Literature review

Literature reviews require students to conduct an extensive and critical review of literature related to a chosen topic.

With a similar structure and length to an essay, the focus of a literature review assignment is to summarise and analyse the literature to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of a topic.

It's a rigorous assessment task that can be tailored for different levels of undergraduate and postgraduate study.

When to use a literature review

Literature reviews can be used when students need to:

  • show knowledge and understanding
  • do research
  • manage information
  • interpret sources
  • review and analyse
  • think critically
  • synthesise
  • evaluate
  • judge
  • reflect
  • demonstrate academic writing skills.

Advantages and limitations

  • Asynchronous assessment task that enables deep engagement with subject content.
  • Flexibility of topic choice promotes authenticity, relevance to individual students and increased engagement.
  • Develops research skills relevant to all disciplines.
  • Scaffolds learning in early subjects in preparation for capstone and research subjects.
  • Research process promotes active learning.
  • Can be developed as a group assignment.
  • Requires clear instructions to help students stay focused on their topic.
  • Format may be unfamiliar to students.
  • May advantage students with well developed writing skills.
  • When developed as group assignments, can be difficult to assess individual contributions.
  • Time-consuming to grade.
  • Need to ensure adequate resources are available.

Things to keep in mind

When using literature reviews as assessment items, consider the following pointers:

  • Make sure the topic is aligned with learning outcomes and subject content.
  • Consider limiting the outcomes to be assessed to help students maintain focus.
  • Clearly define the topic and scope of the article to be written.
  • Show and discuss examples of format, structure and style.
  • Make sure the length is appropriate for the level of study.
  • Provide key reference articles on the chosen topic. Ensure they are available through the library.

More resources

Sample literature reviews:

The following resources are for students and are useful as instructional resources. They also provide guidance in terms of designing a literature review assessment: