Know your literature

What research has been done before 

You might find that you write much of your literature review at the beginning of your project, especially given that you will have done lots of research in choosing your topic. Ideally, the work you do on this section towards the end of your project will be more about bringing together and tidying up the research you did at the beginning so that it’s suitable for your final report.

It may seem counterintuitive to spend part of your report talking about other people’s research, but if you don’t explain it, others may not understand why your investigation is important. Your supervisor will want to see that you have read and understood the work published already on your topic.

When writing your review, one approach to take is the ‘inverted triangle’ approach. Start with a wide perspective, touching on the general issues related to your project. Next, narrow down by looking at studies that have something in common with your research. Finally – and in the most depth – discuss research directly related to your specific research question.

When you’re reading, don’t forget to take note of your references – and ensure you understand what type of source you are citing.

A primary source is an original piece of work, such as a scientific article (called a paper) published in a specialist magazine (a journal), written by the person or people who did the research. Other examples include dissertations, PhD theses, conference papers, interviews, log books or lab notebooks. Generally, these are the strongest sources to cite.

A secondary source is a work that discusses primary sources, such as a newspaper article about a paper published in a journal. Other examples include a book that contains commentary about other resources, or even your own literature review. If you cite a secondary source, ensure you note the author, title, publisher and date of when you accessed the information in addition to the primary source information.

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Go Further: A practical guide to extended science projects’ in August 2015.

Go Further: A practical guide to extended science projects
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development