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Literature Review

A literature review is a scholarly written paper which scopes and critiques existing literature that has been produced on a topic or theme by scholars and researchers. It identifies and critiques key ideas, theories and methods in a field of study, often identifying research gaps. It can help you link a topic to a wider field of enquiry and to articulate research questions more clearly. 

A literature review may be used as a standalone assessment or as part of a larger piece of work (such as a dissertation or project.) 

Typically used to…. 

  • assess students' capacity to identify and locate key sources in a field of research 
  • evaluate students' ability to summarise key concepts coherently and concisely (e.g. via tighter word limits). 
  • assess students' ability to critique and evaluate arguments, theories or claims made in existing research and to identify existing gaps or weaknesses in the literature  
  • evaluate students' engagement with scholars/experts in your discipline
  • develop students' insight into methodologies/experimental approaches and results appropriate to your disciplinary area 
  • develop students' understanding of current research in a particular field 
  • develop information literacy which is a key digital capability  
  • Demonstrate students' understanding of a subject area and where/how your own work adds to an existing body of knowledge

Key considerations when using literature review for assessment 

Literature reviews are an example of a more traditional assessment type, elements of which are now frequently enabled by digital technologies. For example, many literature reviews are now disseminated and collected within virtual learning environments (typically using an “Assignments” tool or similar). They are usually created using word-processing software and they are informed by research undertaken online!

If you are using literature reviews as part of your assessment strategy, keep the following points in mind:

  • What is the purpose of the literature review? Is it the most appropriate way to assess student learning outcomes in this instance?
  • Are you intending to use the literature review for formative or summative assessment purposes, or both?
  • What criteria will you use to assess students’ literature reviews? Have you provided students with a rubric? Does the rubric align with the relevant learning outcomes?
  • Have you provided students with clear guidelines on the format and requirements of the literature review format in your discipline? For example, do they have a clear understanding of referencing requirements etc?
  • How will students submit their literature review? For example, will you require students to submit through the VLE Assignments tool or via email? (See suggestions for relevant tools and technologies below.) Will you allow multiple submission attempts or one attempt only?
  • Remember that your students may not be familiar with using digital technologies as part of the literature review writing and submission process. Check what institutional supports and guides are provided for this and share with your students in advance.

One of the key challenges which can often arise when using literature reviews as part of your assessment strategy relates to ensuring and maintaining academic integrity: students may (un)intentionally plagiarise and/or use ghost writing or essay mills. To minimise threats to academic integrity consider asking students to:

  • submit their work using a plagiarism checker tool such as TurnItIn—such tools can easily generate a ‘similarity report’ which may constitute a potential indicator of (accidental) misconduct.
  • submit a ‘draft in progress’ at different points of the semester— this can mitigate binge writing and support learners to create their own work.


Trinity-supported tools:  

Examples of a literature review

Coming soon

A student perspective on literature reviews

Coming soon


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