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  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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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.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

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.

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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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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.

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  • What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples

What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples

Published on 22 February 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 7 June 2022.

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.

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 summarise sources – it analyses, synthesises, and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

Why write 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, frequently asked questions about literature reviews, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a dissertation or thesis, you will 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 scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position yourself in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your dissertation addresses a gap or contributes to a debate

You might also have to write a literature review as a stand-alone assignment. In this case, the purpose is to evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of scholarly debates around a topic.

The content will look slightly different in each case, but the process of conducting a literature review follows the same steps. 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 objectives and questions .

If you are writing a literature review as a stand-alone assignment, you will have to choose a focus and develop a central question to direct your search. Unlike a dissertation research question, this question has to be answerable without collecting original data. You should be able to answer it based only on a review of existing publications.

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research topic. 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 if 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 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 use boolean operators to help narrow down your search:

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.

To identify the most important publications on your topic, take note of recurring citations. If the same authors, books or articles keep appearing in your reading, make sure to seek them out.

You probably won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on the topic – you’ll have to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your questions.

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?
  • How does the publication contribute to your understanding of the topic? What are its key insights and arguments?
  • 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 find out how many times an article has been cited on Google Scholar – a high citation count means the article has been influential in the field, and should certainly be included in your literature review.

The scope of your review will depend on your topic and discipline: in the sciences you usually only review recent literature, but in the humanities you might take a long historical perspective (for example, to trace how a concept has changed in meaning over time).

Remember that you can use our template to summarise and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using!

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’s important to keep track of your sources with references to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography, where you compile full reference 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.

You can use our free APA Reference Generator for quick, correct, consistent citations.

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To begin organising your literature review’s argument and structure, you need to 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 organising the body of a literature review. You should have a rough idea of your strategy before you start writing.

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 summarising sources in order.

Try to analyse 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 organise 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.

If you are writing the literature review as part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate your central problem or research question and give a brief summary of the scholarly context. You can emphasise the timeliness of the topic (“many recent studies have focused on the problem of x”) or highlight a gap in the literature (“while there has been much research on x, few researchers have taken y into consideration”).

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, make sure to follow these tips:

  • Summarise and synthesise: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole.
  • Analyse and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations, 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 transitions and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts.

In the conclusion, you should summarise the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasise their significance.

If the literature review is part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate how your research addresses gaps and contributes new knowledge, or discuss how you have drawn on existing theories and methods to build a framework for your research. This can lead directly into your methodology section.

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 dissertation , thesis, research paper , or proposal .

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarise 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  dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

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How to Write a Literature Review for Research: Guide, Structure & Template Examples

Literature_Review

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A literature review is a critical analysis of published research on a particular topic. It involves reviewing and analyzing a range of sources, such as academic articles, books, and reports. Students conduct a literature review before writing a research paper or dissertation to gain an understanding of the existing knowledge and recognize areas for further exploration.

Evaluating scholarly works is a crucial aspect of academic work because it establishes the foundation for an inquiry and uncovers new information or gaps in studies. Thus, it is essential to develop and structure it correctly.  In this guide you will find:

  • A detailed definition
  • Elements of a good literary review
  • How to do a literature review
  • Examples of literature review template.

Read on to explore the structure and straightforward steps for assessing existing sources on your topic.  In case you are looking for a quick solution, consider giving our literature review services a try. 

What Is a Literature Review: Definition

Before delving further, let’s first define what is a literature review in research. As a researcher, you might need to objectively synthesize, explore, and evaluate existing studies conducted by others. A literature review helps you identify gaps or areas that require further investigation. It boils down to analyzing and making sense of a massive body of knowledge. It is crucial to be critical during the entire process as it is the most effective approach to engaging with texts. You need to objectively identify their strengths and weaknesses, and convey your positive or negative views.   In other words, literature reviews are about deducing specific sources and comparing relevant studies to find similarities and differences. This process may reveal new perspectives or offer a thorough outline for further developments in a specific field. It can also inform readers about the relevance and validity of existing documents to the statement of the problem . You conduct a lit review to get an overview of concepts surrounding your subject, keep up to date with trends in your field, and enhance your credibility. Besides, it offers a solid background for a research paper , thesis or dissertation .

Literature review definition

What Is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

A literature review must highlight your overall knowledge of a research subject and help you develop an argument, mostly by responding to a specific question. It is not just a summary of what you have read.  Commonly, the purpose of a literature review is to help you:

  • Understand and convey the current state of literature on your research topic .
  • Find adequate documents on your subject to form your perspective.
  • Create a framework for your paper based on research goals.
  • Identify gaps in studies and develop novel research questions .
  • Select appropriate methods by locating tried and tested techniques.

Note that keeping all these points in mind is important to get the most from an evaluation process when conducting the review.

Types of Literature Reviews

There are various types of literature reviews, each with specific expectations in terms of depth, structure, length, and scope. Here are the main ones:

  • Stand-alone literature review. This type involves a comprehensive analysis of prior research related to a specific question. Here, your task is to evaluate and compare existing studies, identify trends, and recognize gaps, weaknesses, and controversies in the field.
  • Literature review for a journal article. In this case, the analysis of literature focuses on providing background information for an inquiry being conducted. It is usually placed in an introduction or combined with the discussion of results.
  • Literature review assignment. Students may be assigned a selective project to familiarize themselves with a theme and studies in their field. The intention could also be to identify gaps in the current knowledge base to suggest new questions, develop a theoretical framework in research , or determine a suitable methodology for future exploration. This type deals with a small part of research on a subject and stands as a complete work.
  • Research paper literature review. The main objective here is to facilitate scholars in gathering, condensing, synthesizing, and examining current research on a specific issue. This is particularly beneficial to academics who are investigating a new area of study or seeking guidance on topics that have not yet been thoroughly explored.
  • Thesis or dissertation literature review. This is a separate chapter placed after the Ph.D. thesis introduction and before the dissertation methodology section. It helps the author understand what has already been studied and what gaps exist in the current knowledge. By analyzing the existing research, a researcher can identify opportunities for further investigation and ensure that their study is original and significant.

How Long Should a Literature Review Be?

If the instructions for a task do not specify the required length of the literature review, there are some guidelines to consider. In general, it would be enough to have 20-25% of the total size of your work as an analysis part. Typically, the analysis section of the review should constitute around 20-25% of the total length of the work. However, several factors, such as the project purpose, intended audience, type, and scope, may affect how long a literature review is. For example, a dissertation usually requires an extensive literature evaluation section. The best assessments, however, are usually not less than 2 pages long.  If you are uncertain about the appropriate length, refer to the table below for guidance. Literature Review Length in Different Projects

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Features of a Good Literature Review

Regardless of your work’s nature, composing a good literature review is a laborious process that many students rightfully find challenging. This is because you may need to go through numerous studies and identify gaps, recognize frameworks, cite sources, and ensure coherence. Therefore, to develop a decent piece it is essential to consider the characteristics described below. The best work:

  • Is more than just a list of relevant studies: you should critically examine others’ ideas and assess how they are presented.
  • Considers a variety of reliable and applicable sources: a scientific literature review should demonstrate that you are familiar with relevant readings on your topic. Thus, ensure you have covered important, broad, latest, and pertinent texts. Such an approach enhances the depth of your evaluation and highlights various viewpoints.
  • Demonstrates an awareness of values and theories underpinning the work: in the first place, you must understand why exactly you are conducting the evaluation. If you don’t know the purpose and function of the process, you will not write effectively.
  • Relates papers to each other by comparing and contrasting them: a literature review in research moves past simple descriptions of what others have written. Rather, it entails connecting, finding differences and similarities, and interpreting concepts.
  • Offers personal reactions and opinions to manuscripts: after comparing, contrasting, and critiquing others’ works, you should present your own interpretation and analysis.
  • Showcases research gaps that your study will deal with and help address.
  • Applies appropriate linking/transition words such as “similarly”, “however”, “also”, “contend”, “conclude”, “argue”, and “assert”: this helps you group together related notions, highlight contrasting views, and introduce others’ opinions or texts while remaining objective throughout the analysis.

literature review characteristics

What to Include in a Literature Review?

At this point, you understand the definitions, purpose, and features of a literature review. Now you need to present information effectively. Like in any other formal paper, your work must have a basic structure comprising an introduction, body, and conclusion.  But what does it look like? The layout goes beyond these sections because you must also consider how your themes and arguments will be organized.  Here is a detailed description of the three main parts of a literature review:

  • Introduction Your first section should be brief, direct, and focused. Explain the main themes or topics to be analyzed, the arguments you will present, and the underlying reasons for your claims.
  • Body In this section, conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the selected sources and organize them using a specific approach, such as themes or topics. Make sure to present your arguments clearly, linking them to studies that support or contradict your assessment. Remember to include viewpoints that disagree with your position to strengthen your evaluation. Cite the works of various authors you are critically analyzing, and limit the use of direct quotes. Instead, paraphrase and include references.
  • Conclusion Summarize your literature review by highlighting the conclusions drawn from your analysis. You can restate gaps in knowledge, explain how your study will address them, and recommend future research needed on the topic.

Look at the example of the literature review template below to learn more.

Literature Review Template

Read more: Literature Review Outline

How to Structure a Literature Review?

Once you are ready to begin writing a literature review, it is necessary to think about how you will organize information. This helps avoid the risk of your work turning into a loose sequence of summaries instead of a logical and integrated analysis.  A literature review structure should be chosen based on the style used in your body section. Here are the major approaches you can use:

  • Thematic This approach involves organizing your analysis around themes, topics, or issues. It is particularly useful when focusing on a single overarching subject and enables you to highlight critical debates within sub-themes.
  • Chronological Literature reviews using this format organize studies based on when they were published, typically moving from older to newer works to explore the topic's development over time. It is important to analyze sources by considering any debates and turning points that influenced the subject and offer your interpretation.
  • Methodological This design focuses on the methods other researchers used. A review of literature using this layout considers the perspective from which a particular theme was examined or the procedures used to answer a specific question. It may use qualitative, quantitative, or other strategies within these two broad techniques.
  • Theoretical A theoretical approach involves a systematic and critical examination of existing theories, models, and frameworks related to the research topic or question. This approach helps to establish the context, identify gaps, and provide a foundation for your own research.

Approaches to structuring a literature review

How to Write a Literature Review?

If you are still wondering how to write a literature review for a research paper, thesis or dissertation, this guideline will help you get started. While you have learned about important elements such as structuring and organization, you may still need guidance on how to establish your foundation for creating your review.  The following sections provide easy-to-understand explanations on how to write a lit review. Below are 7 steps you must follow to develop a decent paper.

How to write a literature review in 7 steps

1. Select a Topic and Narrow It Down

As you begin reviewing literature, it is vital to get your focus correct. Depending on your field of study, the selected topic must be:

  • Relevant and important Explore a crucial concern in your field so that people will be interested in your work and you will have sufficient material to base your project on.
  • Interesting This is essential because learning how to write a good literature review starts with being inquisitive since you can’t investigate something that doesn’t arouse your curiosity.
  • Well defined this helps you include only relevant publications to make your paper helpful.
  • Narrow Your theme must be specific yet researched enough to allow for an in-depth analysis. Broad issues usually necessitate a large number of studies, which will be impossible to explore meaningfully.

2. Search for Pertinent Literature

After having selected a topic for your research literature review, you need to search for studies. As you do this research, you'll want to take note of the keywords and phrases that appear frequently in the articles. These keywords can be used to create a list of search terms that you'll use to find additional articles on your topic. To ensure that your search terms are effective, you should try to identify the most important keywords and phrases related to your topic. These might be the names of key researchers, conceptual frameworks , theories, or techniques related to your topic. Consider the headings that the documents have been tagged with and words occurring in abstracts and titles. You can then organize your phrases into blocks based on the main ideas. Once you have identified the relevant keywords for your scientific literature review, it's time to search for articles. To do this, you'll need to choose at least two credible databases to search for good articles. Popular options include:

  • Google Scholar

But there may be other databases that are more appropriate for your specific topic. When searching across different databases, it's important to use a uniform search strategy. This means combining your search terms using " OR " and " AND " to create a block of related terms. You can then type this block into the basic search box or use the advanced search feature, enclosing the terms in parentheses. This makes it easier to find specific articles. For example, consider these keywords:

Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, adolescents, young adults, and management. The search term block would be “(Crohn’s disease OR ulcerative colitis) AND (young adults OR adolescent) AND management”.

Since the generated results may contain irrelevant or unreliable sources, ensure that you select only dependable ones. This is a key skill to develop when conducting a literature review because it allows you to choose the best articles to support your arguments.

3. Analyze and Choose Relevant Sources

After completing your search for articles and selecting databases, it's time to review the sources and choose which ones to include in your lit review. Focus on studies that are relevant to your topic and meet any other inclusion criteria.  To determine whether an article is relevant to your project, you'll need to read it carefully and grasp the arguments presented. Take notes as you read, recording interesting facts, main points, and any thoughts you have about the article. This will help you remember which author made which arguments, your impressions of the article, and any relationships you identified between different sources. As you read, try to answer these questions:

  • What is the main argument of the article?
  • How does the author support their argument?
  • What is the research question or objective of the study?
  • What research methods were used, and were they appropriate for the research question?
  • What were the main findings or results of the study?
  • Were the results statistically significant, and were the conclusions supported by the data?
  • Are there any limitations or weaknesses to the study that should be considered?
  • Are the authors qualified to conduct this research?
  • Are there any conflicts of interest or biases that may affect the study's findings?
  • Is the article well-written and easy to understand?
  • Are the sources cited in the article reliable and relevant to the topic?

Remember that you can only start to write your literature review after going through all your manuscripts. Therefore, creating a rough draft is essential as this gives you a general idea of the volume of available material available. While conducting a literature review, you must examine the quality of all sources critically. This typically entails using a checklist or table to evaluate aspects such as methods, results, and presentation. An example of a template to assess sources for a literature review is provided below. It contains questions and criteria that assist in locating bias, errors, or flaws. Template for Literature Evaluation

Template for Evaluation of Existing Literature

4. Group the Sources by Categories

To write a review of literature, you need to sort your sources. After reading and evaluating your articles, you should have a general idea of the main achievements, major debates, themes, trends, and outstanding issues/questions. The next step is to organize your sources into logical categories. Good research literature reviews are systematic and consistent. You may choose to arrange your sources by topic, research methodology , geographic location, or other relevant criteria. It's also helpful to use subheadings within each category to further organize your sources. As you group your sources, be sure to consider how they relate to one another and to the overall research question or topic. You may find that certain sources address multiple themes or issues. In this case you'll need to decide which category is the most appropriate for each source. Remember that the purpose of organizing your sources is to provide a clear and coherent structure for your literature review. By grouping your sources into logical categories, you make it easier for your readers to follow your arguments and understand the connections between different sources. Here is an example of how to group sources by categories.

Example of how to group existing sources by categories

5. Build Connection Between Your Ideas and the Literature

To complete this step of the literature review, you need to connect your research, arguments, or ideas to the texts you've gathered. Begin by using your research question to identify connections between your sources and insights into your findings. Match your key concepts with the central points in each article to establish associations between topics. Be aware that you may see differences or contradictions between readings. To ensure that you're ready to write your literature review, use your key concepts as headings in your notes to easily locate articles that address specific themes. Observe and make explicit the relationships that emerge between your arguments and the manuscripts. These connections will be useful when structuring your work and selecting the papers to include in your project.

6. Write a Literature Review

At this point, you can start a literature review because you have already synthesized relevant works in your mind and recorded the details. With that information in mind, it is time to begin composing the actual analysis and thoroughly creating each of the components of a literature review.  Initiate the process by highlighting your topic and your overall argument or view.  Just like any other academic essay , your project must be well-structured and contain an introduction, main part, and conclusion. Consider the following explanations on how to write a literature review for a dissertation, thesis, or research paper.

Literature Review Introduction

The introduction section should provide the necessary background information and clarify the purpose of your analysis.  Begin by broadly announcing the topic and providing contextual details of major concepts and terms, such as what is already known about the subject and how the field has developed. Next, provide specific and relevant information about the issue and explain why it is important or why readers should engage with your work. Finally, describe the organization, scope, and aim or highlight the key points that will be discussed. Look at the following example to see how you can write an introduction for a literature review. Literature Review Introduction Example

The concentration of carbon emissions has been increasing throughout the years. The amount was 290 ppm before the industrial revolution but rose to 450 ppm afterward (Block, 2019, Wbeltz, 2020). These changes will affect the global climate significantly by influencing mean temperatures and precipitation levels. In turn, this will put pressure on global agricultural production and affect the growth speed, crop quality, and yield of staple foods like wheat (Wbeltz, 2020). Since over 90% of people worldwide depend on this crop, it must survive any climate changes. Thus, the purpose of this review is to evaluate how carbon emissions will affect global wheat production and identify any mitigation measures. The paper will explore wheat growth, yield, and quality in the face of elevated carbon levels.

Lit Review Body

The body section of your literature review is where you analyze relevant studies related to your topic. It is essential to organize your analysis coherently and logically.  Identify important sub-topics and structuring them to support your arguments. Using subheadings under major themes can help to order and focus your work effectively.  While writing the body of your literature review, you should critically examine texts.  This involves recognizing gaps, points of agreement or disagreement, and key subjects.  You can structure this section chronologically, thematically, theoretically, or methodologically, depending on your research question and the nature of your sources. Remember to use reliable and accurate references to support your arguments. Consider this example: Example of a Literature Review Paper Body Section

Various studies show that elevated carbon emissions result in increased crop growth. Adams (2018) attributes this to improved photosynthesis in leaves when exposed to high carbon levels in the air. Other studies argue that carbon enriches crops, accelerates and amplifies their productivity, and causes improved growth (Hog, 2020). In an experimental study, Li (2019) compared crop growth under high carbon conditions and found that a 500 ppm level enhances growth by nearly 8%. Nevertheless, high carbon levels also result in other effects such as high temperatures (Daley, 2019). In turn, this leads to short growth periods or cycles. Thus, an increase in temperature while accelerating the time for growth adversely affects crop quality (Adams, 2020).

Literature Review Conclusion

The concluding section of a literature review should show how you addressed the topic or achieved your purpose. You should then mention the major arguments you examined before identifying their implications in the broader field. Remember to recommend any applicable future research. Also, keep in mind these things when writing your literature review conclusion:

  • Avoid in-text citations.
  • Do not include new information.
  • Highlight main ideas raised in the body paragraphs.
  • Give your general view of the studies and explain your conclusions and underlying reasons.

Here is a sample literature review conclusion. Literature Review Conclusion Example

The review aimed to explore the effect of elevated carbon levels on global wheat production. Assessments of effects on the crop’s growth, yield, and quality were conducted to understand how changes in climate due to increasing carbon emissions will affect global agriculture. Findings demonstrate a definite impact of these changes on the aforementioned aspects. In particular, elevated carbon levels lead to enhanced growth, shorter growth cycle, and low and poor quality yields. It is suggested that future studies should further explore the role of other factors such as soil health and fertilizer use in explaining these effects because modern agricultural techniques are considered to harm soil quality.

7. Proofread and Revise Your Review of Literature

Once you are done with reviewing your literature, give yourself some time off and then come back to edit it. Attend to its narrative and flow by ensuring that all parts fit together and transition smoothly from one paragraph to another. Improve any poor connections, revise to enhance clarity, or re-write sentences to eradicate construction mistakes. You can then give your scientific literature review to a colleague or friend, who is not an expert in the field, and ask their opinion about the message of your overall paper. Also, seek responses from your supervisor if possible. Use any feedback you get to better your project further. At this point, you understand how to do a lit review. Additional tips are provided below.

Literature Review Format

Besides following the aforementioned steps, you must also consider how to format a literature review. Be sure to check with your institution or target journal about style guidelines and the specific rules of your work’s layout.  Each style has instructions regarding the major sections, in-text citations, and a literature reference page.  For example, an APA paper format is based on an “author-date” approach, in which the author’s name and publication year are cited inside the document. A reference list is included on your paper’s last page. APA literature review format is dominant in the sciences, psychology, and education fields.  In contrast, an MLA format paper follows a “researcher-page number” style accompanied by works cited page, which is common in the humanities.  A Chicago style paper requires footnotes or endnotes with a bibliography section for all sources. It is mostly used in fine arts, history, and business disciplines.

Literature Review Examples

At this point, you are ready to start writing your review. Before proceeding, it is advisable to consider an example of literature review in a research paper, thesis or dissertation in your field. Thoroughly read the samples you find to get familiar with aspects such as organization, argument presentation, and referencing sources correctly. This is an effective way of learning ways of framing and structuring your work. Additionally, going through how to write a literature review example helps you understand what is expected in this task. Also, when reading these samples, pay attention to the academic language used. Look at the following free examples: Literature review example (APA 7th Edition)

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Literature review for research paper example

Thesis/dissertation literature review example

Tips on Writing a Literature Review in Research

Now that you have a well-rounded idea about how to write a literature review, read the recommendation described here as they remind you of essential points. Before proceeding, remember that you should include sources that are associated with your work directly. This helps you avoid frustrating and distracting readers or making them lose sight of your purpose. Also, once you start writing your review, stick to the previously created outline and keep these tips in mind:

  • Analyze Do not just list studies, rather, examine them critically to find similarities, differences, relationships, or contradictions.
  • Time management Take your time to select a topic, gather literature, evaluate, read, and write. The last part should take about half of your time, while the remainder is for the other tasks.
  • Revise Anticipate revising countless times before delivering a final version.
  • Presentation A literature review in a research paper, thesis or dissertation must be specific and provide concrete examples. For example, rather than “this” use “this result”. First-person references should be avoided because they signal unsupported arguments. Everything written should have a reason. Also, use short paragraphs as they are easier to read. Additionally, structure your work with headings, subheadings, and subsections to make it flow.
  • Paraphrase Avoid relying too much on quoting directly from sources or one researcher. Rather, paraphrase and compare authors between themselves and with your ideas.
  • References Give credit to every outside idea or language by citing their work in your paper.

Literature Review Checklist

Now that you are through with composing your literature review, it is essential to be sure that your work is ready for delivery or publication. Therefore, you must take your time and reflect on the following questions to ensure that every section is covered thoroughly. Consider this final checklist:

  • checkbox I stated the reason for conducting my project and outlined its scope.
  • checkbox I chose relevant and credible studies.
  • checkbox I have identified recent trends.
  • checkbox I have logically presented a review of literature in my research paper or dissertation.
  • checkbox I organized my information based on themes/issues/methods/theories.
  • checkbox I have located gaps in research and literature.
  • checkbox I displayed how details supporting a topic relate to its significance.
  • checkbox I wrote my literature review critically.
  • checkbox I have demonstrated instances when findings contradicted each other or were inconclusive.
  • checkbox I explored designs, theories, questions, models, and hypotheses.
  • checkbox I highlighted each source’s importance to my theme.
  • checkbox I have included an introduction, body, and conclusion.
  • checkbox I have checked for grammatical issues.

Final Thoughts on Writing a Scientific Literature Review

We have provided you with all the necessary information on how to write a review of literature. Follow our step-by-step guide to identify the right keywords, evaluate sources, and select credible and relevant articles. Make sure to structure your writing clearly and logically using the key components of a literature review that we have outlined for you.  To help you further, we have included examples of literature reviews for you to check. With these simplified requirements, you are ready to start practicing and creating your own literature reviews. Remember, practice is essential to mastering this type of writing, so keep it up!

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FAQ About Literature Reviews

1. what is a literature review in a research paper.

The literature review of a research paper is a type of academic essay that analyzes and evaluates previous or existing studies on a topic. It aims to survey readings, synthesize, and digest the obtained information. It also critically explores the data by identifying gaps in knowledge, demonstrating limitations in manuscripts, examining contradictions, and determining areas for additional research. The final piece is presented logically.

2. Where does a literature review go in a research paper?

A literature review generally comes after an introduction and before the methodology chapter of dissertations. Here, it is used to analyze relevant scholarship about a topic, ground your research paper in a specific field, and inform your data collection methods and analysis procedures.

3. How to start a literature review?

Start a literature review by describing the background of what you will analyze in your body paragraphs. There is no need to be comprehensive here. Rather, show that you clearly understand your paper’s scope. In particular, begin by conveying the established ideas and knowledge on the subject being explored to your audience.

4. What is the difference between a literature review and an annotated bibliography?

The main difference between the two is that literature reviews focus on providing an overview and analysis of existing research on a particular theme. They aim to identify the strengths and weaknesses of arguments and draw conclusions. In contrast, the purpose of an annotated bibliography is to collect sources for a specific project and offer summaries of what they are about.

5. What is the importance of a literature review?

A literature review is important because:

  • It establishes a rapport with your readers They will trust you because you have examined and analyzed facts appropriately.
  • Helps researchers deliver original work The entire process of conducting the assessment assists you to evade repeating something done by someone else.
  • It improves your research focus Synthesizing and analyzing studies can guide and shape your investigation in new directions by providing novel insights and views on a theme.

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The structure of a literature review

A literature review should be structured like any other essay: it should have an introduction, a middle or main body, and a conclusion.

Introduction

The introduction should:

  • define your topic and provide an appropriate context for reviewing the literature;
  • establish your reasons – i.e. point of view – for
  • reviewing the literature;
  • explain the organisation – i.e. sequence – of the review;
  • state the scope of the review – i.e. what is included and what isn’t included. For example, if you were reviewing the literature on obesity in children you might say something like: There are a large number of studies of obesity trends in the general population. However, since the focus of this research is on obesity in children, these will not be reviewed in detail and will only be referred to as appropriate.

The middle or main body should:

  • organise the literature according to common themes;
  • provide insight into the relation between your chosen topic and the wider subject area e.g. between obesity in children and obesity in general;
  • move from a general, wider view of the literature being reviewed to the specific focus of your research.

The conclusion should:

  • summarise the important aspects of the existing body of literature;
  • evaluate the current state of the literature reviewed;
  • identify significant flaws or gaps in existing knowledge;
  • outline areas for future study;
  • link your research to existing knowledge.

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When writing a research paper on a specific topic, you will often need to include an overview of any prior research that has been conducted on that topic.  For example, if your research paper is describing an experiment on fear conditioning, then you will probably need to provide an overview of prior research on fear conditioning.  That overview is typically known as a literature review.  

Please note that a full-length literature review article may be suitable for fulfilling the requirements for the Psychology B.S. Degree Research Paper .  For further details, please check with your faculty advisor.

Different Types of Literature Reviews

Literature reviews come in many forms.  They can be part of a research paper, for example as part of the Introduction section.  They can be one chapter of a doctoral dissertation.  Literature reviews can also “stand alone” as separate articles by themselves.  For instance, some journals such as Annual Review of Psychology , Psychological Bulletin , and others typically publish full-length review articles.  Similarly, in courses at UCSD, you may be asked to write a research paper that is itself a literature review (such as, with an instructor’s permission, in fulfillment of the B.S. Degree Research Paper requirement). Alternatively, you may be expected to include a literature review as part of a larger research paper (such as part of an Honors Thesis). 

Literature reviews can be written using a variety of different styles.  These may differ in the way prior research is reviewed as well as the way in which the literature review is organized.  Examples of stylistic variations in literature reviews include: 

  • Summarization of prior work vs. critical evaluation. In some cases, prior research is simply described and summarized; in other cases, the writer compares, contrasts, and may even critique prior research (for example, discusses their strengths and weaknesses).
  • Chronological vs. categorical and other types of organization. In some cases, the literature review begins with the oldest research and advances until it concludes with the latest research.  In other cases, research is discussed by category (such as in groupings of closely related studies) without regard for chronological order.  In yet other cases, research is discussed in terms of opposing views (such as when different research studies or researchers disagree with one another).

Overall, all literature reviews, whether they are written as a part of a larger work or as separate articles unto themselves, have a common feature: they do not present new research; rather, they provide an overview of prior research on a specific topic . 

How to Write a Literature Review

When writing a literature review, it can be helpful to rely on the following steps.  Please note that these procedures are not necessarily only for writing a literature review that becomes part of a larger article; they can also be used for writing a full-length article that is itself a literature review (although such reviews are typically more detailed and exhaustive; for more information please refer to the Further Resources section of this page).

Steps for Writing a Literature Review

1. Identify and define the topic that you will be reviewing.

The topic, which is commonly a research question (or problem) of some kind, needs to be identified and defined as clearly as possible.  You need to have an idea of what you will be reviewing in order to effectively search for references and to write a coherent summary of the research on it.  At this stage it can be helpful to write down a description of the research question, area, or topic that you will be reviewing, as well as to identify any keywords that you will be using to search for relevant research.

2. Conduct a literature search.

Use a range of keywords to search databases such as PsycINFO and any others that may contain relevant articles.  You should focus on peer-reviewed, scholarly articles.  Published books may also be helpful, but keep in mind that peer-reviewed articles are widely considered to be the “gold standard” of scientific research.  Read through titles and abstracts, select and obtain articles (that is, download, copy, or print them out), and save your searches as needed.  For more information about this step, please see the Using Databases and Finding Scholarly References section of this website.

3. Read through the research that you have found and take notes.

Absorb as much information as you can.  Read through the articles and books that you have found, and as you do, take notes.  The notes should include anything that will be helpful in advancing your own thinking about the topic and in helping you write the literature review (such as key points, ideas, or even page numbers that index key information).  Some references may turn out to be more helpful than others; you may notice patterns or striking contrasts between different sources ; and some sources may refer to yet other sources of potential interest.  This is often the most time-consuming part of the review process.  However, it is also where you get to learn about the topic in great detail.  For more details about taking notes, please see the “Reading Sources and Taking Notes” section of the Finding Scholarly References page of this website.

4. Organize your notes and thoughts; create an outline.

At this stage, you are close to writing the review itself.  However, it is often helpful to first reflect on all the reading that you have done.  What patterns stand out?  Do the different sources converge on a consensus?  Or not?  What unresolved questions still remain?  You should look over your notes (it may also be helpful to reorganize them), and as you do, to think about how you will present this research in your literature review.  Are you going to summarize or critically evaluate?  Are you going to use a chronological or other type of organizational structure?  It can also be helpful to create an outline of how your literature review will be structured.

5. Write the literature review itself and edit and revise as needed.

The final stage involves writing.  When writing, keep in mind that literature reviews are generally characterized by a summary style in which prior research is described sufficiently to explain critical findings but does not include a high level of detail (if readers want to learn about all the specific details of a study, then they can look up the references that you cite and read the original articles themselves).  However, the degree of emphasis that is given to individual studies may vary (more or less detail may be warranted depending on how critical or unique a given study was).   After you have written a first draft, you should read it carefully and then edit and revise as needed.  You may need to repeat this process more than once.  It may be helpful to have another person read through your draft(s) and provide feedback.

6. Incorporate the literature review into your research paper draft.

After the literature review is complete, you should incorporate it into your research paper (if you are writing the review as one component of a larger paper).  Depending on the stage at which your paper is at, this may involve merging your literature review into a partially complete Introduction section, writing the rest of the paper around the literature review, or other processes.

Further Tips for Writing a Literature Review

Full-length literature reviews

  • Many full-length literature review articles use a three-part structure: Introduction (where the topic is identified and any trends or major problems in the literature are introduced), Body (where the studies that comprise the literature on that topic are discussed), and Discussion or Conclusion (where major patterns and points are discussed and the general state of what is known about the topic is summarized)

Literature reviews as part of a larger paper

  • An “express method” of writing a literature review for a research paper is as follows: first, write a one paragraph description of each article that you read. Second, choose how you will order all the paragraphs and combine them in one document.  Third, add transitions between the paragraphs, as well as an introductory and concluding paragraph. 1
  • A literature review that is part of a larger research paper typically does not have to be exhaustive. Rather, it should contain most or all of the significant studies about a research topic but not tangential or loosely related ones. 2   Generally, literature reviews should be sufficient for the reader to understand the major issues and key findings about a research topic.  You may however need to confer with your instructor or editor to determine how comprehensive you need to be.

Benefits of Literature Reviews

By summarizing prior research on a topic, literature reviews have multiple benefits.  These include:

  • Literature reviews help readers understand what is known about a topic without having to find and read through multiple sources.
  • Literature reviews help “set the stage” for later reading about new research on a given topic (such as if they are placed in the Introduction of a larger research paper). In other words, they provide helpful background and context.
  • Literature reviews can also help the writer learn about a given topic while in the process of preparing the review itself. In the act of research and writing the literature review, the writer gains expertise on the topic .

Downloadable Resources

  • How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [ PDF ]
  • Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [ PDF ]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – literature review) [ PDF ]

Further Resources

How-To Videos     

  • Writing Research Paper Videos
  • UCSD Library Psychology Research Guide: Literature Reviews

External Resources

  • Developing and Writing a Literature Review from N Carolina A&T State University
  • Example of a Short Literature Review from York College CUNY
  • How to Write a Review of Literature from UW-Madison
  • Writing a Literature Review from UC Santa Cruz  
  • Pautasso, M. (2013). Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review. PLoS Computational Biology, 9 (7), e1003149. doi : 1371/journal.pcbi.1003149

1 Ashton, W. Writing a short literature review . [PDF]     

2 carver, l. (2014).  writing the research paper [workshop]. , prepared by s. c. pan for ucsd psychology.

Back to top

  • Research Paper Structure
  • Formatting Research Papers
  • Using Databases and Finding References
  • What Types of References Are Appropriate?
  • Evaluating References and Taking Notes
  • Citing References
  • Writing Process and Revising
  • Improving Scientific Writing
  • Academic Integrity and Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Writing Research Papers Videos

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15 Literature Review Examples

literature review examples, types, and definition, explained below

Literature reviews are a necessary step in a research process and often required when writing your research proposal . They involve gathering, analyzing, and evaluating existing knowledge about a topic in order to find gaps in the literature where future studies will be needed.

Ideally, once you have completed your literature review, you will be able to identify how your research project can build upon and extend existing knowledge in your area of study.

Generally, for my undergraduate research students, I recommend a narrative review, where themes can be generated in order for the students to develop sufficient understanding of the topic so they can build upon the themes using unique methods or novel research questions.

If you’re in the process of writing a literature review, I have developed a literature review template for you to use – it’s a huge time-saver and walks you through how to write a literature review step-by-step:

Get your time-saving templates here to write your own literature review.

Literature Review Examples

For the following types of literature review, I present an explanation and overview of the type, followed by links to some real-life literature reviews on the topics.

1. Narrative Review Examples

Also known as a traditional literature review, the narrative review provides a broad overview of the studies done on a particular topic.

It often includes both qualitative and quantitative studies and may cover a wide range of years.

The narrative review’s purpose is to identify commonalities, gaps, and contradictions in the literature .

I recommend to my students that they should gather their studies together, take notes on each study, then try to group them by themes that form the basis for the review (see my step-by-step instructions at the end of the article).

Example Study

Title: Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations

Citation: Vermeir, P., Vandijck, D., Degroote, S., Peleman, R., Verhaeghe, R., Mortier, E., … & Vogelaers, D. (2015). Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations. International journal of clinical practice , 69 (11), 1257-1267.

Source: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/ijcp.12686  

Overview: This narrative review analyzed themes emerging from 69 articles about communication in healthcare contexts. Five key themes were found in the literature: poor communication can lead to various negative outcomes, discontinuity of care, compromise of patient safety, patient dissatisfaction, and inefficient use of resources. After presenting the key themes, the authors recommend that practitioners need to approach healthcare communication in a more structured way, such as by ensuring there is a clear understanding of who is in charge of ensuring effective communication in clinical settings.

Other Examples

  • Burnout in United States Healthcare Professionals: A Narrative Review (Reith, 2018) – read here
  • Examining the Presence, Consequences, and Reduction of Implicit Bias in Health Care: A Narrative Review (Zestcott, Blair & Stone, 2016) – read here
  • A Narrative Review of School-Based Physical Activity for Enhancing Cognition and Learning (Mavilidi et al., 2018) – read here
  • A narrative review on burnout experienced by medical students and residents (Dyrbye & Shanafelt, 2015) – read here

2. Systematic Review Examples

This type of literature review is more structured and rigorous than a narrative review. It involves a detailed and comprehensive plan and search strategy derived from a set of specified research questions.

The key way you’d know a systematic review compared to a narrative review is in the methodology: the systematic review will likely have a very clear criteria for how the studies were collected, and clear explanations of exclusion/inclusion criteria. 

The goal is to gather the maximum amount of valid literature on the topic, filter out invalid or low-quality reviews, and minimize bias. Ideally, this will provide more reliable findings, leading to higher-quality conclusions and recommendations for further research.

You may note from the examples below that the ‘method’ sections in systematic reviews tend to be much more explicit, often noting rigid inclusion/exclusion criteria and exact keywords used in searches.

Title: The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review  

Citation: Roman, S., Sánchez-Siles, L. M., & Siegrist, M. (2017). The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review. Trends in food science & technology , 67 , 44-57.

Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092422441730122X  

Overview: This systematic review included 72 studies of food naturalness to explore trends in the literature about its importance for consumers. Keywords used in the data search included: food, naturalness, natural content, and natural ingredients. Studies were included if they examined consumers’ preference for food naturalness and contained empirical data. The authors found that the literature lacks clarity about how naturalness is defined and measured, but also found that food consumption is significantly influenced by perceived naturalness of goods.

  • A systematic review of research on online teaching and learning from 2009 to 2018 (Martin, Sun & Westine, 2020) – read here
  • Where Is Current Research on Blockchain Technology? (Yli-Huumo et al., 2016) – read here
  • Universities—industry collaboration: A systematic review (Ankrah & Al-Tabbaa, 2015) – read here
  • Internet of Things Applications: A Systematic Review (Asghari, Rahmani & Javadi, 2019) – read here

3. Meta-analysis

This is a type of systematic review that uses statistical methods to combine and summarize the results of several studies.

Due to its robust methodology, a meta-analysis is often considered the ‘gold standard’ of secondary research , as it provides a more precise estimate of a treatment effect than any individual study contributing to the pooled analysis.

Furthermore, by aggregating data from a range of studies, a meta-analysis can identify patterns, disagreements, or other interesting relationships that may have been hidden in individual studies.

This helps to enhance the generalizability of findings, making the conclusions drawn from a meta-analysis particularly powerful and informative for policy and practice.

Title: Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s Disease Risk: A Meta-Meta-Analysis

Citation: Sáiz-Vazquez, O., Puente-Martínez, A., Ubillos-Landa, S., Pacheco-Bonrostro, J., & Santabárbara, J. (2020). Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease risk: a meta-meta-analysis. Brain sciences, 10(6), 386.

Source: https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10060386  

O verview: This study examines the relationship between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Researchers conducted a systematic search of meta-analyses and reviewed several databases, collecting 100 primary studies and five meta-analyses to analyze the connection between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease. They find that the literature compellingly demonstrates that low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels significantly influence the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

  • The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research (Wisniewski, Zierer & Hattie, 2020) – read here
  • How Much Does Education Improve Intelligence? A Meta-Analysis (Ritchie & Tucker-Drob, 2018) – read here
  • A meta-analysis of factors related to recycling (Geiger et al., 2019) – read here
  • Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits (Patterson, Chung & Swan, 2014) – read here

Other Types of Reviews

  • Scoping Review: This type of review is used to map the key concepts underpinning a research area and the main sources and types of evidence available. It can be undertaken as stand-alone projects in their own right, or as a precursor to a systematic review.
  • Rapid Review: This type of review accelerates the systematic review process in order to produce information in a timely manner. This is achieved by simplifying or omitting stages of the systematic review process.
  • Integrative Review: This review method is more inclusive than others, allowing for the simultaneous inclusion of experimental and non-experimental research. The goal is to more comprehensively understand a particular phenomenon.
  • Critical Review: This is similar to a narrative review but requires a robust understanding of both the subject and the existing literature. In a critical review, the reviewer not only summarizes the existing literature, but also evaluates its strengths and weaknesses. This is common in the social sciences and humanities .
  • State-of-the-Art Review: This considers the current level of advancement in a field or topic and makes recommendations for future research directions. This type of review is common in technological and scientific fields but can be applied to any discipline.

How to Write a Narrative Review (Tips for Undergrad Students)

Most undergraduate students conducting a capstone research project will be writing narrative reviews. Below is a five-step process for conducting a simple review of the literature for your project.

  • Search for Relevant Literature: Use scholarly databases related to your field of study, provided by your university library, along with appropriate search terms to identify key scholarly articles that have been published on your topic.
  • Evaluate and Select Sources: Filter the source list by selecting studies that are directly relevant and of sufficient quality, considering factors like credibility , objectivity, accuracy, and validity.
  • Analyze and Synthesize: Review each source and summarize the main arguments  in one paragraph (or more, for postgrad). Keep these summaries in a table.
  • Identify Themes: With all studies summarized, group studies that share common themes, such as studies that have similar findings or methodologies.
  • Write the Review: Write your review based upon the themes or subtopics you have identified. Give a thorough overview of each theme, integrating source data, and conclude with a summary of the current state of knowledge then suggestions for future research based upon your evaluation of what is lacking in the literature.

Literature reviews don’t have to be as scary as they seem. Yes, they are difficult and require a strong degree of comprehension of academic studies. But it can be feasibly done through following a structured approach to data collection and analysis. With my undergraduate research students (who tend to conduct small-scale qualitative studies ), I encourage them to conduct a narrative literature review whereby they can identify key themes in the literature. Within each theme, students can critique key studies and their strengths and limitations , in order to get a lay of the land and come to a point where they can identify ways to contribute new insights to the existing academic conversation on their topic.

Ankrah, S., & Omar, A. T. (2015). Universities–industry collaboration: A systematic review. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 31(3), 387-408.

Asghari, P., Rahmani, A. M., & Javadi, H. H. S. (2019). Internet of Things applications: A systematic review. Computer Networks , 148 , 241-261.

Dyrbye, L., & Shanafelt, T. (2016). A narrative review on burnout experienced by medical students and residents. Medical education , 50 (1), 132-149.

Geiger, J. L., Steg, L., Van Der Werff, E., & Ünal, A. B. (2019). A meta-analysis of factors related to recycling. Journal of environmental psychology , 64 , 78-97.

Martin, F., Sun, T., & Westine, C. D. (2020). A systematic review of research on online teaching and learning from 2009 to 2018. Computers & education , 159 , 104009.

Mavilidi, M. F., Ruiter, M., Schmidt, M., Okely, A. D., Loyens, S., Chandler, P., & Paas, F. (2018). A narrative review of school-based physical activity for enhancing cognition and learning: The importance of relevancy and integration. Frontiers in psychology , 2079.

Patterson, G. T., Chung, I. W., & Swan, P. W. (2014). Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits: A meta-analysis. Journal of experimental criminology , 10 , 487-513.

Reith, T. P. (2018). Burnout in United States healthcare professionals: a narrative review. Cureus , 10 (12).

Ritchie, S. J., & Tucker-Drob, E. M. (2018). How much does education improve intelligence? A meta-analysis. Psychological science , 29 (8), 1358-1369.

Roman, S., Sánchez-Siles, L. M., & Siegrist, M. (2017). The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review. Trends in food science & technology , 67 , 44-57.

Sáiz-Vazquez, O., Puente-Martínez, A., Ubillos-Landa, S., Pacheco-Bonrostro, J., & Santabárbara, J. (2020). Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease risk: a meta-meta-analysis. Brain sciences, 10(6), 386.

Vermeir, P., Vandijck, D., Degroote, S., Peleman, R., Verhaeghe, R., Mortier, E., … & Vogelaers, D. (2015). Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations. International journal of clinical practice , 69 (11), 1257-1267.

Wisniewski, B., Zierer, K., & Hattie, J. (2020). The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research. Frontiers in Psychology , 10 , 3087.

Yli-Huumo, J., Ko, D., Choi, S., Park, S., & Smolander, K. (2016). Where is current research on blockchain technology?—a systematic review. PloS one , 11 (10), e0163477.

Zestcott, C. A., Blair, I. V., & Stone, J. (2016). Examining the presence, consequences, and reduction of implicit bias in health care: a narrative review. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations , 19 (4), 528-542

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What’s Included: Literature Review Template

This template is structure is based on the tried and trusted best-practice format for formal academic research projects such as dissertations and theses. The literature review template includes the following sections:

  • Before you start – essential groundwork to ensure you’re ready
  • The introduction section
  • The core/body section
  • The conclusion /summary
  • Extra free resources

Each section is explained in plain, straightforward language , followed by an overview of the key elements that you need to cover. We’ve also included practical examples and links to more free videos and guides to help you understand exactly what’s required in each section.

The cleanly-formatted Google Doc can be downloaded as a fully editable MS Word Document (DOCX format), so you can use it as-is or convert it to LaTeX.

PS – if you’d like a high-level template for the entire thesis, you can we’ve got that too .

FAQs: Literature Review Template

What format is the template (doc, pdf, ppt, etc.).

The literature review chapter template is provided as a Google Doc. You can download it in MS Word format or make a copy to your Google Drive. You’re also welcome to convert it to whatever format works best for you, such as LaTeX or PDF.

What types of literature reviews can this template be used for?

The template follows the standard format for academic literature reviews, which means it will be suitable for the vast majority of academic research projects (especially those within the sciences), whether they are qualitative or quantitative in terms of design.

Keep in mind that the exact requirements for the literature review chapter will vary between universities and degree programs. These are typically minor, but it’s always a good idea to double-check your university’s requirements before you finalize your structure.

Is this template for an undergrad, Master or PhD-level thesis?

This template can be used for a literature review at any level of study. Doctoral-level projects typically require the literature review to be more extensive/comprehensive, but the structure will typically remain the same.

Can I modify the template to suit my topic/area?

Absolutely. While the template provides a general structure, you should adapt it to fit the specific requirements and focus of your literature review.

What structural style does this literature review template use?

The template assumes a thematic structure (as opposed to a chronological or methodological structure), as this is the most common approach. However, this is only one dimension of the template, so it will still be useful if you are adopting a different structure.

Does this template include the Excel literature catalog?

No, that is a separate template, which you can download for free here . This template is for the write-up of the actual literature review chapter, whereas the catalog is for use during the literature sourcing and sorting phase.

How long should the literature review chapter be?

This depends on your university’s specific requirements, so it’s best to check with them. As a general ballpark, literature reviews for Masters-level projects are usually 2,000 – 3,000 words in length, while Doctoral-level projects can reach multiples of this.

Can I include literature that contradicts my hypothesis?

Yes, it’s important to acknowledge and discuss literature that presents different viewpoints or contradicts your hypothesis. So, don’t shy away from existing research that takes an opposing view to yours.

How do I avoid plagiarism in my literature review?

Always cite your sources correctly and paraphrase ideas in your own words while maintaining the original meaning. You can always check our plagiarism score before submitting your work to help ease your mind. 

Do you have an example of a populated template?

We provide a walkthrough of the template and review an example of a high-quality literature research chapter here .

Can I share this literature review template with my friends/colleagues?

Yes, you’re welcome to share this template in its original format (no editing allowed). If you want to post about it on your blog or social media, all we ask is that you reference this page as your source.

Do you have templates for the other dissertation/thesis chapters?

Yes, we do. You can find our full collection of templates here .

Can Grad Coach help me with my literature review?

Yes, you’re welcome to get in touch with us to discuss our private coaching services , where we can help you work through the literature review chapter (and any other chapters).

Free Webinar: Literature Review 101

example of literature review layout

How to Write a Literature Review

example of literature review layout

As every student knows, writing informative essay and research papers is an integral part of the educational program. You create a thesis, support it using valid sources, and formulate systematic ideas surrounding it. However, not all students know that they will also have to face another type of paper known as a Literature Review in college. Let's take a closer look at this with our custom essay writer .

Literature Review Definition

As this is a less common academic writing type, students often ask: "What is a literature review?" According to the definition, a literature review is a body of work that explores various publications within a specific subject area and sometimes within a set timeframe.

This type of writing requires you to read and analyze various sources that relate to the main subject and present each unique comprehension of the publications. Lastly, a literature review should combine a summary with a synthesis of the documents used. A summary is a brief overview of the important information in the publication; a synthesis is a re-organization of the information that gives the writing a new and unique meaning.

Typically, a literature review is a part of a larger paper, such as a thesis or dissertation. However, you may also be given it as a stand-alone assignment.

The Purpose

The main purpose of a literature review is to summarize and synthesize the ideas created by previous authors without implementing personal opinions or other additional information.

However, a literature review objective is not just to list summaries of sources; rather, it is to notice a central trend or principle in all of the publications. Just like a research paper has a thesis that guides it on rails, a literature review has the main organizing principle (MOP). The goal of this type of academic writing is to identify the MOP and show how it exists in all of your supporting documents.

Why is a literature review important? The value of such work is explained by the following goals it pursues:

  • Highlights the significance of the main topic within a specific subject area.
  • Demonstrates and explains the background of research for a particular subject matter.
  • Helps to find out the key themes, principles, concepts, and researchers that exist within a topic.
  • Helps to reveal relationships between existing ideas/studies on a topic.
  • Reveals the main points of controversy and gaps within a topic.
  • Suggests questions to drive primary research based on previous studies.

Here are some example topics for writing literature reviews:

  • Exploring racism in "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," and "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
  • Isolationism in "The Catcher in the Rye," "Frankenstein," and "1984"
  • Understanding Moral Dilemmas in "Crime and Punishment," "The Scarlet Letter," and "The Lifeboat"
  • Corruption of Power in "Macbeth," "All the King's Men," and "Animal Farm"
  • Emotional and Physical survival in "Lord of the Flies," "Hatchet," and "Congo."

How Long Is a Literature Review?

When facing the need to write a literature review, students tend to wonder, "how long should a literature review be?" In some cases, the length of your paper's body may be determined by your instructor. Be sure to read the guidelines carefully to learn what is expected from you.

Keeping your literature review around 15-30% of your entire paper is recommended if you haven't been provided with specific guidelines. To give you a rough idea, that is about 2-3 pages for a 15-page paper. In case you are writing a literature review as a stand-alone assignment, its length should be specified in the instructions provided.

Literature Review Format: APA, MLA, and Chicago

The essay format you use should adhere to the citation style preferred by your instructor. Seek clarification from your instructor for several other components as well to establish a desired literature review format:

  • How many sources should you review, and what kind of sources should they be (published materials, journal articles, or websites)?
  • What format should you use to cite the sources?
  • How long should the review be?
  • Should your review consist of a summary, synthesis, or a personal critique?
  • Should your review include subheadings or background information for your sources?

If you want to format your paper in APA style, then follow these rules:

  • Use 1-inch page margins.
  • Unless provided with other instructions, use double-spacing throughout the whole text.
  • Make sure you choose a readable font. The preferred font for APA papers is Times New Roman set to 12-point size.
  • Include a header at the top of every page (in capital letters). The page header must be a shortened version of your essay title and limited to 50 characters, including spacing and punctuation.
  • Put page numbers in the upper right corner of every page.
  • When shaping your literature review outline in APA, don't forget to include a title page. This page should include the paper's name, the author's name, and the institutional affiliation. Your title must be typed with upper and lowercase letters and centered in the upper part of the page; use no more than 12 words, and avoid using abbreviations and useless words.

For MLA style text, apply the following guidelines:

  • Double your spacing across the entire paper.
  • Set ½-inch indents for each new paragraph.
  • The preferred font for MLA papers is Times New Roman set to 12-point size.
  • Include a header at the top of your paper's first page or on the title page (note that MLA style does not require you to have a title page, but you are allowed to decide to include one). A header in this format should include your full name; the name of your instructor; the name of the class, course, or section number; and the due date of the assignment.
  • Include a running head in the top right corner of each page in your paper. Place it one inch from the page's right margin and half an inch from the top margin. Only include your last name and the page number separated by a space in the running head. Do not put the abbreviation p. before page numbers.

Finally, if you are required to write a literature review in Chicago style, here are the key rules to follow:

  • Set page margins to no less than 1 inch.
  • Use double spacing across the entire text, except when it comes to table titles, figure captions, notes, blockquotes, and entries within the bibliography or References.
  • Do not put spaces between paragraphs.
  • Make sure you choose a clear and easily-readable font. The preferred fonts for Chicago papers are Times New Roman and Courier, set to no less than 10-point size, but preferably to 12-point size.
  • A cover (title) page should include your full name, class information, and the date. Center the cover page and place it one-third below the top of the page.
  • Place page numbers in the upper right corner of each page, including the cover page.

Read also about harvard format - popular style used in papers.

Structure of a Literature Review

How to structure a literature review: Like many other types of academic writing, a literature review follows a typical intro-body-conclusion style with 5 paragraphs overall. Now, let’s look at each component of the basic literature review structure in detail:

Structure of a Literature Review

  • Introduction

You should direct your reader(s) towards the MOP (main organizing principle). This means that your information must start from a broad perspective and gradually narrow down until it reaches your focal point.

Start by presenting your general concept (Corruption, for example). After the initial presentation, narrow your introduction's focus towards the MOP by mentioning the criteria you used to select the literature sources you have chosen (Macbeth, All the King's Men, and Animal Farm). Finally, the introduction will end with the presentation of your MOP that should directly link it to all three literature sources.

Body Paragraphs

Generally, each body paragraph will focus on a specific source of literature laid out in the essay's introduction. As each source has its own frame of reference for the MOP, it is crucial to structure the review in the most logically consistent way possible. This means the writing should be structured chronologically, thematically or methodologically.

Chronologically

Breaking down your sources based on their publication date is a solid way to keep a correct historical timeline. If applied properly, it can present the development of a certain concept over time and provide examples in the form of literature. However, sometimes there are better alternatives we can use to structure the body.

Thematically

Instead of taking the "timeline approach," another option can be looking at the link between your MOP and your sources. Sometimes, the main idea will just glare from a piece of literature. Other times, the author may have to seek examples to prove their point. An experienced writer will usually present their sources by order of strength. For example, in "To Kill A Mockingbird," the entire novel was centralized around racism; in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," racism was one of many themes.

Methodologically

As made obvious by the terminology, this type of structuring focuses on the methods used to present the central concept. For example, in "1984", George Orwell uses the law-and-order approach and shows the dangers of a dystopia for a social species.

In "Frankenstein," Mary Shelley exposes the character's physical traits as repulsive and horrifying, forcing him to suffer in an isolated environment. By showcasing the various methods used to portray the MOP, the writer can compare them based on things like severity, ethicality, and overall impact.

After presenting your key findings in the body paragraphs, there are 3 final objectives to complete in the essay's conclusion. First, the author should summarize the findings they have made or found, in other words, and briefly answer the question: "What have you learned?"

After discussing that information, the next step is to present the significance of the information about our current world today. In other words, how can the reader take the information and apply it to today's society? From that point, we finish off with a breadcrumb trail.

As the author, you want to leave the readers' trail of thought within the actual essay topic. This provides them with a means of further investigation—meaning that the reader may consider where the discussion will go next.

Writing an Outline for a Literature Review

Students often underestimate the importance of planning the structure of their papers in advance. However, this is not a wise approach. Having a rough APA literature review outline (or other style outlines) will not only help you follow the right format and structure but will also make the writing process simpler and help ensure that you include all of the important information without missing anything.

How to write a literature review outline: As you already know from the Structure section of this guide, every part of your literature review performs its own important role. Therefore, you should create your outline while keeping the general introduction-body-conclusion structure in mind and ensuring that each section meets its own objectives. However, it is important to remember that a literature review outline is slightly different from outlines of other types of essays because it does not provide new information. Instead, it focuses on existing studies relevant to the main topic. ‍

Here is a literature review outline example on the subject of the Ebola virus to help you get it right:

  • Introduce the general topic. Provide background information on the Ebola virus: genome, pathogenesis, transmission, epidemiology, treatment, etc.
  • Shape the main research question: What is the potential role of arthropods (mechanical or biological vectors) in the distribution of the Ebola virus?
  • Methodology: For example, the information was searched through X databases to find relevant research articles about the Ebola virus and arthropods' role in its spreading. The data was extracted using a standardized form.
  • Expected outcomes
  • Overall trends in the literature on this topic: While the natural reservoir of the virus is still not known with certainty, many researchers believe that arthropods (and fruit bats, in particular) pay a significant role in the distribution of the virus.
  • Subject 1: A brief overview of the particular piece of literature in general terms; an analysis of the key aspects of the study; a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and an overview of the strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
  • Subject 2: A brief overview of the particular piece of literature in general terms; an analysis of the key aspects of the study; a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and an overview of the strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
  • Subject 3:  A brief overview of the particular piece of literature in general terms; an analysis of the key aspects of the study; a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and an overview of the strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
  • Indicate the relationships between the pieces of literature discussed. Emphasize key themes, common patterns, and trends. Talk about the pros and cons of the different approaches taken by the authors/researchers.
  • State which studies seem to be the most influential.
  • Emphasize the major contradictions and points of disagreement. Define the gaps still to be covered (if any).
  • If applicable: define how your own study will contribute to further disclosure of the topic.

Hopefully, this sample outline will help you to structure your own paper. However, if you feel like you need some more advice on how to organize your review, don’t hesitate to search for more literature review outline examples in APA or other styles on the Web, or simply ask our writers to get a dissertation help .

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How to Write a Good Literature Review

Whether you are writing a literature review within the framework of a large research project (e.g. thesis, dissertation, or other) or as a stand-alone assignment, the approach you should take to writing generally remains the same.

example of literature review layout

Whether you are writing a literature review within the framework of a large research project (e.g., thesis, dissertation, or other) or as a stand-alone assignment, the approach you should take to writing generally remains the same.

Now, as you know about the general rules and have a basic literature review outline template, let's define the steps to take to handle this task right with our service:

Step 1: Identifying the Topic

This is probably the only matter you may approach differently depending on whether your literature review comes within a research paper or a separate assignment altogether. If you are creating a literature review as a part of another work, you need to search for literature related to your main research questions and problems. Respectively, if you are writing it as a stand-alone task, you will have to pick a relevant topic and central question upon which you will collect the literature. Earlier in this guide, we suggested some engaging topics to guide your search.

Step 2: Conducting Research

When you have a clearly defined topic, it is time to start collecting literature for your review. We recommend starting by compiling a list of relevant keywords related to your central question—to make the entire research process much simpler and help you find relevant publications faster.

When you have a list of keywords, use them to search for valid and relevant sources. At this point, be sure to use only trusted sources, such as ones from university libraries, online scientific databases, etc.

Once you have found some sources, be sure to define whether or not they are actually relevant to your topic and research question. To save time, you can read abstracts to get general ideas of what the papers are about instead of the whole thing.

Pro Tip: When you finally find a few valid publications, take a look at their bibliographies to discover other relevant sources as well.

Step 3: Assess and Prioritize Sources

Throughout your research, you will likely find plenty of relevant literature to include in your literature review. At this point, students often make the mistake of trying to fit all the collected sources into their reviews. Instead, we suggest looking at what you've collected once more, evaluating the available sources, and selecting the most relevant ones. You most likely won't be able to read everything you find on a given topic and then be able to synthesize all of the sources into a single literature review. That's why prioritizing them is important.

To evaluate which sources are worth including in your review, keep in mind the following criteria:

  • Credibility;
  • Innovation;
  • Key insights;

Furthermore, as you read the sources, don’t forget to take notes on everything you can incorporate into the review later. And be sure to get your citations in place early on. If you cite the selected sources at the initial stage, you will find it easier to create your annotated bibliography later on.

Step 4: Identify Relationships, Key Ideas, and Gaps

Before you can move on to outlining and writing your literature review, the final step is determining the relationships between the studies that already exist. Identifying the relationships will help you organize the existing knowledge, build a solid literature outline, and (if necessary) indicate your own research contribution to a specific field.

Some of the key points to keep an eye out for are:

  • Main themes;
  • Contradictions and debates;
  • Influential studies or theories;
  • Trends and patterns;

Here are a few examples: Common trends may include a focus on specific groups of people across different studies. Most researchers may have increased interest in certain aspects of the topic regarding key themes. Contradictions may include some disagreement concerning the theories and outcomes of a study. And finally, gaps most often refer to a lack of research on certain aspects of a topic.

Step 5: Make an Outline

Although students tend to neglect this stage, outlining is one of the most important steps in writing every academic paper. This is the easiest way to organize the body of your text and ensure that you haven't missed anything important. Besides, having a rough idea of what you will write about in the paper will help you get it right faster and more easily. Earlier in this guide, we already discussed the basic structure of a literature review and gave you an example of a good outline. At this workflow stage, you can use all of the knowledge you've gained from us to build your own outline.

Step 6: Move on to Writing

Having found and created all of your sources, notes, citations, and a detailed outline, you can finally get to the writing part of the process. At this stage, all you need to do is follow the plan you've created and keep in mind the overall structure and format defined in your professor's instructions.

Step 7: Adding the Final Touches

Most students make a common mistake and skip the final stage of the process, which includes proofreading and editing. We recommend taking enough time for these steps to ensure that your work will be worth the highest score. Do not underestimate the importance of proofreading and editing, and allocate enough time for these steps.

Pro Tip: Before moving on to proofreading and editing, be sure to set your literature review aside for a day or two. This will give you a chance to take your mind off it and then get back to proofreading with a fresh perspective. This tip will ensure that you won't miss out on any gaps or errors that might be present in your text.

These steps will help you create a top-notch literature review with ease! Want to get more advice on how to handle this body of work? Here are the top 3 tips you need to keep in mind when writing a literature review:

1. Good Sources

When working on a literature review, the most important thing any writer should remember is to find the best possible sources for their MOP. This means that you should select and filter through about 5-10 different options while doing initial research.

The stronger a piece of literature showcases the central point, the better the quality of the entire review.

2. Synthesize The Literature

Make sure to structure the review in the most effective way possible, whether it be chronologically, thematically, or methodologically. Understand what exactly you would like to say, and structure the source comparison accordingly.

3. Avoid Generalizations

Remember that each piece of literature will approach the MOP from a different angle. As the author, make sure to present the contrasts in approaches clearly and don't include general statements that offer no value.

Literature Review Examples

You can find two well-written literature reviews by the EssayPro writing team below. They will help you understand what the final product of a literature review should ideally look like.

The first literature review compares monolingual and bilingual language acquisition skills and uses various sources to prove its point:

The second literature review compares the impact of fear and pain on a protagonist’s overall development in various settings:

Both reviews will help you sharpen your skills and provide good guidelines for writing high-quality papers.

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