • Note that not all written pieces of literature are scholarly; as such, you must ask yourself about the authenticity of the article. You can do that by asking the following questions: Does the article clarify your topic? What is the limitation? Does the article help you to answer your questions? Has the author analyzed the findings correctly or objectively? What is his/her contribution?
  1. Some Rules for Evaluating Literature

Ask the following questions: (1) Does the literature review discuss the heart of your problem statement? (2) Does the literature review significantly support your research problem statement? (3) Does the author agree or disagree with the existing knowledge and why? (4) Is his or her final judgement or conclusion sound, logical or persuasive? (5) Does the researcher cite literature that proves or disproves his or her problem statement?

  1. Suggested Template for Literature Review

The literature review chapter of your thesis must have an introduction, main body, conclusion and references. (1) Introduction: Define your topic and the scope of your search. Make general statements about your research topic before zeroing on specific aspects of your research problem. Determine the scope of your investigation by stating the type of material you are going to exclude or include. (2) Main Body: Contains critical evaluation of literature; use sequential and thematic approaches in your evaluation. Summarize your article reviews critically. When you identify the methodology you are going to apply, justify it by citing scholarly and peer-reviewed papers. (3) Conclusion: Summarizes the findings of the selected researchers. Relate their findings to your research topic. Compare scholarly work based on their strengths and weaknesses. Note articles that support your claim. Point out the flaws or weaknesses of published work that refute your claim. (4) References: In-text-citation is best for this exercise. However, depending on the type of citation style, all reviewed articles must be acknowledged in –text as well as full citation of the complete source in the reference section. On your own try using this guide to write the literature review of your thesis.


Faryadi, Q. (2018). PhD Thesis Writing Process: A systematic Approach – How to write your Literature Review. Creative Education 9, 2912-2919.

Qais, F. (2017). Everything you need to Know about PhD Thesis Writing: From Proposal to Viva. Malaysia: Future Expert Solutions.

This article is published with the kind courtesy of the author – Prof.  Jonathan Edward Tetteh Kuwornu-Adjaottor. He is an Associate Professor of New Testament and Mother Tongue Biblical Hermeneutics in the Department of Religious Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana.

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