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- How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.
What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .
There are five key steps to writing a literature review:
- Search for relevant literature
- Evaluate sources
- Identify themes, debates, and gaps
- Outline the structure
- Write your literature review
A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.
Table of contents
What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.
- Quick Run-through
- Step 1 & 2
When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:
- Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
- Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
- Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
- Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
- Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.
Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.
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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.
- Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
- Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
- Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
- Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)
You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.
Download Word doc Download Google doc
Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .
If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .
Make a list of keywords
Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.
- Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
- Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
- Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth
Search for relevant sources
Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:
- Your university’s library catalogue
- Google Scholar
- Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
- Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
- EconLit (economics)
- Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)
You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.
Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.
You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.
For each publication, ask yourself:
- What question or problem is the author addressing?
- What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
- What are the key theories, models, and methods?
- Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
- What are the results and conclusions of the study?
- How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?
Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.
You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.
Take notes and cite your sources
As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.
It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.
To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:
- Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
- Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
- Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
- Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
- Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?
This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.
- Most research has focused on young women.
- There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
- But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.
There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).
The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.
Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.
If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.
For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.
If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:
- Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
- Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources
A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.
You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.
Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.
The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.
Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.
As you write, you can follow these tips:
- Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts
In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.
When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !
This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.
Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.
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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
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- Simple random sampling
- Stratified sampling
- Cluster sampling
- Likert scales
- Null hypothesis
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- Probability distribution
- Effect size
- Poisson distribution
- Optimism bias
- Cognitive bias
- Implicit bias
- Hawthorne effect
- Anchoring bias
- Explicit bias
A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .
It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.
There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:
- To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
- To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
- To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
- To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
- To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic
Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.
The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .
A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .
An annotated bibliography is a list of source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a paper .
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How to Make a Literature Review in Research (RRL Example)
What is an RRL in a research paper?
A relevant review of the literature (RRL) is an objective, concise, critical summary of published research literature relevant to a topic being researched in an article. In an RRL, you discuss knowledge and findings from existing literature relevant to your study topic. If there are conflicts or gaps in existing literature, you can also discuss these in your review, as well as how you will confront these missing elements or resolve these issues in your study.
To complete an RRL, you first need to collect relevant literature; this can include online and offline sources. Save all of your applicable resources as you will need to include them in your paper. When looking through these sources, take notes and identify concepts of each source to describe in the review of the literature.
A good RRL does NOT:
A literature review does not simply reference and list all of the material you have cited in your paper.
- Presenting material that is not directly relevant to your study will distract and frustrate the reader and make them lose sight of the purpose of your study.
- Starting a literature review with “A number of scholars have studied the relationship between X and Y” and simply listing who has studied the topic and what each scholar concluded is not going to strengthen your paper.
A good RRL DOES:
- Present a brief typology that orders articles and books into groups to help readers focus on unresolved debates, inconsistencies, tensions, and new questions about a research topic.
- Summarize the most relevant and important aspects of the scientific literature related to your area of research
- Synthesize what has been done in this area of research and by whom, highlight what previous research indicates about a topic, and identify potential gaps and areas of disagreement in the field
- Give the reader an understanding of the background of the field and show which studies are important—and highlight errors in previous studies
How long is a review of the literature for a research paper?
The length of a review of the literature depends on its purpose and target readership and can vary significantly in scope and depth. In a dissertation, thesis, or standalone review of literature, it is usually a full chapter of the text (at least 20 pages). Whereas, a standard research article or school assignment literature review section could only be a few paragraphs in the Introduction section .
Building Your Literature Review Bookshelf
One way to conceive of a literature review is to think about writing it as you would build a bookshelf. You don’t need to cut each piece by yourself from scratch. Rather, you can take the pieces that other researchers have cut out and put them together to build a framework on which to hang your own “books”—that is, your own study methods, results, and conclusions.
What Makes a Good Literature Review?
The contents of a literature review (RRL) are determined by many factors, including its precise purpose in the article, the degree of consensus with a given theory or tension between competing theories, the length of the article, the number of previous studies existing in the given field, etc. The following are some of the most important elements that a literature review provides.
Historical background for your research
Analyze what has been written about your field of research to highlight what is new and significant in your study—or how the analysis itself contributes to the understanding of this field, even in a small way. Providing a historical background also demonstrates to other researchers and journal editors your competency in discussing theoretical concepts. You should also make sure to understand how to paraphrase scientific literature to avoid plagiarism in your work.
The current context of your research
Discuss central (or peripheral) questions, issues, and debates in the field. Because a field is constantly being updated by new work, you can show where your research fits into this context and explain developments and trends in research.
A discussion of relevant theories and concepts
Theories and concepts should provide the foundation for your research. For example, if you are researching the relationship between ecological environments and human populations, provide models and theories that focus on specific aspects of this connection to contextualize your study. If your study asks a question concerning sustainability, mention a theory or model that underpins this concept. If it concerns invasive species, choose material that is focused in this direction.
Definitions of relevant terminology
In the natural sciences, the meaning of terms is relatively straightforward and consistent. But if you present a term that is obscure or context-specific, you should define the meaning of the term in the Introduction section (if you are introducing a study) or in the summary of the literature being reviewed.
Description of related relevant research
Include a description of related research that shows how your work expands or challenges earlier studies or fills in gaps in previous work. You can use your literature review as evidence of what works, what doesn’t, and what is missing in the field.
Supporting evidence for a practical problem or issue your research is addressing that demonstrates its importance: Referencing related research establishes your area of research as reputable and shows you are building upon previous work that other researchers have deemed significant.
Types of Literature Reviews
Literature reviews can differ in structure, length, amount, and breadth of content included. They can range from selective (a very narrow area of research or only a single work) to comprehensive (a larger amount or range of works). They can also be part of a larger work or stand on their own.
- A course assignment is an example of a selective, stand-alone work. It focuses on a small segment of the literature on a topic and makes up an entire work on its own.
- The literature review in a dissertation or thesis is both comprehensive and helps make up a larger work.
- A majority of journal articles start with a selective literature review to provide context for the research reported in the study; such a literature review is usually included in the Introduction section (but it can also follow the presentation of the results in the Discussion section ).
- Some literature reviews are both comprehensive and stand as a separate work—in this case, the entire article analyzes the literature on a given topic.
Literature Reviews Found in Academic Journals
The two types of literature reviews commonly found in journals are those introducing research articles (studies and surveys) and stand-alone literature analyses. They can differ in their scope, length, and specific purpose.
Literature reviews introducing research articles
The literature review found at the beginning of a journal article is used to introduce research related to the specific study and is found in the Introduction section, usually near the end. It is shorter than a stand-alone review because it must be limited to very specific studies and theories that are directly relevant to the current study. Its purpose is to set research precedence and provide support for the study’s theory, methods, results, and/or conclusions. Not all research articles contain an explicit review of the literature, but most do, whether it is a discrete section or indistinguishable from the rest of the Introduction.
How to structure a literature review for an article
When writing a literature review as part of an introduction to a study, simply follow the structure of the Introduction and move from the general to the specific—presenting the broadest background information about a topic first and then moving to specific studies that support your rationale , finally leading to your hypothesis statement. Such a literature review is often indistinguishable from the Introduction itself—the literature is INTRODUCING the background and defining the gaps your study aims to fill.
The stand-alone literature review
The literature review published as a stand-alone article presents and analyzes as many of the important publications in an area of study as possible to provide background information and context for a current area of research or a study. Stand-alone reviews are an excellent resource for researchers when they are first searching for the most relevant information on an area of study.
Such literature reviews are generally a bit broader in scope and can extend further back in time. This means that sometimes a scientific literature review can be highly theoretical, in addition to focusing on specific methods and outcomes of previous studies. In addition, all sections of such a “review article” refer to existing literature rather than describing the results of the authors’ own study.
In addition, this type of literature review is usually much longer than the literature review introducing a study. At the end of the review follows a conclusion that once again explicitly ties all of the cited works together to show how this analysis is itself a contribution to the literature. While not absolutely necessary, such articles often include the terms “Literature Review” or “Review of the Literature” in the title. Whether or not that is necessary or appropriate can also depend on the specific author instructions of the target journal. Have a look at this article for more input on how to compile a stand-alone review article that is insightful and helpful for other researchers in your field.
How to Write a Literature Review in 6 Steps
So how do authors turn a network of articles into a coherent review of relevant literature?
Writing a literature review is not usually a linear process—authors often go back and check the literature while reformulating their ideas or making adjustments to their study. Sometimes new findings are published before a study is completed and need to be incorporated into the current work. This also means you will not be writing the literature review at any one time, but constantly working on it before, during, and after your study is complete.
Here are some steps that will help you begin and follow through on your literature review.
Step 1: Choose a topic to write about—focus on and explore this topic.
Choose a topic that you are familiar with and highly interested in analyzing; a topic your intended readers and researchers will find interesting and useful; and a topic that is current, well-established in the field, and about which there has been sufficient research conducted for a review. This will help you find the “sweet spot” for what to focus on.
Step 2: Research and collect all the scholarly information on the topic that might be pertinent to your study.
This includes scholarly articles, books, conventions, conferences, dissertations, and theses—these and any other academic work related to your area of study is called “the literature.”
Step 3: Analyze the network of information that extends or responds to the major works in your area; select the material that is most useful.
Use thought maps and charts to identify intersections in the research and to outline important categories; select the material that will be most useful to your review.
Step 4: Describe and summarize each article—provide the essential information of the article that pertains to your study.
Determine 2-3 important concepts (depending on the length of your article) that are discussed in the literature; take notes about all of the important aspects of this study relevant to the topic being reviewed.
For example, in a given study, perhaps some of the main concepts are X, Y, and Z. Note these concepts and then write a brief summary about how the article incorporates them. In reviews that introduce a study, these can be relatively short. In stand-alone reviews, there may be significantly more texts and more concepts.
Step 5: Demonstrate how these concepts in the literature relate to what you discovered in your study or how the literature connects the concepts or topics being discussed.
In a literature review intro for an article, this information might include a summary of the results or methods of previous studies that correspond to and/or confirm those sections in your own study. For a stand-alone literature review, this may mean highlighting the concepts in each article and showing how they strengthen a hypothesis or show a pattern.
Discuss unaddressed issues in previous studies. These studies that are missing something you address are important to include in your literature review. In addition, those works whose theories and conclusions directly support your findings will be valuable to review here.
Step 6: Identify relationships in the literature and develop and connect your own ideas to them.
This is essentially the same as step 5 but focused on the connections between the literature and the current study or guiding concepts or arguments of the paper, not only on the connections between the works themselves.
Your hypothesis, argument, or guiding concept is the “golden thread” that will ultimately tie the works together and provide readers with specific insights they didn’t have before reading your literature review. Make sure you know where to put the research question , hypothesis, or statement of the problem in your research paper so that you guide your readers logically and naturally from your introduction of earlier work and evidence to the conclusions you want them to draw from the bigger picture.
Your literature review will not only cover publications on your topics but will include your own ideas and contributions. By following these steps you will be telling the specific story that sets the background and shows the significance of your research and you can turn a network of related works into a focused review of the literature.
Literature Review (RRL) Examples
Because creating sample literature reviews would take too long and not properly capture the nuances and detailed information needed for a good review, we have included some links to different types of literature reviews below. You can find links to more literature reviews in these categories by visiting the TUS Library’s website . Sample literature reviews as part of an article, dissertation, or thesis:
- Critical Thinking and Transferability: A Review of the Literature (Gwendolyn Reece)
- Building Customer Loyalty: A Customer Experience Based Approach in a Tourism Context (Martina Donnelly)
Sample stand-alone literature reviews
- Literature Review on Attitudes towards Disability (National Disability Authority)
- The Effects of Communication Styles on Marital Satisfaction (Hannah Yager)
Additional Literature Review Format Guidelines
In addition to the content guidelines above, authors also need to check which style guidelines to use ( APA , Chicago, MLA, etc.) and what specific rules the target journal might have for how to structure such articles or how many studies to include—such information can usually be found on the journals’ “Guide for Authors” pages. Additionally, use one of the four Wordvice citation generators below, choosing the citation style needed for your paper:
Wordvice Writing and Academic Editing Resources
Finally, after you have finished drafting your literature review, be sure to receive professional proofreading services , including paper editing for your academic work. A competent proofreader who understands academic writing conventions and the specific style guides used by academic journals will ensure that your paper is ready for publication in your target journal.
See our academic resources for further advice on references in your paper , how to write an abstract , how to write a research paper title, how to impress the editor of your target journal with a perfect cover letter , and dozens of other research writing and publication topics.
How to Write a Literature Review
As every student knows, writing informative essay and research papers is an integral part of the educational program. You create a thesis, support it using valid sources, and formulate systematic ideas surrounding it. However, not all students know that they will also have to face another type of paper known as a Literature Review in college. Let's take a closer look at this with our custom essay writer .
Literature Review Definition
As this is a less common academic writing type, students often ask: "What is a literature review?" According to the definition, a literature review is a body of work that explores various publications within a specific subject area and sometimes within a set timeframe.
This type of writing requires you to read and analyze various sources that relate to the main subject and present each unique comprehension of the publications. Lastly, a literature review should combine a summary with a synthesis of the documents used. A summary is a brief overview of the important information in the publication; a synthesis is a re-organization of the information that gives the writing a new and unique meaning.
Typically, a literature review is a part of a larger paper, such as a thesis or dissertation. However, you may also be given it as a stand-alone assignment.
The main purpose of a literature review is to summarize and synthesize the ideas created by previous authors without implementing personal opinions or other additional information.
However, a literature review objective is not just to list summaries of sources; rather, it is to notice a central trend or principle in all of the publications. Just like a research paper has a thesis that guides it on rails, a literature review has the main organizing principle (MOP). The goal of this type of academic writing is to identify the MOP and show how it exists in all of your supporting documents.
Why is a literature review important? The value of such work is explained by the following goals it pursues:
- Highlights the significance of the main topic within a specific subject area.
- Demonstrates and explains the background of research for a particular subject matter.
- Helps to find out the key themes, principles, concepts, and researchers that exist within a topic.
- Helps to reveal relationships between existing ideas/studies on a topic.
- Reveals the main points of controversy and gaps within a topic.
- Suggests questions to drive primary research based on previous studies.
Here are some example topics for writing literature reviews:
- Exploring racism in "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," and "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
- Isolationism in "The Catcher in the Rye," "Frankenstein," and "1984"
- Understanding Moral Dilemmas in "Crime and Punishment," "The Scarlet Letter," and "The Lifeboat"
- Corruption of Power in "Macbeth," "All the King's Men," and "Animal Farm"
- Emotional and Physical survival in "Lord of the Flies," "Hatchet," and "Congo."
How Long Is a Literature Review?
When facing the need to write a literature review, students tend to wonder, "how long should a literature review be?" In some cases, the length of your paper's body may be determined by your instructor. Be sure to read the guidelines carefully to learn what is expected from you.
Keeping your literature review around 15-30% of your entire paper is recommended if you haven't been provided with specific guidelines. To give you a rough idea, that is about 2-3 pages for a 15-page paper. In case you are writing a literature review as a stand-alone assignment, its length should be specified in the instructions provided.
Literature Review Format: APA, MLA, and Chicago
The essay format you use should adhere to the citation style preferred by your instructor. Seek clarification from your instructor for several other components as well to establish a desired literature review format:
- How many sources should you review, and what kind of sources should they be (published materials, journal articles, or websites)?
- What format should you use to cite the sources?
- How long should the review be?
- Should your review consist of a summary, synthesis, or a personal critique?
- Should your review include subheadings or background information for your sources?
If you want to format your paper in APA style, then follow these rules:
- Use 1-inch page margins.
- Unless provided with other instructions, use double-spacing throughout the whole text.
- Make sure you choose a readable font. The preferred font for APA papers is Times New Roman set to 12-point size.
- Include a header at the top of every page (in capital letters). The page header must be a shortened version of your essay title and limited to 50 characters, including spacing and punctuation.
- Put page numbers in the upper right corner of every page.
- When shaping your literature review outline in APA, don't forget to include a title page. This page should include the paper's name, the author's name, and the institutional affiliation. Your title must be typed with upper and lowercase letters and centered in the upper part of the page; use no more than 12 words, and avoid using abbreviations and useless words.
For MLA style text, apply the following guidelines:
- Double your spacing across the entire paper.
- Set ½-inch indents for each new paragraph.
- The preferred font for MLA papers is Times New Roman set to 12-point size.
- Include a header at the top of your paper's first page or on the title page (note that MLA style does not require you to have a title page, but you are allowed to decide to include one). A header in this format should include your full name; the name of your instructor; the name of the class, course, or section number; and the due date of the assignment.
- Include a running head in the top right corner of each page in your paper. Place it one inch from the page's right margin and half an inch from the top margin. Only include your last name and the page number separated by a space in the running head. Do not put the abbreviation p. before page numbers.
Finally, if you are required to write a literature review in Chicago style, here are the key rules to follow:
- Set page margins to no less than 1 inch.
- Use double spacing across the entire text, except when it comes to table titles, figure captions, notes, blockquotes, and entries within the bibliography or References.
- Do not put spaces between paragraphs.
- Make sure you choose a clear and easily-readable font. The preferred fonts for Chicago papers are Times New Roman and Courier, set to no less than 10-point size, but preferably to 12-point size.
- A cover (title) page should include your full name, class information, and the date. Center the cover page and place it one-third below the top of the page.
- Place page numbers in the upper right corner of each page, including the cover page.
Read also about harvard format - popular style used in papers.
Structure of a Literature Review
How to structure a literature review: Like many other types of academic writing, a literature review follows a typical intro-body-conclusion style with 5 paragraphs overall. Now, let’s look at each component of the basic literature review structure in detail:
You should direct your reader(s) towards the MOP (main organizing principle). This means that your information must start from a broad perspective and gradually narrow down until it reaches your focal point.
Start by presenting your general concept (Corruption, for example). After the initial presentation, narrow your introduction's focus towards the MOP by mentioning the criteria you used to select the literature sources you have chosen (Macbeth, All the King's Men, and Animal Farm). Finally, the introduction will end with the presentation of your MOP that should directly link it to all three literature sources.
Generally, each body paragraph will focus on a specific source of literature laid out in the essay's introduction. As each source has its own frame of reference for the MOP, it is crucial to structure the review in the most logically consistent way possible. This means the writing should be structured chronologically, thematically or methodologically.
Breaking down your sources based on their publication date is a solid way to keep a correct historical timeline. If applied properly, it can present the development of a certain concept over time and provide examples in the form of literature. However, sometimes there are better alternatives we can use to structure the body.
Instead of taking the "timeline approach," another option can be looking at the link between your MOP and your sources. Sometimes, the main idea will just glare from a piece of literature. Other times, the author may have to seek examples to prove their point. An experienced writer will usually present their sources by order of strength. For example, in "To Kill A Mockingbird," the entire novel was centralized around racism; in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," racism was one of many themes.
As made obvious by the terminology, this type of structuring focuses on the methods used to present the central concept. For example, in "1984", George Orwell uses the law-and-order approach and shows the dangers of a dystopia for a social species.
In "Frankenstein," Mary Shelley exposes the character's physical traits as repulsive and horrifying, forcing him to suffer in an isolated environment. By showcasing the various methods used to portray the MOP, the writer can compare them based on things like severity, ethicality, and overall impact.
After presenting your key findings in the body paragraphs, there are 3 final objectives to complete in the essay's conclusion. First, the author should summarize the findings they have made or found, in other words, and briefly answer the question: "What have you learned?"
After discussing that information, the next step is to present the significance of the information about our current world today. In other words, how can the reader take the information and apply it to today's society? From that point, we finish off with a breadcrumb trail.
As the author, you want to leave the readers' trail of thought within the actual essay topic. This provides them with a means of further investigation—meaning that the reader may consider where the discussion will go next.
Writing an Outline for a Literature Review
Students often underestimate the importance of planning the structure of their papers in advance. However, this is not a wise approach. Having a rough APA literature review outline (or other style outlines) will not only help you follow the right format and structure but will also make the writing process simpler and help ensure that you include all of the important information without missing anything.
How to write a literature review outline: As you already know from the Structure section of this guide, every part of your literature review performs its own important role. Therefore, you should create your outline while keeping the general introduction-body-conclusion structure in mind and ensuring that each section meets its own objectives. However, it is important to remember that a literature review outline is slightly different from outlines of other types of essays because it does not provide new information. Instead, it focuses on existing studies relevant to the main topic.
Here is a literature review outline example on the subject of the Ebola virus to help you get it right:
- Introduce the general topic. Provide background information on the Ebola virus: genome, pathogenesis, transmission, epidemiology, treatment, etc.
- Shape the main research question: What is the potential role of arthropods (mechanical or biological vectors) in the distribution of the Ebola virus?
- Methodology: For example, the information was searched through X databases to find relevant research articles about the Ebola virus and arthropods' role in its spreading. The data was extracted using a standardized form.
- Expected outcomes
- Overall trends in the literature on this topic: While the natural reservoir of the virus is still not known with certainty, many researchers believe that arthropods (and fruit bats, in particular) pay a significant role in the distribution of the virus.
- Subject 1: A brief overview of the particular piece of literature in general terms; an analysis of the key aspects of the study; a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and an overview of the strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
- Subject 2: A brief overview of the particular piece of literature in general terms; an analysis of the key aspects of the study; a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and an overview of the strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
- Subject 3: A brief overview of the particular piece of literature in general terms; an analysis of the key aspects of the study; a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and an overview of the strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
- Indicate the relationships between the pieces of literature discussed. Emphasize key themes, common patterns, and trends. Talk about the pros and cons of the different approaches taken by the authors/researchers.
- State which studies seem to be the most influential.
- Emphasize the major contradictions and points of disagreement. Define the gaps still to be covered (if any).
- If applicable: define how your own study will contribute to further disclosure of the topic.
Hopefully, this sample outline will help you to structure your own paper. However, if you feel like you need some more advice on how to organize your review, don’t hesitate to search for more literature review outline examples in APA or other styles on the Web, or simply ask our writers to get a dissertation help .
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How to Write a Good Literature Review
Whether you are writing a literature review within the framework of a large research project (e.g. thesis, dissertation, or other) or as a stand-alone assignment, the approach you should take to writing generally remains the same.
Whether you are writing a literature review within the framework of a large research project (e.g., thesis, dissertation, or other) or as a stand-alone assignment, the approach you should take to writing generally remains the same.
Now, as you know about the general rules and have a basic literature review outline template, let's define the steps to take to handle this task right with our service:
Step 1: Identifying the Topic
This is probably the only matter you may approach differently depending on whether your literature review comes within a research paper or a separate assignment altogether. If you are creating a literature review as a part of another work, you need to search for literature related to your main research questions and problems. Respectively, if you are writing it as a stand-alone task, you will have to pick a relevant topic and central question upon which you will collect the literature. Earlier in this guide, we suggested some engaging topics to guide your search.
Step 2: Conducting Research
When you have a clearly defined topic, it is time to start collecting literature for your review. We recommend starting by compiling a list of relevant keywords related to your central question—to make the entire research process much simpler and help you find relevant publications faster.
When you have a list of keywords, use them to search for valid and relevant sources. At this point, be sure to use only trusted sources, such as ones from university libraries, online scientific databases, etc.
Once you have found some sources, be sure to define whether or not they are actually relevant to your topic and research question. To save time, you can read abstracts to get general ideas of what the papers are about instead of the whole thing.
Pro Tip: When you finally find a few valid publications, take a look at their bibliographies to discover other relevant sources as well.
Step 3: Assess and Prioritize Sources
Throughout your research, you will likely find plenty of relevant literature to include in your literature review. At this point, students often make the mistake of trying to fit all the collected sources into their reviews. Instead, we suggest looking at what you've collected once more, evaluating the available sources, and selecting the most relevant ones. You most likely won't be able to read everything you find on a given topic and then be able to synthesize all of the sources into a single literature review. That's why prioritizing them is important.
To evaluate which sources are worth including in your review, keep in mind the following criteria:
- Key insights;
Furthermore, as you read the sources, don’t forget to take notes on everything you can incorporate into the review later. And be sure to get your citations in place early on. If you cite the selected sources at the initial stage, you will find it easier to create your annotated bibliography later on.
Step 4: Identify Relationships, Key Ideas, and Gaps
Before you can move on to outlining and writing your literature review, the final step is determining the relationships between the studies that already exist. Identifying the relationships will help you organize the existing knowledge, build a solid literature outline, and (if necessary) indicate your own research contribution to a specific field.
Some of the key points to keep an eye out for are:
- Main themes;
- Contradictions and debates;
- Influential studies or theories;
- Trends and patterns;
Here are a few examples: Common trends may include a focus on specific groups of people across different studies. Most researchers may have increased interest in certain aspects of the topic regarding key themes. Contradictions may include some disagreement concerning the theories and outcomes of a study. And finally, gaps most often refer to a lack of research on certain aspects of a topic.
Step 5: Make an Outline
Although students tend to neglect this stage, outlining is one of the most important steps in writing every academic paper. This is the easiest way to organize the body of your text and ensure that you haven't missed anything important. Besides, having a rough idea of what you will write about in the paper will help you get it right faster and more easily. Earlier in this guide, we already discussed the basic structure of a literature review and gave you an example of a good outline. At this workflow stage, you can use all of the knowledge you've gained from us to build your own outline.
Step 6: Move on to Writing
Having found and created all of your sources, notes, citations, and a detailed outline, you can finally get to the writing part of the process. At this stage, all you need to do is follow the plan you've created and keep in mind the overall structure and format defined in your professor's instructions.
Step 7: Adding the Final Touches
Most students make a common mistake and skip the final stage of the process, which includes proofreading and editing. We recommend taking enough time for these steps to ensure that your work will be worth the highest score. Do not underestimate the importance of proofreading and editing, and allocate enough time for these steps.
Pro Tip: Before moving on to proofreading and editing, be sure to set your literature review aside for a day or two. This will give you a chance to take your mind off it and then get back to proofreading with a fresh perspective. This tip will ensure that you won't miss out on any gaps or errors that might be present in your text.
These steps will help you create a top-notch literature review with ease! Want to get more advice on how to handle this body of work? Here are the top 3 tips you need to keep in mind when writing a literature review:
1. Good Sources
When working on a literature review, the most important thing any writer should remember is to find the best possible sources for their MOP. This means that you should select and filter through about 5-10 different options while doing initial research.
The stronger a piece of literature showcases the central point, the better the quality of the entire review.
2. Synthesize The Literature
Make sure to structure the review in the most effective way possible, whether it be chronologically, thematically, or methodologically. Understand what exactly you would like to say, and structure the source comparison accordingly.
3. Avoid Generalizations
Remember that each piece of literature will approach the MOP from a different angle. As the author, make sure to present the contrasts in approaches clearly and don't include general statements that offer no value.
Literature Review Examples
You can find two well-written literature reviews by the EssayPro writing team below. They will help you understand what the final product of a literature review should ideally look like.
The first literature review compares monolingual and bilingual language acquisition skills and uses various sources to prove its point:
The second literature review compares the impact of fear and pain on a protagonist’s overall development in various settings:
Both reviews will help you sharpen your skills and provide good guidelines for writing high-quality papers.
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Literature Review Guide: Examples of Literature Reviews
- What is a Literature Review?
- How to start?
- Search strategies and Databases
- Examples of Literature Reviews
- How to organise the review
- Library summary
- Emerald Infographic
All good quality journal articles will include a small Literature Review after the Introduction paragraph. It may not be called a Literature Review but gives you an idea of how one is created in miniature.
Sample Literature Reviews as part of a articles or Theses
- Building Customer Loyalty: A Customer Experience Based Approach in a Tourism Context
- Sample Literature Review on Critical Thinking (Gwendolyn Reece, American University Library)
- Hackett, G and Melia, D . The hotel as the holiday/stay destination:trends and innovations. Presented at TRIC Conference, Belfast, Ireland- June 2012 and EuroCHRIE Conference
Links to sample Literature Reviews from other libraries
- Sample literature reviews from University of West Florida
Standalone Literature Reviews
- Attitudes towards the Disability in Ireland
- Martin, A., O'Connor-Fenelon, M. and Lyons, R. (2010). Non-verbal communication between nurses and people with an intellectual disability: A review of the literature. Journal of Intellectual Diabilities, 14(4), 303-314.
- Phillips, Martin (2015) European airline performance: a data envelopment analysis with extrapolations based on model outputs. Master of Business Studies thesis, Dublin City University.
- The customers’ perception of servicescape’s influence on their behaviours, in the food retail industry : Dublin Business School 2015
- Coughlan, Ray (2015) What was the role of leadership in the transformation of a failing Irish Insurance business. Masters thesis, Dublin, National College of Ireland.
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- Dissertation & Thesis Guides
- Basics of Dissertation & Thesis Writing
- How to Write a Literature Review for Research: Guide, Structure & Template Examples
How to Write a Literature Review for Research: Guide, Structure & Template Examples
Table of contents
A literature review is a critical analysis of published research on a particular topic. It involves reviewing and analyzing a range of sources, such as academic articles, books, and reports. Students conduct a literature review before writing a research paper or dissertation to gain an understanding of the existing knowledge and recognize areas for further exploration.
Evaluating scholarly works is a crucial aspect of academic work because it establishes the foundation for an inquiry and uncovers new information or gaps in studies. Thus, it is essential to develop and structure it correctly. In this guide you will find:
- A detailed definition
- Elements of a good literary review
- How to do a literature review
- Examples of literature review template.
Read on to explore the structure and straightforward steps for assessing existing sources on your topic. In case you are looking for a quick solution, consider giving our literature review services a try.
What Is a Literature Review: Definition
Before delving further, let’s first define what is a literature review in research. As a researcher, you might need to objectively synthesize, explore, and evaluate existing studies conducted by others. A literature review helps you identify gaps or areas that require further investigation. It boils down to analyzing and making sense of a massive body of knowledge. It is crucial to be critical during the entire process as it is the most effective approach to engaging with texts. You need to objectively identify their strengths and weaknesses, and convey your positive or negative views. In other words, literature reviews are about deducing specific sources and comparing relevant studies to find similarities and differences. This process may reveal new perspectives or offer a thorough outline for further developments in a specific field. It can also inform readers about the relevance and validity of existing documents to the statement of the problem . You conduct a lit review to get an overview of concepts surrounding your subject, keep up to date with trends in your field, and enhance your credibility. Besides, it offers a solid background for a research paper , thesis or dissertation .
What Is the Purpose of a Literature Review?
A literature review must highlight your overall knowledge of a research subject and help you develop an argument, mostly by responding to a specific question. It is not just a summary of what you have read. Commonly, the purpose of a literature review is to help you:
- Understand and convey the current state of literature on your research topic .
- Find adequate documents on your subject to form your perspective.
- Create a framework for your paper based on research goals.
- Identify gaps in studies and develop novel research questions .
- Select appropriate methods by locating tried and tested techniques.
Note that keeping all these points in mind is important to get the most from an evaluation process when conducting the review.
Types of Literature Reviews
There are various types of literature reviews, each with specific expectations in terms of depth, structure, length, and scope. Here are the main ones:
- Stand-alone literature review. This type involves a comprehensive analysis of prior research related to a specific question. Here, your task is to evaluate and compare existing studies, identify trends, and recognize gaps, weaknesses, and controversies in the field.
- Literature review for a journal article. In this case, the analysis of literature focuses on providing background information for an inquiry being conducted. It is usually placed in an introduction or combined with the discussion of results.
- Literature review assignment. Students may be assigned a selective project to familiarize themselves with a theme and studies in their field. The intention could also be to identify gaps in the current knowledge base to suggest new questions, develop a theoretical framework in research , or determine a suitable methodology for future exploration. This type deals with a small part of research on a subject and stands as a complete work.
- Research paper literature review. The main objective here is to facilitate scholars in gathering, condensing, synthesizing, and examining current research on a specific issue. This is particularly beneficial to academics who are investigating a new area of study or seeking guidance on topics that have not yet been thoroughly explored.
- Thesis or dissertation literature review. This is a separate chapter placed after the Ph.D. thesis introduction and before the dissertation methodology section. It helps the author understand what has already been studied and what gaps exist in the current knowledge. By analyzing the existing research, a researcher can identify opportunities for further investigation and ensure that their study is original and significant.
How Long Should a Literature Review Be?
If the instructions for a task do not specify the required length of the literature review, there are some guidelines to consider. In general, it would be enough to have 20-25% of the total size of your work as an analysis part. Typically, the analysis section of the review should constitute around 20-25% of the total length of the work. However, several factors, such as the project purpose, intended audience, type, and scope, may affect how long a literature review is. For example, a dissertation usually requires an extensive literature evaluation section. The best assessments, however, are usually not less than 2 pages long. If you are uncertain about the appropriate length, refer to the table below for guidance. Literature Review Length in Different Projects
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Features of a Good Literature Review
Regardless of your work’s nature, composing a good literature review is a laborious process that many students rightfully find challenging. This is because you may need to go through numerous studies and identify gaps, recognize frameworks, cite sources, and ensure coherence. Therefore, to develop a decent piece it is essential to consider the characteristics described below. The best work:
- Is more than just a list of relevant studies: you should critically examine others’ ideas and assess how they are presented.
- Considers a variety of reliable and applicable sources: a scientific literature review should demonstrate that you are familiar with relevant readings on your topic. Thus, ensure you have covered important, broad, latest, and pertinent texts. Such an approach enhances the depth of your evaluation and highlights various viewpoints.
- Demonstrates an awareness of values and theories underpinning the work: in the first place, you must understand why exactly you are conducting the evaluation. If you don’t know the purpose and function of the process, you will not write effectively.
- Relates papers to each other by comparing and contrasting them: a literature review in research moves past simple descriptions of what others have written. Rather, it entails connecting, finding differences and similarities, and interpreting concepts.
- Offers personal reactions and opinions to manuscripts: after comparing, contrasting, and critiquing others’ works, you should present your own interpretation and analysis.
- Showcases research gaps that your study will deal with and help address.
- Applies appropriate linking/transition words such as “similarly”, “however”, “also”, “contend”, “conclude”, “argue”, and “assert”: this helps you group together related notions, highlight contrasting views, and introduce others’ opinions or texts while remaining objective throughout the analysis.
What to Include in a Literature Review?
At this point, you understand the definitions, purpose, and features of a literature review. Now you need to present information effectively. Like in any other formal paper, your work must have a basic structure comprising an introduction, body, and conclusion. But what does it look like? The layout goes beyond these sections because you must also consider how your themes and arguments will be organized. Here is a detailed description of the three main parts of a literature review:
- Introduction Your first section should be brief, direct, and focused. Explain the main themes or topics to be analyzed, the arguments you will present, and the underlying reasons for your claims.
- Body In this section, conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the selected sources and organize them using a specific approach, such as themes or topics. Make sure to present your arguments clearly, linking them to studies that support or contradict your assessment. Remember to include viewpoints that disagree with your position to strengthen your evaluation. Cite the works of various authors you are critically analyzing, and limit the use of direct quotes. Instead, paraphrase and include references.
- Conclusion Summarize your literature review by highlighting the conclusions drawn from your analysis. You can restate gaps in knowledge, explain how your study will address them, and recommend future research needed on the topic.
Look at the example of the literature review template below to learn more.
Read more: Literature Review Outline
How to Structure a Literature Review?
Once you are ready to begin writing a literature review, it is necessary to think about how you will organize information. This helps avoid the risk of your work turning into a loose sequence of summaries instead of a logical and integrated analysis. A literature review structure should be chosen based on the style used in your body section. Here are the major approaches you can use:
- Thematic This approach involves organizing your analysis around themes, topics, or issues. It is particularly useful when focusing on a single overarching subject and enables you to highlight critical debates within sub-themes.
- Chronological Literature reviews using this format organize studies based on when they were published, typically moving from older to newer works to explore the topic's development over time. It is important to analyze sources by considering any debates and turning points that influenced the subject and offer your interpretation.
- Methodological This design focuses on the methods other researchers used. A review of literature using this layout considers the perspective from which a particular theme was examined or the procedures used to answer a specific question. It may use qualitative, quantitative, or other strategies within these two broad techniques.
- Theoretical A theoretical approach involves a systematic and critical examination of existing theories, models, and frameworks related to the research topic or question. This approach helps to establish the context, identify gaps, and provide a foundation for your own research.
How to Write a Literature Review?
If you are still wondering how to write a literature review for a research paper, thesis or dissertation, this guideline will help you get started. While you have learned about important elements such as structuring and organization, you may still need guidance on how to establish your foundation for creating your review. The following sections provide easy-to-understand explanations on how to write a lit review. Below are 7 steps you must follow to develop a decent paper.
1. Select a Topic and Narrow It Down
As you begin reviewing literature, it is vital to get your focus correct. Depending on your field of study, the selected topic must be:
- Relevant and important Explore a crucial concern in your field so that people will be interested in your work and you will have sufficient material to base your project on.
- Interesting This is essential because learning how to write a good literature review starts with being inquisitive since you can’t investigate something that doesn’t arouse your curiosity.
- Well defined this helps you include only relevant publications to make your paper helpful.
- Narrow Your theme must be specific yet researched enough to allow for an in-depth analysis. Broad issues usually necessitate a large number of studies, which will be impossible to explore meaningfully.
2. Search for Pertinent Literature
After having selected a topic for your research literature review, you need to search for studies. As you do this research, you'll want to take note of the keywords and phrases that appear frequently in the articles. These keywords can be used to create a list of search terms that you'll use to find additional articles on your topic. To ensure that your search terms are effective, you should try to identify the most important keywords and phrases related to your topic. These might be the names of key researchers, conceptual frameworks , theories, or techniques related to your topic. Consider the headings that the documents have been tagged with and words occurring in abstracts and titles. You can then organize your phrases into blocks based on the main ideas. Once you have identified the relevant keywords for your scientific literature review, it's time to search for articles. To do this, you'll need to choose at least two credible databases to search for good articles. Popular options include:
- Google Scholar
But there may be other databases that are more appropriate for your specific topic. When searching across different databases, it's important to use a uniform search strategy. This means combining your search terms using " OR " and " AND " to create a block of related terms. You can then type this block into the basic search box or use the advanced search feature, enclosing the terms in parentheses. This makes it easier to find specific articles. For example, consider these keywords:
Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, adolescents, young adults, and management. The search term block would be “(Crohn’s disease OR ulcerative colitis) AND (young adults OR adolescent) AND management”.
Since the generated results may contain irrelevant or unreliable sources, ensure that you select only dependable ones. This is a key skill to develop when conducting a literature review because it allows you to choose the best articles to support your arguments.
3. Analyze and Choose Relevant Sources
After completing your search for articles and selecting databases, it's time to review the sources and choose which ones to include in your lit review. Focus on studies that are relevant to your topic and meet any other inclusion criteria. To determine whether an article is relevant to your project, you'll need to read it carefully and grasp the arguments presented. Take notes as you read, recording interesting facts, main points, and any thoughts you have about the article. This will help you remember which author made which arguments, your impressions of the article, and any relationships you identified between different sources. As you read, try to answer these questions:
- What is the main argument of the article?
- How does the author support their argument?
- What is the research question or objective of the study?
- What research methods were used, and were they appropriate for the research question?
- What were the main findings or results of the study?
- Were the results statistically significant, and were the conclusions supported by the data?
- Are there any limitations or weaknesses to the study that should be considered?
- Are the authors qualified to conduct this research?
- Are there any conflicts of interest or biases that may affect the study's findings?
- Is the article well-written and easy to understand?
- Are the sources cited in the article reliable and relevant to the topic?
Remember that you can only start to write your literature review after going through all your manuscripts. Therefore, creating a rough draft is essential as this gives you a general idea of the volume of available material available. While conducting a literature review, you must examine the quality of all sources critically. This typically entails using a checklist or table to evaluate aspects such as methods, results, and presentation. An example of a template to assess sources for a literature review is provided below. It contains questions and criteria that assist in locating bias, errors, or flaws. Template for Literature Evaluation
4. Group the Sources by Categories
To write a review of literature, you need to sort your sources. After reading and evaluating your articles, you should have a general idea of the main achievements, major debates, themes, trends, and outstanding issues/questions. The next step is to organize your sources into logical categories. Good research literature reviews are systematic and consistent. You may choose to arrange your sources by topic, research methodology , geographic location, or other relevant criteria. It's also helpful to use subheadings within each category to further organize your sources. As you group your sources, be sure to consider how they relate to one another and to the overall research question or topic. You may find that certain sources address multiple themes or issues. In this case you'll need to decide which category is the most appropriate for each source. Remember that the purpose of organizing your sources is to provide a clear and coherent structure for your literature review. By grouping your sources into logical categories, you make it easier for your readers to follow your arguments and understand the connections between different sources. Here is an example of how to group sources by categories.
5. Build Connection Between Your Ideas and the Literature
To complete this step of the literature review, you need to connect your research, arguments, or ideas to the texts you've gathered. Begin by using your research question to identify connections between your sources and insights into your findings. Match your key concepts with the central points in each article to establish associations between topics. Be aware that you may see differences or contradictions between readings. To ensure that you're ready to write your literature review, use your key concepts as headings in your notes to easily locate articles that address specific themes. Observe and make explicit the relationships that emerge between your arguments and the manuscripts. These connections will be useful when structuring your work and selecting the papers to include in your project.
6. Write a Literature Review
At this point, you can start a literature review because you have already synthesized relevant works in your mind and recorded the details. With that information in mind, it is time to begin composing the actual analysis and thoroughly creating each of the components of a literature review. Initiate the process by highlighting your topic and your overall argument or view. Just like any other academic essay , your project must be well-structured and contain an introduction, main part, and conclusion. Consider the following explanations on how to write a literature review for a dissertation, thesis, or research paper.
Literature Review Introduction
The introduction section should provide the necessary background information and clarify the purpose of your analysis. Begin by broadly announcing the topic and providing contextual details of major concepts and terms, such as what is already known about the subject and how the field has developed. Next, provide specific and relevant information about the issue and explain why it is important or why readers should engage with your work. Finally, describe the organization, scope, and aim or highlight the key points that will be discussed. Look at the following example to see how you can write an introduction for a literature review. Literature Review Introduction Example
The concentration of carbon emissions has been increasing throughout the years. The amount was 290 ppm before the industrial revolution but rose to 450 ppm afterward (Block, 2019, Wbeltz, 2020). These changes will affect the global climate significantly by influencing mean temperatures and precipitation levels. In turn, this will put pressure on global agricultural production and affect the growth speed, crop quality, and yield of staple foods like wheat (Wbeltz, 2020). Since over 90% of people worldwide depend on this crop, it must survive any climate changes. Thus, the purpose of this review is to evaluate how carbon emissions will affect global wheat production and identify any mitigation measures. The paper will explore wheat growth, yield, and quality in the face of elevated carbon levels.
Lit Review Body
The body section of your literature review is where you analyze relevant studies related to your topic. It is essential to organize your analysis coherently and logically. Identify important sub-topics and structuring them to support your arguments. Using subheadings under major themes can help to order and focus your work effectively. While writing the body of your literature review, you should critically examine texts. This involves recognizing gaps, points of agreement or disagreement, and key subjects. You can structure this section chronologically, thematically, theoretically, or methodologically, depending on your research question and the nature of your sources. Remember to use reliable and accurate references to support your arguments. Consider this example: Example of a Literature Review Paper Body Section
Various studies show that elevated carbon emissions result in increased crop growth. Adams (2018) attributes this to improved photosynthesis in leaves when exposed to high carbon levels in the air. Other studies argue that carbon enriches crops, accelerates and amplifies their productivity, and causes improved growth (Hog, 2020). In an experimental study, Li (2019) compared crop growth under high carbon conditions and found that a 500 ppm level enhances growth by nearly 8%. Nevertheless, high carbon levels also result in other effects such as high temperatures (Daley, 2019). In turn, this leads to short growth periods or cycles. Thus, an increase in temperature while accelerating the time for growth adversely affects crop quality (Adams, 2020).
Literature Review Conclusion
The concluding section of a literature review should show how you addressed the topic or achieved your purpose. You should then mention the major arguments you examined before identifying their implications in the broader field. Remember to recommend any applicable future research. Also, keep in mind these things when writing your literature review conclusion:
- Avoid in-text citations.
- Do not include new information.
- Highlight main ideas raised in the body paragraphs.
- Give your general view of the studies and explain your conclusions and underlying reasons.
Here is a sample literature review conclusion. Literature Review Conclusion Example
The review aimed to explore the effect of elevated carbon levels on global wheat production. Assessments of effects on the crop’s growth, yield, and quality were conducted to understand how changes in climate due to increasing carbon emissions will affect global agriculture. Findings demonstrate a definite impact of these changes on the aforementioned aspects. In particular, elevated carbon levels lead to enhanced growth, shorter growth cycle, and low and poor quality yields. It is suggested that future studies should further explore the role of other factors such as soil health and fertilizer use in explaining these effects because modern agricultural techniques are considered to harm soil quality.
7. Proofread and Revise Your Review of Literature
Once you are done with reviewing your literature, give yourself some time off and then come back to edit it. Attend to its narrative and flow by ensuring that all parts fit together and transition smoothly from one paragraph to another. Improve any poor connections, revise to enhance clarity, or re-write sentences to eradicate construction mistakes. You can then give your scientific literature review to a colleague or friend, who is not an expert in the field, and ask their opinion about the message of your overall paper. Also, seek responses from your supervisor if possible. Use any feedback you get to better your project further. At this point, you understand how to do a lit review. Additional tips are provided below.
Literature Review Format
Besides following the aforementioned steps, you must also consider how to format a literature review. Be sure to check with your institution or target journal about style guidelines and the specific rules of your work’s layout. Each style has instructions regarding the major sections, in-text citations, and a literature reference page. For example, an APA paper format is based on an “author-date” approach, in which the author’s name and publication year are cited inside the document. A reference list is included on your paper’s last page. APA literature review format is dominant in the sciences, psychology, and education fields. In contrast, an MLA format paper follows a “researcher-page number” style accompanied by works cited page, which is common in the humanities. A Chicago style paper requires footnotes or endnotes with a bibliography section for all sources. It is mostly used in fine arts, history, and business disciplines.
Literature Review Examples
At this point, you are ready to start writing your review. Before proceeding, it is advisable to consider an example of literature review in a research paper, thesis or dissertation in your field. Thoroughly read the samples you find to get familiar with aspects such as organization, argument presentation, and referencing sources correctly. This is an effective way of learning ways of framing and structuring your work. Additionally, going through how to write a literature review example helps you understand what is expected in this task. Also, when reading these samples, pay attention to the academic language used. Look at the following free examples: Literature review example (APA 7th Edition)
Literature review for research paper example
Thesis/dissertation literature review example
Tips on Writing a Literature Review in Research
Now that you have a well-rounded idea about how to write a literature review, read the recommendation described here as they remind you of essential points. Before proceeding, remember that you should include sources that are associated with your work directly. This helps you avoid frustrating and distracting readers or making them lose sight of your purpose. Also, once you start writing your review, stick to the previously created outline and keep these tips in mind:
- Analyze Do not just list studies, rather, examine them critically to find similarities, differences, relationships, or contradictions.
- Time management Take your time to select a topic, gather literature, evaluate, read, and write. The last part should take about half of your time, while the remainder is for the other tasks.
- Revise Anticipate revising countless times before delivering a final version.
- Presentation A literature review in a research paper, thesis or dissertation must be specific and provide concrete examples. For example, rather than “this” use “this result”. First-person references should be avoided because they signal unsupported arguments. Everything written should have a reason. Also, use short paragraphs as they are easier to read. Additionally, structure your work with headings, subheadings, and subsections to make it flow.
- Paraphrase Avoid relying too much on quoting directly from sources or one researcher. Rather, paraphrase and compare authors between themselves and with your ideas.
- References Give credit to every outside idea or language by citing their work in your paper.
Literature Review Checklist
Now that you are through with composing your literature review, it is essential to be sure that your work is ready for delivery or publication. Therefore, you must take your time and reflect on the following questions to ensure that every section is covered thoroughly. Consider this final checklist:
- checkbox I stated the reason for conducting my project and outlined its scope.
- checkbox I chose relevant and credible studies.
- checkbox I have identified recent trends.
- checkbox I have logically presented a review of literature in my research paper or dissertation.
- checkbox I organized my information based on themes/issues/methods/theories.
- checkbox I have located gaps in research and literature.
- checkbox I displayed how details supporting a topic relate to its significance.
- checkbox I wrote my literature review critically.
- checkbox I have demonstrated instances when findings contradicted each other or were inconclusive.
- checkbox I explored designs, theories, questions, models, and hypotheses.
- checkbox I highlighted each source’s importance to my theme.
- checkbox I have included an introduction, body, and conclusion.
- checkbox I have checked for grammatical issues.
Final Thoughts on Writing a Scientific Literature Review
We have provided you with all the necessary information on how to write a review of literature. Follow our step-by-step guide to identify the right keywords, evaluate sources, and select credible and relevant articles. Make sure to structure your writing clearly and logically using the key components of a literature review that we have outlined for you. To help you further, we have included examples of literature reviews for you to check. With these simplified requirements, you are ready to start practicing and creating your own literature reviews. Remember, practice is essential to mastering this type of writing, so keep it up!
If you are looking for some quick solution, we got you covered! Go to StudyCrumb and ask our professional writers for help. Just leave a ‘ write my paper ’ notice along with requirements and get high-quality work that will bring you an A.
FAQ About Literature Reviews
1. what is a literature review in a research paper.
The literature review of a research paper is a type of academic essay that analyzes and evaluates previous or existing studies on a topic. It aims to survey readings, synthesize, and digest the obtained information. It also critically explores the data by identifying gaps in knowledge, demonstrating limitations in manuscripts, examining contradictions, and determining areas for additional research. The final piece is presented logically.
2. Where does a literature review go in a research paper?
A literature review generally comes after an introduction and before the methodology chapter of dissertations. Here, it is used to analyze relevant scholarship about a topic, ground your research paper in a specific field, and inform your data collection methods and analysis procedures.
3. How to start a literature review?
Start a literature review by describing the background of what you will analyze in your body paragraphs. There is no need to be comprehensive here. Rather, show that you clearly understand your paper’s scope. In particular, begin by conveying the established ideas and knowledge on the subject being explored to your audience.
4. What is the difference between a literature review and an annotated bibliography?
The main difference between the two is that literature reviews focus on providing an overview and analysis of existing research on a particular theme. They aim to identify the strengths and weaknesses of arguments and draw conclusions. In contrast, the purpose of an annotated bibliography is to collect sources for a specific project and offer summaries of what they are about.
5. What is the importance of a literature review?
A literature review is important because:
- It establishes a rapport with your readers They will trust you because you have examined and analyzed facts appropriately.
- Helps researchers deliver original work The entire process of conducting the assessment assists you to evade repeating something done by someone else.
- It improves your research focus Synthesizing and analyzing studies can guide and shape your investigation in new directions by providing novel insights and views on a theme.
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- Last Updated: Oct 20, 2022 11:24 AM
- URL: https://library.famu.edu/literaturereview
How To Structure Your Literature Review
3 options to help structure your chapter.
By: Amy Rommelspacher (PhD) | Reviewer: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | November 2020 (Updated May 2023)
Writing the literature review chapter can seem pretty daunting when you’re piecing together your dissertation or thesis. As we’ve discussed before , a good literature review needs to achieve a few very important objectives – it should:
- Demonstrate your knowledge of the research topic
- Identify the gaps in the literature and show how your research links to these
- Provide the foundation for your conceptual framework (if you have one)
- Inform your own methodology and research design
To achieve this, your literature review needs a well-thought-out structure . Get the structure of your literature review chapter wrong and you’ll struggle to achieve these objectives. Don’t worry though – in this post, we’ll look at how to structure your literature review for maximum impact (and marks!).
But wait – is this the right time?
Deciding on the structure of your literature review should come towards the end of the literature review process – after you have collected and digested the literature, but before you start writing the chapter.
In other words, you need to first develop a rich understanding of the literature before you even attempt to map out a structure. There’s no use trying to develop a structure before you’ve fully wrapped your head around the existing research.
Equally importantly, you need to have a structure in place before you start writing , or your literature review will most likely end up a rambling, disjointed mess.
Importantly, don’t feel that once you’ve defined a structure you can’t iterate on it. It’s perfectly natural to adjust as you engage in the writing process. As we’ve discussed before , writing is a way of developing your thinking, so it’s quite common for your thinking to change – and therefore, for your chapter structure to change – as you write.
Need a helping hand?
Like any other chapter in your thesis or dissertation, your literature review needs to have a clear, logical structure. At a minimum, it should have three essential components – an introduction , a body and a conclusion .
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
1: The Introduction Section
Just like any good introduction, the introduction section of your literature review should introduce the purpose and layout (organisation) of the chapter. In other words, your introduction needs to give the reader a taste of what’s to come, and how you’re going to lay that out. Essentially, you should provide the reader with a high-level roadmap of your chapter to give them a taste of the journey that lies ahead.
Here’s an example of the layout visualised in a literature review introduction:
Your introduction should also outline your topic (including any tricky terminology or jargon) and provide an explanation of the scope of your literature review – in other words, what you will and won’t be covering (the delimitations ). This helps ringfence your review and achieve a clear focus . The clearer and narrower your focus, the deeper you can dive into the topic (which is typically where the magic lies).
Depending on the nature of your project, you could also present your stance or point of view at this stage. In other words, after grappling with the literature you’ll have an opinion about what the trends and concerns are in the field as well as what’s lacking. The introduction section can then present these ideas so that it is clear to examiners that you’re aware of how your research connects with existing knowledge .
2: The Body Section
The body of your literature review is the centre of your work. This is where you’ll present, analyse, evaluate and synthesise the existing research. In other words, this is where you’re going to earn (or lose) the most marks. Therefore, it’s important to carefully think about how you will organise your discussion to present it in a clear way.
The body of your literature review should do just as the description of this chapter suggests. It should “review” the literature – in other words, identify, analyse, and synthesise it. So, when thinking about structuring your literature review, you need to think about which structural approach will provide the best “review” for your specific type of research and objectives (we’ll get to this shortly).
There are (broadly speaking) three options for organising your literature review.
Option 1: Chronological (according to date)
Organising the literature chronologically is one of the simplest ways to structure your literature review. You start with what was published first and work your way through the literature until you reach the work published most recently. Pretty straightforward.
The benefit of this option is that it makes it easy to discuss the developments and debates in the field as they emerged over time. Organising your literature chronologically also allows you to highlight how specific articles or pieces of work might have changed the course of the field – in other words, which research has had the most impact . Therefore, this approach is very useful when your research is aimed at understanding how the topic has unfolded over time and is often used by scholars in the field of history. That said, this approach can be utilised by anyone that wants to explore change over time .
For example , if a student of politics is investigating how the understanding of democracy has evolved over time, they could use the chronological approach to provide a narrative that demonstrates how this understanding has changed through the ages.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you structure your literature review chronologically.
- What is the earliest literature published relating to this topic?
- How has the field changed over time? Why?
- What are the most recent discoveries/theories?
In some ways, chronology plays a part whichever way you decide to structure your literature review, because you will always, to a certain extent, be analysing how the literature has developed. However, with the chronological approach, the emphasis is very firmly on how the discussion has evolved over time , as opposed to how all the literature links together (which we’ll discuss next ).
Option 2: Thematic (grouped by theme)
The thematic approach to structuring a literature review means organising your literature by theme or category – for example, by independent variables (i.e. factors that have an impact on a specific outcome).
As you’ve been collecting and synthesising literature , you’ll likely have started seeing some themes or patterns emerging. You can then use these themes or patterns as a structure for your body discussion. The thematic approach is the most common approach and is useful for structuring literature reviews in most fields.
For example, if you were researching which factors contributed towards people trusting an organisation, you might find themes such as consumers’ perceptions of an organisation’s competence, benevolence and integrity. Structuring your literature review thematically would mean structuring your literature review’s body section to discuss each of these themes, one section at a time.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when structuring your literature review by themes:
- Are there any patterns that have come to light in the literature?
- What are the central themes and categories used by the researchers?
- Do I have enough evidence of these themes?
PS – you can see an example of a thematically structured literature review in our literature review sample walkthrough video here.
Option 3: Methodological
The methodological option is a way of structuring your literature review by the research methodologies used . In other words, organising your discussion based on the angle from which each piece of research was approached – for example, qualitative , quantitative or mixed methodologies.
Structuring your literature review by methodology can be useful if you are drawing research from a variety of disciplines and are critiquing different methodologies. The point of this approach is to question how existing research has been conducted, as opposed to what the conclusions and/or findings the research were.
For example, a sociologist might centre their research around critiquing specific fieldwork practices. Their literature review will then be a summary of the fieldwork methodologies used by different studies.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself when structuring your literature review according to methodology:
- Which methodologies have been utilised in this field?
- Which methodology is the most popular (and why)?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the various methodologies?
- How can the existing methodologies inform my own methodology?
3: The Conclusion Section
Once you’ve completed the body section of your literature review using one of the structural approaches we discussed above, you’ll need to “wrap up” your literature review and pull all the pieces together to set the direction for the rest of your dissertation or thesis.
The conclusion is where you’ll present the key findings of your literature review. In this section, you should emphasise the research that is especially important to your research questions and highlight the gaps that exist in the literature. Based on this, you need to make it clear what you will add to the literature – in other words, justify your own research by showing how it will help fill one or more of the gaps you just identified.
Last but not least, if it’s your intention to develop a conceptual framework for your dissertation or thesis, the conclusion section is a good place to present this.
Example: Thematically Structured Review
In the video below, we unpack a literature review chapter so that you can see an example of a thematically structure review in practice.
In this article, we’ve discussed how to structure your literature review for maximum impact. Here’s a quick recap of what you need to keep in mind when deciding on your literature review structure:
- Just like other chapters, your literature review needs a clear introduction , body and conclusion .
- The introduction section should provide an overview of what you will discuss in your literature review.
- The body section of your literature review can be organised by chronology , theme or methodology . The right structural approach depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your research.
- The conclusion section should draw together the key findings of your literature review and link them to your research questions.
If you’re ready to get started, be sure to download our free literature review template to fast-track your chapter outline.
Psst… there’s more!
This post is an extract from our bestselling Udemy Course, Literature Review Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .
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Great work. This is exactly what I was looking for and helps a lot together with your previous post on literature review. One last thing is missing: a link to a great literature chapter of an journal article (maybe with comments of the different sections in this review chapter). Do you know any great literature review chapters?
I agree with you Marin… A great piece
I agree with Marin. This would be quite helpful if you annotate a nicely structured literature from previously published research articles.
Awesome article for my research.
I thank you immensely for this wonderful guide
It is indeed thought and supportive work for the futurist researcher and students
Very educative and good time to get guide. Thank you
Great work, very insightful. Thank you.
Thanks for this wonderful presentation. My question is that do I put all the variables into a single conceptual framework or each hypothesis will have it own conceptual framework?
Thank you very much, very helpful
This is very educative and precise . Thank you very much for dropping this kind of write up .
Pheeww, so damn helpful, thank you for this informative piece.
I’m doing a research project topic ; stool analysis for parasitic worm (enteric) worm, how do I structure it, thanks.
comprehensive explanation. Help us by pasting the URL of some good “literature review” for better understanding.
great piece. thanks for the awesome explanation. it is really worth sharing. I have a little question, if anyone can help me out, which of the options in the body of literature can be best fit if you are writing an architectural thesis that deals with design?
I am doing a research on nanofluids how can l structure it?
Beautifully clear.nThank you!
Brilliant work, well understood, many thanks
I like how this was so clear with simple language 😊😊 thank you so much 😊 for these information 😊
Insightful. I was struggling to come up with a sensible literature review but this has been really helpful. Thank you!
You have given thought-provoking information about the review of the literature.
Thank you. It has made my own research better and to impart your work to students I teach
I learnt a lot from this teaching. It’s a great piece.
I am doing research on EFL teacher motivation for his/her job. How Can I structure it? Is there any detailed template, additional to this?
You are so cool! I do not think I’ve read through something like this before. So nice to find somebody with some genuine thoughts on this issue. Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This site is one thing that is required on the internet, someone with a little originality!
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