How To Structure Your Literature Review
3 options to help structure your chapter.
By: Amy Rommelspacher (PhD) | Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | November 2020
Writing the literature review chapter can seem pretty daunting when you’re piecing together your dissertation or thesis. As we’ve discussed before , a good literature review needs to achieve a few very important objectives – it should:
- Demonstrate your knowledge of the research topic
- Identify the gaps in the literature and show how your research links to these
- Provide the foundation for your conceptual framework (if you have one)
- Inform your own methodology and research design
To achieve this, your literature review needs a well-thought-out structure . Get the structure of your literature review chapter wrong and you’ll struggle to achieve these objectives. Don’t worry though – in this post, we’ll look at how to structure your literature review for maximum impact (and marks!).
But wait – is this the right time?
Deciding on the structure of your literature review should come towards the end of the literature review process – after you have collected and digested the literature, but before you start writing the chapter.
In other words, you need to first develop a rich understanding of the literature before you even attempt to map out a structure. There’s no use trying to develop a structure before you’ve fully wrapped your head around the existing research.
Equally importantly, you need to have a structure in place before you start writing , or your literature review will most likely end up a rambling, disjointed mess.
Importantly, don’t feel that once you’ve defined a structure you can’t iterate on it. It’s perfectly natural to adjust as you engage in the writing process. As we’ve discussed before , writing is a way of developing your thinking, so it’s quite common for your thinking to change – and therefore, for your chapter structure to change – as you write.
Need a helping hand?
Like any other chapter in your thesis or dissertation, your literature review needs to have a clear, logical structure. At a minimum, it should have three essential components – an introduction , a body and a conclusion .
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
1: The Introduction Section
Just like any good introduction, the introduction section of your literature review should introduce the purpose and layout (organisation) of the chapter. In other words, your introduction needs to give the reader a taste of what’s to come, and how you’re going to lay that out. Essentially, you should provide the reader with a high-level roadmap of your chapter to give them a taste of the journey that lies ahead.
Here’s an example of the layout visualised in a literature review introduction:
Your introduction should also outline your topic (including any tricky terminology or jargon) and provide an explanation of the scope of your literature review – in other words, what you will and won’t be covering (the delimitations ). This helps ringfence your review and achieve a clear focus . The clearer and narrower your focus, the deeper you can dive into the topic (which is typically where the magic lies).
Depending on the nature of your project, you could also present your stance or point of view at this stage. In other words, after grappling with the literature you’ll have an opinion about what the trends and concerns are in the field as well as what’s lacking. The introduction section can then present these ideas so that it is clear to examiners that you’re aware of how your research connects with existing knowledge .
2: The Body Section
The body of your literature review is the centre of your work. This is where you’ll present, analyse, evaluate and synthesise the existing research. In other words, this is where you’re going to earn (or lose) the most marks. Therefore, it’s important to carefully think about how you will organise your discussion to present it in a clear way.
The body of your literature review should do just as the description of this chapter suggests. It should “review” the literature – in other words, identify, analyse, and synthesise it. So, when thinking about structuring your literature review, you need to think about which structural approach will provide the best “review” for your specific type of research and objectives (we’ll get to this shortly).
There are (broadly speaking) three options for organising your literature review.
Option 1: Chronological (according to date)
Organising the literature chronologically is one of the simplest ways to structure your literature review. You start with what was published first and work your way through the literature until you reach the work published most recently. Pretty straightforward.
The benefit of this option is that it makes it easy to discuss the developments and debates in the field as they emerged over time. Organising your literature chronologically also allows you to highlight how specific articles or pieces of work might have changed the course of the field – in other words, which research has had the most impact . Therefore, this approach is very useful when your research is aimed at understanding how the topic has unfolded over time and is often used by scholars in the field of history. That said, this approach can be utilised by anyone that wants to explore change over time .
For example , if a student of politics is investigating how the understanding of democracy has evolved over time, they could use the chronological approach to provide a narrative that demonstrates how this understanding has changed through the ages.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you structure your literature review chronologically.
- What is the earliest literature published relating to this topic?
- How has the field changed over time? Why?
- What are the most recent discoveries/theories?
In some ways, chronology plays a part whichever way you decide to structure your literature review, because you will always, to a certain extent, be analysing how the literature has developed. However, with the chronological approach, the emphasis is very firmly on how the discussion has evolved over time , as opposed to how all the literature links together (which we’ll discuss next ).
Option 2: Thematic (grouped by theme)
The thematic approach to structuring a literature review means organising your literature by theme or category – for example, by independent variables (i.e. factors that have an impact on a specific outcome).
As you’ve been collecting and synthesising literature, you’ll likely have started seeing some themes or patterns emerging. You can then use these themes or patterns as a structure for your body discussion. The thematic approach is the most common approach and is useful for structuring literature reviews in most fields.
For example, if you were researching which factors contributed towards people trusting an organisation, you might find themes such as consumers’ perceptions of an organisation’s competence, benevolence and integrity. Structuring your literature review thematically would mean structuring your literature review’s body section to discuss each of these themes, one section at a time.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when structuring your literature review by themes:
- Are there any patterns that have come to light in the literature?
- What are the central themes and categories used by the researchers?
- Do I have enough evidence of these themes?
Option 3: Methodological
The methodological option is a way of structuring your literature review by the research methodologies used . In other words, organising your discussion based on the angle from which each piece of research was approached – for example, qualitative , quantitative or mixed methodologies.
Structuring your literature review by methodology can be useful if you are drawing research from a variety of disciplines and are critiquing different methodologies. The point of this approach is to question how existing research has been conducted, as opposed to what the conclusions and/or findings the research were.
For example, a sociologist might centre their research around critiquing specific fieldwork practices. Their literature review will then be a summary of the fieldwork methodologies used by different studies.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself when structuring your literature review according to methodology:
- Which methodologies have been utilised in this field?
- Which methodology is the most popular (and why)?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the various methodologies?
- How can the existing methodologies inform my own methodology?
3: The Conclusion Section
Once you’ve completed the body section of your literature review using one of the structural approaches we discussed above, you’ll need to “wrap up” your literature review and pull all the pieces together to set the direction for the rest of your dissertation or thesis.
The conclusion is where you’ll present the key findings of your literature review. In this section, you should emphasise the research that is especially important to your research questions and highlight the gaps that exist in the literature. Based on this, you need to make it clear what you will add to the literature – in other words, justify your own research by showing how it will help fill one or more of the gaps you just identified.
Last but not least, if it’s your intention to develop a theoretical framework for your dissertation or thesis, the conclusion section is a good place to present this.
In this article, we’ve discussed how to structure your literature review for maximum impact. Here’s a quick recap of what you need to keep in mind when deciding on your literature review structure:
- Just like other chapters, your literature review needs a clear introduction , body and conclusion .
- The introduction section should provide an overview of what you will discuss in your literature review.
- The body section of your literature review can be organised by chronology , theme or methodology . The right structural approach depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your research.
- The conclusion section should draw together the key findings of your literature review and link them to your research questions.
If you’re ready to get started, be sure to download our free literature review template to fast-track your chapter outline.
Psst… there’s more (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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Great work. This is exactly what I was looking for and helps a lot together with your previous post on literature review. One last thing is missing: a link to a great literature chapter of an journal article (maybe with comments of the different sections in this review chapter). Do you know any great literature review chapters?
I agree with you Marin… A great piece
I thank you immensely for this wonderful guide
It is indeed thought and supportive work for the futurist researcher and students
Very educative and good time to get guide. Thank you
Great work, very insightful. Thank you.
Thank you very much, very helpful
This is very educative and precise . Thank you very much for dropping this kind of write up .
Pheeww, so damn helpful, thank you for this informative piece.
I’m doing a research project topic ; stool analysis for parasitic worm (enteric) worm, how do I structure it, thanks.
comprehensive explanation. Help us by pasting the URL of some good “literature review” for better understanding.
great piece. thanks for the awesome explanation. it is really worth sharing. I have a little question, if anyone can help me out, which of the options in the body of literature can be best fit if you are writing an architectural thesis that deals with design?
I am doing a research on nanofluids how can l structure it?
Beautifully clear.nThank you!
Brilliant work, well understood, many thanks
I like how this was so clear with simple language 😊😊 thank you so much 😊 for these information 😊
Insightful. I was struggling to come up with a sensible literature review but this has been really helpful. Thank you!
You have given thought-provoking information about the review of the literature.
Thank you. It has made my own research better and to impart your work to students I teach
I learnt a lot from this teaching. It’s a great piece.
I am doing research on EFL teacher motivation for his/her job. How Can I structure it? Is there any detailed template, additional to this?
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Writing a Literature Review
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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.
Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?
There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.
A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.
Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.
What are the parts of a lit review?
Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.
- An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
- A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
- Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
- Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.
- Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
- Connect it back to your primary research question
How should I organize my lit review?
Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:
- Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
- Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
- Qualitative versus quantitative research
- Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
- Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.
What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?
Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .
As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.
Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:
- It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
- Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
- Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
- Read more about synthesis here.
The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.
Literature reviews: structure.
Structure your Work
Uncertain about how to structure your literature review? Have a look at this revelatory video by Dr Jodie Salter and the University of Guelph.
Video Link: Writing the Literature Review: A Banquet Hall Analogy
Structure of a literature review
A literature review should have an introduction, main body and a conclusion.
As shown in the video, above, the body should NOT be organised author by author (for that, there are annotated bibliographies ). Instead, it should be organised by topic (normally, from general background to specific aspects of the subject your dissertation is dealing with). Some paragraphs can be organised chronologically (for example outlining the development of an idea throughout time), by method, by sector, or other criteria.
This should be a paragraph that can include some of the following:
Outlining the scope of your literature review – sources, topics to be discussed / the aims of your review.
Where/how does your topic fit into the wider subject area.
Why the topic is important- is it an area of current interest/significance?
Highlight the relevant issues or debates that have characterised your field of research.
Has the topic been widely researched? Or not?
Signposting for the reader, explaining the organisation / sequence of topics covered in the review.
Provide strong sentences at beginnings of paragraphs: every paragraph shall deal with a topic or make a point.
Signpost, showing the direction of your writing, and indicating your critical take on the sources you present.
Use you own voice to comment on and evaluate the literature.
Identify gaps in the literature.
Write "so what" summary sentences throughout the review to help the reader understand how the sections of your review are relevant to your research.
Use language to show confidence or caution, as appropriate: e.g. There is clearly a link... OR This suggests a possible link...
Avoid "he/she said...": always name the authors. Vary the reporting words. See the guide on Academic Voice and Language for more guidance on logic, signposting, reporting words etc.
State how your literature review has met the review aim(s) outlined in the introduction.
Summarise and synthesise the main issues/themes that the literature review has presented in relation to your topic area and research questions.
If the literature review is part of a dissertation, underline the gaps identified in the literature. This provides a rationale for your chosen dissertation topic.
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- Last Updated: Mar 7, 2022 2:16 PM
- URL: https://libguides.westminster.ac.uk/literature-reviews
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How do I Write a Literature Review?: #5 Writing the Review
- Step #1: Choosing a Topic
- Step #2: Finding Information
- Step #3: Evaluating Content
- Step #4: Synthesizing Content
- #5 Writing the Review
- Citing Your Sources
WRITING THE REVIEW
You've done the research and now you're ready to put your findings down on paper. When preparing to write your review, first consider how will you organize your review.
The actual review generally has 5 components:
Abstract - An abstract is a summary of your literature review. It is made up of the following parts:
- A contextual sentence about your motivation behind your research topic
- Your thesis statement
- A descriptive statement about the types of literature used in the review
- Summarize your findings
- Conclusion(s) based upon your findings
Introduction : Like a typical research paper introduction, provide the reader with a quick idea of the topic of the literature review:
- Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern. This provides the reader with context for reviewing the literature.
- Identify related trends in what has already been published about the topic; or conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in research and scholarship; or a single problem or new perspective of immediate interest.
- Establish your reason (point of view) for reviewing the literature; explain the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and the organization of the review (sequence); and, when necessary, state why certain literature is or is not included (scope) -
Body : The body of a literature review contains your discussion of sources and can be organized in 3 ways-
- Chronological - by publication or by trend
- Thematic - organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time
- Methodical - the focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it focuses on the "methods" of the literature's researcher or writer that you are reviewing
You may also want to include a section on "questions for further research" and discuss what questions the review has sparked about the topic/field or offer suggestions for future studies/examinations that build on your current findings.
Conclusion : In the conclusion, you should:
Conclude your paper by providing your reader with some perspective on the relationship between your literature review's specific topic and how it's related to it's parent discipline, scientific endeavor, or profession.
Bibliography : Since a literature review is composed of pieces of research, it is very important that your correctly cite the literature you are reviewing, both in the reviews body as well as in a bibliography/works cited. To learn more about different citation styles, visit the " Citing Your Sources " tab.
- Writing a Literature Review: Wesleyan University
- Literature Review: Edith Cowan University
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- Last Updated: Oct 20, 2021 3:04 PM
- URL: https://libguides.eastern.edu/literature_reviews
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- Starting your literature review
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When to stop reading, how to organise a literature review, writing your literature review.
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Useful links for literature reviews
- Study Advice Guide: Literature Reviews Download a printable PDF version of this guide.
- Study Advice Helping students to achieve study success with guides, video tutorials, seminars and one-to-one advice sessions.
- Doing your literature review (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
- Doing your literature review (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.
- Literature searching guide A guide to finding articles, books and other materials on your subject
- Doing your literature search video - University of Reading Brief video on literature searching from our Academic Liaison Librarians.
- Royal Literary Fund: Writing a Literature Review A guide to writing literature reviews from the Royal Literary Fund
- What it means to be a critical student A brief and very useful video tutorial from the University of Leicester.
- Reading and notemaking LibGuide Expert guidance on managing your reading and making effective notes.
- Dissertations and major projects LibGuide Expert guidance on planning, researching and writing dissertations and major projects.
If you have thought about the areas you need to research and have conducted some searches for literature, you should be ready to set down some draft topic headings to structure your literature review.
Select one of your headings and choose a few key texts to read first - three is ideal to start with. Remember that you may eventually be writing about the same text under different headings, so bear that in mind when you are reading and making notes.
When you have finished reading your chosen texts, write a draft section summarising and commenting on what you have read, taking special care to show how it is relevant to your research. Then look to see what you need to discuss further, and do more reading to enable you to plug the gaps.
Try to set limits on how long you will spend reading. Then plan backwards from your deadline and decide when you need to move on to other parts of your investigation e.g. gathering the data.
You need to show you have read the major and important texts in your topic, and that you have also explored the most up-to-date research. If you have demonstrated both of these, you are on the right lines.
If you keep coming across very similar viewpoints and your reading is no longer providing new information, this is a sign you have reached saturation point and should probably stop.
Be guided by your research questions. When reading, ask yourself, "How does this relate to my investigation?" If you are going off into unrelated areas, stop reading and refocus on your topic.
Another thing you can do is to group what you have read into different topics or themes . These can provide useful headings when you come to write up your literature review. Use different coloured highlighters to identify which topic or heading each article fits into.
Be selective - you don't have to include everything you have read in your literature review. Only include research which is relevant and which helps you understand more about your own investigation. What you leave out won't be wasted as it helped you refine your understanding of the wider issues and identify what was relevant to your own investigation.
You don't have to refer to everything in the same depth in your literature review. You are usually expected to prioritise recent research. Some scientific research that was crucial in the past is now out of date. For instance, there may be a few older studies that were important in starting research in the field, but their methods have been surpassed by more accurate methods. You only need to demonstrate your awareness of these older, dated studies in a few sentences, then move on to discussing in greater depth the up-to-date methods and why they are more accurate.
Like an essay, a literature review has an introduction, main body, and conclusion.
Introduction : This explains the broad context of your research area and the main topics you are investigating. It briefly highlights the relevant issues or debates that have characterised your field of research.
It should also include some signposting for the reader, explaining the organisation / sequence of topics covered, and the scope of your survey.
Main body : An analysis of the literature according to a number of themes or topics that overlap with your research. It may have headings.
You can write your literature review one section at a time, but make sure you read through them all to check they link together and tell a coherent "story".
This should show how your research builds on what has been done before. Based on previous research, you provide justifications for what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how you are going to do it.
Conclusion : This should summarise the current state of the research in your field as analysed in the main body. It should identify any gaps or problems with the existing research, and explain how your investigation is going to address these gaps or build on the existing research.
- The structure of a literature review (Royal Literary Fund) Guidance on structuring a literature review.
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- Next: Developing your literature review >>
- Last Updated: Dec 1, 2022 3:17 PM
- URL: https://libguides.reading.ac.uk/literaturereview
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The structure of a literature review
A literature review should be structured like any other essay: it should have an introduction, a middle or main body, and a conclusion.
The introduction should:
- define your topic and provide an appropriate context for reviewing the literature;
- establish your reasons – i.e. point of view – for
- reviewing the literature;
- explain the organisation – i.e. sequence – of the review;
- state the scope of the review – i.e. what is included and what isn’t included. For example, if you were reviewing the literature on obesity in children you might say something like: There are a large number of studies of obesity trends in the general population. However, since the focus of this research is on obesity in children, these will not be reviewed in detail and will only be referred to as appropriate.
The middle or main body should:
- organise the literature according to common themes;
- provide insight into the relation between your chosen topic and the wider subject area e.g. between obesity in children and obesity in general;
- move from a general, wider view of the literature being reviewed to the specific focus of your research.
The conclusion should:
- summarise the important aspects of the existing body of literature;
- evaluate the current state of the literature reviewed;
- identify significant flaws or gaps in existing knowledge;
- outline areas for future study;
- link your research to existing knowledge.
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:
- Roughly how many sources should you include?
- What types of sources (books, journal articles, websites)?
- Should you summarize, synthesize, or critique your sources by discussing a common theme or issue?
- Should you evaluate your sources?
- Should you provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history?
Look for other literature reviews in your area of interest or in the discipline and read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or ways to organize your final review. You can simply put the word “review” in your search engine along with your other topic terms to find articles of this type on the Internet or in an electronic database. The bibliography or reference section of sources you’ve already read are also excellent entry points into your own research.
Narrow your topic
There are hundreds or even thousands of articles and books on most areas of study. The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to get a good survey of the material. Your instructor will probably not expect you to read everything that’s out there on the topic, but you’ll make your job easier if you first limit your scope.
Keep in mind that UNC Libraries have research guides and to databases relevant to many fields of study. You can reach out to the subject librarian for a consultation: https://library.unc.edu/support/consultations/ .
And don’t forget to tap into your professor’s (or other professors’) knowledge in the field. Ask your professor questions such as: “If you had to read only one book from the 90’s on topic X, what would it be?” Questions such as this help you to find and determine quickly the most seminal pieces in the field.
Consider whether your sources are current
Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. In the sciences, for instance, treatments for medical problems are constantly changing according to the latest studies. Information even two years old could be obsolete. However, if you are writing a review in the humanities, history, or social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be what is needed, because what is important is how perspectives have changed through the years or within a certain time period. Try sorting through some other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to consider what is currently of interest to scholars in this field and what is not.
Strategies for writing the literature review
Find a focus.
A literature review, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not the sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that you will not just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them, one at a time. No. As you read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider instead what themes or issues connect your sources together. Do they present one or different solutions? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? How well do they present the material and do they portray it according to an appropriate theory? Do they reveal a trend in the field? A raging debate? Pick one of these themes to focus the organization of your review.
Convey it to your reader
A literature review may not have a traditional thesis statement (one that makes an argument), but you do need to tell readers what to expect. Try writing a simple statement that lets the reader know what is your main organizing principle. Here are a couple of examples:
The current trend in treatment for congestive heart failure combines surgery and medicine. More and more cultural studies scholars are accepting popular media as a subject worthy of academic consideration.
You’ve got a focus, and you’ve stated it clearly and directly. Now what is the most effective way of presenting the information? What are the most important topics, subtopics, etc., that your review needs to include? And in what order should you present them? Develop an organization for your review at both a global and local level:
First, cover the basic categories
Just like most academic papers, literature reviews also must contain at least three basic elements: an introduction or background information section; the body of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, finally, a conclusion and/or recommendations section to end the paper. The following provides a brief description of the content of each:
- Introduction: Gives a quick idea of the topic of the literature review, such as the central theme or organizational pattern.
- Body: Contains your discussion of sources and is organized either chronologically, thematically, or methodologically (see below for more information on each).
- Conclusions/Recommendations: Discuss what you have drawn from reviewing literature so far. Where might the discussion proceed?
Organizing the body
Once you have the basic categories in place, then you must consider how you will present the sources themselves within the body of your paper. Create an organizational method to focus this section even further.
To help you come up with an overall organizational framework for your review, consider the following scenario:
You’ve decided to focus your literature review on materials dealing with sperm whales. This is because you’ve just finished reading Moby Dick, and you wonder if that whale’s portrayal is really real. You start with some articles about the physiology of sperm whales in biology journals written in the 1980’s. But these articles refer to some British biological studies performed on whales in the early 18th century. So you check those out. Then you look up a book written in 1968 with information on how sperm whales have been portrayed in other forms of art, such as in Alaskan poetry, in French painting, or on whale bone, as the whale hunters in the late 19th century used to do. This makes you wonder about American whaling methods during the time portrayed in Moby Dick, so you find some academic articles published in the last five years on how accurately Herman Melville portrayed the whaling scene in his novel.
Now consider some typical ways of organizing the sources into a review:
- Chronological: If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials above according to when they were published. For instance, first you would talk about the British biological studies of the 18th century, then about Moby Dick, published in 1851, then the book on sperm whales in other art (1968), and finally the biology articles (1980s) and the recent articles on American whaling of the 19th century. But there is relatively no continuity among subjects here. And notice that even though the sources on sperm whales in other art and on American whaling are written recently, they are about other subjects/objects that were created much earlier. Thus, the review loses its chronological focus.
- By publication: Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on biological studies of sperm whales if the progression revealed a change in dissection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies.
- By trend: A better way to organize the above sources chronologically is to examine the sources under another trend, such as the history of whaling. Then your review would have subsections according to eras within this period. For instance, the review might examine whaling from pre-1600-1699, 1700-1799, and 1800-1899. Under this method, you would combine the recent studies on American whaling in the 19th century with Moby Dick itself in the 1800-1899 category, even though the authors wrote a century apart.
- Thematic: Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic review. For instance, the sperm whale review could focus on the development of the harpoon for whale hunting. While the study focuses on one topic, harpoon technology, it will still be organized chronologically. The only difference here between a “chronological” and a “thematic” approach is what is emphasized the most: the development of the harpoon or the harpoon technology.But more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. For instance, a thematic review of material on sperm whales might examine how they are portrayed as “evil” in cultural documents. The subsections might include how they are personified, how their proportions are exaggerated, and their behaviors misunderstood. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point made.
- Methodological: A methodological approach differs from the two above in that the focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it focuses on the “methods” of the researcher or writer. For the sperm whale project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of whales in American, British, and French art work. Or the review might focus on the economic impact of whaling on a community. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed. Once you’ve decided on the organizational method for the body of the review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out. They should arise out of your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period. A thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue.
Sometimes, though, you might need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. Put in only what is necessary. Here are a few other sections you might want to consider:
- Current Situation: Information necessary to understand the topic or focus of the literature review.
- History: The chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
- Methods and/or Standards: The criteria you used to select the sources in your literature review or the way in which you present your information. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed articles and journals.
Questions for Further Research: What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?
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).
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.
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 .
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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How to Write a Literature Review
As every student knows, writing informative essay and research papers is an integral part of the educational program. You create a thesis, support it using valid sources, and formulate systematic ideas surrounding it. However, not all students know that they will also have to face another type of paper known as a Literature Review in college. Let's take a closer look at this with our custom essay writer .
Literature Review Definition
As this is a less common academic writing type, students often ask: "What is a literature review?" According to the definition, a literature review is a body of work that explores various publications within a specific subject area and sometimes within a set timeframe.
This type of writing requires you to read and analyze various sources that relate to the main subject and present each unique comprehension of the publications. Lastly, a literature review should combine a summary with a synthesis of the documents used. A summary is a brief overview of the important information in the publication; a synthesis is a re-organization of the information that gives the writing a new and unique meaning.
Typically, a literature review is a part of a larger paper, such as a thesis or dissertation. However, you may also be given it as a stand-alone assignment.
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The main purpose of a literature review is to summarize and synthesize the ideas created by previous authors without implementing personal opinions or other additional information.
However, a literature review objective is not just to list summaries of sources; rather, it is to notice a central trend or principle in all of the publications. Just like a research paper has a thesis that guides it on rails, a literature review has the main organizing principle (MOP). The goal of this type of academic writing is to identify the MOP and show how it exists in all of your supporting documents.
Why is a literature review important? The value of such work is explained by the following goals it pursues:
- Highlights the significance of the main topic within a specific subject area.
- Demonstrates and explains the background of research for a particular subject matter.
- Helps to find out the key themes, principles, concepts, and researchers that exist within a topic.
- Helps to reveal relationships between existing ideas/studies on a topic.
- Reveals the main points of controversy and gaps within a topic.
- Suggests questions to drive primary research based on previous studies.
Here are some example topics for writing literature reviews:
- Exploring racism in "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," and "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
- Isolationism in "The Catcher in the Rye," "Frankenstein," and "1984"
- Understanding Moral Dilemmas in "Crime and Punishment," "The Scarlet Letter," and "The Lifeboat"
- Corruption of Power in "Macbeth," "All the King's Men," and "Animal Farm"
- Emotional and Physical survival in "Lord of the Flies," "Hatchet," and "Congo."
How Long Is a Literature Review?
When facing the need to write a literature review, students tend to wonder, "how long should a literature review be?" In some cases, the length of your paper's body may be determined by your instructor. Be sure to read the guidelines carefully to learn what is expected from you.
Keeping your literature review around 15-30% of your entire paper is recommended if you haven't been provided with specific guidelines. To give you a rough idea, that is about 2-3 pages for a 15-page paper. In case you are writing a literature review as a stand-alone assignment, its length should be specified in the instructions provided.
Literature Review Format: APA, MLA, and Chicago
The essay format you use should adhere to the citation style preferred by your instructor. Seek clarification from your instructor for several other components as well to establish a desired literature review format:
- How many sources should you review, and what kind of sources should they be (published materials, journal articles, or websites)?
- What format should you use to cite the sources?
- How long should the review be?
- Should your review consist of a summary, synthesis, or a personal critique?
- Should your review include subheadings or background information for your sources?
If you want to format your paper in APA style, then follow these rules:
- Use 1-inch page margins.
- Unless provided with other instructions, use double-spacing throughout the whole text.
- Make sure you choose a readable font. The preferred font for APA papers is Times New Roman set to 12-point size.
- Include a header at the top of every page (in capital letters). The page header must be a shortened version of your essay title and limited to 50 characters, including spacing and punctuation.
- Put page numbers in the upper right corner of every page.
- When shaping your literature review outline in APA, don't forget to include a title page. This page should include the paper's name, the author's name, and the institutional affiliation. Your title must be typed with upper and lowercase letters and centered in the upper part of the page; use no more than 12 words, and avoid using abbreviations and useless words.
For MLA style text, apply the following guidelines:
- Double your spacing across the entire paper.
- Set ½-inch indents for each new paragraph.
- The preferred font for MLA papers is Times New Roman set to 12-point size.
- Include a header at the top of your paper's first page or on the title page (note that MLA style does not require you to have a title page, but you are allowed to decide to include one). A header in this format should include your full name; the name of your instructor; the name of the class, course, or section number; and the due date of the assignment.
- Include a running head in the top right corner of each page in your paper. Place it one inch from the page's right margin and half an inch from the top margin. Only include your last name and the page number separated by a space in the running head. Do not put the abbreviation p. before page numbers.
Finally, if you are required to write a literature review in Chicago style, here are the key rules to follow:
- Set page margins to no less than 1 inch.
- Use double spacing across the entire text, except when it comes to table titles, figure captions, notes, blockquotes, and entries within the bibliography or References.
- Do not put spaces between paragraphs.
- Make sure you choose a clear and easily-readable font. The preferred fonts for Chicago papers are Times New Roman and Courier, set to no less than 10-point size, but preferably to 12-point size.
- A cover (title) page should include your full name, class information, and the date. Center the cover page and place it one-third below the top of the page.
- Place page numbers in the upper right corner of each page, including the cover page.
Read also about harvard format - popular style used in papers.
Structure of a Literature Review
How to structure a literature review: Like many other types of academic writing, a literature review follows a typical intro-body-conclusion style with 5 paragraphs overall. Now, let’s look at each component of the basic literature review structure in detail:
You should direct your reader(s) towards the MOP (main organizing principle). This means that your information must start from a broad perspective and gradually narrow down until it reaches your focal point.
Start by presenting your general concept (Corruption, for example). After the initial presentation, narrow your introduction's focus towards the MOP by mentioning the criteria you used to select the literature sources you have chosen (Macbeth, All the King's Men, and Animal Farm). Finally, the introduction will end with the presentation of your MOP that should directly link it to all three literature sources.
Generally, each body paragraph will focus on a specific source of literature laid out in the essay's introduction. As each source has its own frame of reference for the MOP, it is crucial to structure the review in the most logically consistent way possible. This means the writing should be structured chronologically, thematically or methodologically.
Breaking down your sources based on their publication date is a solid way to keep a correct historical timeline. If applied properly, it can present the development of a certain concept over time and provide examples in the form of literature. However, sometimes there are better alternatives we can use to structure the body.
Instead of taking the "timeline approach," another option can be looking at the link between your MOP and your sources. Sometimes, the main idea will just glare from a piece of literature. Other times, the author may have to seek examples to prove their point. An experienced writer will usually present their sources by order of strength. For example, in "To Kill A Mockingbird," the entire novel was centralized around racism; in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," racism was one of many themes.
As made obvious by the terminology, this type of structuring focuses on the methods used to present the central concept. For example, in "1984", George Orwell uses the law-and-order approach and shows the dangers of a dystopia for a social species.
In "Frankenstein," Mary Shelley exposes the character's physical traits as repulsive and horrifying, forcing him to suffer in an isolated environment. By showcasing the various methods used to portray the MOP, the writer can compare them based on things like severity, ethicality, and overall impact.
After presenting your key findings in the body paragraphs, there are 3 final objectives to complete in the essay's conclusion. First, the author should summarize the findings they have made or found, in other words, and briefly answer the question: "What have you learned?"
After discussing that information, the next step is to present the significance of the information about our current world today. In other words, how can the reader take the information and apply it to today's society? From that point, we finish off with a breadcrumb trail.
As the author, you want to leave the readers' trail of thought within the actual essay topic. This provides them with a means of further investigation—meaning that the reader may consider where the discussion will go next.
Writing an Outline for a Literature Review
Students often underestimate the importance of planning the structure of their papers in advance. However, this is not a wise approach. Having a rough APA literature review outline (or other style outlines) will not only help you follow the right format and structure but will also make the writing process simpler and help ensure that you include all of the important information without missing anything.
How to write a literature review outline: As you already know from the Structure section of this guide, every part of your literature review performs its own important role. Therefore, you should create your outline while keeping the general introduction-body-conclusion structure in mind and ensuring that each section meets its own objectives. However, it is important to remember that a literature review outline is slightly different from outlines of other types of essays because it does not provide new information. Instead, it focuses on existing studies relevant to the main topic.
Here is a literature review outline example on the subject of the Ebola virus to help you get it right:
- Introduce the general topic. Provide background information on the Ebola virus: genome, pathogenesis, transmission, epidemiology, treatment, etc.
- Shape the main research question: What is the potential role of arthropods (mechanical or biological vectors) in the distribution of the Ebola virus?
- Methodology: For example, the information was searched through X databases to find relevant research articles about the Ebola virus and arthropods' role in its spreading. The data was extracted using a standardized form.
- Expected outcomes
- Overall trends in the literature on this topic: While the natural reservoir of the virus is still not known with certainty, many researchers believe that arthropods (and fruit bats, in particular) pay a significant role in the distribution of the virus.
- Subject 1: A brief overview of the particular piece of literature in general terms; an analysis of the key aspects of the study; a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and an overview of the strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
- Subject 2: A brief overview of the particular piece of literature in general terms; an analysis of the key aspects of the study; a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and an overview of the strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
- Subject 3: A brief overview of the particular piece of literature in general terms; an analysis of the key aspects of the study; a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and an overview of the strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
- Indicate the relationships between the pieces of literature discussed. Emphasize key themes, common patterns, and trends. Talk about the pros and cons of the different approaches taken by the authors/researchers.
- State which studies seem to be the most influential.
- Emphasize the major contradictions and points of disagreement. Define the gaps still to be covered (if any).
- If applicable: define how your own study will contribute to further disclosure of the topic.
Hopefully, this sample outline will help you to structure your own paper. However, if you feel like you need some more advice on how to organize your review, don’t hesitate to search for more literature review outline examples in APA or other styles on the Web, or simply ask our writers to get a dissertation help .
How to Write a Good Literature Review
Whether you are writing a literature review within the framework of a large research project (e.g. thesis, dissertation, or other) or as a stand-alone assignment, the approach you should take to writing generally remains the same.
Whether you are writing a literature review within the framework of a large research project (e.g., thesis, dissertation, or other) or as a stand-alone assignment, the approach you should take to writing generally remains the same.
Now, as you know about the general rules and have a basic literature review outline template, let's define the steps to take to handle this task right with our service:
Step 1: Identifying the Topic
This is probably the only matter you may approach differently depending on whether your literature review comes within a research paper or a separate assignment altogether. If you are creating a literature review as a part of another work, you need to search for literature related to your main research questions and problems. Respectively, if you are writing it as a stand-alone task, you will have to pick a relevant topic and central question upon which you will collect the literature. Earlier in this guide, we suggested some engaging topics to guide your search.
Step 2: Conducting Research
When you have a clearly defined topic, it is time to start collecting literature for your review. We recommend starting by compiling a list of relevant keywords related to your central question—to make the entire research process much simpler and help you find relevant publications faster.
When you have a list of keywords, use them to search for valid and relevant sources. At this point, be sure to use only trusted sources, such as ones from university libraries, online scientific databases, etc.
Once you have found some sources, be sure to define whether or not they are actually relevant to your topic and research question. To save time, you can read abstracts to get general ideas of what the papers are about instead of the whole thing.
Pro Tip: When you finally find a few valid publications, take a look at their bibliographies to discover other relevant sources as well.
Step 3: Assess and Prioritize Sources
Throughout your research, you will likely find plenty of relevant literature to include in your literature review. At this point, students often make the mistake of trying to fit all the collected sources into their reviews. Instead, we suggest looking at what you've collected once more, evaluating the available sources, and selecting the most relevant ones. You most likely won't be able to read everything you find on a given topic and then be able to synthesize all of the sources into a single literature review. That's why prioritizing them is important.
To evaluate which sources are worth including in your review, keep in mind the following criteria:
- Key insights;
Furthermore, as you read the sources, don’t forget to take notes on everything you can incorporate into the review later. And be sure to get your citations in place early on. If you cite the selected sources at the initial stage, you will find it easier to create your annotated bibliography later on.
Step 4: Identify Relationships, Key Ideas, and Gaps
Before you can move on to outlining and writing your literature review, the final step is determining the relationships between the studies that already exist. Identifying the relationships will help you organize the existing knowledge, build a solid literature outline, and (if necessary) indicate your own research contribution to a specific field.
Some of the key points to keep an eye out for are:
- Main themes;
- Contradictions and debates;
- Influential studies or theories;
- Trends and patterns;
Here are a few examples: Common trends may include a focus on specific groups of people across different studies. Most researchers may have increased interest in certain aspects of the topic regarding key themes. Contradictions may include some disagreement concerning the theories and outcomes of a study. And finally, gaps most often refer to a lack of research on certain aspects of a topic.
Step 5: Make an Outline
Although students tend to neglect this stage, outlining is one of the most important steps in writing every academic paper. This is the easiest way to organize the body of your text and ensure that you haven't missed anything important. Besides, having a rough idea of what you will write about in the paper will help you get it right faster and more easily. Earlier in this guide, we already discussed the basic structure of a literature review and gave you an example of a good outline. At this workflow stage, you can use all of the knowledge you've gained from us to build your own outline.
Step 6: Move on to Writing
Having found and created all of your sources, notes, citations, and a detailed outline, you can finally get to the writing part of the process. At this stage, all you need to do is follow the plan you've created and keep in mind the overall structure and format defined in your professor's instructions.
Step 7: Adding the Final Touches
Most students make a common mistake and skip the final stage of the process, which includes proofreading and editing. We recommend taking enough time for these steps to ensure that your work will be worth the highest score. Do not underestimate the importance of proofreading and editing, and allocate enough time for these steps.
Pro Tip: Before moving on to proofreading and editing, be sure to set your literature review aside for a day or two. This will give you a chance to take your mind off it and then get back to proofreading with a fresh perspective. This tip will ensure that you won't miss out on any gaps or errors that might be present in your text.
These steps will help you create a top-notch literature review with ease! Want to get more advice on how to handle this body of work? Here are the top 3 tips you need to keep in mind when writing a literature review:
1. Good Sources
When working on a literature review, the most important thing any writer should remember is to find the best possible sources for their MOP. This means that you should select and filter through about 5-10 different options while doing initial research.
The stronger a piece of literature showcases the central point, the better the quality of the entire review.
2. Synthesize The Literature
Make sure to structure the review in the most effective way possible, whether it be chronologically, thematically, or methodologically. Understand what exactly you would like to say, and structure the source comparison accordingly.
3. Avoid Generalizations
Remember that each piece of literature will approach the MOP from a different angle. As the author, make sure to present the contrasts in approaches clearly and don't include general statements that offer no value.
Literature Review Examples
You can find two well-written literature reviews by the EssayPro writing team below. They will help you understand what the final product of a literature review should ideally look like.
The first literature review compares monolingual and bilingual language acquisition skills and uses various sources to prove its point:
The second literature review compares the impact of fear and pain on a protagonist’s overall development in various settings:
Both reviews will help you sharpen your skills and provide good guidelines for writing high-quality papers.
Get Help from an Essay Writer
Still aren’t sure whether you can handle literature review writing on your own? No worries because you can pay for essay writing and our service has got you covered! By choosing EssayPro, you will acquire a reliable friend who can help you handle any kind of literature review or other academic assignments of any level and topic. All you need to do to get help from the best academic writers now and boost your grades is to place an order in a few quick clicks and we will satisfy your write my paper request.
Literature Review: Structure, Format, & Writing Tips
If you are a student, you might need to learn how to write a literature review at some point. But don’t think it’s the same as the book review or other types of academic writing you had to do in high school!
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A literature review is a close examination of scholarly sources on a chosen topic.
There are a few things you need to do to succeed in this assignment:
- Find all the relevant articles, research and analyze them.
- Include an overview of the current knowledge on the topic.
- Focus on the potential gaps in it.
- Outline and write all the parts of the literature review.
Everything you find out goes right into your paper. In this article by Custom-Writing experts, you’ll find a literature review structure with tips and topics.
❓ What Is a Literature Review?
- 💡 Choosing a Topic
- 📑 Organizing Your Review
- ⚙️ Lit Review Structure
🏁 Concluding Remarks
Whenever you are working on a significant paper, a literature review is unavoidable. It gives you an understanding of how your writing fits in the world of the existing knowledge on this topic . Some other aspects that it highlights are:
- Your knowledge of the context and the issue in general;
- Methodology and theories to use for your paper;
- Contrast and comparison of your work to other researches;
- Your work’s contribution to the field and how it might fill the gaps.
Sometimes, a literature review would be a separate assignment. Yet, in most cases, it’s a part of a more significant task. So you better know how to deal with it anyway.
If it helps your understanding of this task, you can think of the process as building an upside-down triangle. You would narrow down the sources more and more each time until you hit the sweet spot! Look how easy it is to organize your literature review!
- Find all the relevant theories and foundational research that characterize your work.
- Now, look for studies that are related to your research.
- Narrow them down to studies that are similar to yours by the issues highlighted, strategies, and so on.
- From those, you can finally see your research gap!
Importance of Literature Review
So you might still be wondering about the importance of the literature review. As mentioned above, this type of writing allows you to build a strong base for your future research.
Besides, you can gain even more knowledge on the topic while going through all the previous studies! And you will show it off to the readers so that they have more confidence in your reliability ! Moreover, it helps you identify which areas of the field that you chose need some improvement. This way, you know what gap to fill exactly and what issues have already been resolved by other researchers.
Annotated Bibliography vs. Literature Review
There is a slight difference between an annotated bibliography and a literature review. The first one can only analyze each source depending on its relevance to your topic, and it’s relatively brief. Meanwhile, a literature review is a complex examination of multiple sources and their relations. It contrasts and compares them together in detail.
How Long Should a Literature Review Be?
In case the length of the literature review is not mentioned in the requirements, there are a few hints to help you understand what to aim for. Generally speaking, one-fifth of the total size of your paper would be enough. However, if it’s a dissertation, the literature review might need to take up as much as twenty-five percent of your whole piece!
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💡 Literature Review Topics
Looking for literature review topic ideas and picking the best one is not the step you can skip! Any research needs an issue to develop. The aim of your literature review is closely connected to the topic of your paper since you need to evaluate relevant sources. Choosing the problem, you are passionate about is the best way to go! Try brainstorming some ideas and pick at least three strong ones. After selecting one, check if there is enough material like articles and journals to work with. Narrow it down if it’s too general and put it in the form of a thesis statement .
📑 How to Organize a Literature Review?
So now that you know what you would like to include in your literature review, it’s time to organize it! There are several ways to do it. As you might know, all papers follow the universal scheme: introduction, main body, and conclusion. Let’s move on and discuss the strategies you can use for organizing your review.
- Chronological Literature Review. It’s one of the most accessible options since you just follow the chosen topic’s development through time. Yet, you should be careful! Merely presenting the sources is not enough. There should be some analysis done. Look into what turning points and debates affected the field, and give your opinion about it.
- Thematic Literature Review. While doing research, you might have found some themes that keep recurring. You can dedicate a separate subsection of your literature review for each of them. Those are usually the keywords related to the topic you picked. For instance, while your literature review is about migrant health and inequalities, the main themes would be healthcare policy and cultural perspective.
- Methodological Literature Review. You might have chosen to collect the sources for your literature review from different fields. In that case, you noticed that they all use distinct research methods. It might be a good idea to compare and contrast the findings and conclusions that appear from various approaches. For instance, look into the differences between the results of qualitative and quantitative research.
⚙️ Literature Review Structure
It’s essential that you don’t mix your literature review structure and include the correct information in each part. There should be your topic and its significance mentioned, background theories, and a brief explanation of your methodology and outline in the introduction. You might as well talk about the gaps in research there. The main body needs to include the discussion of the sources you selected following the organizational strategy you chose. Finally, you would sum up all the key findings in conclusion. In this last part, you can also address the question of your research’s place in the existing knowledge.
Literature Review Introduction
When writing the introduction, you will be presenting the topic of your review to your audience. Keep in mind the tips below as you write.
Literature Review Body
This is the time to go into detail. Depending on how long your literature review is, you can divide your body into subsections. Do that in accordance with the type of literature review organization that you chose (thematic, chronological, or methodological).
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Literature Review Conclusion
Finally, you need a conclusion that will tie up your review into a neat little package. In your conclusion, you should summarize your review’s findings, describe the common points between the sources, and justify your research proposal if you are making one. You may try and use a summary maker if you dobt that you’re going to nail it right away.
When writing your literature review conclusion, keep in mind the tips below.
A well-written review of literature will be worth every bit of effort it took to write it. It will provide a quick but thorough overview of the literature you used presented in a way that will make your professor very pleased with your work.
Take the time to work on your review thoroughly. Ensure that it is good not only in terms of the content but also in terms of the formatting. Check out these articles for information on how to provide citations in APA , MLA , Chicago , and Harvard styles.
If you are still having trouble writing your review, then consider watching the following videos.
✏️ Literature Review FAQ
A nice literature review contains a description and analysis of the text. It should be structured and cohesive. You may create an outline or even use a template to make sure that the structure is flawless. There are countless examples available online and in books.
A nice literature review is a mix of scientific facts and easy-to-read descriptions. A great review helps its readers understand the book better. It should also be structured and cohesive.
A good literary review on masters or doctoral level should contain an in-depth analysis of the text. It should have background info, explain subtle aspects of the book, etc. Make sure you structure the review appropriately. Perhaps, sketch an outline first.
A great literature review should have a flawless logical cohesiveness. It is vital to structure the paper properly. You can resort to the standard rules:
- a high-level overview of the topic in the introduction;
- several key points with supporting arguments in the body;
- a logical conclusion (connected with the intro).
- The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It (University of Toronto)
- Learn how to write a review of literature – UW-Madison Writing Center
- Guidelines for writing a literature review: NCSSM
- The Literature Review (USC Libguides)
- Introduction to literature reviews – Research & Learning Online
- Literature review | The University of Edinburgh
- Literature Review | UNSW Current Students
- Conduct a literature review | University of Arizona Libraries
- Graduate Writing Workshops: Literature Reviews // Purdue OWL
- Academic writing: What is a literature review? | SFU Library
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A sample of a “generic” review would be helpful. I am a visual learner and would like to see how it is typically formatted.
Thanks for the feedback, Lisa!
Definition, guidelines, tips for literature review writing are perfect! These concise but the most important tips helped with my literature review! God bless you!
Thanks! This post is going to help me greatly with literature review writing as it contains lots of sound guidances and tips. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
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Example of A Literature Review Structure
16 Feb 2022
❓What Is a Literature Review?
✒️Example of Review Structure
📑Ways to Structure a Review
✅Tips for Writing a Review
Are you wondering how to write a thematic literature review?
Perhaps you have trouble summarizing it in a way that flows well and answers the question the author is trying to answer. But worry no more! This article will provide an example of a chronological and thematic rrl. And a structure that is easy to follow. So read on to understand what the literature review structure should look like.
What Is a Literature Review?
A literature review is usually a part of the dissertation. It shows the reader what literature you used for your project and its credibility. The purpose of a literature review is to show the audience that you researched your topic. You know what you are writing about and how it can add to existing knowledge. In it, you also expose the gaps in the covered materials. This way, you can create your work based on them and successfully write a good piece.
Also, you may find this section similar to the reference list. Both aim to gather and review your information sources. Therefore, the structure is identical as it forms logically. This way, the audience can easily understand and access it.
Usually, this section is essential for your dissertation. Without it, you will have a hard time submitting your work. So, it is crucial to write it, but sometimes it can be tricky. Therefore, we have decided to write this article and help you out. So read and discover everything you need to know about a literature review and how to write one.
Author Tip: It is crucial to remember that the thematic format of the review of related literature must be structured correctly. In most cases, the structure decides success.
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Example Of A Literature Review Structure
Given that you already know what a literature review is, you are halfway done writing it. However, to be successful with the task, you must know what the other half consists of.
The second essential part of writing this section is the literature review format . Knowing how to format a literature review can ease your whole writing process. But before that, you must identify what it looks like, for example:
- An opening clause;
Does this look familiar? It is, in fact, similar to the format of a standard essay. As you can see, there is an opening (intro), the main text body, followed by a conclusion. These parts write in identical ways, so given that, you probably already know how to write your literature review.
Nevertheless, even if it seems easy, we should break down each of the sections:
✏️ Similarly to a normal introduction, the first sentence is crucial. You have to start by defining your thesis. Then you can move to the review part.
- Start by reviewing the author's point of view.
- Explain how and why the information structure is like that.
- Lastly, end the introduction with a smooth transition to the main part.
The Main Body of the Literature Review
✏️ This part of your work is where the main action happens. Here you have to point out the sources you used and:
- List all the information sources. Please make sure they are in structure properly. Keep a chronological or thematic order.
- Next, add any other places from which you took data. Make sure to highlight their relevance to the topic and the connection to primary sources.
✏️ Again, like other types of papers, the conclusion is your final. In it, you have to:
- First, note down all the main points you led from the information sources.
- Evaluate the reception of the references you have in your list.
- Try to highlight all the gaps left by the already existing sources.
- If you can, make suggestions that point towards further research. Note that you should point out why.
- Finally, write how your work completes the gaps. Point out how your writing benefits the already existing details.
With this, we are about to finish with the structure. As you can see, it is pretty standard. So, all you have to do is to make sure you follow your idea, keep your thesis, and follow this format.
Author Tip: There exists more than one way to structure your literature review. Make sure to pick the right one and stick to it. Like this, you will finish the work flawlessly.
Know how to structure your paper
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- 1" margin all around
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- 0.5" first line of a paragraph
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Ways to Structure a Literature Review
Now that you know how basic structuring works, it is time to focus on a common issue.
Many students mess up with the structuring of their literature. Given how the process is complex, many seek literature review writing help . Therefore, we should note down the two ways of structuring it. Through this, you will grasp the idea of what you should do and what you shouldn't.
They are based on two distinctive features. Although they are different, you can use both to structure your review. Below you will see a literature review structure example tips for each type.
Thematic Literature Review
That is the method favored by those who love to analyze. Students prefer it as it allows them to structure their reviews easier. This method groups the data by its theoretical meaning. So in a thematic literature review example, you will see the sources by their concept and relevance to the topic.
Using the thematic method allows you to focus on your central concept. Moreover, by doing it, you can form the review's structure around your points. That makes it easier to explain them and the connection to the research.
Here it is important to note that choosing the proper sequence is not bound by rules. Yet, even with that freedom, you should try to keep a sequence from the central point to the less important ones. That will allow the reader to navigate and understand your writing easily.
Tip: An example of a thematic literature review can be a logical structure. It does not matter the date when something happened. But the importance of the case.
Chronological Literature Review Structure
Students do not favor this method. It is challenging to keep up, as it is not based on the literature's theme. The chronological method focuses on structuring the sources by date. To be more precise, the date of publishing.
That makes it less attractive to read and less appealing to the reader. However, the chronological method is perfect in some cases. For example, if you write historiographical works. Of course, that is not the limit. Using this method, you should be able to write a chronological literature review example that:
- Focus on the investigation process;
- Case development over time;
- Or when you are writing about specific trends.
As you can see, all of these connect around a span of time.
So if you are not writing on such a topic, it will be wiser to pick the first method. This way, you can rely on your logic. We note that because the chronological approach is strictly data-based. That often can cause issues or illogical remarks.
Author Note: No matter which method you pick. Make sure you keep basic logic in your writing. Note that the literature review points out your knowledge regarding the used literature. Thus, you must always stay true to your sources.
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Best Tips for Writing Literature Review
By now, you already know everything about the structure. But sometimes you need something more. At times when you face difficulties. Remind yourself of these tips and questions to ease the writing:
- First of all, who is the text focused on? Think about your audience when structuring your review.
- Note down what your thesis is. What is the issue you write about in your work?
- Decide on what type of literature review you write. Which structure to use and why?
- Ask yourself what sources of information you use. Make sure the order is logical.
- Will the audience find my literature review helpful? Will they easily navigate through it?
- Analyze the sources that you use. Ensure you know what you write about.
- Always aim to show the audience you are knowledgeable. Show the reader through the review that you did your research.
- Pay attention to the subtopics. They are critical for the structure of your review.
- Make sure to cite if there is a need for it.
- Review your whole piece and ask yourself questions. Analyze your literature review critically.
Now with these, you are finally ready to start writing. Make sure to keep the proper formatting. This way, you will have no worries. In the case of difficulties, you can buy a literature review online from us. Our team of experts writing on it will save you the hardships.
In this article, you can see a literature review and how to write it correctly. Also, we introduced you to the two main structuring types and even gave you some tips. Suppose you use all the information correctly. If you stick to the learned, you can quickly deal with it and get a good mark. All that's left is to wish you good luck with the writing!
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The Literature Review: 5. Organizing the Literature Review
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Why Do a Literature Review?
- 3. Methods for Searching the Literature
- 4. Analysing the Literature
- 5. Organizing the Literature Review
- 6. Writing the Review
1. Organizing Principles
A literature review is a piece of discursive prose, not a list describing or summarizing one piece of literature after another. It should have a single organizing principle:
- Thematic - organize around a topic or issue
- Chronological - sections for each vital time period
- Methodological - focus on the methods used by the researchers/writers
4. Selected Online Resources
- Literature Review in Education & Behavioral Sciences This is an interactive tutorial from Adelphi University Libraries on how to conduct a literature review in education and the behavioural sciences using library databases
- Writing Literature Reviews This tutorial is from the Writing section of Monash University's Language and Learning Online site
- The Literature Review: A Few Tips on Conducting It This guide is from the Health Services Writing Centre at the University of Toronto
- Learn How to Write a Review of the Literature This guide is part of the Writer's Handbook provided by the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
2. Structure of the Literature Review
Although your literature review will rely heavily on the sources you read for its information, you should dictate the structure of the review. It is important that the concepts are presented in an order that makes sense of the context of your research project.
There may be clear divisions on the sets of ideas you want to discuss, in which case your structure may be fairly clear. This is an ideal situation. In most cases, there will be several different possible structures for your review.
Similarly to the structure of the research report itself, the literature review consists of:
Introduction - profile of the study
- Define or identify the general topic to provide the context for reviewing the literature
- Outline why the topic is important
- Identify overall trends in what has been published about the topic
- Identify conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions
- Identify gaps in research and scholarlship
- Explain the criteria to be used in analysing and comparing the literature
- Describe the organization of the review (the sequence)
- If necessary, state why certain literature is or is not included (scope)
Body - summative, comparative, and evaluative discussion of literature reviewed
For a thematic review:
- organize the review into paragraphs that present themes and identify trends relevant to your topic
- each paragraph should deal with a different theme - you need to synthesize several of your readings into each paragraph in such a way that there is a clear connection between the sources
- don't try to list all the materials you have identified in your literature search
From each of the section summaries:
- summarize the main agreements and disagreements in the literature
- summarize the general conclusions that have been drawn
- establish where your own research fits in the context of the existing literature
5. A Final Checklist
- Have you indicated the purpose of the review?
- Have you emphasized recent developments?
- Is there a logic to the way you organized the material?
- Does the amount of detail included on an issue relate to its importance?
- Have you been sufficiently critical of design and methodological issues?
- Have you indicated when results were conflicting or inconclusive and discussed possible reasons?
- Has your summary of the current literature contributed to the reader's understanding of the problems?
3. Tips on Structure
A common error in literature reviews is for writers to present material from one author, followed by information from another, then another.... The way in which you group authors and link ideas will help avoid this problem. To group authors who draw similar conclusions, you can use linking words such as:
When authors disagree, linking words that indicate contrast will show how you have analysed their work. Words such as:
- on the other hand
will indicate to your reader how you have analysed the material. At other times, you may want to qualify an author's work (using such words as specifically, usually, or generally ) or use an example ( thus, namely, to illustrate ). In this way you ensure that you are synthesizing the material, not just describing the work already carried out in your field.
Another major problem is that literature reviews are often written as if they stand alone, without links to the rest of the paper. There needs to be a clear relationship between the literature review and the methodology to follow.
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- Next: 6. Writing the Review >>
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Structuring Literature Reviews: A Guide on How to Structure a Literature Review for Success
Literature Review: A Detailed Student Guide on How to Write a Literature Review
A Comprehensive Guide on How to Write an Introduction Paragraph. Five plus Examples
A literature review is a revised summary of all the information that is currently known about a certain domain. This article provides detailed guidelines and tips for writing and how to structure a literature review perfectly.
How to Structure a Literature Review Effectively
A literature review should include an introduction, the main body, and a conclusion just like an essay.
The Introduction describes the research problem or question and lays out the justification for undertaking the research. It does not provide the results or conclusions of the research itself.
2. Body Paragraphs
The Middle or Main Body includes all relevant studies and information from your literature search. It might be organized chronologically, by theme, or by methodological approach. The section is generally divided into subsections which begin with brief Introduction of the content in that subsection (without results or conclusions).
The Conclusion summarizes what has been learned from the literature search and identifies any gaps in current knowledge that the research aims to address. It does not present new results or conclusions of your own.
References are always included at the end of the review. Your reference list should include all sources cited in your text as well as any sources you used in preparing for your literaturereview but did not cite in your text.
Appendices are optional but can be useful if you have conducted surveys or interviews as part of your research. The data or information collected can be presented in tables, graphs or other formats in the appendices, allowing readers to see how you gathered and analyzed your data.
Remember that a literature review is not just a summary of other people's work; it is an analytical discussion of those works and how they contribute to our understanding of the topic under consideration. Therefore, every reference cited in the text must appear in the reference list, and every source in the reference list must also be mentioned (cited) somewhere in the text!
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How Can a SWOT Analysis Be Used in a Literature Review?
A SWOT analysis is a framework utilized to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats that may be present in a given situation. This framework can be applied to businesses to assess different areas of the company and determine what may help or hinder their ability to achieve their goals.
SWOT analysis can also be used when conducting a literature review. This type of analysis can help you understand the different factors that may impact your research.
For example, if you are looking at research on a particular topic, a SWOT analysis can help you to identify any gaps in the existing research. Additionally, a SWOT analysis can help you understand what areas strengthen the research and which may represent weaknesses. This type of information can be helpful as you plan future research projects.
Incorporating a SWOT Analysis Into Your Literature Review
When incorporating a SWOT analysis into your literature review, it is important to keep the following things in mind:
- Be sure to identify the focus of your literature review. This will help you to know what factors to include in your SWOT analysis.
- Be sure to critically evaluate the sources that you are using for your literature review. Not all sources are created equal, and it is important to use high-quality sources for your literature review.
- Make sure that your literature review flows well. A SWOT analysis can help identify different aspects of your topic, but it should not disrupt the flow of your paper.
- Finally, carefully proofread your paper before submitting it for grading.
What is Included in the Body Paragraphs of the Literature Review?
- Discussion of the key findings of the literature.
- Critically evaluate the findings of the literature.
- Implications of the findings of the literature.
- Limitations of the studies reviewed.
- Discuss how the literature findings relate to your research question or topic of interest.
- Synthesize the findings of the studies reviewed.
- Provide a critical analysis of the studies reviewed.
- Place the findings of the studies reviewed in context.
- Offer a new interpretation of the findings of the studies reviewed.
- Suggest areas for further research on the topic under discussion
Master your Literature Review by Following These Tips
1. understand the assignment.
Before you begin writing the literature review, you should understand the assignment. What is the purpose of the literature review? What are you expected to accomplish? Make sure you know the answer to these questions before you begin writing.
2. Choose a Topic
Once you understand the assignment, you can choose a topic. Selecting a topic relevant to the course in which you are writing the literature review is important. For example, if you are taking a course on American literature, you may want to choose a topic related to American authors or American literary movements.
3. Find Sources
After you have chosen a topic, it is time to find sources. Begin by looking for sources that are relevant to your topic. You can find sources through library databases, Google Scholar, or by doing a simple Google search. Once you have found relevant references, make sure to evaluate them carefully before using them in your literature review.
4. Take Notes
As you read through your sources, it is important to take notes. Be sure to write down the main points of each source and any supporting details that may be useful. Keeping good notes will make writing your literature review much easier.
5. Organize your Thoughts
Once you have finished reading and taking notes on your sources, it is time to start organizing your thoughts. One strategy to do this is to create an outline of your paper. Your outline should include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Within each section, be sure to include relevant information from your sources.
6. Write your Paper
After you have crafted an outline for your paper, you can begin writing your literature review. Start by introducing your topic and providing any necessary background information. Next, discuss the main points of each of your sources in turn. Finally, conclude your review with a summary of the main points and a discussion of their implications for future research
A literature review is an overview of existing knowledge on a topic. It should be structured like any other essay, with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. You can learn how to structure a literature review by following the above literature review tips .
Writing a literature review can be difficult, but with these guidelines, it doesn't have to be! If you need help along the way, don't hesitate to ask for assistance from your supervisor or a librarian or Contact Premier Dissertations to write a comprehensive literature review for your dissertation or research paper.
Explore the following resources to learn more about writing a literature review .
- Best Practices to Write A Good Literature Review
- How to Write a Literature Review
- How Long is a Literature Review for a Dissertation?
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Library subject guides
Starting your literature review.
- Plan your search
- Where to search
- Refine and update your search
Literature review structure
Writing critically and authoritatively, additional resources.
- Reviewing research methodologies
- Get material not at RMIT
- Help & Support
Literature reviews are located towards the beginning of the research text. Usually, they are either combined with the introduction or appear as a separate section following the introduction. (For more information, see Thesis and Dissertation Structure ).
Irrespective of its location, a literature review should be clearly structured. Particularly if it forms a thesis chapter, it needs to contain an introduction, body, and conclusion.
The introduction usually:
- Defines your topic and/or provides an appropriate context for reviewing the literature;
- Establishes your reasons for reviewing the literature;
- Explains the organisation of the review;
- States the scope of the review – i.e. what is included and what is not included.
The middle or main body usually:
- Organises the literature according to important themes;
- Provides insight into the relation between your chosen topic and the wider subject area e.g. between obesity in children and obesity in general;
- Moves from a wider view of the literature being reviewed, to the specific focus of your research.
The conclusion usually:
- Summarises the important aspects of the existing body of literature;
- Evaluates the current state of the literature reviewed;
- Identifies significant flaws or gaps in existing knowledge;
- Outlines areas for future study;
- Links your research to existing knowledge
For more detailed information on structuring your literature review, watch the following series of four videos:
- Videos: Structuring the literature review The first video outlines the overall structure of a typical literature review and then discusses the key elements of a literature review introduction. The next two videos explore some of the common ways of structuring the body and deciding on a logical order. The final video discusses how to structure your conclusion.
Developing a voice of authority
An important part of writing a literature review is to construct your identity as a graduate researcher. In other words, when writing your literature review, you need to develop a voice of authority.
Amongst other things, developing a voice of authority involves learning how to:
- develop a clear overall argument
- ensure effective organisation and linking of ideas
- use academic writing style and grammar
- integrate your references within your text accurately and effectively.
For more information on how to write with authority, watch the following videos:
- Voice of Authority [YouTube, 26:13 min]
- Videos: Writing with authority
To see how your voice of authority can be developed according to the requirements of specific disciplines, carry out the following literature review activities:
- Art, Architecture and Design, Media and Communication [PDF]
- Business, Social Science and Education [PDF]
- Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) and Geospatial Sciences [PDF]
Another central part of developing your researcher identity is writing your literature review critically. Writing critically means that you do not simply summarise or find fault with pieces of literature. It also involves:
- synthesising and
- evaluating the literature.
In your review, your evaluation of the literature can be significantly enhanced by clearly indicating your stance or position towards the cited sources. This can be done through using accurate reporting verbs. For more information on indicating your stance, check the following resources:
- Reporting verbs [PDF]
- Academic style: Verbs and their uses [YouTube, 15:54 min]
- Writing the literature review (Graduate Researcher KnowHow) A literature review forms the foundation of a research proposal, a thesis or a dissertation. It provides the context for your research. However, a review of literature is more than a summary of existing research. You need to engage deeply and critically with the literature.
- Writing the literature review (Learning Lab) This tutorial covers four of the most important aspects in writing a literature review: 1) criteria to use in choosing the best sources, 2) how to structure your literature review, 3) writing in an appropriate style, and 4) maintaining a voice of authority.
Research Plus program
- School of Graduate Research - Research Plus program The Research Plus (formerly PhD Up) program regularly offers workshops (face-to-face or online) on various topics related to research writing, including how to write a literature review.
Research Writing Groups
Participating in a Research Writing Group will have many benefits to you and your writing, including:
- an avenue for regular feedback from your peers (in addition to that provided by your supervisor)
- develops a supportive network
- strengthens writing skills
- strengthens the academic community
- improves speaking and critical analysis skills
- enhances scholarly well-being
If you would like to be part of a Research Writing Group, The Research Writing Group Kit has many resources to get you started, plus submit your details on the Request Research Advice form, and an academic skills advisor will be in contact.
- Research Writing Group Kit
Request research writing support
- Request Research Advice If you have written a draft of a literature review and would like to get writing feedback on it, you can request a research writing meeting.
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- How to write a literary analysis essay | A step-by-step guide
How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay | A Step-by-Step Guide
Published on January 30, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on September 2, 2022.
Literary analysis means closely studying a text, interpreting its meanings, and exploring why the author made certain choices. It can be applied to novels, short stories, plays, poems, or any other form of literary writing.
A literary analysis essay is not a rhetorical analysis , nor is it just a summary of the plot or a book review. Instead, it is a type of argumentative essay where you need to analyze elements such as the language, perspective, and structure of the text, and explain how the author uses literary devices to create effects and convey ideas.
Before beginning a literary analysis essay, it’s essential to carefully read the text and c ome up with a thesis statement to keep your essay focused. As you write, follow the standard structure of an academic essay :
- An introduction that tells the reader what your essay will focus on.
- A main body, divided into paragraphs , that builds an argument using evidence from the text.
- A conclusion that clearly states the main point that you have shown with your analysis.
Table of contents
Step 1: reading the text and identifying literary devices, step 2: coming up with a thesis, step 3: writing a title and introduction, step 4: writing the body of the essay, step 5: writing a conclusion.
The first step is to carefully read the text(s) and take initial notes. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or even confusing in the writing—these are things you can dig into in your analysis.
Your goal in literary analysis is not simply to explain the events described in the text, but to analyze the writing itself and discuss how the text works on a deeper level. Primarily, you’re looking out for literary devices —textual elements that writers use to convey meaning and create effects. If you’re comparing and contrasting multiple texts, you can also look for connections between different texts.
To get started with your analysis, there are several key areas that you can focus on. As you analyze each aspect of the text, try to think about how they all relate to each other. You can use highlights or notes to keep track of important passages and quotes.
Consider what style of language the author uses. Are the sentences short and simple or more complex and poetic?
What word choices stand out as interesting or unusual? Are words used figuratively to mean something other than their literal definition? Figurative language includes things like metaphor (e.g. “her eyes were oceans”) and simile (e.g. “her eyes were like oceans”).
Also keep an eye out for imagery in the text—recurring images that create a certain atmosphere or symbolize something important. Remember that language is used in literary texts to say more than it means on the surface.
- Who is telling the story?
- How are they telling it?
Is it a first-person narrator (“I”) who is personally involved in the story, or a third-person narrator who tells us about the characters from a distance?
Consider the narrator’s perspective . Is the narrator omniscient (where they know everything about all the characters and events), or do they only have partial knowledge? Are they an unreliable narrator who we are not supposed to take at face value? Authors often hint that their narrator might be giving us a distorted or dishonest version of events.
The tone of the text is also worth considering. Is the story intended to be comic, tragic, or something else? Are usually serious topics treated as funny, or vice versa ? Is the story realistic or fantastical (or somewhere in between)?
Consider how the text is structured, and how the structure relates to the story being told.
- Novels are often divided into chapters and parts.
- Poems are divided into lines, stanzas, and sometime cantos.
- Plays are divided into scenes and acts.
Think about why the author chose to divide the different parts of the text in the way they did.
There are also less formal structural elements to take into account. Does the story unfold in chronological order, or does it jump back and forth in time? Does it begin in medias res —in the middle of the action? Does the plot advance towards a clearly defined climax?
With poetry, consider how the rhyme and meter shape your understanding of the text and your impression of the tone. Try reading the poem aloud to get a sense of this.
In a play, you might consider how relationships between characters are built up through different scenes, and how the setting relates to the action. Watch out for dramatic irony , where the audience knows some detail that the characters don’t, creating a double meaning in their words, thoughts, or actions.
Your thesis in a literary analysis essay is the point you want to make about the text. It’s the core argument that gives your essay direction and prevents it from just being a collection of random observations about a text.
If you’re given a prompt for your essay, your thesis must answer or relate to the prompt. For example:
Essay question example
Is Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” a religious parable?
Your thesis statement should be an answer to this question—not a simple yes or no, but a statement of why this is or isn’t the case:
Thesis statement example
Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” is not a religious parable, but a story about bureaucratic alienation.
Sometimes you’ll be given freedom to choose your own topic; in this case, you’ll have to come up with an original thesis. Consider what stood out to you in the text; ask yourself questions about the elements that interested you, and consider how you might answer them.
Your thesis should be something arguable—that is, something that you think is true about the text, but which is not a simple matter of fact. It must be complex enough to develop through evidence and arguments across the course of your essay.
Say you’re analyzing the novel Frankenstein . You could start by asking yourself:
Your initial answer might be a surface-level description:
The character Frankenstein is portrayed negatively in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein .
However, this statement is too simple to be an interesting thesis. After reading the text and analyzing its narrative voice and structure, you can develop the answer into a more nuanced and arguable thesis statement:
Mary Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.
Remember that you can revise your thesis statement throughout the writing process , so it doesn’t need to be perfectly formulated at this stage. The aim is to keep you focused as you analyze the text.
Finding textual evidence
To support your thesis statement, your essay will build an argument using textual evidence —specific parts of the text that demonstrate your point. This evidence is quoted and analyzed throughout your essay to explain your argument to the reader.
It can be useful to comb through the text in search of relevant quotations before you start writing. You might not end up using everything you find, and you may have to return to the text for more evidence as you write, but collecting textual evidence from the beginning will help you to structure your arguments and assess whether they’re convincing.
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To start your literary analysis paper, you’ll need two things: a good title, and an introduction.
Your title should clearly indicate what your analysis will focus on. It usually contains the name of the author and text(s) you’re analyzing. Keep it as concise and engaging as possible.
A common approach to the title is to use a relevant quote from the text, followed by a colon and then the rest of your title.
If you struggle to come up with a good title at first, don’t worry—this will be easier once you’ve begun writing the essay and have a better sense of your arguments.
“Fearful symmetry” : The violence of creation in William Blake’s “The Tyger”
The essay introduction provides a quick overview of where your argument is going. It should include your thesis statement and a summary of the essay’s structure.
A typical structure for an introduction is to begin with a general statement about the text and author, using this to lead into your thesis statement. You might refer to a commonly held idea about the text and show how your thesis will contradict it, or zoom in on a particular device you intend to focus on.
Then you can end with a brief indication of what’s coming up in the main body of the essay. This is called signposting. It will be more elaborate in longer essays, but in a short five-paragraph essay structure, it shouldn’t be more than one sentence.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.
Some students prefer to write the introduction later in the process, and it’s not a bad idea. After all, you’ll have a clearer idea of the overall shape of your arguments once you’ve begun writing them!
If you do write the introduction first, you should still return to it later to make sure it lines up with what you ended up writing, and edit as necessary.
The body of your essay is everything between the introduction and conclusion. It contains your arguments and the textual evidence that supports them.
A typical structure for a high school literary analysis essay consists of five paragraphs : the three paragraphs of the body, plus the introduction and conclusion.
Each paragraph in the main body should focus on one topic. In the five-paragraph model, try to divide your argument into three main areas of analysis, all linked to your thesis. Don’t try to include everything you can think of to say about the text—only analysis that drives your argument.
In longer essays, the same principle applies on a broader scale. For example, you might have two or three sections in your main body, each with multiple paragraphs. Within these sections, you still want to begin new paragraphs at logical moments—a turn in the argument or the introduction of a new idea.
Robert’s first encounter with Gil-Martin suggests something of his sinister power. Robert feels “a sort of invisible power that drew me towards him.” He identifies the moment of their meeting as “the beginning of a series of adventures which has puzzled myself, and will puzzle the world when I am no more in it” (p. 89). Gil-Martin’s “invisible power” seems to be at work even at this distance from the moment described; before continuing the story, Robert feels compelled to anticipate at length what readers will make of his narrative after his approaching death. With this interjection, Hogg emphasizes the fatal influence Gil-Martin exercises from his first appearance.
To keep your points focused, it’s important to use a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph.
A good topic sentence allows a reader to see at a glance what the paragraph is about. It can introduce a new line of argument and connect or contrast it with the previous paragraph. Transition words like “however” or “moreover” are useful for creating smooth transitions:
… The story’s focus, therefore, is not upon the divine revelation that may be waiting beyond the door, but upon the mundane process of aging undergone by the man as he waits.
Nevertheless, the “radiance” that appears to stream from the door is typically treated as religious symbolism.
This topic sentence signals that the paragraph will address the question of religious symbolism, while the linking word “nevertheless” points out a contrast with the previous paragraph’s conclusion.
Using textual evidence
A key part of literary analysis is backing up your arguments with relevant evidence from the text. This involves introducing quotes from the text and explaining their significance to your point.
It’s important to contextualize quotes and explain why you’re using them; they should be properly introduced and analyzed, not treated as self-explanatory:
It isn’t always necessary to use a quote. Quoting is useful when you’re discussing the author’s language, but sometimes you’ll have to refer to plot points or structural elements that can’t be captured in a short quote.
In these cases, it’s more appropriate to paraphrase or summarize parts of the text—that is, to describe the relevant part in your own words:
The conclusion of your analysis shouldn’t introduce any new quotations or arguments. Instead, it’s about wrapping up the essay. Here, you summarize your key points and try to emphasize their significance to the reader.
A good way to approach this is to briefly summarize your key arguments, and then stress the conclusion they’ve led you to, highlighting the new perspective your thesis provides on the text as a whole:
By tracing the depiction of Frankenstein through the novel’s three volumes, I have demonstrated how the narrative structure shifts our perception of the character. While the Frankenstein of the first volume is depicted as having innocent intentions, the second and third volumes—first in the creature’s accusatory voice, and then in his own voice—increasingly undermine him, causing him to appear alternately ridiculous and vindictive. Far from the one-dimensional villain he is often taken to be, the character of Frankenstein is compelling because of the dynamic narrative frame in which he is placed. In this frame, Frankenstein’s narrative self-presentation responds to the images of him we see from others’ perspectives. This conclusion sheds new light on the novel, foregrounding Shelley’s unique layering of narrative perspectives and its importance for the depiction of character.
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ON YOUR 1ST ORDER
How to Structure a Literature Review for a Dissertation
By Laura Brown on 26th February 2019
Literature review is nothing but the assessment of the selected readings . You may be assigned it to be done for three purposes:
- To review a book or an article also known as critical review
- To review bunch of readings and summarise the key points that is termed as annotated bibliography
- The last and main purpose is review of available literature chosen for a dissertation. This is called as literature review of dissertation.
This blog will briefly tell you how you can structure your literature review for your dissertation .
Get Help For Your Dissertation Literature Review
If you think that the literature review section of a dissertation is difficult to write, then I must say that you are wrong! If you know how to write an essay, then you can structure a literature review efficiently without any barrier. You may know that an essay has three parts introduction, main body and conclusion. Similarly, literature review’s structure is just like any other essay:
- Discussion (main body)
To structure a good literature review , you should create a complete concept in your mind. It includes from where you need to start and how you will conclude the whole review. Below, is the complete outline that you can take as a guide to structure your good literature review.
Structure a Literature Review in Easy Way
Get Your Dissertation Literature Review by Professionals
To make the good structure of literature review that can get you distinct in the career, you have to touch all the main aspects of the research. Usually, researchers forget some crucial points and readings while structuring a literature review. If you do not want to leave any point unaddressed then you should keep in mind below:
- Critical Thinking: You need brainstorming of the ideas that how you will take your research. For example, what type of databases you will use and where you will get your concern research literature.
- Reading Different Literatures: After making mind of the sources, go for reading different literatures of the concern research subject area.
- Draft Selected Researches: Afterwards of reading different literatures, draft main and closely related research parts.
- Compare and Evaluate: Then compare and evaluate those readings. Like, find out the gaps in the already available research and current knowledge.
- Formatting: Finally, arrange your whole literature in standard format of dissertation writing services . It will increase the readability score as well as reader’s willingness.
Format for Structuring a Literature Review
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A literature review can be structured in below format:
- Briefly define the research topic
- Mention the reasons and aims of the review .
- Mention concisely, how your selected research will lead to the actual dissertation question.
- Mention inclusion and exclusion of the literature like what is included and what is not included in the research.
- Mention gaps in the research and how your research will fill those gaps.
- Discuss the selected research in paragraph format
- Start your evaluation from the general subject area and move on to specify it to your research question For example, ‘education’ in general and specifically will be ‘early child education’.
- Select a wide range of literature sources. However, it is better to use the sources which are up to date and recent like not older than 5 to 7 years .
- Mention the literature gap that is still left to be filled. Like future work on the literature review of the selected research area.
- Conclude your overall perception on the topic.
- Summarise the key points evaluated in the discussion section.
- Outline the associations of the identified issues and recommendations for future review work .
Things Which Makes a Literature Review Good
Laura Brown, a senior content writer who writes actionable blogs at Crowd Writer.
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Structuring a literature review
- » Purpose of traditional literature reviews
- » Placement of traditional literature reviews
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- » Language of the literature review
- » Systematic literature reviews
- » Grounded theory literature reviews
To decide how to structure your literature review, it's helpful to first of all consider its purpose and what it is that you want to argue about the strengths and weaknesses of existing research. Having an argument about the literature is vital; the absence of an argument means that you'll simply be summarising what others have said about your research topic uncritically. Make it clear to readers how your research fits within the literature and the nature of your contribution to furthering knowledge (whether it builds on what others have already done or challenges exisiting understandings and approaches).
Considering the purpose and argument / key message of your literature review helps you to focus your review on what's relevant and needs to be covered, what's unnecessary and therefore can be excluded, and it can help you to decide how to sequence your ideas. If your purpose is to persuade your readers of your project's value and contribution to the field, and your argument is that there is a gap in the field that your research fills, then your structure should lead the readers logically to this conclusion.
Like any other chapter, a literature review chapter or section should have an introduction that tells the reader what your argument is. Knowing your argument upfront can help your reader to understand why you are leading them through your selected bodies of literature and concepts.
After the introduction, a literature review often moves broadly from what is well known in the field and narrows down to what is less well known, which is where your research gap or issue is located. Your literature review may draw on different bodies of literature and show how they are relevant and are connected. To work out how best to order your discussion, consider the following questions.
- Which bodies of literature have the broadest or most narrow scope?
- Which bodies of literature are most commonly used in the field/s?
- Which concepts are most widely agreed upon?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the commonly used literature, and which of these does my study build on?
- What is the less well known literature that my study relates to?
- Are there studies / aspects of the literature that are minor or tangential within the field/s, but are important to my study?
- How can I convince my readers that this is a worthwhile area to investigate?
- If drawing on literature from different fields, how are they connected? Why am I connecting them?
- What are the studies that are the closest to mine? What are the strengths and weaknesses of these studies?
- What are the common themes in the literature? Can I sequence them from the most common themes down to the themes that are closely connected to my study?
One useful way to plan the structure of your literature review is to brainstorm, draw, and / or do a mind-map. Identify how the different concepts and bodies of literature fit together and how your study builds on them. This can show you logical ways to put your literature review together, as well as give you some ideas about how you can explain to your readers how the various parts fit together. You can also try to explain your literature review structure to someone who knows little about the field, to test whether it is clear and logical.
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Structuring a literature review
In general, literature reviews are structured in a similar way to a standard essay, with an introduction, a body and a conclusion. These are key structural elements. Additionally, a stand-alone extended literature review has an abstract. Throughout, headings and subheadings are used to divide up the literature review into meaningful sections.
There is no single “correct” structure for how to structure the content of your literature review – every review is shaped by the nature of the field being reviewed and the specific argument the review is supporting. Here are some common literature review organising patterns:
- historical development (chronological)
- pros and cons
- methodological issues
- key works of a single author
- key works in a particular field of study
For example, a literature review on the definitions of key terms or concepts in a particular field of study might analyse a variety of definitions and conclude by defending a selected definition.
Some of the organising patterns listed above may be used in combination.
Structure a lit review accordion
If you are writing a stand-alone extended literature review, you are required to provide an abstract. The purpose of an abstract is to provide potential readers with an overview of the review content, so that they can determine if it is relevant to their research. The abstract should include brief background information, including any knowledge gaps or discrepancies that the review aims to address, as well as a statement regarding the purpose and scope of the review. A complete abstract also includes a brief statement of the main findings and how they relate to the broader context. The example abstract below includes these elements.
Not all introductions follow exactly the same order. However, there are some key points to include in the introduction to provide your reader with the context and purpose of your review. The general guidelines for the structure of a literature review introduction are:
- Start with a broad introduction to the topic. Include relevant background information and definitions or explanations of the main terms and concepts.
- Provide information that is relevant for your specific topic, and explain the importance of your topic (e.g. why it’s worth reading your literature review).
- Tell the reader what the scope of your review is (e.g. what key points you will include in the body of your review).
- Tell your reader what the aim or purpose of your review is. This is often included at the end of the introduction.
The body of the review contains your review of the literature relevant to your research question or aim. You should structure the body of your literature review in a logical and coherent way. Consider what your sub-topics or sections will be in order to answer your research question thoroughly and coherently. Then consider the most logical order to discuss your sections. Creating sub-headings for the sections of your review will assist you in creating a logical structure and keep you focused on sub-topics relevant to your research aim.
In the body of your literature review, it is important to analyse the literature rather than to merely describe the findings of a number of different literature sources. Some description of the key findings is important to give the reader context. However, your review should also include an analysis of the key themes, gaps in understanding, and points of disagreement between the different literature sources.
There are numerous ways to organise your body paragraphs, depending on your topic. You may want to organise some of your paragraphs:
- in chronological order, e.g. historical findings, more recent findings, current research
- group your literature sources into paragraphs based on similar arguments or findings
- categorise your sources into similar sub-topics and compare different findings within a single paragraph.
Remember to include accurate and relevant citations and references throughout this section.
The assignment excerpt below is an example of how to group similar findings together.
Body paragraph example 1
Another method of organising your body paragraphs is to group papers together that have found different or contradictory results related to the same topic. This helps you to demonstrate your understanding of the literature and highlights the inconsistencies between findings. The assignment body paragraph below is an example of how this can be done.
Body paragraph example 2
Conclude by demonstrating how you have answered your research question and/or how you have achieved your research aim. This tells the audience you have achieved what you intended. Then highlight the key points you discussed. Now you can refer to implications of this knowledge in a broader sense, as well as recommendations for future studies/research (if applicable). The conclusion starts specific and finishes broad.
There are several conventions to note when you are writing your conclusion:
- Don’t include new information in your conclusion. Instead, highlight the key points raised in the earlier sections of your literature review.
- Don’t include in-text citations in your conclusion. This relates to the point above in regards to not including new information.
The example below demonstrates the structural elements of a conclusion.
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- What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples
What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples
Published on 22 February 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 7 June 2022.
What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research.
There are five key steps to writing a literature review:
- Search for relevant literature
- Evaluate sources
- Identify themes, debates and gaps
- Outline the structure
- Write your literature review
A good literature review doesn’t just summarise sources – it analyses, synthesises, and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.
Table of contents
Why write a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1: search for relevant literature, step 2: evaluate and select sources, step 3: identify themes, debates and gaps, step 4: outline your literature review’s structure, step 5: write your literature review, frequently asked questions about literature reviews, introduction.
- Quick Run-through
- Step 1 & 2
When you write a dissertation or thesis, you will have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:
- Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and scholarly context
- Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
- Position yourself in relation to other researchers and theorists
- Show how your dissertation addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
You might also have to write a literature review as a stand-alone assignment. In this case, the purpose is to evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of scholarly debates around a topic.
The content will look slightly different in each case, but the process of conducting a literature review follows the same steps. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.
Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.
- Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
- Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
- Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
- Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)
You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.
Download Word doc Download Google doc
Prevent plagiarism, run a free check.
Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .
If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research objectives and questions .
If you are writing a literature review as a stand-alone assignment, you will have to choose a focus and develop a central question to direct your search. Unlike a dissertation research question, this question has to be answerable without collecting original data. You should be able to answer it based only on a review of existing publications.
Make a list of keywords
Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research topic. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list if you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.
- Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
- Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
- Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth
Search for relevant sources
Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some databases to search for journals and articles include:
- Your university’s library catalogue
- Google Scholar
- Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
- Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
- EconLit (economics)
- Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)
You can use boolean operators to help narrow down your search:
Read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.
To identify the most important publications on your topic, take note of recurring citations. If the same authors, books or articles keep appearing in your reading, make sure to seek them out.
You probably won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on the topic – you’ll have to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your questions.
For each publication, ask yourself:
- What question or problem is the author addressing?
- What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
- What are the key theories, models and methods? Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
- What are the results and conclusions of the study?
- How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
- How does the publication contribute to your understanding of the topic? What are its key insights and arguments?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?
Make sure the sources you use are credible, and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.
You can find out how many times an article has been cited on Google Scholar – a high citation count means the article has been influential in the field, and should certainly be included in your literature review.
The scope of your review will depend on your topic and discipline: in the sciences you usually only review recent literature, but in the humanities you might take a long historical perspective (for example, to trace how a concept has changed in meaning over time).
Remember that you can use our template to summarise and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using!
Take notes and cite your sources
As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.
It’s important to keep track of your sources with references to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography, where you compile full reference information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.
You can use our free APA Reference Generator for quick, correct, consistent citations.
To begin organising your literature review’s argument and structure, you need to understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:
- Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
- Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
- Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
- Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
- Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?
This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.
- Most research has focused on young women.
- There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
- But there is still a lack of robust research on highly-visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat – this is a gap that you could address in your own research.
There are various approaches to organising the body of a literature review. You should have a rough idea of your strategy before you start writing.
Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).
The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarising sources in order.
Try to analyse patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.
If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organise your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.
For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.
If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:
- Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
- Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources
A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.
You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.
Like any other academic text, your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.
The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.
If you are writing the literature review as part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate your central problem or research question and give a brief summary of the scholarly context. You can emphasise the timeliness of the topic (“many recent studies have focused on the problem of x”) or highlight a gap in the literature (“while there has been much research on x, few researchers have taken y into consideration”).
Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.
As you write, make sure to follow these tips:
- Summarise and synthesise: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole.
- Analyse and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole.
- Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources.
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transitions and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts.
In the conclusion, you should summarise the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasise their significance.
If the literature review is part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate how your research addresses gaps and contributes new knowledge, or discuss how you have drawn on existing theories and methods to build a framework for your research. This can lead directly into your methodology section.
A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .
It is often written as part of a dissertation , thesis, research paper , or proposal .
There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:
- To familiarise yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
- To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
- To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
- To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
- To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic
Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.
The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .
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Writing Research Papers
- Writing a Literature Review
When writing a research paper on a specific topic, you will often need to include an overview of any prior research that has been conducted on that topic. For example, if your research paper is describing an experiment on fear conditioning, then you will probably need to provide an overview of prior research on fear conditioning. That overview is typically known as a literature review.
Please note that a full-length literature review article may be suitable for fulfilling the requirements for the Psychology B.S. Degree Research Paper . For further details, please check with your faculty advisor.
Different Types of Literature Reviews
Literature reviews come in many forms. They can be part of a research paper, for example as part of the Introduction section. They can be one chapter of a doctoral dissertation. Literature reviews can also “stand alone” as separate articles by themselves. For instance, some journals such as Annual Review of Psychology , Psychological Bulletin , and others typically publish full-length review articles. Similarly, in courses at UCSD, you may be asked to write a research paper that is itself a literature review (such as, with an instructor’s permission, in fulfillment of the B.S. Degree Research Paper requirement). Alternatively, you may be expected to include a literature review as part of a larger research paper (such as part of an Honors Thesis).
Literature reviews can be written using a variety of different styles. These may differ in the way prior research is reviewed as well as the way in which the literature review is organized. Examples of stylistic variations in literature reviews include:
- Summarization of prior work vs. critical evaluation. In some cases, prior research is simply described and summarized; in other cases, the writer compares, contrasts, and may even critique prior research (for example, discusses their strengths and weaknesses).
- Chronological vs. categorical and other types of organization. In some cases, the literature review begins with the oldest research and advances until it concludes with the latest research. In other cases, research is discussed by category (such as in groupings of closely related studies) without regard for chronological order. In yet other cases, research is discussed in terms of opposing views (such as when different research studies or researchers disagree with one another).
Overall, all literature reviews, whether they are written as a part of a larger work or as separate articles unto themselves, have a common feature: they do not present new research; rather, they provide an overview of prior research on a specific topic .
How to Write a Literature Review
When writing a literature review, it can be helpful to rely on the following steps. Please note that these procedures are not necessarily only for writing a literature review that becomes part of a larger article; they can also be used for writing a full-length article that is itself a literature review (although such reviews are typically more detailed and exhaustive; for more information please refer to the Further Resources section of this page).
Steps for Writing a Literature Review
1. Identify and define the topic that you will be reviewing.
The topic, which is commonly a research question (or problem) of some kind, needs to be identified and defined as clearly as possible. You need to have an idea of what you will be reviewing in order to effectively search for references and to write a coherent summary of the research on it. At this stage it can be helpful to write down a description of the research question, area, or topic that you will be reviewing, as well as to identify any keywords that you will be using to search for relevant research.
2. Conduct a literature search.
Use a range of keywords to search databases such as PsycINFO and any others that may contain relevant articles. You should focus on peer-reviewed, scholarly articles. Published books may also be helpful, but keep in mind that peer-reviewed articles are widely considered to be the “gold standard” of scientific research. Read through titles and abstracts, select and obtain articles (that is, download, copy, or print them out), and save your searches as needed. For more information about this step, please see the Using Databases and Finding Scholarly References section of this website.
3. Read through the research that you have found and take notes.
Absorb as much information as you can. Read through the articles and books that you have found, and as you do, take notes. The notes should include anything that will be helpful in advancing your own thinking about the topic and in helping you write the literature review (such as key points, ideas, or even page numbers that index key information). Some references may turn out to be more helpful than others; you may notice patterns or striking contrasts between different sources ; and some sources may refer to yet other sources of potential interest. This is often the most time-consuming part of the review process. However, it is also where you get to learn about the topic in great detail. For more details about taking notes, please see the “Reading Sources and Taking Notes” section of the Finding Scholarly References page of this website.
4. Organize your notes and thoughts; create an outline.
At this stage, you are close to writing the review itself. However, it is often helpful to first reflect on all the reading that you have done. What patterns stand out? Do the different sources converge on a consensus? Or not? What unresolved questions still remain? You should look over your notes (it may also be helpful to reorganize them), and as you do, to think about how you will present this research in your literature review. Are you going to summarize or critically evaluate? Are you going to use a chronological or other type of organizational structure? It can also be helpful to create an outline of how your literature review will be structured.
5. Write the literature review itself and edit and revise as needed.
The final stage involves writing. When writing, keep in mind that literature reviews are generally characterized by a summary style in which prior research is described sufficiently to explain critical findings but does not include a high level of detail (if readers want to learn about all the specific details of a study, then they can look up the references that you cite and read the original articles themselves). However, the degree of emphasis that is given to individual studies may vary (more or less detail may be warranted depending on how critical or unique a given study was). After you have written a first draft, you should read it carefully and then edit and revise as needed. You may need to repeat this process more than once. It may be helpful to have another person read through your draft(s) and provide feedback.
6. Incorporate the literature review into your research paper draft.
After the literature review is complete, you should incorporate it into your research paper (if you are writing the review as one component of a larger paper). Depending on the stage at which your paper is at, this may involve merging your literature review into a partially complete Introduction section, writing the rest of the paper around the literature review, or other processes.
Further Tips for Writing a Literature Review
Full-length literature reviews
- Many full-length literature review articles use a three-part structure: Introduction (where the topic is identified and any trends or major problems in the literature are introduced), Body (where the studies that comprise the literature on that topic are discussed), and Discussion or Conclusion (where major patterns and points are discussed and the general state of what is known about the topic is summarized)
Literature reviews as part of a larger paper
- An “express method” of writing a literature review for a research paper is as follows: first, write a one paragraph description of each article that you read. Second, choose how you will order all the paragraphs and combine them in one document. Third, add transitions between the paragraphs, as well as an introductory and concluding paragraph. 1
- A literature review that is part of a larger research paper typically does not have to be exhaustive. Rather, it should contain most or all of the significant studies about a research topic but not tangential or loosely related ones. 2 Generally, literature reviews should be sufficient for the reader to understand the major issues and key findings about a research topic. You may however need to confer with your instructor or editor to determine how comprehensive you need to be.
Benefits of Literature Reviews
By summarizing prior research on a topic, literature reviews have multiple benefits. These include:
- Literature reviews help readers understand what is known about a topic without having to find and read through multiple sources.
- Literature reviews help “set the stage” for later reading about new research on a given topic (such as if they are placed in the Introduction of a larger research paper). In other words, they provide helpful background and context.
- Literature reviews can also help the writer learn about a given topic while in the process of preparing the review itself. In the act of research and writing the literature review, the writer gains expertise on the topic .
- How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [ PDF ]
- Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [ PDF ]
- Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – literature review) [ PDF ]
- Writing Research Paper Videos
- UCSD Library Psychology Research Guide: Literature Reviews
- Developing and Writing a Literature Review from N Carolina A&T State University
- Example of a Short Literature Review from York College CUNY
- How to Write a Review of Literature from UW-Madison
- Writing a Literature Review from UC Santa Cruz
- Pautasso, M. (2013). Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review. PLoS Computational Biology, 9 (7), e1003149. doi : 1371/journal.pcbi.1003149
1 Ashton, W. Writing a short literature review . [PDF]
2 carver, l. (2014). writing the research paper [workshop]. , prepared by s. c. pan for ucsd psychology.
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The body section of your literature review can be organised by chronology, theme or methodology. The right structural approach depends on what you're trying to achieve with your research. The conclusion section should draw together the key findings of your literature review and link them to your research questions.
There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically). Chronological
Body: Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole Analyze and interpret: Don't just paraphrase other researchers - add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
Structure of a literature review A literature review should have an introduction, main body and a conclusion. As shown in the video, above, the body should NOT be organised author by author (for that, there are annotated bibliographies ).
Body: The body of a literature review contains your discussion of sources and can be organized in 3 ways- Chronological - by publication or by trend Thematic - organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time Methodical - the focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material.
Main body : An analysis of the literature according to a number of themes or topics that overlap with your research. It may have headings. You can write your literature review one section at a time, but make sure you read through them all to check they link together and tell a coherent "story".
The structure of a literature review A literature review should be structured like any other essay: it should have an introduction, a middle or main body, and a conclusion. Introduction The introduction should: define your topic and provide an appropriate context for reviewing the literature; establish your reasons - i.e. point of view - for
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. ... History: The chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not ...
How to structure a literature review: Like many other types of academic writing, a literature review follows a typical intro-body-conclusion style with 5 paragraphs overall. Now, let's look at each component of the basic literature review structure in detail: Introduction
The main body needs to include the discussion of the sources you selected following the organizational strategy you chose. Finally, you would sum up all the key findings in conclusion. In this last part, you can also address the question of your research's place in the existing knowledge. Literature Review Introduction
Writing A Literature Review Structure [Example] - PapersOwl.com Preparing a literature review is a very important part of writing a dissertation. Here you can find a good example of the literature review structure and a definition of two ways of how to properly structure your literature review. Give us feedbackX Log in / Sign up
Structure of the Literature Review Although your literature review will rely heavily on the sources you read for its information, you should dictate the structure of the review. It is important that the concepts are presented in an order that makes sense of the context of your research project.
The main body of the work contains the information writers gathered and how they present, analyse and synthesise this data. The body paragraphs feature the most important information in a literature review. The real content of a literature review is the actual review of already published works.
How to Structure a Literature Review Effectively A literature review should include an introduction, the main body, and a conclusion just like an essay. 1. Introduction. The Introduction describes the research problem or question and lays out the justification for undertaking the research. It does not provide the results or conclusions of the ...
The middle or main body usually: Organises the literature according to important themes; ... The first video outlines the overall structure of a typical literature review and then discusses the key elements of a literature review introduction. The next two videos explore some of the common ways of structuring the body and deciding on a logical ...
A typical structure for a high school literary analysis essay consists of five paragraphs: the three paragraphs of the body, plus the introduction and conclusion. Each paragraph in the main body should focus on one topic. In the five-paragraph model, try to divide your argument into three main areas of analysis, all linked to your thesis.
Just like any other academic text, your literature review should have an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. In this video, you'll learn what to include in each section, as well as...
A literature review can be structured in below format: Introduction: Briefly define the research topic Mention the reasons and aims of the review. Mention concisely, how your selected research will lead to the actual dissertation question.
One useful way to plan the structure of your literature review is to brainstorm, draw, and / or do a mind-map. Identify how the different concepts and bodies of literature fit together and how your study builds on them.
Structuring a literature review. In general, literature reviews are structured in a similar way to a standard essay, with an introduction, a body and a conclusion. These are key structural elements. Additionally, a stand-alone extended literature review has an abstract. Throughout, headings and subheadings are used to divide up the literature ...
Step 4: Outline your literature review's structure. There are various approaches to organising the body of a literature review. You should have a rough idea of your strategy before you start writing. ... Like any other academic text, your literature review should have an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. What you include in each ...
An "express method" of writing a literature review for a research paper is as follows: first, write a one paragraph description of each article that you read. Second, choose how you will order all the paragraphs and combine them in one document. Third, add transitions between the paragraphs, as well as an introductory and concluding ...
Literature Review Definition of genre A literature review is a "critical analysis of a segment of a published body of knowledge through summary, classification, and comparison of prior research studies, reviews of literature, and theoretical articles" (University of Wisconsin Writing Center). Do not confuse a literature review with an annotated