What are the limitations of a literature review?
Literature reviews have many advantages, and we'll get to those shortly, but the task at hand is to discuss the limitations of a literature review. I've compiled a list below, and believe me, it's difficult to be too critical of literature reviews:
- Reliance of previously published material - sometimes people lose track of their own ideas, and get bogged down looking for EVERYTHING that's been published on the topic in the past.
- Non-relevant material - some people include work that's not really relevant. This is usually to make the literature review appear more comprehensive than it actually is.
- Not using work in the final text - it looks sloppy to include published works in the literature review, and then not use them in the final work.
- Listing books - a literature review should inform the reader about its relevance, and why it's included. Literature reviews often become a simple list of titles, and this is pointless.
- A lack of framework - people often forget to frame their literature review. It's supposed to inform the reader of its relevant parts. It doubtful that the entire publication is relevant.
Advantages of a literature review
Although I've looked at the limitations of literature reviews, I feel it's necessary to have a look at the benefits. I've used literature reviews throughout my studies, and found them valuable for the following reasons:
- The ability to convince the reader about the importance of your research.
- Showing that you're able to make an original contribution to the field.
- Justifying your approach to the reading.
- Confirming that you understand the already published material.
- Allowing the reader to see the structure behind your project.
I'm sure there are many more reasons that people could add to this list, but I feel that the above conclude that the advantages of literature reviews far outweigh their limitations.
Here's a brief video outlining one way to write a literature review for your piece of work. Make sure you check how your institution would like your literature to be written: