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Common errors


Poor writing in a literature review is often the result of failing to integrate arguments into the review. Many people make the mistake of simply summarising their readings. Avoid using words like 'are reported'. These types of words often lead to descriptive writing.

Look at the following example of poor writing. It illustrates a "He said..." "She said..." pattern which lacks analysis.

During the past decade, many researchers have shown interest in motivation. Their findings are reported here. Smith (2009) developed a model investigation conducted on (the next paragraph describes Smith's model)... Jones 2010 asserts that... (the following paragraph says what Jones asserted)... Hoey (2008) makes a clear distinction between... (the following paragraph states what Hoey says)

Good writing in a literature review

The following information is an example of good writing in a literature review because:

  • it integrates the research of various authors
  • it shows similarities and differences of ideas
  • it shows wide reading
  • it shows analysis and critical evaluation of what the student has read.

Example - analysis of a paragraph

An analysis of good writing in a literature review. See link below for long description
  • 'Connect': show ability to connect two authors ideas
  • 'Student': demonstrates students voice
  • 'Show': shows further reading
  • 'Analysis': Deeper development of analysis 

This paper [Connect: brings together work] in two areas of motivation. According to Robbins et al. (1998) the early theories of motivation were concerned with need satisfaction. [Student: Current thinking however, does not discount these theories, but simply builds upon them, to include a self concept.] [Show: Leonard, Beauvais and Scholl (1999) argue that] there are three elements to self-perception. They propose that... These three elements can be seen as a [Analysis: further development] of Eunson's original concept of 'money as a motivator'.

Writing checklist

Use the following criteria as guidelines for your literature review.

Traps to avoid in the literature review

  • Don't try to read everything, be selective.
  • Reading but not writing.
  • Not keeping bibliographical information.
  • Incomplete referencing (paraphrases, summaries and direct quotes).

What makes a good literature review?

  • The selection of literature chosen for review.
  • The criticism of the literature.
  • The interpretation of the literature.

Selection of literature

  • Have you read widely?
  • Is the purpose of the review clearly identified?
  • Does your writing include clear definitions and identify the limits of the research?
  • Does the review focus on the most recent developments/research for that topic?
  • Does the review make use of the primary sources?

Criticism of the literature

  • Is there a logical flow to your writing?
  • Is the structure of your review clearly stated?
  • Have you demonstrated that you have read widely as well as focused on your specific topic of research?
  • Have you focused on current/most relevant issues?


  • Have you interpreted/evaluated what you have read?
  • Is there an obvious gap in the research/literature?
  • Have you used the literature to create your own interpretation of the research?

Key assessment criteria

  • What the student has read.
  • How the student has organised the review/writing of this.
  • How the student has interpreted and evaluated this.