Literature Survey Pitfalls

Here are some common issues and misconceptions I often encounter when providing feedback on literature surveys:

  1. Confusing motivation with the problem statement: Motivation should lead to the problem. Ensure your problem statement stands independently, justifying what, why, and how.
  2. Too little or too much information: Strive for balance. A literature survey with only high-level details or a sparse number of references suggests insufficient effort from the student. Conversely, dumping excessive information without discernment indicates a lack of understanding. Draft a well-rounded write-up that considers multiple sources, presents key ideas in your own words, arranges them logically, and critically evaluates their pros and cons.
  3. Overemphasis on the chosen tool: While it’s fine to develop your solution around a specific tool, explore alternatives and provide a strong justification for your selection.
  4. Neglecting related work: Reviewers often consider the recency of references. Ensure you include relevant papers from the last 2-3 years to demonstrate the current relevance of your chosen problem.
  5. Lack of summarization and connection of ideas: Present multiple literature sources with a logical flow, making the narrative interesting. Plan, write, and then reorganize with your supervisor’s guidance. When possible, use tables to compare and contrast multiple solutions.
  6. Ignoring figures and tables: Ensure every figure or table you include is referenced in the write-up. Explain each one in sufficient detail, avoiding unnecessary additions that aren’t explained.
  7. Omitting citations for external figures and tables: When using existing diagrams, graphs, or tables, cite the source unless you’ve created a new, original version based on your understanding.
  8. Excessive subsections: Avoid having too many subsections and sub-subsections.
  9. Literature survey isn’t a marketing pitch: Be cautious when copying and pasting lists of features from tools, as the focus should be on how they work and their relevance to your problem.
  10. Lack of an outline: Start with an outline and discuss it with your supervisor before investing considerable time in writing. This ensures a clear structure and direction for your literature survey.
  11. Skipping a quick spelling and grammar check: Neglecting a quick check reflects on your commitment and the quality standards you set for yourself, inviting negative feedback from your supervisor, and potentially leading to additional rounds of review. When a supervisor requests a “draft,” they expect the draft to be ready for review, not your first draft.