The review must be shaped by a focus on key areas of interest, and include research which provides a background to the topic. It should also be selective. A common mistake is to comment on everything you have read regardless of its relevance.

How to decide what's in and what's out is always a hard question. You need to work on developing your own criteria for the bodies of literature - and the scholars - you end up including in the literature review and those you exclude.

Your criteria should always include:

  • relevance to your study
  • importance to the field.

A useful way of thinking about the literature review is to picture it as a dinner party (Kamler & Thomson, 2006). You are the host, and you decide who comes and who sits where, depending on how much they can contribute to the conversation about your topic. Don't forget that you are in charge: if someone's talk becomes irrelevant, throw them out!

Another way of looking at the process, particularly if you are examining several topics (or variables) is to think of yourself as rather like a film director (Rudestam & Newton, 1992). You can think of providing your audience with:

  • long shots to provide a solid sense of the background
  • middle distance shots where the key figures and elements to be examined are brought clearly into view
  • close-up shots where the precise focus of your work is pinpointed.