About this Resource
Productive reading
Writing effectively
Arguing convincingly
Mapping your field
Literature reviewing
Features of a 'good' literature review
What is a literature review?
Generic questions for a literature review
Reviewing the literature systematically
Developing proposals
Literature reviewing 
Networked Cranfield > AIM Research > Key Topics > Literature reviewing

Undertaking a review of the literature is an important part of any research project. For research to be published it should advance of understanding through making a new contribution to knowledge.  Achieving this is dependant upon positioning your research in the context of an already formed body of literature.   A literature review provide a framework upon which your research is based, questions are formed, data are analysed and discussion / conclusions presented.

There are several purposes of a literature review.  It can help, 

  • define and describe key concepts
  • specify the focus, scope and boundaries of the research
  • identify theories that can help explain important phenomenon
  • show which research designs and methods have been employed
  • bring attention to competing theories or philosophical assumptions
  • develop a conceptual model
  • obtain (through synthesis?) a “new” perspective on research problem
  • highlight what we know and what we need to know, thus identify opportunities for future research
  • justify propositions or research questions

Daft (1985) specifies the top ten reasons why 111 were articles rejected from Academy of Management Journal and Administrative Sciences Quarterly:

  1. No theory                                            
  2. Concepts & operationalisation not aligned
  3. Insufficient definition of theory  
  4. Insufficient rationale for design              
  5. Macro-structure - organisation & flow 
  6. Amateur style and tone                        
  7. Inadequate research design                  
  8. Not relevant to field                             
  9. Over-engineering of work    
  10. Conclusions not in alignment      

What does this tell you about the role of literature reviews in academic publication?

In a more recent article in a different field McKercher (2007) found 50.9% of articles are rejected for poor quality literature reviews.  The top ten reasons for rejection are:

  1. Failure to place the study in a broader context
  2. Failure to establish a theoretical framework, if needed
  3. Old and/or outdated sources
  4. No critical evaluation of the literature
  5. Literature review not relevant to the study
  6. Poor referencing
  7. Did not cite key sources
  8. Too short / too long
  9. Repetitive
  10. Reference stacking (too many references for too few points being made)

What does this tell you about the features of a 'good' literature review?


Daft, R.L. (1985) "Why I Recommended that Your Manuscript be Rejected and What You Can Do about It," in Publishing in the Organizational Sciences, L.L. Cummings and P.J. Frost (eds.), Homewood, IL: Irwin, pp. 193-209.

McKercher, B, Law, R., Weber, K., Song, H. and Hsu, C. ‘Why Referees Reject Manuscripts’ Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, Vol. 31, No. 4, November 2007, 455-470   


The text on this page was created by Professor David Denyer, Professor of Organizational Change, Cranfield School of Management,