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1. Purpose

Each undergraduate in the Department of Psychology must, as part of the degree programme, carry out a Literature Survey. The purpose of this exercise is to allow a student to:

  • pursue an interest in a given topic, in order to acquire a detailed knowledge of the pertinent facts and theories in the field of Psychology, and
  • develop the skill of summarising and evaluating an extensive body of research, where appropriate showing to what extent the principal theories are supported by the available data.

2. Scope

You should attempt to find an area within the field of Psychology which is sufficiently focused for you to have a good prospect of being able to complete all the necessary reading and assimilation in the time available. Alternatively, the area should not be so narrow that it lacks sufficient research papers for you to do yourself justice in your evaluation. A further consideration is the availability of relevant books and journals in the library. This process of fine tuning the precise topic or question to be investigated normally involves a good deal of browsing of appropriate databases for journal papers, and you would expect to confer with your Literature Survey supervisor frequently during this stage.

The Literature Survey is therefore a review of a circumscribed area of primary literature, i.e. it should draw its main sources of evidence from peer-reviewed Journal articles. The number of articles or books that should be consulted may depend on the topic, but would normally be in the range 15 to 30 papers. In some respects, a Literature Survey can be viewed as a long essay. For example, the structure of a Literature Survey might usefully take a similar form and so begin with an introductory paragraph or section, lead on to the main body of the Survey and finally end with a concluding section. Similarly, a Literature Survey would be expected to clearly describe the relevant literature, and to take a critical and detached view when evaluating this evidence. However, in other respects the ethos of the Literature Survey differs significantly from that of an essay. For example, a Literature Survey leaves far more to the initiative of the student than a standard essay: the question itself is self-generated, and a student’s own ‘voice’ might be relatively evident when critically evaluating papers. The structure of a Survey may also depart from the norm depending on the needs of the survey, and subheadings may be extensively deployed to aid clarity. 

There is some excellent advice on Literature Surveys at, though remember this is only one department’s approach to what makes a good review. Some typical titles are provided below:

Substance misuse disorders in schizophrenic patients: Causes and implications for treatment

Attention bias modification: Investigation into a possible new treatment for anxiety

“Everybody Hurts”: A cross-cultural analysis of differences in public attitudes towards unipolar depression

3. Help, Advice and Supervision

Each survey must have supervision from a member of academic staff (see preferences form for list of available staff and the number of places they have available).  A supervisor’s primary roles are to advise on the suitability of a given topic, to point to literature which could form a starting point for your own reading, and to provide general guidance on the structure of the survey. Your Literature Survey supervisor should therefore be considered an experienced guide in the general principles of completing a literature survey, not an expert on the specific topic.

It is by no means necessary then to be supervised by someone who is a specialist in your chosen area. All members of staff will be willing to advise and supervise topics in any area of psychology, so you can choose any supervisor with whom you have an affinity.

You should not carry out a Literature Survey and a Project in the same specific area of research, although taking both components in the same general area is acceptable. Our criterion for whether the areas are sufficiently different is that it should not be possible to use a shortened version of your literature survey as the Introduction to your project. This also applies to Literature Survey topics and Advanced Modules, and so a survey topic in the same general area as a particular advanced module might be acceptable as long as the Literature Survey question is sufficiently novel that it is not reducible to any portion of the advanced module. The examiners will be looking for evidence of a wide range of knowledge, so you should also avoid literature survey topics that exactly duplicate other work (e.g. an assessed essay that featured in another part of the course).

You should begin preparatory meetings with your supervisor during Week 8 of Term 6, and plan to meet your supervisor regularly after that, typically at least once every two weeks.  The most effective way of making contact, and of avoiding fruitless visits to offices, is via email. 

3.1 Literature Survey Plan

As one of the objects of the exercise is to encourage you to search the available literature for relevant material, supervisors will not provide detailed reading lists, and are not permitted to read drafts of your survey.  However, you will be given feedback on an overall plan of your survey, provided you hand the plan in to your supervisor ON TIME (for your deadline, see the appropriate Timetable on the Year 3 Key Information page). The main function of the literature survey plan is to help you to think carefully about the structure of your survey, and the main purpose of feedback on your plan is to help you refine that structure. The plan is not a binding document - you can change your plan at any stage up to the point where you hand in the completed survey. IMPORTANT: the plan should be contained on one to two sides of A4 paper at most (11pt font minimum). The format should consist mainly of bullet points: only use connected text when necessary. Having begun your plan with a proposed title, a good strategy is to organise the rest of the plan into sections. Each section should have a heading, and correspond with an important point to be made in the Literature Survey. Brief explanations of the main arguments to be included under each section heading may be used (bullet points or notes), which might also refer to the principle evidence that will be used to support each point. The order of sections should correspond with that of the intended final version to enable assessment of the likely narrative flow. 

If you would like further advice on who to approach, or experience any significant difficulties with the supervision process, please contact Paul Bishop ( who is the overall Literature Survey Organiser and will be very happy to help.

4. Strategy and Timing

The completed survey should be submitted online ON TIME (for your deadline, see appropriate Timetable on the Year 3 Key Information page; for online submission, see Online Submission page).  Surveys submitted late without valid mitigating circumstances will be subject to the University's Penalty system - check carefully the UG Handbook - Penalties page for further details.

Your survey will be returned to you after marking during the Spring Term of your third year, but you are strongly advised to take a copy before you submit. There may be occasions, for example if you apply to another university to be taken on as a postgraduate student, when you will want to send a copy of your survey to someone outside the department. Since the survey forms part of the material on which your final assessment is based, you should make it clear, if you do this before you graduate, that the survey is still under consideration by the examiners.

5. Preparation of the Final Version

  • The word count must be clearly indicated at the end of the literature survey, and should be a maximum of 4000 words. For further details on word limit regulations and what is included or excluded in word counts, please consult the Word Limits section of the UG Handbook - Penalties page.
  • Your Literature Survey should begin with an abstract, which should be a clear summary of the survey and consist of no more that 150 words.
  • Appendices should contain information of a supplementary nature only and not be required reading for a good understanding of the main body of the survey.
  • Surveys should be submitted electronically via the VLE.  For further details on submitting work electronically, please consult the Guide to Online Submission of Work section of the UG Handbook - Guide to Online Submission of Work page.

  • Give yourself time to check your report carefully for errors before you submit.  
  • Applications for extensions should be made via the appropriate procedures - see the UG Handbook - Exceptional Circumstances affecting Assessment page for further details. 
  • Keep below the word count maximum (see above, and the UG Handbook - Penalties page).

6. Assessment

Surveys are carefully scrutinised by two representatives of the Board of Examiners (usually your Literature Survey supervisor and another member of staff) and moderated by an External Examiner.

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