4. Literature Review

This section includes a brief review of the main, seminal literature sources (mainly scholarly journals, but text books, media articles, Internet and other sources can be used). Use the Harvard Method of referencing. Show clearly how the literature is linked to your topic, the problem statement and the research objectives. (Maximum length: 500 words)

Most candidates find writing the Literature Review the most difficult part of the proposal and the actual thesis. The structure of Form PG 4a actually adds to the problem, as the sequence is "out of synch" with the proposal preparation process. This is because the researcher first consults the literature and then decides to narrow down his/her research after seeing 1. what previous research has been done and 2. where a "gap" exists in the literature. It is only then that one can frame specific research questions.

What the Literature Review should do:

The Literature Review is not a summary of all literature relating to your topic: it is a review of past and current research with a view to establishing what research has already been done in your specific field (or area), what approaches and methods are current in the field, and what the cumulative results of this research are. You should show how the research you mention is related to what you intend to do. Finally, you should identify a "gap" in the field (or area), that is, a topic or way of dealing with a topic which has not been done before, and try to find evidence (i.e. in the literature) to support your opinion that this should be done or is the way to go.


  • Use peer-refereed articles from reputable journals when possible as evidence to support your argument.
  • Refer to previous related research not only in journals but also in other theses.
  • Try not to use too many direct quotes, but sum up what the authors said (or meant) and put lists of their names and publication dates in brackets.
  • Consult the original sources wherever possible.
  • Make sure you read seminal works in the original and don't just rely on overviews or summaries by commentators.
  • Don't plagiarise - you get more points for citing what someone else said than for saying it yourself (and more credibility).
  • Don't make sweeping statements about things "everyone knows": find an author who said it (even a journalist, if it is topical news).
  • Focus more on creating a coherent argument than on fancy-sounding language: logic carries more authority than big words.
  • On the other hand, make sure that you understand technical terms in the field and use them in such as way as to show that you understand them (a glossary or footnote should be used for obscure terms).
Last modified: Thursday, 6 December 2012, 12:25 PM