The term “literature” refers to the analysis of textbooks or manuscripts. Although many people rightly associate literature with novels and poetry, in research the term is more specific. In terms.: of a literature review, “the literature” means the works the researcher consulted in order to understand and investigate the research problem. A literature review therefore is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. It is a critical look at the existing research that is significant to the work that the researcher will be carrying out. It involves examining documents such as books, magazines, journals and dissertations that have a bearing on the study being conducted. This chapter analyzes the importance of literature review in research. It also expounds on the qualities of an effective literature review and guidelines in writing the literature review.


Importance of Literature Review in Research

Literature review is essential in research. This is due to the following:

  1. It sharpens and deepens the theoretical foundation of the research. Literature review enables the researcher to study different theories related to the identified topic. By studying these theories, a researcher gains clarity and better understanding of the theoretical foundations related to the current research.
  2. It gives the researcher insight into what has already been done in the selected field, pinpointing its strengths and weaknesses. This• information guides the researcher in the formulation of a theory that aims at addressing the identified gaps.
  3. It enables the researcher to know the kind of additional data needed in the study. This helps avoid duplication of work.
  4. An understanding of previous works helps the researcher to develop a significant problem which will provide further knowledge in the field of study. It also helps in delimiting the research problem This is through portraying what has already been done and what would be useful to focus on in the current study.
  5. Wide reading exposes the researcher to a variety of approaches of dealing with the research issue. This contributes to a well-designed methodology. The researcher can avoid methods indicated in the literature to have failed and adopt new approaches. This will result in a significant study.
  6. it helps  in developing an analytic framework or a basis for analyz1fl and interpreting data


Qualities of an Effective Literature Review

The following are qualities expected from an effective ‘literature review

  1. It is critical, organized and analytical in orientation — In an effective study the literature review is used to analyze issues such as: whether the hypotheses in the studies reviewed were logically formulated. The methodology used in the studies and the quality of interpretation of the 1’ndings are also analyzed. Other issues addressed by the researcher while reviewing literature relate to the sampling procedures adopted and their appropriateness for the study. The interpretation of data particularly on whether it is based on logical deduction of findings is also examined. An investigation is also made on research findings and their statistical significance. The applicability of the research findings to a wide population is discussed.
  2. It Justifies the need for the study—An effective literature review identifies he gaps in the studies quoted. By identifying these gaps and highlighting the identified controversies, it helps to indicate that further research needs to be carried out on the identified topic. It also points3 out how the current study will contribute positively towards filling; the identified gaps.
  3. It highlights the relationship between the past and the current study — An effective literature review links the current study with past studies. It evaluates and shows the relationships between the work ‘already done by other scholars and the researcher’s work. This link brings consistency and continuity in relation to the identified topic.
  4. It puts the research problem into perspective — By quoting and analyzing various studies related to the selected topic, the literature review helps define the research problem. It also acts as a guideline in assessment of the research questions.


Guidelines in Formulating an Effective Literature Review

The following techniques are essential in reviewing literature:

  1. Identify key issues to be addressed by the literature review -Before the researcher begins to search for articles and materials relevant to the research topic, he/she should identify the key issues that will guide the literature search. These key issues can be formulated by the researcher clearly identifying the research topic, title and the relationship between the independent and dependent variables. The objectives of the study should also be identified. The researcher should also be certain of the specific problem the literature review will help address. The researcher should know what type of literature review he/she is conducting. That is, does it deal with issues of theory, methodology, policy or social issues? For example in a study by Kombo (2005), Abortion in Kenya: An examination of its causes and effects on female students in secondary schools and colleges, the research topic was on abortion and its influence on education. The key issues to be tackled therefore were “abortion, its causes and its effects.” The literature review therefore focused on these aspects.
  2. Formulate a preliminary statement of the problem — The researcher. should formulate a preliminary statement. This will assist the researcher to be focused in material selection. For example, what are the causes and effects of abortion on the education of female students in secondary schools and colleges? What has been done and can be done to assist these students? After the preliminary statement, the researcher can now begin to identify sources of information relevant to the research topic.
  3. Identify sources of information — The researcher needs to identify-books, articles, professional papers and other relevant publications that relate to the research title and the research problem. There are a wide variety of sources available for locating articles for the review of literature. Many of these sources are available in the libraries. The Internet can also be used to locate articles. Some of the sources of in.formati0 include journal articles. These are good especially for up- to-date information. They are frequently used in literature reviews because they offer a relatively concise, up-to-date format for research, and because all reputable journals are peer reviewed and refereed (that is, editors publish only the most relevant and reliable research). Books offer a good starting point from which to find more detailed sources. Conference proceedings are useful in providing current research findings or research that has not been published. Information can also be gathered from government/corporate reports. Many government departments and corporations or commissions carry out research. Their published findings can provide a useful source of information, depending on the researcher’s field of study. Newspapers can also offer useful information about recent trends, discoveries or changes, e.g. announcing changes in government policy. Specialized magazines are very useful (for example business magazines for management students) in providing general information about new discoveries and policies. Theses and dissertations can be useful sources of information. The researcher should identify the scope of the literature review. He/ she should be clear on what types of publications will be used (for example, journals, books, government documents). The researcher should also identify the discipline he/she is working in (Sociology, Psychology, Curriculum, Medicine, Business Studies eta.). This will hasten the search for materials.
  4. Analyze critically the articles identified — After identifying the articles to be used, the researcher should critically analyze each book or article selected by reflecting on the following:
  • Has the author formulated a problem/issue? Is it clearly defined? Is its significance clearly established?
  • Has the author evaluated the literature relevant to the problem/ issue?
  • Is there an objective basis to he reasoning or is the author merely “proving’ what he or she already believes?
  • How does the author structure the argument, for example, does it establish cause-effect relationships?
  • How does the. book or article relate to the specific objectives or questions the researcher is attempting to study?

To answer these questions, the researcher should read the article’s abstract or summary. This will enable the researcher to deduce how applicable the article is to the current study. In the selection of articles, the most recent works on a subject area must be identified. This shows or demonstrates how the researcher is conversant with current trends in knowledge in the subject area.


  1. Classify and code the article — The researcher should abstract and code each relevant article based on a system of his/her devising. This includes taking notes and paraphrasing any relevant literature that the researcher would want to include in the literature review. The researcher should mark these notes with some codes for easy retrieval. This involves putting the code on an index card or on the photocopied article (if you photocopied it). The researcher should add on the coded article any thoughts that come to his/her mind about the article. The author should indicate any statements that are direct quotations (use quotation marks and also jot down the page number). The researcher should keep personal reactions separated from direct quotations. The details of the source e.g. author, title, date of publication and the publisher should be indicated.
  2. Create an outline for the review – To create an outline of the literature review, the researcher should identify the main points in the order they should be presented. The article codes will assist in this. The researcher should also differentiate each main heading into logical subheadings. Points that are similar should be grouped together.
  3. Synthesize the information gathered – The researcher should synthesize the information gathered before writing the literature. This involves analyzing each reference in terms of the research variables. The researcher should also analyze all references identified for the relationships or differences between them.
  4. Write the review of related literature – Orodho (2003) indicates that in reviewing literature, the author should do the following:
  • Select studies that relate most directly to the problem at hand.
  • Tie together the results of the studies so that their relevance is clear.
  • Indicate that the research area reviewed is incomplete or requires extension.
  • Organize the review along major points relevant to the problem.
  • Give the reader some indication of the relative importance of the results from the studies reviewed.


One way of reviewing literature in an organized manner is by reviewing it according to the objectives. The researcher selects an objective and reviews information related to the achievement of that particular objective under the sub-headings of the objective itself. The objectives provide guidelines on what should be put under them and how it should be.



After carrying out the review and writing, the researcher should reflect on the following:

  • How effective was the information search? To answer this, the researcher should reflect on whether the search was wide enough to ensure he/she had found all the relevant material. The researcher should also reflect on whether the search was narrow enough to exclude irrelevant material. The researcher should also reflect on whether the number of sources used was appropriate in tackling the issue under discussion.
  • Has the literature used been critically analyzed? The researcher should find out whether he/she has followed through a set of concepts and questions, comparing items to each other. The researcher should find out whether instead of just listing and summarizing items, he/she has assessed them, discussing their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Will the reader find the literature review relevant, appropriate, and useful? The researcher should also reflect on the relevancy of the information given to the readers.
  • Does the literature help clarify the research problem? The literature should help put the ‘research problem into perspective.

Challenges Faced in the Formulation of a Literature Review

There are many challenges researchers encounter while writing the literature review. This includes the following:

  1. Failure to connect the reviewed studies with the current study — Some literature reviews are simply listings of one piece of literature after the other without any discussion and analysis. The researcher hardly relates the studies to his/her study. These make the studies unrelated to the current study. The researcher should show the relationship between the works of different researchers, showing similarities/differences and how each set of studies, theories or methodologies in the previous research impacts on his/her study.
  2. Poor presentation — Some researchers create too many paragraphs in. their work by treating each article in a separate paragraph. This makes the work disjointed particularly if separate paragraphs are addressing a similar point. The researcher should ensure that similar points are grouped together or combined. Some researchers start each article with the name of the researcher. This repetition can become tiresome for readers. This can be varied by quoting the author after writing about the article. Some researchers devote the same amount of space to each study without regard to importance or relevance. The review should be organized according to major points relevant to the research problem. Some results have more bearing on the problem than others and should be expounded on adequately.
  3. Large quantities of studies to review — Some researchers attempt to read and review all the materials related to their topic. This is impossible. The idea of the literature review is not to provide a summary of all the published work that relates to one’s research, but a survey of the most relevant and significant works. The researcher should therefore read abstracts of the selected articles, and select materials that are most relevant to his/her study.
  4. Lack of documentation — Some researchers read articles without writing until they have “finished” reading. This at times results in forgetting or omitting important points. A researcher should note down important points in the course of reading.
  5. Lack of referencing — Some researchers rarely note down the references in their work while reading. Some are therefore forced while compiling the literature review, to spend a lot of time in the library tracking down the references to all the sources that they quoted. They may also have to go through their writing to find which information came from which source. To avoid this, researchers should always put references into their writing.
  6. Lack of critique — Some researchers blindly accept research findings and interpretation without critically examining all aspects of the research design and analysis. The researcher should critically analyze the work, pointing out contrary. findings and alternative interpretations.
  7. Failure to review current studies — Some researchers base their reviews on works that were carried out over twenty years ago. Though these studies may have valid information and cannot be ignored, the researcher should attempt to base most of the review on current studies. The researcher should make attempts to analyze studies carried out less than five years ago in relation to his/her study.


After reviewing literature the researcher should discuss the identified gaps.



The review of literature is critical in any research work. This is because it enables the researcher to study different theories related to the identified topic and gain clarity of the research topic. .It also enables the researcher to know the kind of additional data needed in the study. However a good literature review is critical, organized and analytical in orientation. It also justifies the need for the study and highlights the relationship between the past and the current studies. There are varied challenges faced by researchers in reviewing literature. These include failure to connect the reviewed studies with the current study, poor presentation, lack of documentation and referencing, lack of critique and failure to review current studies. The researcher should make attempts to avoid these mistakes. This is by taking sufficient time to keenly work on this section.

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