How to Write a Comparative Literature Review

How to Write a Comparative Literature Review

The review of Comparative Literature is a rich, interdisciplinary area, providing students the opportunity to study literature across national borders, languages, cultures, time periods, genres and social fields, and to engage with disciplines as various as history, translation studies, philosophy, psychology, critical theory, religious studies, sociology, politics, and the creative arts. With such an intoxicating mixture of cultural forms and academic fields to study, it is all too easy to lose focus, and to neglect the fundamentals of good essay writing.

What makes a review critical?

Wallace and Wray (2009) consider that critical literature reviews are personal and they define a critical literature review as:

  1. “a reviewer’s constructively critical account, developing an argument designed to convince a particular audience about what the published – and possibly unpublished- literature (theory, research, practice or policy) indicates is and is not known about one or more questions that the reviewer has framed”.
  2. We need to consider carefully some very important points made in the above quotation.

Developing an argument

  • You decide on the focus of your review of the selected texts and you engage critically with them and interpret and synthesise your findings.
  • Most importantly of all, you must communicate your findings clearly and logically. This is best done if you have an argument that a reader can follow.
  • Looking for gaps in the literature
    • How novel is the work that you are reviewing?
    • “what is known and unknown” – you need to know the range of research and issues in your chosen topic area.


You will need:

  1. a criterion for selecting some texts for inclusion, rejecting others and homing in on a few of the most relevant texts for in-depth analysis.
  2. a plan for reading selectively so you save time by not reading the whole text in detail.
  3. answers to the Q 5 questions for the selected texts.
  4. to synthesise your findings into a logically structured account that is framed around a convincing, objective argument (with support for your arguments where possible).
  5. to NOT write unsupported opinions such as “I agree with the authors that…..” – you are not an authority (published author) in the topic area.