EPQ – Literature Review

Literature Review for EPQ Projects and Essays

Academic literature has been at the forefront of your EPQ project.  Evaluating this literature is what is known as ‘Literature Review’.

Academic literature can include books, academic journal articles, and published expert reports. They will be printed, or you may have found them available in online collections. 

The content in academic literature has usually been peer-reviewed, which means that it’s been reviewed by experts on the particular topic for accuracy and quality before being published. 

A literature review is important because it describes how your research is related to prior research in whatever topic you have been studying. It shows the relevance of the reading and research you have completed.  A good literature review may also demonstrate your preparedness to complete the research at some point in the future, perhaps at University – ‘given more time and resources my research would lead me to look further into X, Y and Z.’ 

The Literature Review is an important part of the final EPQ product. 

It is important for ALL EPQ projects, including group projects and those that have produced artefacts as the final product. 

Reading and research has been at the centre of all your EPQ work. The literature review is an objective summary of all the published research you have studied that has been relevant to the research focus of your EPQ. 

Learning how to produce a literature review is a good transferable skill that you will develop further in higher education or in any career task that involves some type of research or project management. 

A good literature review should also outline the scope of your research area – the aspects you have considered and those you have not considered – both of these decisions need to be explained in the literature review. WHY did you choose to follow certain areas of reading and research? WHY were other areas less important to your EPQ? 

A very good Literature Review will: 

1.Compare and contrast different authors’ views on the key issues of your project. 

2. Group authors who draw similar conclusions – do they represent a particular school of thought in the subject area? 

3. Note areas in which authors are in disagreement – do they represent a particular school of thought in the subject area?  

4. Identify patterns or trends in the literature. Look especially at points 2 and 3 – do these differences represent a real academic debate? How significant is this debate? Is it a ‘heated’ debate or a relatively normal difference of academic opinions? 

5. Highlights gaps in previous research or questions left unanswered. Given the limited time you have had for EPQ, this is sometimes a difficult thing to do. However, the academics themselves may hint at research that needs to be done whilst other topics i.e. the impact of vaping, the use of thorium, string theory and the position of zoos – are all ongoing issues for which we have no sense of what the final debates and judgements may be. 

6. A good literature review will have its own conclusion where you will summarise, briefly, what the literature you have read says about the topic you have chosen. 

Planning and Writing your Literature Review

Good literature reviews need a clear line of argument and should be written in a formal, academic style. You should be objective and respectful of others’ opinions; you should not be asserting personal opinions or using emotive language. 

For your own literature review you will need to group together and compare the different opinions of various writers on certain topics that are relevant to your research area. Much will depend on your own EPQ as to how these different opinions are grouped. 

Your structure could be set out by paragraphs of themes, debates, theories or perspectives as they occur in your written project. We suggest you avoid simply listing each writer/academic in turn. 

Within each of these paragraphs, you could then outline what the different literature argues, remembering to link this to your own EPQ focus / topic. 

Finally, the literature review could be concluded with a summary of what the literature implies, which again links to your hypothesis or main question.  

A good Literature Review will be based around three component parts: 1. Introduction 2. Main body 3. Conclusion 

The introduction should offer a concise definition of the topic / subject of your EPQ. It should outline the scope and range of the literature being reviewed by explaining (briefly) what has been included and excluded. This is the time to make any relevant comments on the availability of sources and on any difficulties you had tracking the source materials you needed. 

The main body of the literature review will be the place to show your critical evaluation of the sources and materials you have studied. You need to write critically, not simply descriptively. How you choose to structure the main body of the literature review is your choice. Those that work best will take key themes and debates from your topic and evaluate the materials you have used. To evaluate your materials you will be pointing out strengths, weaknesses, criticisms, identify inconsistencies, omissions and errors as well as accuracies, depth and relevance from other writers and any ‘gaps’ in the research. When working out the structure for this part of the EPQ, remember to keep the focus on your question by referring to it regularly as you evaluate the materials.  

In the conclusion you should summarise the key findings of the literature review. You should also justify your research, re-state your idea, linked to the findings of your literature review. Remember that this is just the conclusion to the literature review, not the conclusion to the report overall. 

Further Reading

The University of Leicester summarise the key points of effective literature reviews here.

The Royal Literary Fund break the literature review into key points here.

This blog has been used by a student to explain how she approached the literature review in her own EPQ.

The University of Edinburgh offer their own advice on literature reviews here. It’s more directed to higher education work than the EPQ but the guidance is very good.

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