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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.

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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.

Literature review guide

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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.

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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).

Chronological

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.

Methodological

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

Theoretical

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.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • 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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Charles Sturt University

Literature Review: Types of literature reviews

  • Traditional or narrative literature reviews
  • Scoping Reviews
  • Systematic literature reviews
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Keeping up to date with literature
  • Finding a thesis
  • Evaluating sources and critical appraisal of literature
  • Managing and analysing your literature
  • Further reading and resources

Types of literature reviews

what is the type of literature review

The type of literature review you write will depend on your discipline and whether you are a researcher writing your PhD, publishing a study in a journal or completing an assessment task in your undergraduate study.

A literature review for a subject in an undergraduate degree will not be as comprehensive as the literature review required for a PhD thesis.

An undergraduate literature review may be in the form of an annotated bibliography or a narrative review of a small selection of literature, for example ten relevant articles. If you are asked to write a literature review, and you are an undergraduate student, be guided by your subject coordinator or lecturer.

The common types of literature reviews will be explained in the pages of this section.

  • Narrative or traditional literature reviews
  • Critically Appraised Topic (CAT)
  • Scoping reviews
  • Annotated bibliographies

These are not the only types of reviews of literature that can be conducted. Often the term "review" and "literature" can be confusing and used in the wrong context. Grant and Booth (2009) attempt to clear up this confusion by discussing 14 review types and the associated methodology, and advantages and disadvantages associated with each review.

Grant, M. J. and Booth, A. (2009), A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies . Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26 , 91–108. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

What's the difference between reviews?

Researchers, academics, and librarians all use various terms to describe different types of literature reviews, and there is often inconsistency in the ways the types are discussed. Here are a couple of simple explanations.

  • The image below describes common review types in terms of speed, detail, risk of bias, and comprehensiveness:

Description of the differences between review types in image form

"Schematic of the main differences between the types of literature review" by Brennan, M. L., Arlt, S. P., Belshaw, Z., Buckley, L., Corah, L., Doit, H., Fajt, V. R., Grindlay, D., Moberly, H. K., Morrow, L. D., Stavisky, J., & White, C. (2020). Critically Appraised Topics (CATs) in veterinary medicine: Applying evidence in clinical practice. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 7 , 314. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.00314 is licensed under CC BY 3.0

  • The table below lists four of the most common types of review , as adapted from a widely used typology of fourteen types of reviews (Grant & Booth, 2009).  

Grant, M.J. & Booth, A. (2009).  A typology of reviews: An analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26 (2), 91-108. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

See also the Library's  Literature Review guide.

Critical Appraised Topic (CAT)

For information on conducting a Critically Appraised Topic or CAT

Callander, J., Anstey, A. V., Ingram, J. R., Limpens, J., Flohr, C., & Spuls, P. I. (2017).  How to write a Critically Appraised Topic: evidence to underpin routine clinical practice.  British Journal of Dermatology (1951), 177(4), 1007-1013. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjd.15873 

Books on Literature Reviews

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  • Last Updated: Jan 16, 2024 1:39 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.csu.edu.au/review

Acknowledgement of Country

Charles Sturt University is an Australian University, TEQSA Provider Identification: PRV12018. CRICOS Provider: 00005F.

  • Locations and Hours
  • UCLA Library
  • Research Guides
  • Biomedical Library Guides

Systematic Reviews

  • Types of Literature Reviews

What Makes a Systematic Review Different from Other Types of Reviews?

  • Planning Your Systematic Review
  • Database Searching
  • Creating the Search
  • Search Filters & Hedges
  • Grey Literature
  • Managing & Appraising Results
  • Further Resources

Reproduced from Grant, M. J. and Booth, A. (2009), A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26: 91–108. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

  • << Previous: Home
  • Next: Planning Your Systematic Review >>
  • Last Updated: Feb 6, 2024 10:17 AM
  • URL: https://guides.library.ucla.edu/systematicreviews

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.

Introduction:

  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • 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 sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

Conclusion:

  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Literature Reviews

What this handout is about.

This handout will explain what literature reviews are and offer insights into the form and construction of literature reviews in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.

Introduction

OK. You’ve got to write a literature review. You dust off a novel and a book of poetry, settle down in your chair, and get ready to issue a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” as you leaf through the pages. “Literature review” done. Right?

Wrong! The “literature” of a literature review refers to any collection of materials on a topic, not necessarily the great literary texts of the world. “Literature” could be anything from a set of government pamphlets on British colonial methods in Africa to scholarly articles on the treatment of a torn ACL. And a review does not necessarily mean that your reader wants you to give your personal opinion on whether or not you liked these sources.

What is a literature review, then?

A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area, and sometimes information in a particular subject area within a certain time period.

A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.

But how is a literature review different from an academic research paper?

The main focus of an academic research paper is to develop a new argument, and a research paper is likely to contain a literature review as one of its parts. In a research paper, you use the literature as a foundation and as support for a new insight that you contribute. The focus of a literature review, however, is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions.

Why do we write literature reviews?

Literature reviews provide you with a handy guide to a particular topic. If you have limited time to conduct research, literature reviews can give you an overview or act as a stepping stone. For professionals, they are useful reports that keep them up to date with what is current in the field. For scholars, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the writer in his or her field. Literature reviews also provide a solid background for a research paper’s investigation. Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field is essential to most research papers.

Who writes these things, anyway?

Literature reviews are written occasionally in the humanities, but mostly in the sciences and social sciences; in experiment and lab reports, they constitute a section of the paper. Sometimes a literature review is written as a paper in itself.

Let’s get to it! What should I do before writing the literature review?

If your assignment is not very specific, seek clarification from your instructor:

  • Roughly how many sources should you include?
  • What types of sources (books, journal articles, websites)?
  • Should you summarize, synthesize, or critique your sources by discussing a common theme or issue?
  • Should you evaluate your sources?
  • Should you provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history?

Find models

Look for other literature reviews in your area of interest or in the discipline and read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or ways to organize your final review. You can simply put the word “review” in your search engine along with your other topic terms to find articles of this type on the Internet or in an electronic database. The bibliography or reference section of sources you’ve already read are also excellent entry points into your own research.

Narrow your topic

There are hundreds or even thousands of articles and books on most areas of study. The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to get a good survey of the material. Your instructor will probably not expect you to read everything that’s out there on the topic, but you’ll make your job easier if you first limit your scope.

Keep in mind that UNC Libraries have research guides and to databases relevant to many fields of study. You can reach out to the subject librarian for a consultation: https://library.unc.edu/support/consultations/ .

And don’t forget to tap into your professor’s (or other professors’) knowledge in the field. Ask your professor questions such as: “If you had to read only one book from the 90’s on topic X, what would it be?” Questions such as this help you to find and determine quickly the most seminal pieces in the field.

Consider whether your sources are current

Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. In the sciences, for instance, treatments for medical problems are constantly changing according to the latest studies. Information even two years old could be obsolete. However, if you are writing a review in the humanities, history, or social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be what is needed, because what is important is how perspectives have changed through the years or within a certain time period. Try sorting through some other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to consider what is currently of interest to scholars in this field and what is not.

Strategies for writing the literature review

Find a focus.

A literature review, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not the sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that you will not just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them, one at a time. No. As you read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider instead what themes or issues connect your sources together. Do they present one or different solutions? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? How well do they present the material and do they portray it according to an appropriate theory? Do they reveal a trend in the field? A raging debate? Pick one of these themes to focus the organization of your review.

Convey it to your reader

A literature review may not have a traditional thesis statement (one that makes an argument), but you do need to tell readers what to expect. Try writing a simple statement that lets the reader know what is your main organizing principle. Here are a couple of examples:

The current trend in treatment for congestive heart failure combines surgery and medicine. More and more cultural studies scholars are accepting popular media as a subject worthy of academic consideration.

Consider organization

You’ve got a focus, and you’ve stated it clearly and directly. Now what is the most effective way of presenting the information? What are the most important topics, subtopics, etc., that your review needs to include? And in what order should you present them? Develop an organization for your review at both a global and local level:

First, cover the basic categories

Just like most academic papers, literature reviews also must contain at least three basic elements: an introduction or background information section; the body of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, finally, a conclusion and/or recommendations section to end the paper. The following provides a brief description of the content of each:

  • Introduction: Gives a quick idea of the topic of the literature review, such as the central theme or organizational pattern.
  • Body: Contains your discussion of sources and is organized either chronologically, thematically, or methodologically (see below for more information on each).
  • Conclusions/Recommendations: Discuss what you have drawn from reviewing literature so far. Where might the discussion proceed?

Organizing the body

Once you have the basic categories in place, then you must consider how you will present the sources themselves within the body of your paper. Create an organizational method to focus this section even further.

To help you come up with an overall organizational framework for your review, consider the following scenario:

You’ve decided to focus your literature review on materials dealing with sperm whales. This is because you’ve just finished reading Moby Dick, and you wonder if that whale’s portrayal is really real. You start with some articles about the physiology of sperm whales in biology journals written in the 1980’s. But these articles refer to some British biological studies performed on whales in the early 18th century. So you check those out. Then you look up a book written in 1968 with information on how sperm whales have been portrayed in other forms of art, such as in Alaskan poetry, in French painting, or on whale bone, as the whale hunters in the late 19th century used to do. This makes you wonder about American whaling methods during the time portrayed in Moby Dick, so you find some academic articles published in the last five years on how accurately Herman Melville portrayed the whaling scene in his novel.

Now consider some typical ways of organizing the sources into a review:

  • Chronological: If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials above according to when they were published. For instance, first you would talk about the British biological studies of the 18th century, then about Moby Dick, published in 1851, then the book on sperm whales in other art (1968), and finally the biology articles (1980s) and the recent articles on American whaling of the 19th century. But there is relatively no continuity among subjects here. And notice that even though the sources on sperm whales in other art and on American whaling are written recently, they are about other subjects/objects that were created much earlier. Thus, the review loses its chronological focus.
  • By publication: Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on biological studies of sperm whales if the progression revealed a change in dissection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies.
  • By trend: A better way to organize the above sources chronologically is to examine the sources under another trend, such as the history of whaling. Then your review would have subsections according to eras within this period. For instance, the review might examine whaling from pre-1600-1699, 1700-1799, and 1800-1899. Under this method, you would combine the recent studies on American whaling in the 19th century with Moby Dick itself in the 1800-1899 category, even though the authors wrote a century apart.
  • Thematic: Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic review. For instance, the sperm whale review could focus on the development of the harpoon for whale hunting. While the study focuses on one topic, harpoon technology, it will still be organized chronologically. The only difference here between a “chronological” and a “thematic” approach is what is emphasized the most: the development of the harpoon or the harpoon technology.But more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. For instance, a thematic review of material on sperm whales might examine how they are portrayed as “evil” in cultural documents. The subsections might include how they are personified, how their proportions are exaggerated, and their behaviors misunderstood. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point made.
  • Methodological: A methodological approach differs from the two above in that the focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it focuses on the “methods” of the researcher or writer. For the sperm whale project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of whales in American, British, and French art work. Or the review might focus on the economic impact of whaling on a community. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed. Once you’ve decided on the organizational method for the body of the review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out. They should arise out of your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period. A thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue.

Sometimes, though, you might need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. Put in only what is necessary. Here are a few other sections you might want to consider:

  • Current Situation: Information necessary to understand the topic or focus of the literature review.
  • History: The chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Methods and/or Standards: The criteria you used to select the sources in your literature review or the way in which you present your information. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed articles and journals.

Questions for Further Research: What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

Begin composing

Once you’ve settled on a general pattern of organization, you’re ready to write each section. There are a few guidelines you should follow during the writing stage as well. Here is a sample paragraph from a literature review about sexism and language to illuminate the following discussion:

However, other studies have shown that even gender-neutral antecedents are more likely to produce masculine images than feminine ones (Gastil, 1990). Hamilton (1988) asked students to complete sentences that required them to fill in pronouns that agreed with gender-neutral antecedents such as “writer,” “pedestrian,” and “persons.” The students were asked to describe any image they had when writing the sentence. Hamilton found that people imagined 3.3 men to each woman in the masculine “generic” condition and 1.5 men per woman in the unbiased condition. Thus, while ambient sexism accounted for some of the masculine bias, sexist language amplified the effect. (Source: Erika Falk and Jordan Mills, “Why Sexist Language Affects Persuasion: The Role of Homophily, Intended Audience, and Offense,” Women and Language19:2).

Use evidence

In the example above, the writers refer to several other sources when making their point. A literature review in this sense is just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence to show that what you are saying is valid.

Be selective

Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the review’s focus, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological.

Use quotes sparingly

Falk and Mills do not use any direct quotes. That is because the survey nature of the literature review does not allow for in-depth discussion or detailed quotes from the text. Some short quotes here and there are okay, though, if you want to emphasize a point, or if what the author said just cannot be rewritten in your own words. Notice that Falk and Mills do quote certain terms that were coined by the author, not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. But if you find yourself wanting to put in more quotes, check with your instructor.

Summarize and synthesize

Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each paragraph as well as throughout the review. The authors here recapitulate important features of Hamilton’s study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study’s significance and relating it to their own work.

Keep your own voice

While the literature review presents others’ ideas, your voice (the writer’s) should remain front and center. Notice that Falk and Mills weave references to other sources into their own text, but they still maintain their own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with their own ideas and their own words. The sources support what Falk and Mills are saying.

Use caution when paraphrasing

When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author’s information or opinions accurately and in your own words. In the preceding example, Falk and Mills either directly refer in the text to the author of their source, such as Hamilton, or they provide ample notation in the text when the ideas they are mentioning are not their own, for example, Gastil’s. For more information, please see our handout on plagiarism .

Revise, revise, revise

Draft in hand? Now you’re ready to revise. Spending a lot of time revising is a wise idea, because your main objective is to present the material, not the argument. So check over your review again to make sure it follows the assignment and/or your outline. Then, just as you would for most other academic forms of writing, rewrite or rework the language of your review so that you’ve presented your information in the most concise manner possible. Be sure to use terminology familiar to your audience; get rid of unnecessary jargon or slang. Finally, double check that you’ve documented your sources and formatted the review appropriately for your discipline. For tips on the revising and editing process, see our handout on revising drafts .

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.

Jones, Robert, Patrick Bizzaro, and Cynthia Selfe. 1997. The Harcourt Brace Guide to Writing in the Disciplines . New York: Harcourt Brace.

Lamb, Sandra E. 1998. How to Write It: A Complete Guide to Everything You’ll Ever Write . Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Rosen, Leonard J., and Laurence Behrens. 2003. The Allyn & Bacon Handbook , 5th ed. New York: Longman.

Troyka, Lynn Quittman, and Doug Hesse. 2016. Simon and Schuster Handbook for Writers , 11th ed. London: Pearson.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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What is a literature review?

A literature review is an integrated analysis -- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings and other relevant evidence related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents a synthesis of the evidence that provides background information on your topic and shows a association between the evidence and your research question.

A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment.  Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
  • Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.

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1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.

Your literature review should be guided by your central research question.  The literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

  • Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow.  Is it manageable?
  • Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.
  • If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor and your class mates.

2. Decide on the scope of your review

How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

  • This may depend on your assignment.  How many sources does the assignment require?

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.

Make a list of the databases you will search. 

Where to find databases:

  • use the tabs on this guide
  • Find other databases in the Nursing Information Resources web page
  • More on the Medical Library web page
  • ... and more on the Yale University Library web page

4. Conduct your searches to find the evidence. Keep track of your searches.

  • Use the key words in your question, as well as synonyms for those words, as terms in your search. Use the database tutorials for help.
  • Save the searches in the databases. This saves time when you want to redo, or modify, the searches. It is also helpful to use as a guide is the searches are not finding any useful results.
  • Review the abstracts of research studies carefully. This will save you time.
  • Use the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
  • Check with your professor, or a subject expert in the field, if you are missing any key works in the field.
  • Ask your librarian for help at any time.
  • Use a citation manager, such as EndNote as the repository for your citations. See the EndNote tutorials for help.

Review the literature

Some questions to help you analyze the research:

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions.
  • Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited? If so, how has it been analyzed?

Tips: 

  • Review the abstracts carefully.  
  • Keep careful notes so that you may track your thought processes during the research process.
  • Create a matrix of the studies for easy analysis, and synthesis, across all of the studies.
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A literature review surveys prior research published in books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have used in researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within existing scholarship about the topic.

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.

Importance of a Good Literature Review

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:

  • Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
  • Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
  • Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.

Given this, the purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
  • Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2011; Knopf, Jeffrey W. "Doing a Literature Review." PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January 2006): 127-132; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012.

Types of Literature Reviews

It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally among scholars that become part of the body of epistemological traditions within the field.

In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.

Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].

Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.

Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.

Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem . Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?" This type of literature review is primarily applied to examining prior research studies in clinical medicine and allied health fields, but it is increasingly being used in the social sciences.

Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

NOTE : Most often the literature review will incorporate some combination of types. For example, a review that examines literature supporting or refuting an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem related to the research problem will also need to include writing supported by sources that establish the history of these arguments in the literature.

Baumeister, Roy F. and Mark R. Leary. "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews."  Review of General Psychology 1 (September 1997): 311-320; Mark R. Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147; Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2006; Torracro, Richard. "Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples." Human Resource Development Review 4 (September 2005): 356-367; Rocco, Tonette S. and Maria S. Plakhotnik. "Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks: Terms, Functions, and Distinctions." Human Ressource Development Review 8 (March 2008): 120-130; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Thinking About Your Literature Review

The structure of a literature review should include the following in support of understanding the research problem :

  • An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
  • Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
  • An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.

The critical evaluation of each work should consider :

  • Provenance -- what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
  • Methodology -- were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
  • Objectivity -- is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness -- which of the author's theses are most convincing or least convincing?
  • Validity -- are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

II.  Development of the Literature Review

Four Basic Stages of Writing 1.  Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? 2.  Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. 3.  Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. 4.  Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.

Consider the following issues before writing the literature review: Clarify If your assignment is not specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1.  Roughly how many sources would be appropriate to include? 2.  What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? 3.  Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? 4.  Should I evaluate the sources in any way beyond evaluating how they relate to understanding the research problem? 5.  Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history? Find Models Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read, such as required readings in the course syllabus, are also excellent entry points into your own research. Narrow the Topic The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that's available about the topic, but you'll make the act of reviewing easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the USC Libraries Catalog for recent books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research. For example, a book surveying the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may include a chapter on the role Egypt has played in mediating the conflict, or look in the index for the pages where Egypt is mentioned in the text. Consider Whether Your Sources are Current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.

III.  Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

Chronology of Events If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. For example, a literature review that focuses on continuing research about the emergence of German economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union. By Publication Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on environmental studies of brown fields if the progression revealed, for example, a change in the soil collection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies. Thematic [“conceptual categories”] A thematic literature review is the most common approach to summarizing prior research in the social and behavioral sciences. Thematic reviews are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time, although the progression of time may still be incorporated into a thematic review. For example, a review of the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics could focus on the development of online political satire. While the study focuses on one topic, the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics, it would still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The difference in this example between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: themes related to the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point being made. Methodological A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. For the Internet in American presidential politics project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of American presidents on American, British, and French websites. Or the review might focus on the fundraising impact of the Internet on a particular political party. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. However, only include what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship about the research problem.

Here are examples of other sections, usually in the form of a single paragraph, you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:

  • Current Situation : Information necessary to understand the current topic or focus of the literature review.
  • Sources Used : Describes the methods and resources [e.g., databases] you used to identify the literature you reviewed.
  • History : The chronological progression of the field, the research literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Selection Methods : Criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed [i.e., scholarly] sources.
  • Standards : Description of the way in which you present your information.
  • Questions for Further Research : What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

IV.  Writing Your Literature Review

Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.

Use Evidence A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid. Be Selective Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information, but that are not key to understanding the research problem, can be included in a list of further readings . Use Quotes Sparingly Some short quotes are appropriate if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, is not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for using your own words in reviewing the literature. Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work and the work of others. Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.

V.  Common Mistakes to Avoid

These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.

  • Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
  • You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
  • Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
  • Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
  • Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
  • Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
  • Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.

Cook, Kathleen E. and Elise Murowchick. “Do Literature Review Skills Transfer from One Course to Another?” Psychology Learning and Teaching 13 (March 2014): 3-11; Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . London: SAGE, 2011; Literature Review Handout. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012; Randolph, Justus J. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review." Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. vol. 14, June 2009; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.

Writing Tip

Break Out of Your Disciplinary Box!

Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue? You don’t want to substitute a thorough review of core research literature in your discipline for studies conducted in other fields of study. However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.

Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Just Review for Content!

While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating. Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:

  • How are they organizing their ideas?
  • What methods have they used to study the problem?
  • What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
  • What sources have they cited to support their conclusions?
  • How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?

When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem.

Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1 998.

Yet Another Writing Tip

When Do I Know I Can Stop Looking and Move On?

Here are several strategies you can utilize to assess whether you've thoroughly reviewed the literature:

  • Look for repeating patterns in the research findings . If the same thing is being said, just by different people, then this likely demonstrates that the research problem has hit a conceptual dead end. At this point consider: Does your study extend current research?  Does it forge a new path? Or, does is merely add more of the same thing being said?
  • Look at sources the authors cite to in their work . If you begin to see the same researchers cited again and again, then this is often an indication that no new ideas have been generated to address the research problem.
  • Search Google Scholar to identify who has subsequently cited leading scholars already identified in your literature review [see next sub-tab]. This is called citation tracking and there are a number of sources that can help you identify who has cited whom, particularly scholars from outside of your discipline. Here again, if the same authors are being cited again and again, this may indicate no new literature has been written on the topic.

Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2016; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

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Literature Reviews within a Scholarly Work

Literature reviews as a scholarly work.

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Literature reviews summarize and analyze what has been written on a particular topic and identify gaps or disagreements in the scholarly work on that topic.

Within a scholarly work, the literature review situates the current work within the larger scholarly conversation and emphasizes how that particular scholarly work contributes to the conversation on the topic. The literature review portion may be as brief as a few paragraphs focusing on a narrow topic area.

When writing this type of literature review, it's helpful to start by identifying sources most relevant to your research question. A citation tracking database such as Web of Science can also help you locate seminal articles on a topic and find out who has more recently cited them. See "Your Literature Search" for more details.

A literature review may itself be a scholarly publication and provide an analysis of what has been written on a particular topic without contributing original research. These types of literature reviews can serve to help keep people updated on a field as well as helping scholars choose a research topic to fill gaps in the knowledge on that topic. Common types include:

Systematic Review

Systematic literature reviews follow specific procedures in some ways similar to setting up an experiment to ensure that future scholars can replicate the same steps. They are also helpful for evaluating data published over multiple studies. Thus, these are common in the medical field and may be used by healthcare providers to help guide diagnosis and treatment decisions. Cochrane Reviews are one example of this type of literature review.

Semi-Systematic Review

When a systematic review is not feasible, a semi-systematic review can help synthesize research on a topic or how a topic has been studied in different fields (Snyder 2019). Rather than focusing on quantitative data, this review type identifies themes, theoretical perspectives, and other qualitative information related to the topic. These types of reviews can be particularly helpful for a historical topic overview, for developing a theoretical model, and for creating a research agenda for a field (Snyder 2019). As with systematic reviews, a search strategy must be developed before conducting the review.

Integrative Review

An integrative review is less systematic and can be helpful for developing a theoretical model or to reconceptualize a topic. As Synder (2019) notes, " This type of review often re quires a more creative collection of data, as the purpose is usually not to cover all articles ever published on the topic but rather to combine perspectives and insights from di ff erent fi elds or research traditions" (p. 336).

Source: Snyder, H. (2019). Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines. Journal of Business Research. 104. 333-339. doi: 10.1016/j.jbusres.2019.07.039

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  • Literature Review: The What, Why and How-to Guide
  • Introduction

Literature Review: The What, Why and How-to Guide — Introduction

  • Getting Started
  • How to Pick a Topic
  • Strategies to Find Sources
  • Evaluating Sources & Lit. Reviews
  • Tips for Writing Literature Reviews
  • Writing Literature Review: Useful Sites
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What are Literature Reviews?

So, what is a literature review? "A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries." Taylor, D.  The literature review: A few tips on conducting it . University of Toronto Health Sciences Writing Centre.

Goals of Literature Reviews

What are the goals of creating a Literature Review?  A literature could be written to accomplish different aims:

  • To develop a theory or evaluate an existing theory
  • To summarize the historical or existing state of a research topic
  • Identify a problem in a field of research 

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1997). Writing narrative literature reviews .  Review of General Psychology , 1 (3), 311-320.

What kinds of sources require a Literature Review?

  • A research paper assigned in a course
  • A thesis or dissertation
  • A grant proposal
  • An article intended for publication in a journal

All these instances require you to collect what has been written about your research topic so that you can demonstrate how your own research sheds new light on the topic.

Types of Literature Reviews

What kinds of literature reviews are written?

Narrative review: The purpose of this type of review is to describe the current state of the research on a specific topic/research and to offer a critical analysis of the literature reviewed. Studies are grouped by research/theoretical categories, and themes and trends, strengths and weakness, and gaps are identified. The review ends with a conclusion section which summarizes the findings regarding the state of the research of the specific study, the gaps identify and if applicable, explains how the author's research will address gaps identify in the review and expand the knowledge on the topic reviewed.

  • Example : Predictors and Outcomes of U.S. Quality Maternity Leave: A Review and Conceptual Framework:  10.1177/08948453211037398  

Systematic review : "The authors of a systematic review use a specific procedure to search the research literature, select the studies to include in their review, and critically evaluate the studies they find." (p. 139). Nelson, L. K. (2013). Research in Communication Sciences and Disorders . Plural Publishing.

  • Example : The effect of leave policies on increasing fertility: a systematic review:  10.1057/s41599-022-01270-w

Meta-analysis : "Meta-analysis is a method of reviewing research findings in a quantitative fashion by transforming the data from individual studies into what is called an effect size and then pooling and analyzing this information. The basic goal in meta-analysis is to explain why different outcomes have occurred in different studies." (p. 197). Roberts, M. C., & Ilardi, S. S. (2003). Handbook of Research Methods in Clinical Psychology . Blackwell Publishing.

  • Example : Employment Instability and Fertility in Europe: A Meta-Analysis:  10.1215/00703370-9164737

Meta-synthesis : "Qualitative meta-synthesis is a type of qualitative study that uses as data the findings from other qualitative studies linked by the same or related topic." (p.312). Zimmer, L. (2006). Qualitative meta-synthesis: A question of dialoguing with texts .  Journal of Advanced Nursing , 53 (3), 311-318.

  • Example : Women’s perspectives on career successes and barriers: A qualitative meta-synthesis:  10.1177/05390184221113735

Literature Reviews in the Health Sciences

  • UConn Health subject guide on systematic reviews Explanation of the different review types used in health sciences literature as well as tools to help you find the right review type
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Literature reviews, what is a literature review, learning more about how to do a literature review.

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A literature review is a review and synthesis of existing research on a topic or research question. A literature review is meant to analyze the scholarly literature, make connections across writings and identify strengths, weaknesses, trends, and missing conversations. A literature review should address different aspects of a topic as it relates to your research question. A literature review goes beyond a description or summary of the literature you have read. 

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Types of Literature Review

There are many types of literature review. The choice of a specific type depends on your research approach and design. The following types of literature review are the most popular in business studies:

Narrative literature review , also referred to as traditional literature review, critiques literature and summarizes the body of a literature. Narrative review also draws conclusions about the topic and identifies gaps or inconsistencies in a body of knowledge. You need to have a sufficiently focused research question to conduct a narrative literature review

Systematic literature review requires more rigorous and well-defined approach compared to most other types of literature review. Systematic literature review is comprehensive and details the timeframe within which the literature was selected. Systematic literature review can be divided into two categories: meta-analysis and meta-synthesis.

When you conduct meta-analysis you take findings from several studies on the same subject and analyze these using standardized statistical procedures. In meta-analysis patterns and relationships are detected and conclusions are drawn. Meta-analysis is associated with deductive research approach.

Meta-synthesis, on the other hand, is based on non-statistical techniques. This technique integrates, evaluates and interprets findings of multiple qualitative research studies. Meta-synthesis literature review is conducted usually when following inductive research approach.

Scoping literature review , as implied by its name is used to identify the scope or coverage of a body of literature on a given topic. It has been noted that “scoping reviews are useful for examining emerging evidence when it is still unclear what other, more specific questions can be posed and valuably addressed by a more precise systematic review.” [1] The main difference between systematic and scoping types of literature review is that, systematic literature review is conducted to find answer to more specific research questions, whereas scoping literature review is conducted to explore more general research question.

Argumentative literature review , as the name implies, examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply imbedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. It should be noted that a potential for bias is a major shortcoming associated with argumentative literature review.

Integrative literature review reviews , critiques, and synthesizes secondary data about research topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. If your research does not involve primary data collection and data analysis, then using integrative literature review will be your only option.

Theoretical literature review focuses on a pool of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. Theoretical literature reviews play an instrumental role in establishing what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested.

At the earlier parts of the literature review chapter, you need to specify the type of your literature review your chose and justify your choice. Your choice of a specific type of literature review should be based upon your research area, research problem and research methods.  Also, you can briefly discuss other most popular types of literature review mentioned above, to illustrate your awareness of them.

[1] Munn, A. et. al. (2018) “Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach” BMC Medical Research Methodology

Types of Literature Review

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Literature Review – Types Writing Guide and Examples

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Literature Review

Literature Review

Definition:

A literature review is a comprehensive and critical analysis of the existing literature on a particular topic or research question. It involves identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing relevant literature, including scholarly articles, books, and other sources, to provide a summary and critical assessment of what is known about the topic.

Types of Literature Review

Types of Literature Review are as follows:

  • Narrative literature review : This type of review involves a comprehensive summary and critical analysis of the available literature on a particular topic or research question. It is often used as an introductory section of a research paper.
  • Systematic literature review: This is a rigorous and structured review that follows a pre-defined protocol to identify, evaluate, and synthesize all relevant studies on a specific research question. It is often used in evidence-based practice and systematic reviews.
  • Meta-analysis: This is a quantitative review that uses statistical methods to combine data from multiple studies to derive a summary effect size. It provides a more precise estimate of the overall effect than any individual study.
  • Scoping review: This is a preliminary review that aims to map the existing literature on a broad topic area to identify research gaps and areas for further investigation.
  • Critical literature review : This type of review evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the existing literature on a particular topic or research question. It aims to provide a critical analysis of the literature and identify areas where further research is needed.
  • Conceptual literature review: This review synthesizes and integrates theories and concepts from multiple sources to provide a new perspective on a particular topic. It aims to provide a theoretical framework for understanding a particular research question.
  • Rapid literature review: This is a quick review that provides a snapshot of the current state of knowledge on a specific research question or topic. It is often used when time and resources are limited.
  • Thematic literature review : This review identifies and analyzes common themes and patterns across a body of literature on a particular topic. It aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the literature and identify key themes and concepts.
  • Realist literature review: This review is often used in social science research and aims to identify how and why certain interventions work in certain contexts. It takes into account the context and complexities of real-world situations.
  • State-of-the-art literature review : This type of review provides an overview of the current state of knowledge in a particular field, highlighting the most recent and relevant research. It is often used in fields where knowledge is rapidly evolving, such as technology or medicine.
  • Integrative literature review: This type of review synthesizes and integrates findings from multiple studies on a particular topic to identify patterns, themes, and gaps in the literature. It aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge on a particular topic.
  • Umbrella literature review : This review is used to provide a broad overview of a large and diverse body of literature on a particular topic. It aims to identify common themes and patterns across different areas of research.
  • Historical literature review: This type of review examines the historical development of research on a particular topic or research question. It aims to provide a historical context for understanding the current state of knowledge on a particular topic.
  • Problem-oriented literature review : This review focuses on a specific problem or issue and examines the literature to identify potential solutions or interventions. It aims to provide practical recommendations for addressing a particular problem or issue.
  • Mixed-methods literature review : This type of review combines quantitative and qualitative methods to synthesize and analyze the available literature on a particular topic. It aims to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the research question by combining different types of evidence.

Parts of Literature Review

Parts of a literature review are as follows:

Introduction

The introduction of a literature review typically provides background information on the research topic and why it is important. It outlines the objectives of the review, the research question or hypothesis, and the scope of the review.

Literature Search

This section outlines the search strategy and databases used to identify relevant literature. The search terms used, inclusion and exclusion criteria, and any limitations of the search are described.

Literature Analysis

The literature analysis is the main body of the literature review. This section summarizes and synthesizes the literature that is relevant to the research question or hypothesis. The review should be organized thematically, chronologically, or by methodology, depending on the research objectives.

Critical Evaluation

Critical evaluation involves assessing the quality and validity of the literature. This includes evaluating the reliability and validity of the studies reviewed, the methodology used, and the strength of the evidence.

The conclusion of the literature review should summarize the main findings, identify any gaps in the literature, and suggest areas for future research. It should also reiterate the importance of the research question or hypothesis and the contribution of the literature review to the overall research project.

The references list includes all the sources cited in the literature review, and follows a specific referencing style (e.g., APA, MLA, Harvard).

How to write Literature Review

Here are some steps to follow when writing a literature review:

  • Define your research question or topic : Before starting your literature review, it is essential to define your research question or topic. This will help you identify relevant literature and determine the scope of your review.
  • Conduct a comprehensive search: Use databases and search engines to find relevant literature. Look for peer-reviewed articles, books, and other academic sources that are relevant to your research question or topic.
  • Evaluate the sources: Once you have found potential sources, evaluate them critically to determine their relevance, credibility, and quality. Look for recent publications, reputable authors, and reliable sources of data and evidence.
  • Organize your sources: Group the sources by theme, method, or research question. This will help you identify similarities and differences among the literature, and provide a structure for your literature review.
  • Analyze and synthesize the literature : Analyze each source in depth, identifying the key findings, methodologies, and conclusions. Then, synthesize the information from the sources, identifying patterns and themes in the literature.
  • Write the literature review : Start with an introduction that provides an overview of the topic and the purpose of the literature review. Then, organize the literature according to your chosen structure, and analyze and synthesize the sources. Finally, provide a conclusion that summarizes the key findings of the literature review, identifies gaps in knowledge, and suggests areas for future research.
  • Edit and proofread: Once you have written your literature review, edit and proofread it carefully to ensure that it is well-organized, clear, and concise.

Examples of Literature Review

Here’s an example of how a literature review can be conducted for a thesis on the topic of “ The Impact of Social Media on Teenagers’ Mental Health”:

  • Start by identifying the key terms related to your research topic. In this case, the key terms are “social media,” “teenagers,” and “mental health.”
  • Use academic databases like Google Scholar, JSTOR, or PubMed to search for relevant articles, books, and other publications. Use these keywords in your search to narrow down your results.
  • Evaluate the sources you find to determine if they are relevant to your research question. You may want to consider the publication date, author’s credentials, and the journal or book publisher.
  • Begin reading and taking notes on each source, paying attention to key findings, methodologies used, and any gaps in the research.
  • Organize your findings into themes or categories. For example, you might categorize your sources into those that examine the impact of social media on self-esteem, those that explore the effects of cyberbullying, and those that investigate the relationship between social media use and depression.
  • Synthesize your findings by summarizing the key themes and highlighting any gaps or inconsistencies in the research. Identify areas where further research is needed.
  • Use your literature review to inform your research questions and hypotheses for your thesis.

For example, after conducting a literature review on the impact of social media on teenagers’ mental health, a thesis might look like this:

“Using a mixed-methods approach, this study aims to investigate the relationship between social media use and mental health outcomes in teenagers. Specifically, the study will examine the effects of cyberbullying, social comparison, and excessive social media use on self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Through an analysis of survey data and qualitative interviews with teenagers, the study will provide insight into the complex relationship between social media use and mental health outcomes, and identify strategies for promoting positive mental health outcomes in young people.”

Reference: Smith, J., Jones, M., & Lee, S. (2019). The effects of social media use on adolescent mental health: A systematic review. Journal of Adolescent Health, 65(2), 154-165. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.03.024

Reference Example: Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (Year). Title of article. Title of Journal, volume number(issue number), page range. doi:0000000/000000000000 or URL

Applications of Literature Review

some applications of literature review in different fields:

  • Social Sciences: In social sciences, literature reviews are used to identify gaps in existing research, to develop research questions, and to provide a theoretical framework for research. Literature reviews are commonly used in fields such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and political science.
  • Natural Sciences: In natural sciences, literature reviews are used to summarize and evaluate the current state of knowledge in a particular field or subfield. Literature reviews can help researchers identify areas where more research is needed and provide insights into the latest developments in a particular field. Fields such as biology, chemistry, and physics commonly use literature reviews.
  • Health Sciences: In health sciences, literature reviews are used to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments, identify best practices, and determine areas where more research is needed. Literature reviews are commonly used in fields such as medicine, nursing, and public health.
  • Humanities: In humanities, literature reviews are used to identify gaps in existing knowledge, develop new interpretations of texts or cultural artifacts, and provide a theoretical framework for research. Literature reviews are commonly used in fields such as history, literary studies, and philosophy.

Role of Literature Review in Research

Here are some applications of literature review in research:

  • Identifying Research Gaps : Literature review helps researchers identify gaps in existing research and literature related to their research question. This allows them to develop new research questions and hypotheses to fill those gaps.
  • Developing Theoretical Framework: Literature review helps researchers develop a theoretical framework for their research. By analyzing and synthesizing existing literature, researchers can identify the key concepts, theories, and models that are relevant to their research.
  • Selecting Research Methods : Literature review helps researchers select appropriate research methods and techniques based on previous research. It also helps researchers to identify potential biases or limitations of certain methods and techniques.
  • Data Collection and Analysis: Literature review helps researchers in data collection and analysis by providing a foundation for the development of data collection instruments and methods. It also helps researchers to identify relevant data sources and identify potential data analysis techniques.
  • Communicating Results: Literature review helps researchers to communicate their results effectively by providing a context for their research. It also helps to justify the significance of their findings in relation to existing research and literature.

Purpose of Literature Review

Some of the specific purposes of a literature review are as follows:

  • To provide context: A literature review helps to provide context for your research by situating it within the broader body of literature on the topic.
  • To identify gaps and inconsistencies: A literature review helps to identify areas where further research is needed or where there are inconsistencies in the existing literature.
  • To synthesize information: A literature review helps to synthesize the information from multiple sources and present a coherent and comprehensive picture of the current state of knowledge on the topic.
  • To identify key concepts and theories : A literature review helps to identify key concepts and theories that are relevant to your research question and provide a theoretical framework for your study.
  • To inform research design: A literature review can inform the design of your research study by identifying appropriate research methods, data sources, and research questions.

Characteristics of Literature Review

Some Characteristics of Literature Review are as follows:

  • Identifying gaps in knowledge: A literature review helps to identify gaps in the existing knowledge and research on a specific topic or research question. By analyzing and synthesizing the literature, you can identify areas where further research is needed and where new insights can be gained.
  • Establishing the significance of your research: A literature review helps to establish the significance of your own research by placing it in the context of existing research. By demonstrating the relevance of your research to the existing literature, you can establish its importance and value.
  • Informing research design and methodology : A literature review helps to inform research design and methodology by identifying the most appropriate research methods, techniques, and instruments. By reviewing the literature, you can identify the strengths and limitations of different research methods and techniques, and select the most appropriate ones for your own research.
  • Supporting arguments and claims: A literature review provides evidence to support arguments and claims made in academic writing. By citing and analyzing the literature, you can provide a solid foundation for your own arguments and claims.
  • I dentifying potential collaborators and mentors: A literature review can help identify potential collaborators and mentors by identifying researchers and practitioners who are working on related topics or using similar methods. By building relationships with these individuals, you can gain valuable insights and support for your own research and practice.
  • Keeping up-to-date with the latest research : A literature review helps to keep you up-to-date with the latest research on a specific topic or research question. By regularly reviewing the literature, you can stay informed about the latest findings and developments in your field.

Advantages of Literature Review

There are several advantages to conducting a literature review as part of a research project, including:

  • Establishing the significance of the research : A literature review helps to establish the significance of the research by demonstrating the gap or problem in the existing literature that the study aims to address.
  • Identifying key concepts and theories: A literature review can help to identify key concepts and theories that are relevant to the research question, and provide a theoretical framework for the study.
  • Supporting the research methodology : A literature review can inform the research methodology by identifying appropriate research methods, data sources, and research questions.
  • Providing a comprehensive overview of the literature : A literature review provides a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge on a topic, allowing the researcher to identify key themes, debates, and areas of agreement or disagreement.
  • Identifying potential research questions: A literature review can help to identify potential research questions and areas for further investigation.
  • Avoiding duplication of research: A literature review can help to avoid duplication of research by identifying what has already been done on a topic, and what remains to be done.
  • Enhancing the credibility of the research : A literature review helps to enhance the credibility of the research by demonstrating the researcher’s knowledge of the existing literature and their ability to situate their research within a broader context.

Limitations of Literature Review

Limitations of Literature Review are as follows:

  • Limited scope : Literature reviews can only cover the existing literature on a particular topic, which may be limited in scope or depth.
  • Publication bias : Literature reviews may be influenced by publication bias, which occurs when researchers are more likely to publish positive results than negative ones. This can lead to an incomplete or biased picture of the literature.
  • Quality of sources : The quality of the literature reviewed can vary widely, and not all sources may be reliable or valid.
  • Time-limited: Literature reviews can become quickly outdated as new research is published, making it difficult to keep up with the latest developments in a field.
  • Subjective interpretation : Literature reviews can be subjective, and the interpretation of the findings can vary depending on the researcher’s perspective or bias.
  • Lack of original data : Literature reviews do not generate new data, but rather rely on the analysis of existing studies.
  • Risk of plagiarism: It is important to ensure that literature reviews do not inadvertently contain plagiarism, which can occur when researchers use the work of others without proper attribution.

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Literature Reviews

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Types of reviews and examples

Choosing a review type.

  • 1. Define your research question
  • 2. Plan your search
  • 3. Search the literature
  • 4. Organize your results
  • 5. Synthesize your findings
  • 6. Write the review
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what is the type of literature review

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Overview of types of literature reviews

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  • Literature (narrative)
  • Scoping / Evidence map
  • Meta-analysis

Characteristics:

  • Provides examination of recent or current literature on a wide range of subjects
  • Varying levels of completeness / comprehensiveness, non-standardized methodology
  • May or may not include comprehensive searching, quality assessment or critical appraisal

Mitchell, L. E., & Zajchowski, C. A. (2022). The history of air quality in Utah: A narrative review.  Sustainability ,  14 (15), 9653.  doi.org/10.3390/su14159653

  • Assessment of what is already known about an issue
  • Similar to a systematic review but within a time-constrained setting
  • Typically employs methodological shortcuts, increasing risk of introducing bias, includes basic level of quality assessment
  • Best suited for issues needing quick decisions and solutions (i.e., policy recommendations)

Learn more about the method:

Khangura, S., Konnyu, K., Cushman, R., Grimshaw, J., & Moher, D. (2012). Evidence summaries: the evolution of a rapid review approach.  Systematic reviews, 1 (1), 1-9.  https://doi.org/10.1186/2046-4053-1-10

Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries. (2021). Rapid Review Protocol .

Quarmby, S., Santos, G., & Mathias, M. (2019). Air quality strategies and technologies: A rapid review of the international evidence.  Sustainability, 11 (10), 2757.  https://doi.org/10.3390/su11102757

  • Compiles evidence from multiple reviews into one document
  • Often defines a broader question than is typical of a traditional systematic review.

Choi, G. J., & Kang, H. (2022). The umbrella review: a useful strategy in the rain of evidence.  The Korean Journal of Pain ,  35 (2), 127–128.  https://doi.org/10.3344/kjp.2022.35.2.127

Aromataris, E., Fernandez, R., Godfrey, C. M., Holly, C., Khalil, H., & Tungpunkom, P. (2015). Summarizing systematic reviews: Methodological development, conduct and reporting of an umbrella review approach. International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare , 13(3), 132–140. https://doi.org/10.1097/XEB.0000000000000055

Rojas-Rueda, D., Morales-Zamora, E., Alsufyani, W. A., Herbst, C. H., Al Balawi, S. M., Alsukait, R., & Alomran, M. (2021). Environmental risk factors and health: An umbrella review of meta-analyses.  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Dealth ,  18 (2), 704.  https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18020704

  • Main purpose is to map out and categorize existing literature, identify gaps in literature
  • Search comprehensiveness determined by time/scope constraints, could take longer than a systematic review
  • No formal quality assessment or critical appraisal

Learn more about the methods :

Arksey, H., & O'Malley, L. (2005) Scoping studies: towards a methodological framework.  International Journal of Social Research Methodology ,  8 (1), 19-32.  https://doi.org/10.1080/1364557032000119616

Levac, D., Colquhoun, H., & O’Brien, K. K. (2010). Scoping studies: Advancing the methodology. Implementation Science: IS, 5, 69. https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-5-69

Miake-Lye, I. M., Hempel, S., Shanman, R., & Shekelle, P. G. (2016). What is an evidence map? A systematic review of published evidence maps and their definitions, methods, and products.  Systematic reviews, 5 (1), 1-21.  https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-016-0204-x

Example : 

Rahman, A., Sarkar, A., Yadav, O. P., Achari, G., & Slobodnik, J. (2021). Potential human health risks due to environmental exposure to nano-and microplastics and knowledge gaps: A scoping review.  Science of the Total Environment, 757 , 143872.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143872

  • Seeks to systematically search for, appraise, and synthesize research evidence
  • Adheres to strict guidelines, protocols, and frameworks
  • Time-intensive and often take months to a year or more to complete. 
  • The most commonly referred to type of evidence synthesis. Sometimes confused as a blanket term for other types of reviews.

Gascon, M., Triguero-Mas, M., Martínez, D., Dadvand, P., Forns, J., Plasència, A., & Nieuwenhuijsen, M. J. (2015). Mental health benefits of long-term exposure to residential green and blue spaces: a systematic review.  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health ,  12 (4), 4354–4379.  https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph120404354

  • Statistical technique for combining results of quantitative studies to provide more precise effect of results
  • Aims for exhaustive, comprehensive searching
  • Quality assessment may determine inclusion/exclusion criteria
  • May be conducted independently or as part of a systematic review

Berman, N. G., & Parker, R. A. (2002). Meta-analysis: Neither quick nor easy. BMC Medical Research Methodology , 2(1), 10. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2288-2-10

Hites R. A. (2004). Polybrominated diphenyl ethers in the environment and in people: a meta-analysis of concentrations.  Environmental Science & Technology ,  38 (4), 945–956.  https://doi.org/10.1021/es035082g

Flowchart of review types

  • Review Decision Tree - Cornell University For more information, check out Cornell's review methodology decision tree.
  • LitR-Ex.com - Eight literature review methodologies Learn more about 8 different review types (incl. Systematic Reviews and Scoping Reviews) with practical tips about strengths and weaknesses of different methods.
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Completing A Literature Review

  • What is a Literature Review?

Types of Literature Review

  • Tips for Conducting a Literature Review
  • Developing a Search Strategy
  • Tips for Writing your Literature Review

Help with your Literature Review

what is the type of literature review

The library has a Moodle module that has lots of tutorials on academic skills such as searching, writing and referencing. 

Types of literature review

Sometimes it can be useful to pick a 'type' of literature review to help you structure your work. Your choice of review type will depend upon a number of different factors including the purpose of the review, subject area, and the research question. 

Below is a brief overview of some popular types of literature review. 

  • Argumentative Reviews  involve using selective information to support one side of an argument.  This type of review can also be used to refute an argument or an established point of view. It is worth noting that bias can be a feature of this type of review.
  • Historical Reviews  identify and trace how things were done in the past, mapping changes in theory, processes, etc. It also places research within historical context.
  • Integrative Reviews  bring new perspective to an existing body of literature. This involves critically evaluating and synthesising secondary data to create new perspectives.  This type of review can be used when the researcher is not collecting or analysing their own data (primary data).
  •  Mapping Reviews are similar to a scoping review (see below) but focus on a specific question not a topic.
  •  Methodological Reviews examine how research was conducted.  This type of review often involves reviewing the entire research design process, from philosophy to methodology, data collection methods and data analysis. 
  • Narrative Reviews  involve summarising and critically evaluating information within a body of knowledge.  It allows researchers to draw conclusions and to identify gaps within the literature.  You will need to have a clearly defined research question in order to undertake a narrative review. 
  • Scoping Reviews provide a "preliminary assessment of potential size and scope of available research literature.  [The] aim is to identify the nature and extent of research evidence (usually including ongoing research).”  Grant & Booth  “A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies”.  Health Information & Libraries Journal.  May, 2009.
  • Systematic Reviews involve doing an exhaustive review of a topic with the purpose of answering a question or solving a problem. Systematic reviews are conducted according to a strict selection and evaluation criteria. These reviews seek to identify relationships and patterns from which conclusions can be drawn.
  • Theoretical Reviews  attempt to identify existing theories or highlight a lack of adequate theory within a subject area. This type of review can also examine how well a particular theory has been tested.
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Literature Review: Types of Literature Reviews

  • Literature Review
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Types of Literature Reviews

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  • Know the Difference! Systematic Review vs. Literature Review

It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers.

  • First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish.
  • Second, are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the original studies.
  • Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinions, and interpretations that are shared informally that become part of the lore of the field.

In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews.

Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are several approaches to how they can be done, depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study. Listed below are definitions of types of literature reviews:

Argumentative Review      This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews.

Integrative Review      Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication.

Historical Review      Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical reviews are focused on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomenon emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review      A review does not always focus on what someone said [content], but how they said it [method of analysis]. This approach provides a framework of understanding at different levels (i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques), enables researchers to draw on a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection and data analysis, and helps highlight many ethical issues which we should be aware of and consider as we go through our study.

Systematic Review      This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?"

Theoretical Review      The purpose of this form is to concretely examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomenon. The theoretical literature review help establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

* Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147.

All content is from The Literature Review created by Dr. Robert Larabee USC

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ON YOUR 1ST ORDER

Different Types of Literature Review: Which One Fits Your Research?

By Laura Brown on 13th October 2023

You might not have heard that there are multiple kinds of literature review. However, with the progress in your academic career you will learn these classifications and may need to use different types of them. However, there is nothing to worry if you aren’t aware of them now, as here we are going to discuss this topic in detail.

There are approximately 14 types of literature review on the basis of their specific objectives, methodologies, and the way they approach and analyse existing literature in academic research. Of those 14, there are 4 major types. But before we delve into the details of each one of them and how they are useful in academics, let’s first understand the basics of literature review.

Demystifying 14 Different Types of Literature Reviews

What is Literature Review?

A literature review is a critical and systematic summary and evaluation of existing research. It is an essential component of academic and research work, providing an overview of the current state of knowledge in a particular field.

In easy words, a literature review is like making a big, organised summary of all the important research and smart books or articles about a particular topic or question. It’s something scholars and researchers do, and it helps everyone see what we already know about that topic. It’s kind of like taking a snapshot of what we understand right now in a certain field.

It serves with some specific purpose in the research.

  • Provides a comprehensive understanding of existing research on a topic.
  • Identifies gaps, trends, and inconsistencies in the literature.
  • Contextualise your own research within the broader academic discourse.
  • Supports the development of theoretical frameworks or research hypotheses.

4 Major Types Of Literature Review

The four major types include, Narrative Review, Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Scoping Review. These are known as the major ones because they’re like the “go-to” methods for researchers in academic and research circles. Think of them as the classic tools in the researcher’s toolbox. They’ve earned their reputation because they have a unique style for literature review introduction , clear steps and specific qualities that make them super handy for different research needs.

1. Narrative Review

Narrative reviews present a well-structured narrative that reads like a cohesive story, providing a comprehensive overview of a specific topic. These reviews often incorporate historical context and offer a broad understanding of the subject matter, making them valuable for researchers looking to establish a foundational understanding of their area of interest. They are particularly useful when a historical perspective or a broad context is necessary to comprehend the current state of knowledge in a field.

2. Systematic Review

Systematic reviews are renowned for their methodological rigour. They involve a meticulously structured process that includes the systematic selection of relevant studies, comprehensive data extraction, and a critical synthesis of their findings. This systematic approach is designed to minimise bias and subjectivity, making systematic reviews highly reliable and objective. They are considered the gold standard for evidence-based research as they provide a clear and rigorous assessment of the available evidence on a specific research question.

3. Meta Analysis

Meta analysis is a powerful method for researchers who prefer a quantitative and statistical perspective. It involves the statistical synthesis of data from various studies, allowing researchers to draw more precise and generalisable conclusions by combining data from multiple sources. Meta analyses are especially valuable when the aim is to quantitatively measure the effect size or impact of a particular intervention, treatment, or phenomenon.

4. Scoping Review

Scoping reviews are invaluable tools, especially for researchers in the early stages of exploring a topic. These reviews aim to map the existing literature, identifying gaps and helping clarify research questions. Scoping reviews provide a panoramic view of the available research, which is particularly useful when researchers are embarking on exploratory studies or trying to understand the breadth and depth of a subject before conducting more focused research.

Different Types Of Literature review In Research

There are some more approaches to conduct literature review. Let’s explore these classifications quickly.

5. Critical Review

Critical reviews provide an in-depth evaluation of existing literature, scrutinising sources for their strengths, weaknesses, and relevance. They offer a critical perspective, often highlighting gaps in the research and areas for further investigation.

6. Theoretical Review

Theoretical reviews are centred around exploring and analysing the theoretical frameworks, concepts, and models present in the literature. They aim to contribute to the development and refinement of theoretical perspectives within a specific field.

7. Integrative Review

Integrative reviews synthesise a diverse range of studies, drawing connections between various research findings to create a comprehensive understanding of a topic. These reviews often bridge gaps between different perspectives and provide a holistic overview.

8. Historical Review

Historical reviews focus on the evolution of a topic over time, tracing its development through past research, events, and scholarly contributions. They offer valuable context for understanding the current state of research.

9. Methodological Review

Among the different kinds of literature reviews, methodological reviews delve into the research methods and methodologies employed in existing studies. Researchers assess these approaches for their effectiveness, validity, and relevance to the research question at hand.

10. Cross-Disciplinary Review

Cross-disciplinary reviews explore a topic from multiple academic disciplines, emphasising the diversity of perspectives and insights that each discipline brings. They are particularly useful for interdisciplinary research projects and uncovering connections between seemingly unrelated fields.

11. Descriptive Review

Descriptive reviews provide an organised summary of existing literature without extensive analysis. They offer a straightforward overview of key findings, research methods, and themes present in the reviewed studies.

12. Rapid Review

Rapid reviews expedite the literature review process, focusing on summarising relevant studies quickly. They are often used for time-sensitive projects where efficiency is a priority, without sacrificing quality.

13. Conceptual Review

Conceptual reviews concentrate on clarifying and developing theoretical concepts within a specific field. They address ambiguities or inconsistencies in existing theories, aiming to refine and expand conceptual frameworks.

14. Library Research

Library research reviews rely primarily on library and archival resources to gather and synthesise information. They are often employed in historical or archive-based research projects, utilising library collections and historical documents for in-depth analysis.

Each type of literature review serves distinct purposes and comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses, allowing researchers to choose the one that best suits their research objectives and questions.

Choosing the Ideal Literature Review Approach in Academics

In order to conduct your research in the right manner, it is important that you choose the correct type of review for your literature. Here are 8 amazing tips we have sorted for you in regard to literature review help so that you can select the best-suited type for your research.

  • Clarify Your Research Goals: Begin by defining your research objectives and what you aim to achieve with the literature review. Are you looking to summarise existing knowledge, identify gaps, or analyse specific data?
  • Understand Different Review Types: Familiarise yourself with different kinds of literature reviews, including systematic reviews, narrative reviews, meta-analyses, scoping reviews, and integrative reviews. Each serves a different purpose.
  • Consider Available Resources: Assess the resources at your disposal, including time, access to databases, and the volume of literature on your topic. Some review types may be more resource-intensive than others.
  • Alignment with Research Question: Ensure that the chosen review type aligns with your research question or hypothesis. Some types are better suited for answering specific research questions than others.
  • Scope and Depth: Determine the scope and depth of your review. For a broad overview, a narrative review might be suitable, while a systematic review is ideal for an in-depth analysis.
  • Consult with Advisors: Seek guidance from your academic advisors or mentors. They can provide valuable insights into which review type best fits your research goals and resources.
  • Consider Research Field Standards: Different academic fields have established standards and preferences for different forms of literature review. Familiarise yourself with what is common and accepted in your field.
  • Pilot Review: Consider conducting a small-scale pilot review of the literature to test the feasibility and suitability of your chosen review type before committing to a larger project.

Bonus Tip: Crafting an Effective Literature Review

Now, since you have learned all the literature review types and have understood which one to prefer, here are some bonus tips for you to structure a literature review of a dissertation .

  • Clearly Define Your Research Question: Start with a well-defined and focused research question to guide your literature review.
  • Thorough Search Strategy: Develop a comprehensive search strategy to ensure you capture all relevant literature.
  • Critical Evaluation: Assess the quality and credibility of the sources you include in your review.
  • Synthesise and Organise: Summarise the key findings and organise the literature into themes or categories.
  • Maintain a Systematic Approach: If conducting a systematic review, adhere to a predefined methodology and reporting guidelines.
  • Engage in Continuous Review: Regularly update your literature review to incorporate new research and maintain relevance.

Some Useful Tools And Resources For You

Effective literature reviews demand a range of tools and resources to streamline the process.

  • Reference management software like EndNote, Zotero, and Mendeley helps organise, store, and cite sources, saving time and ensuring accuracy.
  • Academic databases such as PubMed, Google Scholar, and Web of Science provide access to a vast array of scholarly articles, with advanced search and citation tracking features.
  • Research guides from universities and libraries offer tips and templates for structuring reviews.
  • Research networks like ResearchGate and Academia.edu facilitate collaboration and access to publications. Literature review templates and research workshops provide additional support.

Some Common Mistakes To Avoid

Avoid these common mistakes when crafting literature reviews.

  • Unclear research objectives result in unfocused reviews, so start with well-defined questions.
  • Biased source selection can compromise objectivity, so include diverse perspectives.
  • Never miss on referencing; proper citation and referencing are essential for academic integrity.
  • Don’t overlook older literature, which provides foundational insights.
  • Be mindful of scope creep, where the review drifts from the research question; stay disciplined to maintain focus and relevance.

While Summing Up On Various Types Of Literature Review

As we conclude this classification of fourteen distinct approaches to conduct literature reviews, it’s clear that the world of research offers a multitude of avenues for understanding, analysing, and contributing to existing knowledge.

Whether you’re a seasoned scholar or a student beginning your academic journey, the choice of review type should align with your research objectives and the nature of your topic. The versatility of these approaches empowers you to tailor your review to the demands of your project.

Remember, your research endeavours have the potential to shape the future of knowledge, so choose wisely and dive into the world of literature reviews with confidence and purpose. Happy reviewing!

Laura Brown

Laura Brown, a senior content writer who writes actionable blogs at Crowd Writer.

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Types of Literature Reviews

Strategies for getting started, composition guidelines, how to locate reviews by discipline.

We also provide the following activities:

Types of Literature Reviews [Refresher]

The previous page provided an introduction to literature reviews and guidelines for determining the scope and purpose of your review. Next, we take a look at the different types of literature reviews and why a researcher might select one type over another.

A literature review helps your reader understand the relationship of your research project to the work of other scholars. It covers the existing knowledge about a problem, and allows you to show the relevance/significance of your contribution to the discussion. Your reader may or may not have read scholarly literature about the theories, methodologies, and literary works you are discussing. But they want to know that you have read it and have thought about it. Your literature review provides not only a summary of the existing scholarship for readers; it also offers your perspective on it.

Not all humanities research projects contain literature reviews, but many do. Keep in mind that the type of literature review you choose (see list below) pertains to the secondary research – other scholarly sources – and not to the primary literary work. For instance, a literature review about Kate Chopin’s writing will be your thoughts about the scholarship on Chopin and not about Chopin’s text itself. You are summarizing what you see in the scholarly literature about Chopin’s writing. The literature review puts you in the position of authority not just on Chopin’s writing but on the scholarship about her writing. You are seeking to understand what scholars have said about her work. Scholars might belong to different schools of thought (psychoanalytic, feminist, Marxist, etc.). They might make different arguments about Chopin. They might use different methodological approaches. 

If your research involves two or more theories, such as psychology and genre studies, you may need to create multiple literature reviews, one for each theory or methodology. If the theories overlap with each other significantly (i.e., Marxism and Cultural Studies), you may combine them. Your literature review need not include everything about the subject area – you would need to write a book to cover a single theory – but only those concepts and methods that are most relevant to your research problem.

Factors to Consider When Developing Your Literature Review

  • Determine the Scope : How broad or narrow should your literature review be? You may want to focus on recent scholarship only, or on a particular school of thought in the literature. Your scope is determined by your purpose; what is it you aim to achieve with your research?
  • Establish Criteria : We discussed the importance of defining the purpose and scope of your review on the previous page, but it’s worth reviewing here as well. This step will help you establish important criteria and focus your searching. For example, how many sources will you need? What types of sources (primary, secondary, statistics, media)? Is currency important? Do you know who the prominent authors or theorists are in your subject area? Take some time to map out these or other important factors before you begin searching journals and databases.
  • Consider Your Audience : Unlike a work cited page or an annotated bibliography, both of which are lists of sources, a literature review is essayistic and can be considered a precursor to your final paper. Therefore, it should be written in your own voice, and it should be geared toward a specific audience. Considering audience during this early stage will help focus your final paper as well.
  • Find Models : We’ll discuss the different types of literature reviews and how to locate examples in the section below. However, even if you’re undecided about what type of review will work best for you, you may want to review some example literature reviews to get a sense of what they look like before you begin your own.

One piece of advice before starting: look for existing literature reviews on your area of scholarship. You can build on the work that other scholars have put into reviewing the scholarly literature. There’s no need to completely “reinvent the wheel” if some of the work is already done.

Scholars sometimes publish “stand-alone” literature reviews that are not part of a larger work; such literature reviews are valuable contributions to the field, as they summarize the state of knowledge for other scholars.

Maria J. Grant and Andrew Booth’s “A Typology of Reviews” identifies 14 distinct types of literature reviews. Further, the UCLA library created a chart to complement the article and for easy comparison of those 14 types of reviews. This section provides a brief summary of the most common literature reviews. For a more complete analysis, please see the full article and the chart .

To choose the most appropriate structure, put yourself in your reader’s shoes and think through their need for information. The literature review is about providing context for your contribution. How much context do people need? Keep it to the minimum necessary; compressing a lot of information into a small amount of text is a must.

These structures are not meant to be straightjackets but tools to help you organize your research. If you find that the tool is working, then keep using it. If not, switch tools or modify the one you are using. Keep in mind that the types of literature reviews are just different ways of organizing information. So, you can discuss literary trends without organizing your review of secondary literature by trend; your discussion can be organized by theory or theme, for examples. In our literature reviews, we are not recounting other scholars’ arguments at length but merely providing key concepts so we can summarize the discussion so far and position our own claims. You don’t have to adhere strictly to one structure or another. They are just organizing tools that help you manage your material (and help your reader make sense of it).

Types of Reviews

  • Traditional or narrative reviews : This approach will generate a comprehensive, critical analysis of the published research on your topic. However, rather than merely compiling as many sources as possible, use this approach to establish a theoretical framework for your paper, establish trends, and identify gaps in the research. This process should bring your research question into clearer focus and help define a thesis that you will argue for in your paper. This is perhaps the most common and general type of literature review. The examples listed below are all designed to serve a more specific purpose.
  • Argumentative : The purpose of an argumentative literature review is to select sources for the purpose of supporting or refuting a specific claim. While this type of review can help the author make a strong case for or against an issue, they can also be prone to claims of bias. Later in this textbook, we will read about the distinction between warranted and unwarranted bias . One is ok and the other is not.
  • Chronological : A chronological review is used when the author wants to demonstrate the progression of how a theory, methodology, or issue has progressed over time. This method is most effective when there is a clear chronological path to the research about a specific historical event or trend as opposed to a more recursive theoretical concept.
  • By trend : This is similar to the chronological approach except it focuses on clearly-defined trends rather than date ranges. This would be most appropriate if you want to illustrate changing perspectives or attitudes about a given issue when specific date ranges are less important than the ebb and flow of the trend.
  • Thematic : In this type of literature review, the author will select specific themes that he or she feels are important to understanding a larger topic or concept. Then, the author will organize the sources around those themes, which are often based on relevance or importance. The value of this method is that the process of organizing the review by theme is similar to constructing an argument. This can help the author see how resources connect to each other and determine how as well as why specific sources support their thesis.
  • Theoretical : The goal of this type of review is to examine how theory has shaped the research on a given topic. It establishes existing theoretical models, their connections, and how extensively they have been developed in the published research. For example, Jada applied critical race theory to her analysis of Sonny’s Blues , but she might also consider conducting a more comprehensive review of other theoretical frameworks such as feminism, Marxism, or postmodernism. Doing so could provide insight into alternate readings, and help her identify theoretical gaps such as unexplored or under-developed approaches to Baldwin’s work.
  • Methodological : The approach focuses on the various methodologies used by researchers in a specific area rather than an analysis of their findings. In this case, you would create a framework of approaches to data collection related to your topic or research question. This is perhaps more common in education or the social and hard sciences where published research often includes a methods section, but it is sometimes appropriate for the digital humanities as well.
  • Scoping : The aim of a scoping review is to provide a comprehensive overview or map of the published research or evidence related to a research question. This might be considered a prelude to a systematic review that would take the scoping review one step further toward answering a clearly defined research question. See below for more details.
  • Systematic : The systematic review is most appropriate when you have a clearly-defined research question and have established criteria for the types of sources you need. In this way, the systematic review is less exploratory than other types of reviews. Rather, it is comprehensive, strategic, and focused on answering a specific research question. For this reason, the systematic review is more common in the health and social sciences, where comprehensiveness is more important than interpretation, than the humanities.
  • Meta-analysis : Does your research deal with statistics or large amounts of data? If so, then a meta-analysis might be best for you rather than providing a critical review, the meta-analysis will summarize and synthesize the results of numerous studies that involve statistics or data to provide a more comprehensive picture than would be possible from just one study.

An argumentative literature review presents and takes sides in scholarly arguments about the literary work. It makes arguments about other scholars’ work. It does not necessarily involve a claim that the literary work is itself making an argument. Likewise, a chronological literature review presents the scholarly literature in chronological order.

You don’t need to keep strictly to one type. Scholars often combine features from various types of literature reviews. A sample review that combines the follow types –

  • Argumentative
  • Theoretical
  • Methodological

– is the excellent work of Eiranen, Reetta, Mari Hatavara, Ville Kivimäki, Maria Mäkelä & Raisa Maria Toivo (2022) “ Narrative and Experience: Interdisciplinary Methodologies between History and Narratology , ” Scandinavian Journal of History , 47:1, 1-15

When writing your literature review, please follow these pointers:

  • Conduct systematic searches
  • Use Evidence
  • Be Selective
  • Use Quotes Sparingly
  • Summarize & Synthesize
  • Use Caution when Paraphrasing
  • Use Your Own Voice

Advice from James Mason University’s “Literature Reviews: An Overview”

what is the type of literature review

A note on synthesizing : Don’t make the common mistake of summarizing individual studies or articles one after the other. The goal is to synthesize — that is, to make observations about groups of studies. Synthesis often uses language like this:

  • Much of the literature on [topic x ] focuses on [major themes].
  • In recent years, researchers have begun investigating [facets a , b , and c ] of [topic x ].
  • The studies in this review of [topic x ] confirm / suggest / call into question / support [idea / practice / finding / method / theory / guideline y ].
  • In the reviewed studies [variable x ] was generally associated with higher / lower rates of [outcome y ].
  • A limitation of some / most / all of these studies is [ y ].

Please see this sample annotated literature review  from James Mason University.

Structure of a literature review [1]

  • Problematization: The 2 to 3 pages of problematization are a distinct, iterative, step. It may take doing such a statement a few times before moving forward to writing the actual paper.
  • Search: Write down your keyword sets, your updated keyword sets, and databases. It is perfectly within a reviewer’s rights to ask for these details.
  • Summary: Really getting to know major themes requires some annotation of articles. You want to identify core papers and themes and write about them. This helps you really learn the material. [ChatGPT or Wikipedia are no substitute for deep engagement with a paper.]
  • Argument: Either outline or create a slide deck that help you express the arguments in your paper. Read them out loud. Have friends look at them. Present them. [Every literature review has an argument. If not, it’s a summary. A summary does not merit publication in a top outlet.]
  • Unpacking: Once you’ve nailed the short pitch, unpack the full argument. [ a) Take time in each major section to map out a) the argument, b) the supporting evidence, and the takeaway. b) Take those major sections, reconcile them, make sure they don’t overlap, then move on to writing. c) Sketch out the paper’s sections, tables, figures, and appendices.]
  • Writing: Writing is the easy part. You can always put words to the screen. [Revising and improving is hard. Make time to write every day. Improving requires feedback. Find a writing partner to give feedback. Create your tables and figures. Write to them. Make sure the words in the paper align to the visuals.]
  • Communicate: When the paper is done, go back and create a paper presentation. [I do this for the papers that I’m most serious about. The act of storyboarding helps me sort out the small pieces of the story that don’t fit together. If I really want it to succeed, I present it. The act of presenting helps me get it right. My best papers sometimes take seven or eight presentations to get it right. Then I return to the paper and fine tune it. Only then, does it have a shot at a top outlet.]

Literature reviews can be published as part of a scholarly article, often after the introduction and sometimes with a header, but they can also be published as a standalone essay. To find examples of what reviews look like in your discipline, choose an appropriate subject database (such as MLA for literary criticism) and conduct a keyword search with the term “Literature Review” added in quotes:

Lit review_1.PNG

Not only do these examples demonstrate how to structure different types of literature reviews, but some offer insights into trends and directions for future research. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at some reading strategies to help guide you through this process.

Since scholars already have produced literature reviews on various scholarly conversations, you don’t always need to “reinvent the wheel” (start a literature review from nothing). You can find a published literature review and update it or amend it; scholars do that all the time. However, you must properly cite work you incorporate from others.

image

  • What types of literature review will you be using for your paper? Why did you make this selection over others? If you haven’t made a selection yet, which types are you considering?
  • What specific challenges do you face in following a literature review structure?
  • If there are any elements of your assignment that need clarification, please list them.
  • What was the most important lesson you learned from this page? What point was confusing or difficult to understand?
  • Richard West, Brigham Young University, amended by Jason Thatcher, Temple University - https://www.linkedin.com/posts/jason-thatcher-0329764_academicwriting-topten2023-activity-7146507675021766656-BB0O ↵

Strategies for Conducting Literary Research, 2e Copyright © 2021 by Barry Mauer & John Venecek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

Marco pautasso.

1 Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), CNRS, Montpellier, France

2 Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB), FRB, Aix-en-Provence, France

Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications [1] . For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively [2] . Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every single new paper relevant to their interests [3] . Thus, it is both advantageous and necessary to rely on regular summaries of the recent literature. Although recognition for scientists mainly comes from primary research, timely literature reviews can lead to new synthetic insights and are often widely read [4] . For such summaries to be useful, however, they need to be compiled in a professional way [5] .

When starting from scratch, reviewing the literature can require a titanic amount of work. That is why researchers who have spent their career working on a certain research issue are in a perfect position to review that literature. Some graduate schools are now offering courses in reviewing the literature, given that most research students start their project by producing an overview of what has already been done on their research issue [6] . However, it is likely that most scientists have not thought in detail about how to approach and carry out a literature review.

Reviewing the literature requires the ability to juggle multiple tasks, from finding and evaluating relevant material to synthesising information from various sources, from critical thinking to paraphrasing, evaluating, and citation skills [7] . In this contribution, I share ten simple rules I learned working on about 25 literature reviews as a PhD and postdoctoral student. Ideas and insights also come from discussions with coauthors and colleagues, as well as feedback from reviewers and editors.

Rule 1: Define a Topic and Audience

How to choose which topic to review? There are so many issues in contemporary science that you could spend a lifetime of attending conferences and reading the literature just pondering what to review. On the one hand, if you take several years to choose, several other people may have had the same idea in the meantime. On the other hand, only a well-considered topic is likely to lead to a brilliant literature review [8] . The topic must at least be:

  • interesting to you (ideally, you should have come across a series of recent papers related to your line of work that call for a critical summary),
  • an important aspect of the field (so that many readers will be interested in the review and there will be enough material to write it), and
  • a well-defined issue (otherwise you could potentially include thousands of publications, which would make the review unhelpful).

Ideas for potential reviews may come from papers providing lists of key research questions to be answered [9] , but also from serendipitous moments during desultory reading and discussions. In addition to choosing your topic, you should also select a target audience. In many cases, the topic (e.g., web services in computational biology) will automatically define an audience (e.g., computational biologists), but that same topic may also be of interest to neighbouring fields (e.g., computer science, biology, etc.).

Rule 2: Search and Re-search the Literature

After having chosen your topic and audience, start by checking the literature and downloading relevant papers. Five pieces of advice here:

  • keep track of the search items you use (so that your search can be replicated [10] ),
  • keep a list of papers whose pdfs you cannot access immediately (so as to retrieve them later with alternative strategies),
  • use a paper management system (e.g., Mendeley, Papers, Qiqqa, Sente),
  • define early in the process some criteria for exclusion of irrelevant papers (these criteria can then be described in the review to help define its scope), and
  • do not just look for research papers in the area you wish to review, but also seek previous reviews.

The chances are high that someone will already have published a literature review ( Figure 1 ), if not exactly on the issue you are planning to tackle, at least on a related topic. If there are already a few or several reviews of the literature on your issue, my advice is not to give up, but to carry on with your own literature review,

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The bottom-right situation (many literature reviews but few research papers) is not just a theoretical situation; it applies, for example, to the study of the impacts of climate change on plant diseases, where there appear to be more literature reviews than research studies [33] .

  • discussing in your review the approaches, limitations, and conclusions of past reviews,
  • trying to find a new angle that has not been covered adequately in the previous reviews, and
  • incorporating new material that has inevitably accumulated since their appearance.

When searching the literature for pertinent papers and reviews, the usual rules apply:

  • be thorough,
  • use different keywords and database sources (e.g., DBLP, Google Scholar, ISI Proceedings, JSTOR Search, Medline, Scopus, Web of Science), and
  • look at who has cited past relevant papers and book chapters.

Rule 3: Take Notes While Reading

If you read the papers first, and only afterwards start writing the review, you will need a very good memory to remember who wrote what, and what your impressions and associations were while reading each single paper. My advice is, while reading, to start writing down interesting pieces of information, insights about how to organize the review, and thoughts on what to write. This way, by the time you have read the literature you selected, you will already have a rough draft of the review.

Of course, this draft will still need much rewriting, restructuring, and rethinking to obtain a text with a coherent argument [11] , but you will have avoided the danger posed by staring at a blank document. Be careful when taking notes to use quotation marks if you are provisionally copying verbatim from the literature. It is advisable then to reformulate such quotes with your own words in the final draft. It is important to be careful in noting the references already at this stage, so as to avoid misattributions. Using referencing software from the very beginning of your endeavour will save you time.

Rule 4: Choose the Type of Review You Wish to Write

After having taken notes while reading the literature, you will have a rough idea of the amount of material available for the review. This is probably a good time to decide whether to go for a mini- or a full review. Some journals are now favouring the publication of rather short reviews focusing on the last few years, with a limit on the number of words and citations. A mini-review is not necessarily a minor review: it may well attract more attention from busy readers, although it will inevitably simplify some issues and leave out some relevant material due to space limitations. A full review will have the advantage of more freedom to cover in detail the complexities of a particular scientific development, but may then be left in the pile of the very important papers “to be read” by readers with little time to spare for major monographs.

There is probably a continuum between mini- and full reviews. The same point applies to the dichotomy of descriptive vs. integrative reviews. While descriptive reviews focus on the methodology, findings, and interpretation of each reviewed study, integrative reviews attempt to find common ideas and concepts from the reviewed material [12] . A similar distinction exists between narrative and systematic reviews: while narrative reviews are qualitative, systematic reviews attempt to test a hypothesis based on the published evidence, which is gathered using a predefined protocol to reduce bias [13] , [14] . When systematic reviews analyse quantitative results in a quantitative way, they become meta-analyses. The choice between different review types will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, depending not just on the nature of the material found and the preferences of the target journal(s), but also on the time available to write the review and the number of coauthors [15] .

Rule 5: Keep the Review Focused, but Make It of Broad Interest

Whether your plan is to write a mini- or a full review, it is good advice to keep it focused 16 , 17 . Including material just for the sake of it can easily lead to reviews that are trying to do too many things at once. The need to keep a review focused can be problematic for interdisciplinary reviews, where the aim is to bridge the gap between fields [18] . If you are writing a review on, for example, how epidemiological approaches are used in modelling the spread of ideas, you may be inclined to include material from both parent fields, epidemiology and the study of cultural diffusion. This may be necessary to some extent, but in this case a focused review would only deal in detail with those studies at the interface between epidemiology and the spread of ideas.

While focus is an important feature of a successful review, this requirement has to be balanced with the need to make the review relevant to a broad audience. This square may be circled by discussing the wider implications of the reviewed topic for other disciplines.

Rule 6: Be Critical and Consistent

Reviewing the literature is not stamp collecting. A good review does not just summarize the literature, but discusses it critically, identifies methodological problems, and points out research gaps [19] . After having read a review of the literature, a reader should have a rough idea of:

  • the major achievements in the reviewed field,
  • the main areas of debate, and
  • the outstanding research questions.

It is challenging to achieve a successful review on all these fronts. A solution can be to involve a set of complementary coauthors: some people are excellent at mapping what has been achieved, some others are very good at identifying dark clouds on the horizon, and some have instead a knack at predicting where solutions are going to come from. If your journal club has exactly this sort of team, then you should definitely write a review of the literature! In addition to critical thinking, a literature review needs consistency, for example in the choice of passive vs. active voice and present vs. past tense.

Rule 7: Find a Logical Structure

Like a well-baked cake, a good review has a number of telling features: it is worth the reader's time, timely, systematic, well written, focused, and critical. It also needs a good structure. With reviews, the usual subdivision of research papers into introduction, methods, results, and discussion does not work or is rarely used. However, a general introduction of the context and, toward the end, a recapitulation of the main points covered and take-home messages make sense also in the case of reviews. For systematic reviews, there is a trend towards including information about how the literature was searched (database, keywords, time limits) [20] .

How can you organize the flow of the main body of the review so that the reader will be drawn into and guided through it? It is generally helpful to draw a conceptual scheme of the review, e.g., with mind-mapping techniques. Such diagrams can help recognize a logical way to order and link the various sections of a review [21] . This is the case not just at the writing stage, but also for readers if the diagram is included in the review as a figure. A careful selection of diagrams and figures relevant to the reviewed topic can be very helpful to structure the text too [22] .

Rule 8: Make Use of Feedback

Reviews of the literature are normally peer-reviewed in the same way as research papers, and rightly so [23] . As a rule, incorporating feedback from reviewers greatly helps improve a review draft. Having read the review with a fresh mind, reviewers may spot inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and ambiguities that had not been noticed by the writers due to rereading the typescript too many times. It is however advisable to reread the draft one more time before submission, as a last-minute correction of typos, leaps, and muddled sentences may enable the reviewers to focus on providing advice on the content rather than the form.

Feedback is vital to writing a good review, and should be sought from a variety of colleagues, so as to obtain a diversity of views on the draft. This may lead in some cases to conflicting views on the merits of the paper, and on how to improve it, but such a situation is better than the absence of feedback. A diversity of feedback perspectives on a literature review can help identify where the consensus view stands in the landscape of the current scientific understanding of an issue [24] .

Rule 9: Include Your Own Relevant Research, but Be Objective

In many cases, reviewers of the literature will have published studies relevant to the review they are writing. This could create a conflict of interest: how can reviewers report objectively on their own work [25] ? Some scientists may be overly enthusiastic about what they have published, and thus risk giving too much importance to their own findings in the review. However, bias could also occur in the other direction: some scientists may be unduly dismissive of their own achievements, so that they will tend to downplay their contribution (if any) to a field when reviewing it.

In general, a review of the literature should neither be a public relations brochure nor an exercise in competitive self-denial. If a reviewer is up to the job of producing a well-organized and methodical review, which flows well and provides a service to the readership, then it should be possible to be objective in reviewing one's own relevant findings. In reviews written by multiple authors, this may be achieved by assigning the review of the results of a coauthor to different coauthors.

Rule 10: Be Up-to-Date, but Do Not Forget Older Studies

Given the progressive acceleration in the publication of scientific papers, today's reviews of the literature need awareness not just of the overall direction and achievements of a field of inquiry, but also of the latest studies, so as not to become out-of-date before they have been published. Ideally, a literature review should not identify as a major research gap an issue that has just been addressed in a series of papers in press (the same applies, of course, to older, overlooked studies (“sleeping beauties” [26] )). This implies that literature reviewers would do well to keep an eye on electronic lists of papers in press, given that it can take months before these appear in scientific databases. Some reviews declare that they have scanned the literature up to a certain point in time, but given that peer review can be a rather lengthy process, a full search for newly appeared literature at the revision stage may be worthwhile. Assessing the contribution of papers that have just appeared is particularly challenging, because there is little perspective with which to gauge their significance and impact on further research and society.

Inevitably, new papers on the reviewed topic (including independently written literature reviews) will appear from all quarters after the review has been published, so that there may soon be the need for an updated review. But this is the nature of science [27] – [32] . I wish everybody good luck with writing a review of the literature.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to M. Barbosa, K. Dehnen-Schmutz, T. Döring, D. Fontaneto, M. Garbelotto, O. Holdenrieder, M. Jeger, D. Lonsdale, A. MacLeod, P. Mills, M. Moslonka-Lefebvre, G. Stancanelli, P. Weisberg, and X. Xu for insights and discussions, and to P. Bourne, T. Matoni, and D. Smith for helpful comments on a previous draft.

Funding Statement

This work was funded by the French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) through its Centre for Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity data (CESAB), as part of the NETSEED research project. The funders had no role in the preparation of the manuscript.

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Systematic Reviews

  • Introduction to Systematic Reviews

Traditional Systematic Reviews

Meta-analyses, scoping reviews, rapid reviews, umbrella reviews, selecting a review type.

  • Reading Systematic Reviews
  • Resources for Conducting Systematic Reviews
  • Getting Help with Systematic Reviews from the Library
  • History of Systematic Reviews
  • Acknowledgements

Systematic Reviews are a family of review types that include:

This page provides information about the most common types of systematic reviews, important resources and references for conducting them, and some tools for choosing the best type for your research question .

Additional Information

  • A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies This classic article is a valuable reference point for those commissioning, conducting, supporting or interpreting reviews.
  • Traditional Systematic Reviews follow a rigorous and well-defined methodology to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research articles on a specific topic and within a specified population of subjects
  • The primary goal of this type of study is to comprehensively find the empirical data available on a topic, identify relevant articles, synthesize their findings and draw evidence-based conclusions to answer a clinical question
  • Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions provides direction on the standard methods involved in conducting a systematic review. It is the official guide to the process involved in preparing and maintaining Cochrane systematic reviews on the effects of healthcare interventions.
  • JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis The JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis is designed to provide authors with a comprehensive guide to conducting JBI systematic reviews. It describes in detail the process of planning, undertaking and writing up a systematic review using JBI methods. The JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis should be used in conjunction with the support and tutorials offered at the JBI SUMARI Knowledge Base.

These are some places where protocols for systematic reviews might be published.

  • PROSPERO: International prospective register of systematic reviews PROSPERO is an international database of prospectively registered systematic reviews in health and social care, welfare, public health, education, crime, justice, and international development, where there is a health related outcome. Key features from the review protocol are recorded and maintained as a permanent record. PROSPERO aims to provide a comprehensive listing of systematic reviews registered at inception to help avoid duplication and reduce opportunity for reporting bias by enabling comparison of the completed review with what was planned in the protocol.
  • Guidance Notes for Registering A Systematic Review Protocol with PROSPERO
  • OSF Registries Open Science Framework (OSF) Registries is an open network of study registgrations and pre-registrations. It can be used to pre-register a systematic review protocol. Note that OSF pre-registrations are not reviewed.
  • OSF Preregistration Initiative This page explains the motivation behind preregistrations and best practices for doing so.
  • Protocols.io A secure platform for developing and sharing reproducible methods, including protocols for systematic reviews.
  • PRISMA 2020 Statement The PRISMA 2020 Statement was published in 2021. It consists of a checklist and a flow diagram, and is intended to be accompanied by the PRISMA 2020 Explanation and Elaboration document.
  • Meta-analysis is a statistical method that can be applied during a systematic review to extract and combine the results from multiple studies
  • This pooling of data from compatible studies increases the statistical power and precision of the conclusions made by the systematic review
  • Systematic reviews can be done without doing a meta-analysis, but a meta-analysis must be done in connection with a systematic review
  • Scoping reviews identify the existing literature available on a topic to help identify key concepts, the type and amount of evidence available on a subject, and what research gaps exist in a specific area of study
  • They are particularly useful when a research question is broad and the goal is to provide an understanding of the available evidence on a topic rather than providing a focused synthesis on a narrow question
  • JBI Manual Chapter 11: Scoping Reviews
  • Updated methodological guidance for the conduct of scoping reviews The objective of this paper is to describe the updated methodological guidance for conducting a JBI scoping review, with a focus on new updates to the approach and development of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews (the PRISMA-ScR).
  • Steps for Conducting a Scoping Review This article in the Journal of Graduate Medical Education provides a comprehensive yet brief overview of the scoping review process.

Note: Protocols for scoping reviews can be published in all the same places as traditional systematic reviews except PROSPERO.

  • Best practice guidance and reporting items for the development of scoping review protocols The purpose of this article is to clearly describe how to develop a robust and detailed scoping review protocol, which is the first stage of the scoping review process. This paper provides detailed guidance and a checklist for prospective authors to ensure that their protocols adequately inform both the conduct of the ensuing review and their readership.
  • PRISMA for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR) The PRISMA extension for scoping reviews was published in 2018. The checklist contains 20 essential reporting items and 2 optional items to include when completing a scoping review. Scoping reviews serve to synthesize evidence and assess the scope of literature on a topic. Among other objectives, scoping reviews help determine whether a systematic review of the literature is warranted.
  • Touro College: What is a Scoping Review? This page describes scoping reviews, including their limitations, alternate names, and how they differ from traditional systematic reviews.
  • What are scoping reviews? Providing a formal definition of scoping reviews as a type of evidence synthesis This article from JBI Evidence Synthesis provides a thorough definition of what scoping reviews are and what they are for.
  • The role of scoping reviews in reducing research waste This article from the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology looks at how scoping reviews can reduce research waste.
  • Rapid reviews streamline the systematic review process by omitting certain steps or accelerating the timeline
  • They are useful when there is a need for timely evidence synthesis, such as in response to questions concerning an urgent policy or clinical situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Rapid Review Guidebook This document provides guidance on the process of conducting rapid reviews to use evidence to inform policy and program decision making.
  • Rapid reviews to strengthen health policy and systems: a practical guide This guide from the World Health Organization offers guidance on how to plan, conduct, and promote the use of rapid reviews to strengthen health policy and systems decisions. The Guide explores different approaches and methods for expedited synthesis of health policy and systems research, and highlights key challenges for this emerging field, including its application in low- and middle-income countries. It touches on the utility of rapid reviews of health systems evidence, and gives insights into applied methods to swiftly conduct knowledge syntheses and foster their use in policy and practice.
  • Cochrane Rapid Reviews Methods Group offers evidence-informed guidance to conduct rapid reviews The Cochrane Rapid Reviews Methods Group offers new, interim guidance to support the conduct of Rapid Reviews.
  • Touro College: What is a Rapid Review? This page describes rapid reviews, including their limitations, alternate names, and how they differ from traditional systematic reviews.
  • Umbrella reviews synthesize evidence from multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses on a specific topic
  • They provide a next-generation level of evidence synthesis, analyzing evidence taken from multiple systematic reviews to offer a broader perspective on a given subject
  • JBI Manual Chapter 10: Umbrella reviews
  • Preferred Reporting Items for Overviews of Reviews (PRIOR) Overviews of reviews (i.e., overviews) compile information from multiple systematic reviews to provide a single synthesis of relevant evidence for healthcare decision-making. Despite their increasing popularity, there are currently no systematically developed reporting guidelines for overviews. This is problematic because the reporting of published overviews varies considerably and is often substandard. Our objective is to use explicit, systematic, and transparent methods to develop an evidence-based and agreement-based reporting guideline for overviews of reviews of healthcare interventions (PRIOR, Preferred Reporting Items for Overviews of Reviews).
  • Touro College: What is an Overview of Reviews? This page describes umbrella reviews, including their limitations, alternate names, and how they differ from traditional systematic reviews.
  • Cornell University Systematic Review Decision Tree This decision tree is designed to assist researchers in choosing a review type.
  • Right Review This tool is designed to provide guidance and supporting material to reviewers on methods for the conduct and reporting of knowledge synthesis.
  • << Previous: Introduction to Systematic Reviews
  • Next: Reading Systematic Reviews >>
  • Last Updated: Feb 12, 2024 5:59 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.ohsu.edu/systematic-reviews

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Systematic Reviews & Evidence Synthesis Methods

Types of reviews.

  • Formulate Question
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  • Searching Systematically
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Not sure what type of review you want to conduct?

There are many types of reviews ---  narrative reviews ,  scoping reviews , systematic reviews, integrative reviews, umbrella reviews, rapid reviews and others --- and it's not always straightforward to choose which type of review to conduct. These Review Navigator tools (see below) ask a series of questions to guide you through the various kinds of reviews and to help you determine the best choice for your research needs.

  • Which review is right for you? (Univ. of Manitoba)
  • What type of review is right for you? (Cornell)
  • Review Ready Reckoner - Assessment Tool (RRRsAT)
  • A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. by Grant & Booth
  • Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements | Health Info Libr J, 2019

Reproduced from Grant MJ, Booth A. A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies . Health Info Libr J. 2009 Jun;26(2):91-108. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

  • Last Updated: Jan 9, 2024 7:24 PM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/systematicreviews

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what is the type of literature review

  • About Covidence and systematic reviews

What are the different types of review?

Systematic literature reviews (slrs).

SLR’s attempt to collate all empirical evidence that fit pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific clearly-formulated research question.  A SLR uses explicit and reproducible systematic methods that are selected with a view to minimizing bias, thus providing more reliable findings from which conclusions can be drawn and decisions made.

The process starts with a research question and a protocol or research plan. A review team searches for studies to answer the question using a highly sensitive search strategy. The retrieved studies are then screened for eligibility using pre-specified inclusion and exclusion criteria (this is done by at least two people working independently). Next, the reviewers extract the relevant data and assess the quality of the included studies. Finally, the review team synthesizes the extracted study data and presents the results. 

A SLR may contain meta-analyses (statistical analysis). A SLR which is continually updated, incorporating relevant new evidence as it becomes available is often known as a living SLR.

Rapid reviews

Rapid reviews aim to produce a rigorous synthesis quickly (due to time constraints/urgency), based on a pre-defined research question. The review process for rapid reviews is the same as for a more traditional systematic review: the emphasis is on a replicable pre-specified search, and screening methods that minimize the risk of bias, although potentially isn’t as stringent as a formal systematic review.

The process operates within pre-specified limits (for example, by restricting searches to articles published during a specific timeframe) and is usually run by a multidisciplinary team with expertise in systematic review methods.

Umbrella reviews or Overview of reviews

An umbrella review is a review of multiple systematic reviews. The process uses explicit and systematic methods to search for, and identify, systematic reviews on related research questions in the same topic area. The purpose of an umbrella review is to synthesize the results of the systematic reviews across important outcomes. 

Scoping reviews

Scoping reviews are exploratory and they typically address a broad question, compared to a systematic review that typically has a more targeted question. 

Researchers conduct scoping reviews to assess the extent of the available evidence, to organize it into groups and to highlight gaps. If a scoping review finds no studies, this might help researchers to decide that a systematic review is likely to be of limited value and that resources could be better directed elsewhere.

Literature reviews or narrative reviews

Literature, or narrative, reviews provide an overview of what is known about a particular topic. They evaluate the material, rather than simply restating it, but the methods used to do this are not usually prespecified and they are not described in detail in the review. The search might be comprehensive but it does not aim to be exhaustive. Literature reviews are often topic based  and can take the form of a discussion. Literature reviews lack precision and replicability and can  present their findings in the context of what has come before. Often, this sort of synthesis does not attempt to control for the author’s own bias. The results or conclusion of a literature review is likely to be presented in a narrative format rather than statistical methods.

Take a look at the articles about the different types of review on the Covidence blog:

  • Systematic review types: meet the family
  • The difference between a systematic review and a literature review
  • The difference between a systematic review and a meta-analysis

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Evidence Syntheses and Systematic Reviews: Overview

  • Choosing a Review

Analyze and Report

What is evidence synthesis.

Evidence Synthesis: general term used to refer to any method of identifying, selecting, and combining results from multiple studies. There are several types of reviews which fall under this term; the main ones are in the table below: 

Types of Reviews

General steps for conducting systematic reviews.

The number of steps for conducting Evidence Synthesis varies a little, depending on the source that one consults. However, the following steps are generally accepted in how Systematic Reviews are done:

  • Identify a gap in the literature and form a well-developed and answerable research question which will form the basis of your search
  • Select a framework that will help guide the type of study you’re undertaking
  • Different guidelines are used for documenting and reporting the protocols of your systematic review before the review is conducted. The protocol is created following whatever guideline you select.
  • Select Databases and Grey Literature Sources
  • For steps 3 and 4, it is advisable to consult a librarian before embarking on this phase of the review process. They can recommend databases and other sources to use and even help design complex searches.
  • A protocol is a detailed plan for the project, and after it is written, it should be registered with an appropriate registry.
  • Search Databases and Other Sources
  • Not all databases use the same search syntax, so when searching multiple databases, use search syntaxes that would work in individual databases.
  • Use a citation management tool to help store and organize your citations during the review process; great help when de-duplicating your citation results
  • Inclusion and exclusion criteria already developed help you remove articles that are not relevant to your topic. 
  • Assess the quality of your findings to eliminate bias in either the design of the study or in the results/conclusions (generally not done outside of Systematic Reviews).

Extract and Synthesize

  • Extract the data from what's left of the studies that have been analyzed
  • Extraction tools are used to get data from individual studies that will be analyzed or summarized. 
  • Synthesize the main findings of your research

Report Findings

Report the results using a statistical approach or in a narrative form.

Need More Help?

Librarians can:

  • Provide guidance on which methodology best suits your goals
  • Recommend databases and other information sources for searching
  • Design and implement comprehensive and reproducible database-specific search strategies 
  • Recommend software for article screening
  • Assist with the use of citation management
  • Offer best practices on documentation of searches

Related Guides

  • Literature Reviews
  • Choose a Citation Manager
  • Project Management

Steps of a Systematic Review - Video

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  • Last Updated: Feb 16, 2024 5:40 PM
  • URL: https://guides.smu.edu/evidencesyntheses

Literature Reviews

  • Getting Started
  • Choosing a Type of Review
  • Developing a Research Question
  • Searching the Literature
  • Searching Tips
  • ChatGPT [beta]
  • Documenting your Search
  • Using Citation Managers
  • Concept Mapping
  • Concept Map Definition

MindMeister

  • Writing the Review
  • Further Resources

Additional Tools

Google slides.

GSlides can create concept maps using their Diagram feature. Insert > Diagram > Hierarchy will give you some editable templates to use.

Tutorial on diagrams in GSlides .

MICROSOFT WORD

MS Word can create concept maps using Insert > SmartArt Graphic. Select Process, Cycle, Hierarchy, or Relationship to see templates.

NVivo  is software for qualitative analysis that has a concept map feature. Zotero libraries can be uploaded using ris files. NVivo Concept Map information.

A concept map or mind map is a visual representation of knowledge that illustrates relationships between concepts or ideas. It is a tool for organizing and representing information in a hierarchical and interconnected manner. At its core, a concept map consists of nodes, which represent individual concepts or ideas, and links, which depict the relationships between these concepts .

Below is a non-exhaustive list of tools that can facilitate the creation of concept maps.

what is the type of literature review

www.canva.com

Canva is a user-friendly graphic design platform that enables individuals to create visual content quickly and easily. It offers a diverse array of customizable templates, design elements, and tools, making it accessible to users with varying levels of design experience. 

Pros: comes with many pre-made concept map templates to get you started

Cons : not all features are available in the free version

Explore Canva concept map templates here .

Note: Although Canva advertises an "education" option, this is for K-12 only and does not apply to university users.

what is the type of literature review

www.lucidchart.com

Lucid has two tools that can create mind maps (what they're called inside Lucid): Lucidchart is the place to build, document, and diagram, and Lucidspark is the place to ideate, connect, and plan.

Lucidchart is a collaborative online diagramming and visualization tool that allows users to create a wide range of diagrams, including flowcharts, org charts, wireframes, and mind maps. Its mind-mapping feature provides a structured framework for brainstorming ideas, organizing thoughts, and visualizing relationships between concepts. 

Lucidspark , works as a virtual whiteboard. Here, you can add sticky notes, develop ideas through freehand drawing, and collaborate with your teammates. Has only one template for mind mapping.

Explore Lucid mind map creation here .

How to create mind maps using LucidSpark: 

Note: U-M students have access to Lucid through ITS. [ info here ] Choose the "Login w Google" option, use your @umich.edu account, and access should happen automatically.

what is the type of literature review

www.figma.com

Figma is a cloud-based design tool that enables collaborative interface design and prototyping. It's widely used by UI/UX designers to create, prototype, and iterate on digital designs. Figma is the main design tool, and FigJam is their virtual whiteboard:

Figma  is a comprehensive design tool that enables designers to create and prototype high-fidelity designs

FigJam focuses on collaboration and brainstorming, providing a virtual whiteboard-like experience, best for concept maps

Explore FigJam concept maps here .

what is the type of literature review

Note: There is a " Figma for Education " version for students that will provide access. Choose the "Login w Google" option, use your @umich.edu account, and access should happen automatically.

what is the type of literature review

www.mindmeister.com

MindMeister  is an online mind mapping tool that allows users to visually organize their thoughts, ideas, and information in a structured and hierarchical format. It provides a digital canvas where users can create and manipulate nodes representing concepts or topics, and connect them with lines to show relationships and associations.

Features : collaborative, permits multiple co-authors, and multiple export formats. The free version allows up to 3 mind maps.

Explore  MindMeister templates here .

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  • Last Updated: Feb 15, 2024 1:47 PM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.umich.edu/litreview
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American Journal of Neuroradiology

American Journal of Neuroradiology

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7T MRI for Cushing’s Disease: A Single Institutional Experience and Literature Review

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BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Cushing disease is typically caused by a pituitary adenoma that frequently is small and challenging to detect on conventional MRI. High field strength 7T MRI can leverage increased signal-to-noise and contrast-to-noise ratios compared to lower-field strength MRI to help identify small pituitary lesions. We aim to describe our institutional experience with 7T MRI in patients with Cushing disease and perform a review of the literature.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: A retrospective analysis of 7T MRI findings in patients with pathology proven cases of Cushing disease from a single institution, followed by a review of the literature on 7T MRI for Cushing disease.

RESULTS: Our institutional experience identified Cushing adenomas in 10/13 (76.9%) patients on 7T, however only 5/13 (38.5%) lesions were discrete. Overall, the imaging protocols used were heterogeneous in terms of contrast dose as well as type of post-contrast T1-weighted sequences (Dynamic, 2D vs 3D, and type of 3D sequence). From our institutional data, specific post-gadolinium T1-weighted sequences were helpful in identifying a surgical lesion as follows: Dynamic Contrast Enhanced 2/7 (28.6%), 2D FSE 4/8 (50%), 3D SPACE 5/6 (83.3%), and 3D MPRAGE 8/11 (72.7%). The literature review identified Cushing adenomas in 31/33 (93.9%) patients on 7T.

CONCLUSIONS: 7T MRI for pituitary lesion localization in Cushing disease is a new technique with imaging protocols that varied widely. Further comparative research is needed to identify the optimal imaging technique as well as to assess the benefit of 7T over lower-field strength MRI.

ABBREVIATIONS: MRI = Magnetic Resonance Imaging, CT = Computed Tomography, 7T = 7 Tesla, DCE = Dynamic Contrast Enhanced

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    A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays).

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    A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories.A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that ...

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    A literature or narrative review is a comprehensive review and analysis of the published literature on a specific topic or research question. The literature that is reviewed contains: books, articles, academic articles, conference proceedings, association papers, and dissertations. It contains the most pertinent studies and points to important ...

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    What kinds of literature reviews are written? Narrative review: The purpose of this type of review is to describe the current state of the research on a specific topic/research and to offer a critical analysis of the literature reviewed. Studies are grouped by research/theoretical categories, and themes and trends, strengths and weakness, and gaps are identified.

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    Literature reviews can take two major forms. The most prevalent one is the "literature review" or "background" section within a journal paper or a chapter in a graduate thesis. This section synthesizes the extant literature and usually identifies the gaps in knowledge that the empirical study addresses ( Sylvester, Tate, & Johnstone, 2013 ).

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