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Structure

The representation of the literature view above is a simple one. A more sophisticated approach would make use of internal structure to characterise the project clearly. While there is no standard structure for a literature review, a good starting point is to divide the chapter into three main subsections:

  1. An exploration of the problem

    Remember that the Reader does not necessarily know anything about the problem that you have chosen to address. It is therefore your job to provide sufficient background information to fill in the Reader's understanding, and crucially to explain why it is a problem.

  2. A summary of relevant theory

    You should have a clear understanding of the theoretical approach you are taking but that is not necessarily shared by the Reader. In this section, you might point out the range of possible approaches and then focus on the one you have selected. The Reader needs to know what it involves and why you think that it is appropriate for the problem. The relevant theory could be a conceptual framework, a specific technology or any other body of existing knowledge. A common error in this section is to devote too much space to the historical development of the area. Remember that the goal is to ensure the Reader is sufficiently informed so as to understand the detail of your work.

  3. A review of existing work

    It is unlikely that you are the first person to apply your chosen approach to this particular problem. In this section, you should summarise what has been done in the area so far. It is important not only to summarise previous work, but also to identify limitations. This is a way of letting the Reader know why you have decided to take the specific approach you have. Previous publications can also be an excellent source of information on research methods. If you think that the approach that has been taken in one of your references would be appropriate for your project, then you are entitled to use it. The fact that it has already been used in published research is a good endorsement, and provides a good rationale for choosing it. In this section,you should describe the approach; however, this is the literature review. Any details of how you will use the method should be discussed elsewhere.