Biological Engineering Communication Lab

The do’s and don’ts of writing review articles

If you (or a global pandemic) take the bench away from the scientist, what do they do? They write reviews of course!

As many of us are now far too familiar with, crafting a review article presents a series of unique challenges. Unlike a manuscript, in which the nature of your data inherently shapes the narrative of the article, a review requires synthesizing one largely from scratch. Reviews are often initiated without a well-defined scope going in, which can often leave us feeling overwhelmed, like we’re faced with covering an entire field.

With these challenges in mind, here are a few tips and tricks to make review writing as painless as possible, for the next time you lose your pipette:

Blog post written by Caleb Perez , with input from Tyler Toth, Viraat Goel , and Prerna Bhargava .

Reviews versus Perspectives- It’s important to draw the distinction between reviews and perspectives here. Although we believe that both should review the field in the context of some overarching scientific viewpoint, perspective articles allow the author much more freedom to craft a more opinionated argument and are generally more forward-thinking. If you have that freedom, definitely use it!

Belonging to a group- Of course, the extent to which you can do this may be limited, depending on how familiar you are with the field. First-year graduate students getting into a new field, for example, may not have as great of a grasp on the gaps in the field — you may have to lean on the advice of your PI and colleagues to help guide you here, especially in the early stages of the process before you start your in-depth literature search.

How to read a paper- There are many situations in which a narrower, targeted paper review is warranted. As one example, imagine a section of a review in which you are comparing different technologies for application X. In this context, you may only need to do a detailed review of the methods sections and any figures they have that benchmark their method for your particular application of interest. The rest of the paper is less relevant, so there’s no need to waste your valuable time and energy. 

Purdue Online Writing Lab College of Liberal Arts

do's and don'ts in writing review of related literature

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.



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:

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:

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.

To read this content please select one of the options below:

Please note you do not have access to teaching notes, an end-to-end process of writing and publishing influential literature review articles: do’s and don’ts.

Management Decision

ISSN : 0025-1747

Article publication date: 25 June 2018

Issue publication date: 23 October 2018

Literature reviews are essential tools for uncovering prevalent knowledge gaps, unifying fragmented bodies of scholarship, and taking stock of the cumulative evidence in a field of inquiry. Yet, successfully producing rigorous, coherent, thought-provoking, and practically relevant review articles represents an extremely complex and challenging endeavor. The purpose of this paper is to uncover the key requirements for expanding literature reviews’ reach within and across study domains and provide useful guidelines to prospective authors interested in generating this type of scientific output.


Drawing upon the authors’ own experience of producing literature reviews and a scrutiny of review papers in major management journals, the authors develop an end-to-end process of writing and publishing review articles of high potential impact.

The advanced process is broken down into two phases and seven sequential steps, each of them being described in terms of key actions, required skill sets, best practices, metrics of assessment and expected outcomes.


By tapping into the inherent complexity of review articles and demystifying the intricacies associated with pursuing this type of scientific research, the authors seek to inspire a wealth of new influential surveys of specialized literature.


This paper forms part of a special section Special Review Issue.

Bodolica, V. and Spraggon, M. (2018), "An end-to-end process of writing and publishing influential literature review articles: Do’s and don’ts", Management Decision , Vol. 56 No. 11, pp. 2472-2486.

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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Do’s and Don’ts in writing a scientific literature review for health care research

do's and don'ts in writing review of related literature

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Purpose of literature review in healthcare research  

The whole purpose of research is to increase the collective understanding on the topic and contribute productively.To achieve this, one must begin by understanding the context of the ‘conversation’. And this important task is done by writing a literature review article.

  The number of publications, research, and journalsare increasing by the day with an increasing need for dedicated medical writing or literature review services with domain-related expertise. Proportionally the number of rejections is also on the rise. Literature review writing is the first step towards any research and making a clear case for the research study at hand is achieved by a well-done review. Clinical literature review services are providing immense support to busy clinicians and researchers on how to write a literature review. The purpose of a proper literature review can be summarized as below: –

Do’s and Don’ts in writing a scientific literature review for health care research

In short, literature review writing is done to place our research within the context of the topic-related existing research and justifies the need for proposed research.

Context of literature review writing

There are various circumstances under which one must do a literature review.

Do’s and don’ts in literature review

Do’s                                        .

Do’s and Don’ts in writing a scientific literature review for health care research (2)

Basically, depending on the requirement of the topic of literature research , whether it is recent or been around for several years, whether most facts are clear or unclear, whether researchers agree or disagree on most matters and what is the outcome needed out of the literature search in context of the objective of the current study.In short, the review should be well-structured and should have some form to the flow of information.

Some broad guidelines are provided by PRISMA that gives a checklist of 27 items along with flowcharts to help in a comprehensive search.

          Setting the factual context of the current research study is the first stepto participate in the ongoing ‘dialogue’ on the subject and contribute positively to that area of research. Literature review services help the busy researcher and how to write a literature review article.



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Writing A Literature Review  

7 common (and costly) mistakes to avoid ☠️.

By: David Phair (PhD) | Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2021

Crafting a high-quality literature review is critical to earning marks and developing a strong dissertation, thesis or research project. But, it’s no simple task. Here at Grad Coach, we’ve reviewed thousands of literature reviews and seen a recurring set of mistakes and issues that drag students down.

In this post, we’ll unpack 7 common literature review mistakes , so that you can avoid these pitfalls and submit a literature review that impresses.

Overview: 7 Literature Review Killers

Mistake #1: Over-reliance on low-quality sources

One of the most common issues we see in literature reviews is an over-reliance on low-quality sources . This includes a broad collection of non-academic sources like blog posts, opinion pieces, publications by advocacy groups and daily news articles.

Of course, just because a piece of content takes the form of a blog post doesn’t automatically mean it is low-quality . However, it’s (generally) unlikely to be as academically sound (i.e., well-researched, objective and scientific) as a journal article, so you need to be a lot more sceptical when considering this content and make sure that it has a strong, well-reasoned foundation. As a rule of thumb, your literature review shouldn’t rely heavily on these types of content – they should be used sparingly.

Ideally, your literature review should be built on a strong base of journal articles , ideally from well-recognised, peer-reviewed journals with a high H index . You can also draw on books written by well-established subject matter experts. When considering books, try to focus on those that are published by academic publishers , for example, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Routledge. You can also draw on government websites, provided they have a strong reputation for objectivity and data quality. As with any other source, be wary of any government website that seems to be pushing an agenda.

the literature review credibility continuum

Source: UCCS

As I mentioned, this doesn’t mean that your literature review can’t include the occasional blog post or news article. These types of content have their place , especially when setting the context for your study. For example, you may want to cite a collection of newspaper articles to demonstrate the emergence of a recent trend. However, your core arguments and theoretical foundations shouldn’t rely on these. Build your foundation on credible academic literature to ensure that your study stands on the proverbial shoulders of giants.

Webinar - how to write a literature review

Mistake #2: A lack of landmark/seminal literature

Another issue we see in weaker literature reviews is an absence of landmark literature for the research topic . Landmark literature (sometimes also referred to as seminal or pivotal work) refers to the articles that initially presented an idea of great importance or influence within a particular discipline. In other words, the articles that put the specific area of research “on the map”, so to speak.

The reason for the absence of landmark literature in poor literature reviews is most commonly that either the student isn’t aware of the literature (because they haven’t sufficiently immersed themselves in the existing research), or that they feel that they should only present the most up to date studies. Whatever the cause, it’s a problem, as a good literature review should always acknowledge the seminal writing in the field.

But, how do you find landmark literature?

Well, you can usually spot these by searching for the topic in Google Scholar and identifying the handful of articles with high citation counts. They’ll also be the studies most commonly cited in textbooks and, of course, Wikipedia (but please don’t use Wikipedia as a source!).

Google scholar for landmark studies

So, when you’re piecing your literature review together, remember to pay homage to the classics , even if only briefly. Seminal works are the theoretical foundation of a strong literature review.

Mistake #3: A lack of current literature

As I mentioned, it’s incredibly important to acknowledge the landmark studies and research in your literature review. However, a strong literature review should also incorporate the current literature . It should, ideally, compare and contrast the “classics” with the more up to date research, and briefly comment on the evolution.

Of course, you don’t want to burn precious word count providing an in-depth history lesson regarding the evolution of the topic (unless that’s one of your research aims, of course), but you should at least acknowledge any key differences between the old and the new.

But, how do you find current literature?

To find current literature in your research area, you can once again use Google Scholar by simply selecting the “Since…” link on the left-hand side. Depending on your area of study, recent may mean the last year or two, or a fair deal longer.

You have to justify every choice in your dissertation defence

So, as you develop your catalogue of literature, remember to incorporate both the classics and the more up to date research. By doing this, you’ll achieve a comprehensive literature base that is both well-rooted in tried and tested theory and current.

Mistake #4: Description instead of integration and synthesis

This one is a big one. And, unfortunately, it’s a very common one. In fact, it’s probably the most common issue we encounter in literature reviews.

All too often, students think that a literature review is simply a summary of what each researcher has said. A lengthy, detailed “he said, she said”. This is incorrect . A good literature review needs to go beyond just describing all the relevant literature. It needs to integrate the existing research to show how it all fits together.

A good literature review should also highlight what areas don’t fit together , and which pieces are missing . In other words, what do researchers disagree on and why might that be. It’s seldom the case that everyone agrees on everything because the “truth” is typically very nuanced and intricate in reality. A strong literature review is a balanced one , with a mix of different perspectives and findings that give the reader a clear view of the current state of knowledge.

A good analogy is that of a jigsaw puzzle. The various findings and arguments from each piece of literature form the individual puzzle pieces, and you then put these together to develop a picture of the current state of knowledge . Importantly, that puzzle will in all likelihood have pieces that don’t fit well together, and pieces that are missing. It’s seldom a pretty puzzle!

By the end of this process of critical review and synthesis of the existing literature, it should be clear what’s missing – in other words, the gaps that exist in the current research . These gaps then form the foundation for your proposed study. In other words, your study will attempt to contribute a missing puzzle piece (or get two pieces to fit together).

So, when you’re crafting your literature review chapter, remember that this chapter needs to go well beyond a basic description of the existing research – it needs to synthesise it (bring it all together) and form the foundation for your study.

The literature review knowledge gap

Mistake #5: Irrelevant or unfocused content

Another common mistake we see in literature review chapters is quite simply the inclusion of irrelevant content . Some chapters can waffle on for pages and pages and leave the reader thinking, “so what?”

So, how do you decide what’s relevant?

Well, to ensure you stay on-topic and focus, you need to revisit your research aims, objectives and research questions . Remember, the purpose of the literature review is to build the theoretical foundation that will help you achieve your research aims and objectives, and answer your research questions. Therefore, relevant content is the relatively narrow body of content that relates directly to those three components .

Let’s look at an example.

If your research aims to identify factors that cultivate employee loyalty and commitment, your literature review needs to focus on existing research that identifies such factors. Simple enough, right? Well, during your review process, you will invariably come across plenty of research relating to employee loyalty and commitment, including things like:

While all of these relate to employee commitment, they’re not focused on the research aims , objectives and questions, as they’re not identifying factors that foster employee commitment. Of course, they may still be useful in helping you justify your topic, so they’ll likely have a place somewhere in your dissertation or thesis. However, for your literature review, you need to keep things focused.

So, as you work through your literature review, always circle back to your research aims, objective and research questions and use them as a litmus test for article relevance.

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do's and don'ts in writing review of related literature

Mistake #6: Poor chapter structure and layout

Even the best content can fail to earn marks when the literature review chapter is poorly structured . Unfortunately, this is a fairly common issue, resulting in disjointed, poorly-flowing arguments that are difficult for the reader (the marker…) to follow.

The most common reason that students land up with a poor structure is that they start writing their literature review chapter without a plan or structure . Of course, as we’ve discussed before, writing is a form of thinking , so you don’t need to plan out every detail before you start writing. However, you should at least have an outline structure penned down before you hit the keyboard.

So, how should you structure your literature review?

We’ve covered literature review structure in detail previously , so I won’t go into it here. However, as a quick overview, your literature review should consist of three core sections :

Another reason that students land up with a poor structure is that they start writing their literature chapter prematurely . In other words, they start writing before they’ve finished digesting the literature. This is a costly mistake, as it always results in extensive rewriting , which takes a lot longer than just doing it one step at a time. Again, it’s completely natural to do a little extra reading as thoughts crop up during the writing process, but you should complete your core reading before you start writing.

Long story short – don’t start writing your literature review without some sort of structural plan. This structure can (and likely will) evolve as you write, but you need some sort of outline as a starting point. Pro tip – check out our free literature review template to fast-track your structural outline.

Digest the literature before trying to write your lit review

Mistake #7: Plagiarism and poor referencing

This one is by far the most unforgivable literature review mistake, as it carries one of the heaviest penalties , while it is so easily avoidable .

All too often, we encounter literature reviews that, at first glance, look pretty good. However, a quick run through a plagiarism checker and it quickly becomes apparent that the student has failed to fully digest the literature they’ve reviewed and put it into their own words.

“But, the original author said it perfectly…”

I get it – sometimes the way an author phrased something is “just perfect” and you can’t find a better way to say it. In those (pretty rare) cases, you can use direct quotes (and a citation, of course). However, for the vast majority of your literature review, you need to put things into your own words .

The good news is that if you focus on integrating and synthesising the literature (as I mentioned in point 3), you shouldn’t run into this issue too often, as you’ll naturally be writing about the relationships between studies , not just about the studies themselves. Remember, if you can’t explain something simply (in your own words), you don’t really understand it.

A related issue that we see quite often is plain old-fashioned poor referencing . This can include citation and reference formatting issues (for example, Harvard or APA style errors), or just a straight out lack of references . In academic writing, if you fail to reference a source, you are effectively claiming the work as your own, which equates to plagiarism. This might seem harmless, but plagiarism is a serious form of academic misconduct and could cost you a lot more than just a few marks.

So, when you’re writing up your literature review, remember that you need to digest the content and put everything into your own words. You also need to reference the sources of any and all ideas, theories, frameworks and models you draw on.

Recap: 7 Literature Review Mistakes

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post. Let’s quickly recap on the 7 most common literature review mistakes.

If you have any questions about these literature review mistakes, leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to answer. If you’d like to get 1-on-1 help with your literature review, book a free initial consultation with a friendly coach to discuss how we can move you forward.

do's and don'ts in writing review of related literature

Psst… there’s more (for free)

This post is part of our research writing mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.

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Writing A Research Proposal:  8 Common Mistakes To Avoid

Dear GradCoach,

Thank you for making our uni student lives better. Could you kindly do a video on how to use your literature review excel template? I am sure a lot of students would appreciate that.

Ed Wilkinson

Hi I would enjoy the video on lit review. You mentioned cataloging references, I would like the template for excel. Would you please sent me this template.


on the plagiarism and referencing what is the correct way to cite the words said by the author . What are the different methods you can use

Godfrey Mpyangu

its clear, precise and understandable many thanks affectionately yours’ Godfrey

Wafiu Seidu

Thanks for this wonderful resource! I am final year student and will be commencing my dissertation work soon. This course has significantly improved my understanding of dissertation and has greater value in terms of its practical applicability compared to other literature works and articles out there on the internet. I will advice my colleague students more especially first time thesis writers to make good use of this course. It’s explained in simple, plain grammar and you will greatly appreciate it.


Thanks. A lot. This was excellent. I really enjoyed it. Again thank you.

Robert Le

The information in this article is very useful for students and very interesting I really like your article thanks for sharing this post!


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do's and don'ts in writing review of related literature

Princeton Correspondents on Undergraduate Research

Do’s and Don’ts for Research Writing

Don't let bad grammar plague your writing!

In the thick of doing research, it’s easy to forget about the ultimate goal of writing and publishing. Thankfully, about once a month, the Princeton University Laser Sensing Lab holds what we call a “literature review”: Everyone brings in papers they’ve come across for their own research, and shares techniques that could be useful for the group at large.

At our last meeting, someone changed things up. Instead of bringing in a paper that contained interesting ideas, he brought one that he declared “the worst paper I’ve ever read”.

We all had a good laugh as the paper was passed around. He was right. The paper had numerous grammatical mistakes and many passages were indecipherable. But my adviser suggested that we not take it lightly. After all, this paper had somehow been published (though if he had any say in it, he would have it retracted). It served as a good example of what not to do—especially as the writing season falls upon us (hello to senior theses and final papers!).

As you write, here are other do’s and dont’s to keep in mind:

1. Don’t blow off grammar. Grammar mistakes look very unprofessional and immediately sink your standing in the eyes of your readers. The most common example? Its vs. it’s. Not only is this typo rampant in papers, but also in emails and online articles. Other examples I’ve come across: “development activities are currently been carried out ”, “in motion along our line of site ”… the list goes on. Don’t worry—we all make these typos when writing, and they’re easy to miss. I often don’t find my mistakes until I ask someone else to read over my work. But correcting grammar is a very simple fix, and can go a long way to help clean up your writing.

2. Don’t make excuses for poor writing. “Scientists aren’t known for being good writers, so it’s ok if my writing isn’t good either.” “This paper doesn’t count for much anyway, so it’s ok if it doesn’t make sense.” Yes, it’s tempting. But you don’t want to get into a habit of poor writing. And would you really want to be the TA or professor on the other end, reading a nonsensical paper?

3. Write something you would want to read. It sounds obvious, but it’s one of the most often ignored adages. Do you really need all that jargon up front? Are you giving your target audience, whether it’s fellow students or scientists, enough information to understand your writing? After you write your piece, the last thing you might feel like doing is reading it over again. But if you’re really aiming for a good paper, you should finish your draft with enough time—at least a day if possible—  before re-reading, to make sure your logical progressions are natural. And another round of proofreading is a great way to catch those rogue typos!

4. Have others check over your writing. If you can’t bring yourself to read your own writing, or can’t distance yourself enough to think about what may or may not make sense, have someone proofread for you. Even if you’ve read over your own paper, you might not be able to catch confusing or illogical wording — after all, you’re the one who wrote it. But having another person’s eyes on your paper can provide an important sanity check. The Writing Center is great for this, but if you want more tailored feedback, asking for help from a graduate student in your lab is not a bad idea, either!

And finally, do your research! Take note of papers you’ve found helpful in your literature review. What kind of language do they use? Is there anything confusing they’ve done that you think you can do better? Do try and actually read some of the papers you’re citing. After all, reading good writing will make you a better writer yourself.

–Stacey Huang, Engineering Correspondent

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do's and don'ts in writing review of related literature

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Top Dos and Don’ts for Writing Scientific Literature Reviews

Literature reviews provide quality information to those who are interested in the most recent research on a particular topic. However, literature reviews can be tricky to write with the correct specifications. It is essential to build experience writing literature reviews. However, even writers with years of practice tend to miss some key points. Read on for dos and don’ts for writing an effective review, as well as for optimizing your research to write efficiently.

ℹ️ This blog is reader-supported. When you buy through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commission without any surcharge to you. This helps me continue offer free and qualiy content for the community.

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Develop Your Thesis to Answer a Question

Even if you have already determined a topic area, you’ll need to write to answer a question or address a problem. In short, you need to define the scope of your literature review. Are there specific aspects of your topic you wish to explore more deeply? Are there aspects that are missing reviews others could benefit from in the future?

Use Credible Sources in your Literature Reviews

Your official research will need to come from trusted sources, such as PubMed , Google Scholar , and library databases. For official research, a highly credible author publishing in a respected journal is preferred. You also need to ensure the author’s research fits into the scope of and supports your review.

Use Your Own Research, If Applicable

If you’ve done research on the topic, use it as you would any other source. While performing research, keep in mind that choosing equipment that keeps your data ready for analysis, like machines offering detailed protein stability analysis , makes evaluating your results much easier.

Don’t Use Creative Writing Techniques

Scientific writing means writing for professionals familiar with the topic, but not with your unique focus. Use statistics where relevant but be precise. Avoid ambiguous or overly passive language. Similarly, avoid being excessively wordy, or overly descriptive.

Be a Critical Thinker

You should aim your writing at analyzing the research , not just describing it. Point out any limitations of the research and identify other conflicting research to determine validity. Most importantly, point out any biases or opinions you disagree with.

Use an Approved Structure

Your literature review should include:

Revise Your Work

If you have access to an editor, it can be easy to overlook performing quality checks on your own writing. However, keep in mind that your editor does not know what you are trying to say as well as you do. Editing your own literature review before passing on to a secondary editor helps you ensure you are getting your point across.

Then, check your voice for professionality and scientific writing, and ensure you haven’t used passive voice. Check sentence length, grammar and spelling, and read aloud if you’re unsure. Finally, double-check your references.

Writing an effective literature review comes with many considerations, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Use the above guide to get a good start, and ask an experienced writer to help you edit. If you take care during the writing process, you’ll provide a literature review that helps others to fill a key gap in your area of research.

Sources: pmc/articles/PMC3715443/ how-to-write-a-good- scientific-literature-review/ c.php?g=283300&p=2915110 default/files/students_ learning/scientific_lit_ review_workshop_ug.pdf

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How to Write a Peer Review

do's and don'ts in writing review of related literature

When you write a peer review for a manuscript, what should you include in your comments? What should you leave out? And how should the review be formatted?

This guide provides quick tips for writing and organizing your reviewer report.

Review Outline

Use an outline for your reviewer report so it’s easy for the editors and author to follow. This will also help you keep your comments organized.

Think about structuring your review like an inverted pyramid. Put the most important information at the top, followed by details and examples in the center, and any additional points at the very bottom.

do's and don'ts in writing review of related literature

Here’s how your outline might look:

1. Summary of the research and your overall impression

In your own words, summarize what the manuscript claims to report. This shows the editor how you interpreted the manuscript and will highlight any major differences in perspective between you and the other reviewers. Give an overview of the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. Think about this as your “take-home” message for the editors. End this section with your recommended course of action.

2. Discussion of specific areas for improvement

It’s helpful to divide this section into two parts: one for major issues and one for minor issues. Within each section, you can talk about the biggest issues first or go systematically figure-by-figure or claim-by-claim. Number each item so that your points are easy to follow (this will also make it easier for the authors to respond to each point). Refer to specific lines, pages, sections, or figure and table numbers so the authors (and editors) know exactly what you’re talking about.

Major vs. minor issues

What’s the difference between a major and minor issue? Major issues should consist of the essential points the authors need to address before the manuscript can proceed. Make sure you focus on what is  fundamental for the current study . In other words, it’s not helpful to recommend additional work that would be considered the “next step” in the study. Minor issues are still important but typically will not affect the overall conclusions of the manuscript. Here are some examples of what would might go in the “minor” category:

3. Any other points

Confidential comments for the editors.

Some journals have a space for reviewers to enter confidential comments about the manuscript. Use this space to mention concerns about the submission that you’d want the editors to consider before sharing your feedback with the authors, such as concerns about ethical guidelines or language quality. Any serious issues should be raised directly and immediately with the journal as well.

This section is also where you will disclose any potentially competing interests, and mention whether you’re willing to look at a revised version of the manuscript.

Do not use this space to critique the manuscript, since comments entered here will not be passed along to the authors.  If you’re not sure what should go in the confidential comments, read the reviewer instructions or check with the journal first before submitting your review. If you are reviewing for a journal that does not offer a space for confidential comments, consider writing to the editorial office directly with your concerns.

Get this outline in a template

Giving Feedback

Giving feedback is hard. Giving effective feedback can be even more challenging. Remember that your ultimate goal is to discuss what the authors would need to do in order to qualify for publication. The point is not to nitpick every piece of the manuscript. Your focus should be on providing constructive and critical feedback that the authors can use to improve their study.

If you’ve ever had your own work reviewed, you already know that it’s not always easy to receive feedback. Follow the golden rule: Write the type of review you’d want to receive if you were the author. Even if you decide not to identify yourself in the review, you should write comments that you would be comfortable signing your name to.

In your comments, use phrases like “ the authors’ discussion of X” instead of “ your discussion of X .” This will depersonalize the feedback and keep the focus on the manuscript instead of the authors.

General guidelines for effective feedback

do's and don'ts in writing review of related literature

do's and don'ts in writing review of related literature


Before and After: Sample Reviewer Comments

Keeping in mind the guidelines above, how do you put your thoughts into words? Here are some sample “before” and “after” reviewer comments

✗ Before

“The authors appear to have no idea what they are talking about. I don’t think they have read any of the literature on this topic.”

✓ After

“The study fails to address how the findings relate to previous research in this area. The authors should rewrite their Introduction and Discussion to reference the related literature, especially recently published work such as Darwin et al.”

“The writing is so bad, it is practically unreadable. I could barely bring myself to finish it.”

“While the study appears to be sound, the language is unclear, making it difficult to follow. I advise the authors work with a writing coach or copyeditor to improve the flow and readability of the text.”

“It’s obvious that this type of experiment should have been included. I have no idea why the authors didn’t use it. This is a big mistake.”

“The authors are off to a good start, however, this study requires additional experiments, particularly [type of experiment]. Alternatively, the authors should include more information that clarifies and justifies their choice of methods.”

Suggested Language for Tricky Situations

You might find yourself in a situation where you’re not sure how to explain the problem or provide feedback in a constructive and respectful way. Here is some suggested language for common issues you might experience.

What you think : The manuscript is fatally flawed. What you could say: “The study does not appear to be sound” or “the authors have missed something crucial”.

What you think : You don’t completely understand the manuscript. What you could say : “The authors should clarify the following sections to avoid confusion…”

What you think : The technical details don’t make sense. What you could say : “The technical details should be expanded and clarified to ensure that readers understand exactly what the researchers studied.”

What you think: The writing is terrible. What you could say : “The authors should revise the language to improve readability.”

What you think : The authors have over-interpreted the findings. What you could say : “The authors aim to demonstrate [XYZ], however, the data does not fully support this conclusion. Specifically…”

What does a good review look like?

Check out the peer review examples at F1000 Research to see how other reviewers write up their reports and give constructive feedback to authors.

Time to Submit the Review!

Be sure you turn in your report on time. Need an extension? Tell the journal so that they know what to expect. If you need a lot of extra time, the journal might need to contact other reviewers or notify the author about the delay.

Tip: Building a relationship with an editor

You’ll be more likely to be asked to review again if you provide high-quality feedback and if you turn in the review on time. Especially if it’s your first review for a journal, it’s important to show that you are reliable. Prove yourself once and you’ll get asked to review again!

There’s a lot to consider when deciding where to submit your work. Learn how to choose a journal that will help your study reach its audience, while reflecting your values as a researcher…

The discussion section contains the results and outcomes of a study. An effective discussion informs readers what can be learned from your…

Ensure appropriateness and rigor, avoid flexibility and above all never manipulate results In many fields, a statistical analysis forms the heart of…

Researching and writing for Economics students

4 literature review and citations/references.

Literature reviews and references

Figure 4.1: Literature reviews and references

Your may have done a literature survey as part of your proposal. This will be incorporated into your dissertation, not left as separate stand-alone. Most economics papers include a literature review section, which may be a separate section, or incorporated into the paper’s introduction. (See organising for a standard format.)

Some disambiguation:

A ‘Literature survey’ paper: Some academic papers are called ‘literature surveys’. These try to summarise and discuss the existing work that has been done on a particular topic, and can be very useful. See, for example, works in The Journal of Economic Perspectives, the Journal of Economic Literature, the “Handbook of [XXX] Economics”

Many student projects and undergraduate dissertations are mainly literature surveys.

4.1 What is the point of a literature survey?

Your literature review should explain:

what has been done already to address your topic and related questions, putting your work in perspective, and

what techniques others have used, what are their strengths and weaknesses, and how might they be relevant tools for your own analysis.

Take notes on this as you read, and write them up.

Figure 4.2: Take notes on this as you read, and write them up.

4.2 What previous work is relevant?

Focus on literature that is relevant to your topic only.

But do not focus only on articles about your exact topic ! For example, if your paper is about the relative price of cars in the UK, you might cite papers (i) about the global automobile market, (ii) about the theory and evidence on competition in markets with similar features and (iii) using econometric techniques such as “hedonic regression” to estimate “price premia” in other markets and in other countries.

Consider: If you were Colchester a doctor and wanted to know whether a medicine would be effective for your patients, would you only consider medical studies that ran tests on Colchester residents, or would you consider more general national and international investigations?

4.3 What are “good” economics journal articles?

You should aim to read and cite peer-reviewed articles in reputable economics journals. (Journals in other fields such as Finance, Marketing and Political Science may also be useful.) These papers have a certain credibility as they have been checked by several referees and one or more editors before being published. (In fact, the publication process in Economics is extremely lengthy and difficult.)

Which journals are “reputable”? Economists spend a lot of time thinking about how to rank and compare journals (there are so many papers written about this topic that they someone could start a “Journal of Ranking Economics Journals”. For example, “ REPEC ” has one ranking, and SCIMAGO/SCOPUS has another one. You may want to focus on journals ranked in the top 100 or top 200 of these rankings. If you find it very interesting and relevant paper published somewhere that is ranked below this, is okay to cite it, but you may want to be a bit more skeptical of its findings.

Any journal you find on JSTOR is respectable, and if you look in the back of your textbooks, there will be references to articles in journals, most of which are decent.

You may also find unpublished “working papers”; these may also be useful as references. However, it is more difficult to evaluate the credibility of these, as they have not been through a process of peer review. However, if the author has published well and has a good reputation, it might be more likely that these are worth reading and citing.

Unpublished “working papers”

You may also find unpublished “working papers” or ‘mimeos’; these may also be useful as references. In fact, the publication process in Economics is so slow (six years from first working paper to publication is not uncommon) that not consulting working papers often means not being current.

However, it is more difficult to evaluate the credibility of this ‘grey literature’, as they have not been through a process of peer review. However, if the author has published well and has a good reputation, it might be more likely that these are worth reading and citing. Some working paper series are vetted, such as NBER; in terms of credibility, these might be seen as something in between a working paper and a publication.

Which of the following are “peer-reviewed articles in reputable economics journals”? Which of the following may be appropriate to cite in your literature review and in your final project? 8

Klein, G, J. (2011) “Cartel Destabilization and Leniency Programs – Empirical Evidence.” ZEW - Centre for European Economic Research Discussion Paper No. 10-107

Spencer, B. and Brander, J.A. (1983) “International R&D Rivalry and Industrial Strategy”, Review of Economic Studies Vol. 50, 707-722

Troisi, Jordan D., Andrew N. Christopher, and Pam Marek. “Materialism and money spending disposition as predictors of economic and personality variables.” North American Journal of Psychology 8.3 (2006): 421.

The Economist,. ‘Good, Bad And Ugly’. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. [accessed on…]

Mecaj, Arjola, and María Isabel González Bravo. “CSR Actions and Financial Distress: Do Firms Change Their CSR Behavior When Signals of Financial Distress Are Identified?.” Modern Economy 2014 (2014).

Universities, U. K. “Creating Prosperity: the role of higher education in driving the UK’s creative economy.” London Universities UK (2010).

4.4 How to find and access articles

You should be able to find and access all the relevant articles online. Leafing through bound volumes and photocopying should not be neededs. (Having been a student in the late 90’s and 2000’s, I wish I could get those hours back.)

The old way!

Figure 4.3: The old way!

Good online tools include Jstor ( and Google Scholar ( Your university should have access to Jstor, and Google is accessible to all (although the linked articles may require special access). You will usually have the ‘most access’ when logged into your university or library computing system.If you cannot access a paper, you may want to consult a reference librarian.

It is also ok, if you cannot access the journal article itself, to use the last working paper version (on Google scholar find this in the tab that says “all X versions”, where X is some number, and look for a PDF). However, authors do not always put up the most polished versions, although they should do to promote open-access. As a very last resort, you can e-mail the author and ask him or her to send you the paper.

When looking for references, try to find ones published in respected refereed economics journals (see above ).

4.5 Good starting points: Survey article, course notes, and textbooks

A “survey article” is a good place to start; this is a paper that is largely a categorization and discussion of previous work on a particular topic. You can often find such papers in journals such as

These will be useful as a “catalog” of papers to read and considers citing. They are also typically very readable and offer a decent introduction to the issue or the field.

It is also helpful to consult module (course) notes and syllabi from the relevant field. Do not only limit yourself to the ones at your own university; many of universities make their course materials publicly accessible online. These will not only typically contain reading lists with well-respected and useful references, they may also contain slides and other material that will help you better understand your topic and the relevant issues.

However, be careful not to take material from course notes without properly citing it. (Better yet, try to find the original paper that the course notes are referring to.)

Textbooks serve as another extremely useful jumping off point. Look through your own textbooks and other textbooks in the right fields. Textbooks draw from, and cite a range of relevant articles and papers. (You may also want to go back to textbooks when you are finding the articles you are reading too difficult. Textbooks may present a simpler version of the material presented in an article, and explain the concepts better.)

4.6 Backwards and forwards with references

When you find a useful paper, look for its “family.” You may want to go back to earlier, more fundamental references, by looking at the articles that this paper cited. See what is listed as “keywords” (these are usually given at the top of the paper), and “JEL codes”. Check what papers this paper cites, and check what other papers cited this paper. On Google scholar you can follow this with a link “Cited by…” below the listed article. “Related articles” is also a useful link.

4.7 Citations

Keep track of all references and citations

You may find it helpful to use software to help you manage your citations

A storage “database” of citations (e.g., Jabref, Zotero, Endnote, Mendeley); these interface well with Google Scholar and Jstor

An automatic “insert citation” and “insert bibliography” in your word processing software

Use a tool like Endnote to manage and insert the bibliographies, or use a bibliography manager software such as Zotero or Jabref,

Further discussion: Citation management tools

List of works cited

Put your list of references in alphabetical order by author’s last name (surname).

Include all articles and works that you cite in your paper; do not include any that you don’t cite.

Avoiding plagiarism and academic offenses**

Here is a definition of plagiarism

The main point is that you need to cite everything that is not your own work. Furthermore, be clear to distinguish what is your own work and your own language and what is from somewhere/someone else.

Why cite? Not just to give credit to others but to make it clear that the remaining uncited content is your own.

Here are some basic rules:

(Rephrased from University of Essex material, as seen in Department of Economics, EC100 Economics for Business Handbook 2017-18, accessed on 20 July 2019, pp. 15-16)

Do not submit anything that is not your own work.

Never copy from friends.

Do not copy your own work or previously submitted work. (Caveat: If you are submitting a draft or a ‘literature review and project plan’ at an earlier stage, this can be incorporated into your final submission.

Don’t copy text directly into your work, unless:

It is not sufficient merely to add a citation for the source of copied material following the copied material (typically the end of a paragraph). You must include the copied material in quotation marks. … Ignorance … is no defence.’ (ibid, pp. 15 )

(‘Ibid’ means ‘same as the previous citation’.)

Your university may use sophisticated plagiarism-detection software. Markers may also report if the paper looks suspect

Before final submission, they may ask you to go over your draft and sign that you understand the contents and you have demonstrated that the work is your own.

Not being in touch with your supervisor may put you under suspicion.

Your university may give a Viva Voce oral exam if your work is under suspicion. It is a cool-sounding word but probably something you want to avoid.

Your university may store your work in its our database, and can pursue disciplinary action, even after you have graduated.

Penalties may be severe, including failure with no opportunity to retake the module (course). You may even risk your degree!

Comprehension questions; answers in footnotes

True or false: “If you do not directly quote a paper you do not need to cite it” 9

You should read and cite a paper (choose all that are correct)… 10

4.8 How to write about previous authors’ analysis and findings

Use the right terminology.

“Johnson et al. (2000) provide an analytical framework that sheds substantial doubt on that belief. When trying to obtain a correlation between institutional efficiency and wealth per capita, they are left with largely inconclusive results.”

They are not trying to “obtain a correlation”; they are trying to measure the relationship and test hypotheses.

“Findings”: Critically examine sources

Don’t take everything that is in print (or written online) as gospel truth. Be skeptical and carefully evaluate the arguments and evidence presented. Try to really survey what has been written, to consider the range of opinions and the preponderance of the evidence. You also need to be careful to distinguish between “real research” and propaganda or press releases.

The returns to higher education in Atlantis are extremely high. For the majority of Atlanian students a university degree has increased their lifetime income by over 50%, as reported in the “Benefits of Higher Education” report put out by the Association of Atlantian Universities (2016).

But don’t be harsh without explanation:

Smith (2014) found a return to education in Atlantis exceeding 50%. This result is unlikely to be true because the study was not a very good one.

“Findings:” “They Proved”

A theoretical economic model can not really prove anything about the real world; they typically rely on strong simplifying assumptions.

Through their economic model, they prove that as long as elites have incentives to invest in de facto power, through lobbying or corruption for example, they will invest as much as possible in order to gain favourable conditions in the future for their businesses.
In their two period model, which assumes \[details of key assumptions here\] , they find that when an elite Agent has an incentive to invest in de facto power, he invests a strictly positive amount, up to the point where marginal benefit equals marginal cost”

Empirical work does not “prove” anything (nor does it claim to).

It relies on statistical inference under specific assumptions, and an intuitive sense that evidence from one situation is likely to apply to other situations.

“As Smith et al (1999) proved using data from the 1910-1920 Scandanavian stock exchange, equity prices always increase in response to reductions in corporate tax rates.”
“Smith et al (199) estimated a VAR regression for a dynamic CAP model using data from the 1910-1920 Scandanavian stock exchange. They found a strongly statistically significant negative coefficient on corporate tax rates. This suggests that such taxes may have a negative effect on publicly traded securities. However, as their data was from a limited period with several simultaneous changes in policy, and their results are not robust to \[something here\] , further evidence is needed on this question.”

Use the language of classical 11 statistics:

Hypothesis testing, statistical significance, robustness checks, magnitudes of effects, confidence intervals.

Note that generalisation outside the data depends on an intuitive sense that evidence from one situation is likely to apply to other situations.

“Findings”: How do you (or the cited paper) claim to identify a causal relationship?

This policy was explained by Smith and Johnson (2002) in their research on subsidies and redistribution in higher education. Their results showed that people with higher degree have higher salaries and so pay higher taxes. Thus subsidizing higher education leads to a large social gain.

The results the student discusses seem to show an association between higher degrees and higher salaries. The student seems to imply that the education itself led to higher salaries. This has not been shown by the cited paper. Perhaps people who were able to get into higher education would earn higher salaries anyway. There are ways economists used to try to identify a “causal effect” (by the way, this widely used term is redundant as all effects must have a cause), but a mere association between two variables is not enough

As inflation was systematically lower during periods of recession, we see that too low a level of inflation increases unemployment.

Economists have long debated the nature of this “Phillips curve” relationship. There is much work trying to determine whether the association (to the extent it exists) is a causal one. We could not rule out reverse causality, or third factor that might cause changes in both variables.

4.9 …Stating empirical results

Don’t write: “I accept the null hypothesis.”

Do write: “The results fail to reject the null hypothesis, in spite of a large sample size and an estimate with small standard errors” (if this is the case)

Note: The question of what to infer from acceptance/rejection of null hypotheses is a complex difficult one in Classical (as opposed to Bayesian) statistics. This difficulty is in part philosophical: classical hypothesis testing is deductive , while inference is necessarily inductive.

4.10 What to report

You need to read this paper more clearly; it is not clear what they conclude nor what their evidence is.

4.11 Organising your literature review

A common marking comment:

These papers seem to be discussed in random order – you need some structure organising these papers thematically, by finding, by technique, or chronologically perhaps.

How should you organise it? In what order?

Thematically (usually better)

By method, by theoretical framework, by results or assumptions, by field

Chronologically (perhaps within themes)

Exercise: Compare how the literature review section is organized in papers you are reading.

Organising a set of references

Figure 4.4: Organising a set of references

Q: What sort of structure am I using in the above outline?

It may also be helpful to make a ‘table’ of the relevant literature, as in the figure below. This will help you get a sense of the methods and results, and how the papers relate, and how to assess the evidence. You may end up putting this in the actual paper.

Organisational table from Reinstein and Riener, 2012b

Figure 4.5: Organisational table from Reinstein and Riener, 2012b

4.12 What if you have trouble reading and understanding a paper?

Consult a survey paper, textbook, or lecture notes that discuss this paper and this topic

Try to find an easier related paper

Ask your supervisor for help; if he or she can

Try to understand what you can; do not try to “fake it”

4.13 Some literature survey do’s and don’ts

Do not cite irrelevant literature.

Do not merely list all the papers you could find.

Discuss them, and their relevance to your paper.

What are their strengths and weaknesses? What techniques do they use, and what assumptions do they rely on? How do they relate to each other?

Use correct citation formats.

Try to find original sources (don’t just cite a web link).

Don’t just cut and paste from other sources. And make sure to attribute every source and every quote. Be clear: which part of your paper is your own work and what is cited from others? The penalties for plagiarism can be severe!

4.14 Comprehension questions: literature review

How to discuss empirical results: “Causal” estimation, e.g., with Instrumental Variables

Which is the best way to state it? 12

“As I prove in table 2, more lawyers lead to slower growth (as demonstrated by the regression analysis evidence).”

“Table 2 provides evidence that a high share of lawyers in a city’s population leads to slower growth.”

3.“Table 2 shows that a high share of lawyers in a city’s population is correlated with slower growth.”

Which is better? 13

Stating empirical results: descriptive

“Using the US data from 1850-1950, I find that inflation is lower during periods of recession. This is statistically significant in a t-test [or whatever test] at the 99% level, and the difference is economically meaningful. This is consistent with the theory of …, which predicts that lower inflation increases unemployment. However, other explanations are possible, including reverse causality, and unmeasured covarying lags and trends.”

“I find a significantly lower level of inflation during periods of recession, and the difference is economically meaningful. This relationship is statistically significant and the data is accurately measured. Thus I find that inflation increases unemployment.”

Some tips on writing a good paper– relevant to literature reviews

Answer: only b is a ‘peer reviewed article in a reputable economics journal’. All of these might be useful to cite, however. ↩

False. You need to cite any content and ideas that are not your own. ↩

Answers: 1, 5, and 6. Note that 2 and 3 are too narrow criteria, and 4 is too broad. ↩

or Bayesian if you like ↩

The second one; if this is really causal evidence. ↩

The first one. There is no ‘correct regression’. It is also not really correct in classical statistics to ‘find no effect’. ↩

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Literature Reviews

What this handout is about.

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


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

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

What is a literature review, then?

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

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

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

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

Why do we write literature reviews?

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

Who writes these things, anyway?

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

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

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

Find models

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

Narrow your topic

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

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

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

Consider whether your sources are current

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

Strategies for writing the literature review

Find a focus.

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

Convey it to your reader

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

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

Consider organization

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

First, cover the basic categories

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

Organizing the body

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

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

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

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

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

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

Begin composing

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

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

Use evidence

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

Be selective

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

Use quotes sparingly

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

Summarize and synthesize

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

Keep your own voice

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

Use caution when paraphrasing

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

Revise, revise, revise

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

Works consulted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Literature Review Examples

Literature Review Examples

Usually, a literature review can be described as an objective, concise, and critical summary of published research literature pertinent to the subject being researched in an article. A literature can be an end in itself (an analysis of what is known about a topic) or a prologue to and rationale for engaging in primary research.

Basic Guidelines

The following are guidelines on how to write a literature review:

Organize the literature review around key topics of concepts. Use headings or topic sentences to convey your organizational principle.

Tell a story about the research. This will assist you with your organization.

Be selective. Incorporate only studies that are pertinent to your subject.

Synthesize and evaluate.

Use a summary to assist the reader to relate every section to the wider topic and to clarify your argument's movement. Where have we just been and where are we heading to?

Organizing Tips

When writing your literature review, place background information, for example, explanations of a theoretical model or clinical situation, at sections where it will be most helpful for your readers. For instance, if various researchers have utilized a similar theoretical approach, define that framework before reviewing those studies.

Split your literature review into segments with appropriate descriptions, following the guidelines of the documentation system you're using. Your outline provides the basis for this division since it has already clustered studies together under headings and subheadings.

Conclude each section in your review with a summary section or paragraph. The summary's length ought to reflect the length of the section. Conclude the whole review with a summary that recaps the most important aspects and findings. This final summary is also the section where you'll make major comparisons, convey your opinion or critique the adequacy of research methods and approaches, and identify inconsistencies. Your critique enables you to end your literature review by posing unanswered questions, proposing approaches upcoming research. If your literature review is an introduction to your study, your critique ought to support the rationale for carrying out the research. You'll then state your research question(s) and hypothesis.

Example of a Literature Review Conclusion

Here is an example of a literature review conclusion:

" The objective of this review was to view the trends in composition studies within the past fifty years and see how commentary on student writing has transformed and is still transforming. It's clear from the research reviewed that evaluative commentary is widely practiced all through composition programs in universities today. Together with this, it's also evident that the field of composition studies in regards to the kinds of commentary that students get on their writing is varied and continues to be examined and analyzed to benefit both composition students and the society at large. Moreover, corrective vs. evaluative commentary is still being discussed, and continues to be problematic in the discourse community of college composition and also high school writing as viewed in Bardine et al.'s research." Assisting students to become better writers is important in our current society with reducing school budgets."

Outlining Your Review

Assuming that you want to compose a literature review concerning the efficiency of short-term group therapy in lowering depression amongst residents of a nursing home. You've now done research and compiled a list of the areas covered by your research:

Pharmacological treatment of depression

The elderly in nursing homes

Measurement tools for depression

Utilization of psychotherapy among the elderly

Depression - causes, behavioral manifestations, and effects

Societal attitudes towards aging

Impacts of group therapy

Side effects of drugs utilized to treat depression

Psychological issues in the elderly

A possible outline for the literature review can be:

Depression in general

Causation theories

Behavioral manifestation

Depression in the elderly, especially in nursing homes (problem and its scope)

Impacts of therapy on depression

Long-term - disadvantages

The outline moves from general to specific. As you proceed down the outline, you'll deal with the material in rising depth, just as the significance of the information to your project rises.

Concerns about Sentence Level

Look at how the following literature review example apa impacts readability: sentence strength, focus, placement of citation, active vs. passive voice, and transition.

" The relationship that exists between motivation and the decision to attain literacy has been examined by Smith (1975), Jones (1983), and Brown (1988). Motivation entails various expectations (Snappe, 1986; Krkel, 1988). A large study done by Amundson (1981) examined the beliefs people entering literacy programs, particularly outcome expectations and self-efficacy regardless of obstacles. Paape (1979), and in a follow-up project Johnson (1985), examined resistance to motivational efforts or the tendency to overlook information about an issue that's difficult to acknowledge. A literacy promotion program needs to overcome the inclination to minimize the problem and to assist people to believe."

" Research suggests that various factors influence an adult' decision to obtain literacy. Individuals need to be motivated to make such a decision (Smith, 1975; Jones, 1983; Brown, 1988). Motivation involves at least two types of expectations (Snappe, 1986: Krakel, 1988). One must believe that literacy will positively affect one's life (outcome expectations) and also one can succeed in the effort to learn new skills regardless of obstacles (Amunon, 1981). Other research reveals that when the problem isn't easy to acknowledge, people tend to overlook information about, that is, to resist motivational efforts 9Paape, 1979; Johnson, 1985). All these findings suggest that a literacy promotion program needs to overcome the tendency to minimize the problem and to assist people to believe."

Comparing the above literature review example paragraphs ought to demonstrate how some rhetorical choices impact readability and clarity.

Some guidelines;

Use headings and topic sentences to inform readers what the subject is and what point the material is contributing to the discussion.

Do not just point to the existence of literature on the topic; compose about methods or results in the studies you discuss.

Test sentences for relevance to the main point.

Put citations where they don't distract from the line of thought you are presenting.

Utilize active verbs that are strong and rich in content.

Make use of transition words.

Your tone should be objective as you summarize the research. Don't allow your objectivity to turn your literature review to an annotated bibliography. Instead, point out as you proceed how studies relate to one another (for example, Smith (1988) and Jones (1990) utilized various samples to study the same phenomenon).

Try to be analytical. Composing a review is an exercise in comparative thinking. Your critique should be in your final discussion, where they will be more efficient and significant to the reader.

Connect paragraphs to one another, and link studies within paragraphs. Try to make your literature review attractive by coming up with the topic sentence of each paragraph in a way that it achieves two things: it hooks in a way to the previous paragraph and also reveals what this new paragraph will be about, for instance; "In contrast to these studies, which have tried to measure the amount of stress a person is subjected to, various researchers are now concentrating on a person's perception of demanding life events."

These connections may need to be made within a paragraph and also among a group of paragraphs, for instance, "Jones (1989) and Smith (1991) were amongst the first persons to investigate the impacts of abuse towards children... Like Jones, Smith also utilized the State-Trait Inventory but incorporated males in his sample" or "Lee's studies of learned vulnerability support this study's view of modification of behavior as situation-specific."

Select verbs that precisely describe what the research did; hypothesized, questioned, developed, executed, measured, tested, and modified have divergent meanings.

Use direct quotes sparingly. They take up more space than sentences constructed to recap the original. Quotations my comprise concept and vocabulary not familiar to the reader.

Utilize verb tenses appropriately. Use the past tense to recap studies and procedures, for instance, "At least a third of those sampled in one study said that they would both reject socially and dread violence from someone exhibiting behaviors associated with various mental illnesses." Use the present perfect tense to suggest that something has happened more than once in the past and may be continuing; for instance, "In the last twenty years, researchers have often concentrated on the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder." Moreover, use the present tense to define theory and instruments , (for instance,"Developmental undertakings are key to Piaget's theory") , to discuss and critique (for instance,"The utilization of self-report has two main drawbacks") , and to generalize (for example"These findings imply that adult learners prefer self-evaluation") . In addition, use the active and passive voice correctly. The active voice ("Jennifer repeated the test with three samples") is not as wordy as the passive voice ("This test was repeated with three samples by Jennifer"). Nevertheless, it's good to use the passive voice when the object is more important than the subject (for instance,"The players from the senior team were shown the video"); when the subject is unknown ("This phenomenon was first defined in line with 18 th century standards") ; when it wouldn't be a good idea to identify the subject ("The first set of data wasn't correctly coded") ; and when putting the object before the subject more lucidly connects to a previous sentence or paragraph ("...screen techniques that increase job satisfaction. These techniques were also assessed..."). Overuse of the passive voice implies that research is happening by itself and the reader will be confused about who's doing what.

Don'ts of Writing a Literature Review

Citing supportive sources only - It is crucial that you also mention those studies that contradict your stance. In other words, mention some dissenting studies and explain why they deviate from your thinking.

Using non-scholarly articles.

Depending on direct quotations - Even though it's okay to include direct quotations, don't depend on them too much.

Composing a narrowly-focused literature review.

If you want to know more about how to write a literature review, the information above will greatly assist you. Remember, a literature review can be termed as discursive prose, not a list summarizing several pieces of literature. Organize your review into segments that present themes or pinpoint trends, including pertinent theory. Your task isn't to list all published material; it's to synthesize and examine it in line with the guiding concept of your research question or thesis.

To see how these tips are brought to life, go through an example of literature review. Contact us today for some literature review samples.

do's and don'ts in writing review of related literature

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Graduate-Level Writing Tips: Definitions, Do’s and Don’ts

professional communicators at work

Debra Davenport, PhD

In your communication master’s program, you will be expected to demonstrate well-honed writing skills in your essays. Your courses will require proficiency in real-world business communications, as well as scholarly writing and the use of APA formatting.

Real-world written business communications may include:

Academic papers are those you will write in your courses that:

What Is the Scholarly Voice?

Essentially, the scholarly voice is unbiased, high-level and evidence-based writing that reflects the epitome of good grammar, syntax and tone. Follow the do’s and don’ts below to excel at this format in your graduate school essays.

Scholarly Resources:

The “Do’s” of Scholarly Writing

1. Use proper syntax. Syntax is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.” Syntax is an important aspect of writing that helps to ensure clarity. Incorrect syntax often results in sentences and paragraphs that do not make sense, and this can pose serious perceptual issues for professional communicators. See this article for a number of examples.

2. Follow the rules of punctuation. Common errors include incorrect placement of quotation marks and erroneous use of the semicolon. As an example, note that quotation marks follow periods and commas, (“The sky is blue.”)

3. Include references, citations and /or footnotes, no matter what kind of document you’re writing. Taking the time to locate sources that substantiate your statements demonstrate your proficiency as a scholar-practitioner and your commitment to excellence. Citations are required in your academic papers, but clients also appreciate this attention to detail. When pitching a project or campaign, the inclusion of reputable sources will support your recommendations and boost your own credibility.

4. Proofread and edit your work. Many errors are missed during the first proofread; be prepared to review your work multiple times.

The “Don’ts” in Scholarly Writing

1. Don’t write in the second person narrative. The second person voice is typically used in articles like this one, where the writer is intending to inform and instruct. According to , “writing from the second person point of view can weaken the effectiveness of the writing in research and argument papers. Using second person can make the work sound as if the writer is giving directions or offering advice to his or her readers, rather than informing [them].”

Here is a comparison of second and third person perspectives from

2. Don’t rely on software to correct your writing. Certainly, tools such as spell check, grammar check and grammarly have some benefit, but they cannot replace firsthand knowledge and mastery of proper writing. I recall one particular paper I received several years ago that was, quite literally, gibberish. When I inquired about the content of the student’s paper, she replied, “Well, I used grammar check!”

Don’t hesitate to seek writing coaching if you have questions or concerns about any aspect of good writing. As graduate students in a masters-level communication program, writing excellence should be a top priority.

By taking an informed and proactive approach to your writing, you will strengthen your academic performance, hone your professional and communication skills and enhance your career.

Dr. Debra Davenport is an online faculty member for Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

Find out more about what you can do with a MS in Communication from Purdue University. Call us today at 877-497-5851 to speak to an admissions advisor, or request more information .

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.

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What Is Academic Writing? | Dos and Don’ts for Students

Academic writing is a formal style of writing used in universities and scholarly publications. You’ll encounter it in journal articles and books on academic topics, and you’ll be expected to write your essays , research papers , and dissertation in academic style.

Academic writing follows the same writing process as other types of texts, but it has specific conventions in terms of content, structure and style.

Table of contents

Types of academic writing, academic writing is…, academic writing is not…, academic writing checklist.

Academics mostly write texts intended for publication, such as journal articles, reports, books, and chapters in edited collections. For students, the most common types of academic writing assignments are listed below.

Different fields of study have different priorities in terms of the writing they produce. For example, in scientific writing it’s crucial to clearly and accurately report methods and results; in the humanities, the focus is on constructing convincing arguments through the use of textual evidence. However, most academic writing shares certain key principles intended to help convey information as effectively as possible.

Whether your goal is to pass your degree, apply to graduate school , or build an academic career, effective writing is an essential skill.

Formal and unbiased

Academic writing aims to convey information in an impartial way. The goal is to base arguments on the evidence under consideration, not the author’s preconceptions. All claims should be supported with relevant evidence, not just asserted.

To avoid bias, it’s important to represent the work of other researchers and the results of your own research fairly and accurately. This means clearly outlining your methodology  and being honest about the limitations of your research.

The formal style used in academic writing ensures that research is presented consistently across different texts, so that studies can be objectively assessed and compared with other research.

Because of this, it’s important to strike the right tone with your language choices. Avoid informal language , including slang, contractions , clichés, and conversational phrases:

Clear and precise

It’s important to use clear and precise language to ensure that your reader knows exactly what you mean. This means being as specific as possible and avoiding vague language :

Avoid hedging your claims with words like “perhaps,” as this can give the impression that you lack confidence in your arguments. Reflect on your word choice to ensure it accurately and directly conveys your meaning:

Specialist language or jargon is common and often necessary in academic writing, which generally targets an audience of other academics in related fields.

However, jargon should be used to make your writing more concise and accurate, not to make it more complicated. A specialist term should be used when:

The best way to familiarize yourself with the kind of jargon used in your field is to read papers by other researchers and pay attention to their language.

Focused and well structured

An academic text is not just a collection of ideas about a topic—it needs to have a clear purpose. Start with a relevant research question or thesis statement , and use it to develop a focused argument. Only include information that is relevant to your overall purpose.

A coherent structure is crucial to organize your ideas. Pay attention to structure at three levels: the structure of the whole text, paragraph structure, and sentence structure.

Well sourced

Academic writing uses sources to support its claims. Sources are other texts (or media objects like photographs or films) that the author analyzes or uses as evidence. Many of your sources will be written by other academics; academic writing is collaborative and builds on previous research.

It’s important to consider which sources are credible and appropriate to use in academic writing. For example, citing Wikipedia is typically discouraged. Don’t rely on websites for information; instead, use academic databases and your university library to find credible sources.

You must always cite your sources in academic writing. This means acknowledging whenever you quote or paraphrase someone else’s work by including a citation in the text and a reference list at the end.

There are many different citation styles with different rules. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago . Make sure to consistently follow whatever style your institution requires. If you don’t cite correctly, you may get in trouble for plagiarism . A good plagiarism checker can help you catch any issues before it’s too late.

You can easily create accurate citations in APA or MLA style using our Citation Generators.

APA Citation Generator MLA Citation Generator

Correct and consistent

As well as following the rules of grammar, punctuation, and citation, it’s important to consistently apply stylistic conventions regarding:

In some cases there are several acceptable approaches that you can choose between—the most important thing is to apply the same rules consistently and to carefully proofread your text before you submit. If you don’t feel confident in your own proofreading abilities, you can get help from Scribbr’s professional proofreading services or Grammar Checker .

What can proofreading do for your paper?

Scribbr editors not only correct grammar and spelling mistakes, but also strengthen your writing by making sure your paper is free of vague language, redundant words, and awkward phrasing.

do's and don'ts in writing review of related literature

See editing example

Academic writing generally tries to avoid being too personal. Information about the author may come in at some points—for example in the acknowledgements or in a personal reflection—but for the most part the text should focus on the research itself.

Always avoid addressing the reader directly with the second-person pronoun “you.” Use the impersonal pronoun “one” or an alternate phrasing instead for generalizations:

The use of the first-person pronoun “I” used to be similarly discouraged in academic writing, but it is increasingly accepted in many fields. If you’re unsure whether to use the first person, pay attention to conventions in your field or ask your instructor.

When you refer to yourself, it should be for good reason. You can position yourself and describe what you did during the research, but avoid arbitrarily inserting your personal thoughts and feelings:


Many students think their writing isn’t academic unless it’s over-complicated and long-winded. This isn’t a good approach—instead, aim to be as concise and direct as possible.

If a term can be cut or replaced with a more straightforward one without affecting your meaning, it should be. Avoid redundant phrasings in your text, and try replacing phrasal verbs with their one-word equivalents where possible:

Repetition is a part of academic writing—for example, summarizing earlier information in the conclusion—but it’s important to avoid unnecessary repetition. Make sure that none of your sentences are repeating a point you’ve already made in different words.

Emotive and grandiose

An academic text is not the same thing as a literary, journalistic, or marketing text. Though you’re still trying to be persuasive, a lot of techniques from these styles are not appropriate in an academic context. Specifically, you should avoid appeals to emotion and inflated claims.

Though you may be writing about a topic that’s sensitive or important to you, the point of academic writing is to clearly communicate ideas, information, and arguments, not to inspire an emotional response. Avoid using emotive or subjective language :

Students are sometimes tempted to make the case for their topic with exaggerated , unsupported claims and flowery language. Stick to specific, grounded arguments that you can support with evidence, and don’t overstate your point:

Use the checklist below to assess whether you have followed the rules of effective academic writing.

I avoid informal terms and contractions .

I avoid second-person pronouns (“you”).

I avoid emotive or exaggerated language.

I avoid redundant words and phrases.

I avoid unnecessary jargon and define terms where needed.

I present information as precisely and accurately as possible.

I use appropriate transitions to show the connections between my ideas.

My text is logically organized using paragraphs .

Each paragraph is focused on a single idea, expressed in a clear topic sentence .

Every part of the text relates to my central thesis or research question .

I support my claims with evidence.

I use the appropriate verb tenses in each section.

I consistently use either UK or US English .

I format numbers consistently.

I cite my sources using a consistent citation style .

Your text follows the most important rules of academic style. Make sure it's perfect with the help of a Scribbr editor!

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by Yen Cabag | 5 comments

how to write a literature review blog post image

If you’re a college or graduate student, you will likely have to write a thesis or dissertation. As an employee in a corporate office, you may also be called on to do some research. 

Writing an academic paper doesn’t have to be daunting when you know the different components, why they matter, and how to write them. The literature review is one of the first steps to writing an academic paper, and also one of the most important. 

What Is a Literature Review? 

A literature review is a compilation of scholarly sources that discuss the topic you are researching. Because it serves as an overview of existing research, a literature review lets you highlight relevant principles and methods, while also identifying gaps in whatever research currently exists. This builds a strong foundation for everything else in your paper. 

Note that a literature review may also be a stand-alone paper you are assigned to write. This is the case when you are called on to look into the current state of research around your topic, and to analyze and synthesize your findings. 

Writing a literature review requires you to collect, evaluate, and analyze existing publications, including journal articles and books that relate to the research question you have chosen.

Purpose of a Literature Review

The literature review is an important part of the research process. It serves the following critical functions: 

In addition, if you’re a nonfiction author, you might want to write up a literature review to survey the existing research surrounding your topic, so you can be sure to fill any gaps and address new reader needs.

What Should Be Included in the Literature Review? 

Your literature review should include the following information: 

How to Write a Literature Review

Since the literature review forms the backbone of your research, writing a clear and thorough review is essential. The steps below will help you do so: 

1. Search for relevant information and findings. 

In research, information published on a given subject is called “literature” or “background literature.”  Assuming you already have a clearly-defined topic, the first step you need to take is searching for the relevant literature. 

Before the boom of the internet, searching for relevant literature involved going to the library and weeding through tons of journal articles or research papers on a subject. These days, you can quickly access these articles and other publications with a simple internet search. 

Because of this, your first step will include listing down the keywords that will help you find the results you need. List down everything that is related to your research topic. For example, if your research question is “What effect does social media have on depression?” you might include specific keywords like “Facebook” and “Instagram” to find more results.

Also, because the Internet is overflowing with information and not all of it may be relevant, you will have to learn how to do an efficient search. This includes learning technical search phrases that let you refine your results.

One of the most important tools is the term “site:” which lets you specify which website to search in. 

For example, when you type “site: ” followed by a space and then the keyword, the search will be done automatically only on the U.S. Data and Statistics website. 

Other tools include what we call boolean operators or search terms, which can help you focus your search: 

Some examples of useful databases where you can search for articles and journals are: 

2. Evaluate your sources and select the most relevant ones.

Because you will not have the time to read every single article you find, you need to evaluate which sources will be the most relevant to your research question. First, look through the most credible sources, and also be sure to read major theories and landmark studies. 

For publications that may not be too clear in terms of credibility or undisputed authority, the following questions can help you evaluate them: 

3. Identify key topics, debates, and research gaps. 

After you’ve compiled your sources, it’s time to start organizing them. You can do this by first identifying any underlying themes. These can come in the form of: 

4. Prepare your outline. 

For academic papers, it’s always best to formulate your outline before you begin writing. This helps you organize your thoughts and all your findings into a coherent whole. 

After all, you don’t want your literature review to look like a shopping list that simply compiles every piece of information you found, without any thought as to how they all come together.

Your outline should include an introduction, main body, and conclusion. 

5. Write the contents of your literature review. 

With your outline in place, you can now start to write your literature review. 

For the introduction, establish the purpose of your literature review. Here you can explain whether the literature review is part of a larger work or if it’s a stand-alone piece. 

In the body of the paper, you will start to elaborate on the points you put in your outline. Use subheadings to make the paragraphs clearer.

These additional tips will also help you make a literature review that adds value to others: 

How Do You Structure a Literature Review? 

You can structure your literature review in the following ways: 

Writing a Lit Review 

Writing a literature review does not have to be a tedious process as long as you know what you need to do.

Knowing how to choose sources will save you a lot of time and energy, and analyzing the information as you read it will also let you write more efficiently, resulting in a literature review that is useful for your own research. 

Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:

Yen Cabag

Yen Cabag is the Blog Writer of TCK Publishing. She is also a homeschooling mom, family coach, and speaker for the Charlotte Mason method, an educational philosophy that places great emphasis on classic literature and the masterpieces in art and music. She has also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion is to see the next generation of children become lovers of reading and learning in the midst of short attention spans.

Patience Ami Mamattah

This article is very useful and has helped me understand better how to approach my literature review. Thank you

Anita Patel

Wonderfully concise, easily understood and makes me feel I can do this! Thank you Yen, you have filled my day with hope and confidence.

Kaelyn Barron

We’re so glad Yen’s post has helped you! :)

Nihada Suleiman Burinyuy

It has really helped me to do my research thank you.

You’re very welcome, we’re so happy to help!

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Some people might think of a literature review as reading a book and then giving it a thumbs up or thumbs down. Nope, not so. A literature review is a review of various pieces of literature on one topic, ranging from series of books to shorter pieces like pamphlets. Sometimes, the literary review is a part of a larger research paper. Its purpose is to prevent duplication of efforts, resolve conflicts, and point the way for further research.

Before Writing

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Constructing Your Paper

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Revising Your Work

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do's and don'ts in writing review of related literature

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About This Article

To do a literature review, start by finding a variety of reliable sources that all relate to one topic or theme. Then, read through the sources and come up with a thesis statement for your paper. Once you have your thesis, explain how the sources you used back up your thesis in the body of your literature review. You can arrange the sources chronologically, by publication, or even thematically. For help writing an introduction and conclusion for a literature review, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to Write a Stellar Literature Review | Step-by-Step Guide

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What Is a Literature Review

A literature review is a systematic, scientific analysis of a body of work. It is an objective, impartial examination of the relevant evidence. A literature review is also a formal way of describing the research you’ve read without saying anything definitive.

The point of a literature review is to summarize the research done on a particular topic. If you don’t know what to say, start by reading everything written about it. Then set yourself the task of writing down the main points. For instance, a student might be asked to do a survey of scholarly sources and provide a new interpretation of old sources or combine old and new references.

Sometimes you have to make choices based on what you find most interesting, but if you can’t decide, use a systematic review as a starting point. The method is simple: read everything written and make a list of the points you want to make.

On the other hand, The annotated bibliography summarizes what was said in the book; it does not evaluate it or tell you what to think about it or decide whether it is good or bad.

The construction of literature reviews provides the current and complete knowledge on a given topic as published in academic journals and books. Scholars usually write literature reviews on topics with limited information.

Read also: Literature Review Example

What is the significance of a literature review?

The main purpose of a literature review is to summarize and organize the ideas from previous publications.

A lit review should be objective and should not add information that is not published.

But, it is not just supposed to summarize sources – a writer should connect the sources by looking for common ideas or trends.

Another purpose of a literature review is to provide a useful guide and an overview of a particular topic with limited sources.

Therefore, it comes in handy when you do not have enough time to conduct thorough research.

The ability to scan the literature efficiently, using manual or computerized methods, to identify a set of useful articles and books critical appraisal

Things To Do Before Beginning Your Literature Review

Before beginning your literature review:

Seek clarity from the lecturer

Confirm from your lecturer:

Revise other Literature reviews

Look at other research literature reviews in our field or course. Going through such literature reviews will give you a clearer idea of writing your review. Furthermore, these previous research literature reviews in your field will have references to be a good place to start your research literature reviews.

Narrow down the scope of your research

Some topics have many sources. And, your lecturer probably does not expect you to include all of them in your review.

Therefore, you need to narrow your topic to reduce the material you have to go through.

Consider the date of your sources.

Let’s say you are writing the lit review about treating a certain medical condition.

Medical procedures change regularly to accommodate current research.

So, when writing a review, you need updated sources as references that are even a year old could be out-of-date.

On the contrary, if you are writing on a thematic review in social sciences, the chronological review might require you to assess how things have changed over time. In such cases, you should include old sources.

How to write a literature review

Writing the lit review is an exciting and challenging process, wherein you have to find relevant publications (such as books and journal articles), critically analyze them, explain what you found. Five key steps are required for this process:

A good literature review is more than just a summary of facts; it must also analyze and critique the sources to paint an accurate picture.

Step 1: Search for relevant literature.

It would help if you had a clearly defined topic before looking for literature. This way, when you’re writing your Master’s or undergraduate dissertation or research paper and need to provide background knowledge on the subject with reliable sources, it will be easy!

You want to find good quality information that is trustworthy and credible, so you can rely on it while presenting an argument in your work without fear of being called out by someone who disagrees with what they see as insufficient evidence – this is why having a clear idea about where to look first saves time later down the line.

When you are writing a lit review as a standalone assignment , your main goal is determining which direction the project will take. You need to choose an area of research and develop a proper research question that can be answered by looking at previous publications without relying on new studies’ data.

Research question example

What is the impact of social media on body image among Generation Z?

Make a list of keywords.

Your search for the perfect research topic starts with finding keywords related to your subject. You can start by brainstorming a list of words and phrases that relate to both key concepts in the literature review, as well as any synonyms or alternate terms you might find during your readings.

Search for relevant sources

The internet is a vast and infinite space. This means that it’s crucial to know your keywords before starting any research paper project, especially when looking for academic sources. The following databases can be used as good places to start searching:

Researchers in academia spend a great deal of time reading and analyzing articles. When selecting sources, it is important to find the most relevant information possible for your research topic. To do this, you should note any recurring citations, as these will typically be some excellent resources on the subject matter at hand. Then do a recap of the important information of the source.

Step 2: Evaluate and select sources

No matter how much you want to read about it, there are many written words on this topic. You’ll have to conduct an evaluation of the available literature most relevant for your questions and ones that will be easy to read or more in-depth than the others.

For each publication, ask:

Step 3: Identify themes, debates, and gaps

To write an engaging literature review, you must understand the connections and relationships between sources. Use what you’ve learned to look for:

Gaps: What is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

Trends and patterns (in theory, method, or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?

Debates, conflicts, and contradictions: where do sources disagree?

Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?

Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?

Step 4: Outline your literature review’s structure

There are many ways that you can organize your literature review. It’s important to know the best method before starting, as this will help make a smoother and easier read for the reader- depending on how long it is. The different strategies each have their own purpose; combining them might not be necessary if one of these already suffices.

The strategies include chronological, thematic, methodological.

Step 5: Write your literature review

When it comes to a literature review, there are three main sections: introduction, body, and conclusion. The contents of each depend on the objective of your report, but they all need to be included in one cohesive package.

Final thoughts on Writing a Literature Review

The truth is that it can be quite challenging to write a literature review.

But, with proper planning, understanding the structure, and having the correct outline, you will have an easier time.

The above guide will help you write a better literature review.

You can also sharpen your lit review writing skills by going through other research literature reviews; free samples are on our website.

Reading lit review examples will help you to understand better what the literature of your field requires.

If you need professional help formatting your literature review, contact us now.

Elaina Ferrell

Ferrell is a real educational devotee. She prides herself on writing exceptional general guides while listening to every need of students.

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How To Write A Literature Review

Content of this article.

1. How To Write A Literature Review

Writing a literature review is perhaps the best piece of literature that a student can work with. This is because writing a literature review only means that you are already near the end of your final requirement in your student life, which is either a thesis or even a dissertation. But basically, a literature review simply refers to a part of a much bigger literature and is designed to assess the student’s level of proficiency and grasp of the subject itself. Aside from the purpose of knowing how much you know, literature review writing is primarily aimed at researching and synthesizing previous works and research done which are related to the field that you are trying to work on. However, because of its complexity, literature review writing is one of the most difficult types of a task because it also requires the writer to synthesize his/her own thesis statement with the works that he/she was able to find. Thus, because of the difficulty in writing these types of essays, here is some literature review writing help from experts at our essays writing service .

2. Things to Avoid in writing a Literature Review

Writing a literature review is not easy. There are many traps and pitfalls that any writer could fall on, and thus, here are some of the most important tips in writing a literature review.

To further check on other tips and guides, here is one literature review writing guide to help you make that coherent synthesis for your work.

3. Types of literature review

Before you ask the most common question ‘how to start a literature review (?)’ you better have your own hooks for your literature review topics first. This is crucial, especially when creating your own literature review structure because, without your topic, you cannot proceed! But again, even before starting to work on your literature review, we need to look at some of the types of literature review to know what topic would fit the type of methodology which you would be employed later on in your work.

An evaluative type of literature review focuses more on collecting previous works which are related to your topic at hand and “evaluating” their findings. Employing a similar kind of review in your research might be very helpful especially if you’re working in fields that have an objective structure of a literature review.


As compared to the previous structure of a literature review, the exploratory type is more (as the term implies) “exploratory” or designed to survey previous works done in the field rather than evaluating them. The outline of a literature review of this type is usually employed with topics/fields which lack previous works done before it.


As compared to other types, the literature review structure of instrumental ones focuses more on the methods used and the tools employed during the study. These types of literature reviews are usually used for both qualitative and quantitative works.

One of the quickest and easiest ways to conduct a literature review, a systematic type of literature review focuses on critically analyzing the works done by previous authors.

4. Review structure

Now that you already have a coherent topic in mind and knowledge of the different types of literature reviews, the next step is focusing on the structure of a literature review. Just as with any other piece of literature out there, the process of literature review outlining is very important in order to help you gain the momentum to write. An outline for a literature review would also help you in making sure everything in your topic is already covered and all questions which you posed in your introduction are already covered before you finally proceed to the conclusion for your literature review.

When writing the outline of your literature review, any writer should take note that, unlike other papers, the literature review does not usually employ the use of subheadings that other papers use (e.g. introduction). This is because literature reviews are usually a part of a bigger paper with an introductory and conclusion part and not a separate paper in itself. Literature review outlining, on the other hand, simply uses the paragraphs in a logical and systematic manner, with which each thesis of the paragraphs works in conjunction with each other to support the main thesis of the article while the succeeding parts of each paragraph work to support the main thesis of a paragraph.

Provided below is an example of a literature review outline:

Review of Related Literature


Introduction Writing

After finishing all of these steps, the literature review introduction marks the beginning but also is the most important part of your main work. This is because of the fact that just like any other part of this essay, the introduction for the literature review should provide the “hook” for the readers to read more, but as compared to the main introduction, this one is more dedicated to explaining the purpose of your literature review.

Here are some tips for writing your introduction.

Conclusion Writing

The last part of writing a literature review is the literature review conclusion. Most writers become dazed with answering the question, “how to end a literature review?” This is not surprising because most people commit the mistake of writing a literature review conclusion just as how they write the conclusion of the main paper. This is a thing that any writer should be aware of because, unlike the main conclusion, this part only tackles the literature review itself and provides an avenue to proceed with the next parts of the paper. And, since we have already discussed the steps in writing a literature review, here is a checklist to help you start writing.

5. Final checklist

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  22. How To Write A Stellar Literature Review

    4.1 Step 1: Search for relevant literature. 4.2 Step 2: Evaluate and select sources. 4.3 Step 3: Identify themes, debates, and gaps. 4.4 Step 4: Outline your literature review's structure. 4.5 Step 5: Write your literature review. 5 Final thoughts on Writing a Literature Review. Rate this post.

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    Systematic. One of the quickest and easiest ways to conduct a literature review, a systematic type of literature review focuses on critically analyzing the works done by previous authors. 4. Review structure. Now that you already have a coherent topic in mind and knowledge of the different types of literature reviews, the next step is focusing ...