Literature Review: Support for Higher Degree Research: Introduction

Library & Learning resources support for research degree students

Welcome to Support for Higher Degree Research Students developed by the Library and Learning Resources Learning Teaching and Research Services Team.

This LibGuide focuses on the conceptualisation, identification, appraisal, synthesis and dissemination of the literature search element of your higher degree research study.


This is not intended as a detailed guide to the exploration of your topic. Every students' research focus will be different and require a unique exploration of the information landscape. The team therefore offers a range of support options designed to meet both broad and individual needs. The key support is through one-to-one tutorials and advice via telephone, email and other web-based services, such as Moodle. As with your research supervisor, it can be beneficial to build a working relationship with your librarian and make use of the advice and expertise we can bring to your research.

Exploring the Information Landscape in the Research Process

Exploring the information landscape has a critical role in the research process. The exploration can be divided into four broad phases:

  1. Scoping - an initial exploration to gain an overview of the state of knowledge in the topic area.
  2. The Literature Review - reviewing what is currently known and what needs to be known which helps to focus the research question.
  3. Methodology - the rationale for the chosen approach.
  4. Maintenance - keeping up-to-date during the research period.

The seven pillars of information literacy

The skills and understanding needed to effectively critically review the literature can be defined as information literacy skills. Information literate researchers "will demonstrate an awareness of how they gather, use, manage, synthesize and create information and data in an ethical manner and will have the information skills to do so effectively" (SCONUL, 2011).


There are seven key areas, based on the SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy, that this guide will address. The seven pillars are:


The ability to identify a need for information to address the research question.


The ability to assess current knowledge and identify gaps.


The ability to construct strategies for locating information and data.


The ability to locate and access the information and data needed.


The ability to review the research process and compare and evaluate information and data.


The ability to organize information professionally and ethically.


The ability to apply the knowledge gained, present results, synthesize new and previous knowledge to create new knowledge and disseminate in a variety of ways.


These seven key areas should not be seen as discrete steps to be followed in sequence. Instead, your literature review should be seen as an iterative process.

You may have to revisit some of the steps as you refine or alter your research focus. The information landscape, unique to your research focus, is constantly changing with new publications, insights and techniques. 



* Based on The SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy: A Research Lens for Higher Education

University Research Regulations and Guidance

Academic Regulations and Policies (ARP) University regulations for Research Degrees are detailed in Part 1: Section G.  Copies of the Code of Practice for Higher Degrees by Research, the Research Student Handbook and Section G of the ARP are distributed to all research students.

Research Community Homepage with details of Research Community events, the Doctoral Research College, REF2021 and Faculty Research Newsletters.

Research Innovation and Enterprise works with Faculties to add value to their research, provides support and guidance in gaining access to funding and helps individual researchers with their REF submissions and submissions to European funding programmes.

Birmingham City University Guidelines and Procedures for Good Research Practice