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.
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Literature Review Outline Example
25 Feb 2022
❔Elements of Literature Review Outline
✅Steps to Outline a Literature Review
✏️Structure a Literature Review Outline
💡Literature Review Outline: Tips
You've read the literature. You've learned about the field. You know how your research fits into that larger picture. You’re now wondering how to write a literature review outline. Well, it's time to organize all this information in a clear and concise way for your readership. The outline for your literature review will be the foundation for writing your paper. It will help you organize your thoughts and research, and it will ensure that you are considering all possible angles of the topic.
An outline is an essential tool for organizing your thoughts before writing anything else, so use this article as guidance to write a great one.
The Key Elements of the Literature Review Outline
First, let’s define what is a literature review outline. The literature review outline is a crucial component of a research paper. It helps you to develop your ideas, conduct research and discuss the results in an organized way.
The key elements of the outline for literature review are:
- Introduction The introduction should include a brief summary of the literature that is being reviewed, including the general topic and your specific focus. You should also provide some background information on the topic to help the reader understand why it is important. You should not include any citations in this section, because you will be doing that later on in the paper.
- Body The body is where you provide an overview of all of the sources, or literature, that you have used for your paper. You should include an introduction to each source, followed by a brief summary of what was found in each source. In addition to providing summaries, you should also describe how each source relates to your research question or hypothesis and then relate them back to each other if they are similar enough to be compared. Finally, you should explain how each source relates to one another in addition to explaining how they relate to your research question or hypothesis.
- Conclusion The conclusion should summarize everything that has been discussed throughout the paper and then tie all of these things together into one coherent argument that proves or disproves your hypothesis or research question in relation to other sources discussed throughout this paper (and/or).
There are several different approaches you can base your outline, and they include:
- A descriptive approach describes existing knowledge about a particular topic. This approach is used when there is little or no existing research on a topic, but there are some reasonable theories or hypotheses about it based on previous research in related areas. A descriptive approach involves gathering new data or analyzing existing data to describe what we know about a certain phenomenon or problem at a certain point in time.
- An explanatory approach explains why something happens or exists in a particular way by presenting one or more theoretical explanations (hypotheses). An explanatory hypothesis must be falsifiable; that is, there must be some way to prove whether it's true or false using scientific methods (observations). This type of hypothesis is often tested through experiments or controlled observations that test how two variables interact with each other under controlled conditions.
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Steps to Outline Your Literature Review
Writing a good outline for a literature review is important for your research paper. It helps you organize your thoughts and ideas, and gives you a clear direction for the writing process.
An outline is not a formal document, but rather an informal guide to assist you in organizing the information you want to include in your paper. The outline should be written in paragraph form, with each paragraph representing one major idea that will be expanded upon in subsequent paragraphs of the paper.
The main purpose of writing an outline is so that you can organize all of your sources in a way that will help you write a clear, concise essay. You don't want to just throw together quotes and facts without any order or reason. This will make it hard for the reader to follow along with what you are saying and will make it appear as if you have no idea what you're talking about. This can result in a low grade for your paper and can make it difficult for them to understand what exactly is going on within the text.
The process of writing a literature review is not easy, especially if you have never done one before. This article will give you a step-by-step guide on how to write a good literature review that will impress your teacher!
- The first step to writing a literature review is to find a good topic. You will need to do a lot of research, so it is best to choose something that you are interested in and that you know a lot about.
- The second step is to organize your structure. You can use an outline or simply make notes as you go along. This helps keep you on track and ensures that you cover all the points necessary for an effective report.
- The third step is proofreading. Mistakes can be embarrassing and make your work look sloppy, so don't rush through this step! There are online tools that can help with proofreading as well as people who will do it for free if you pay them by the hour. Check out sites like Upwork or Fiverr for examples of what's available and what prices are charged for certain tasks.
- The fourth step is to include the bibliographies you used in your report. This gives credit where credit is due and lets other researchers know where they can find more information about your topic if they want it!
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How to Structure a Literature Review Outline
An outline for literature review is a great tool for organizing your thoughts and ideas. You can use it to plan out your essay or research paper by listing the points you want to cover and how they relate to each other. By using a sample literature review outline, you’ll be able to organize your thoughts in an effective way and you’ll have a clear idea of how long each section should be. In this article, we will discuss how to structure a literature review outline. We will also share some tips for writing a good outline.
It is important that you familiarize yourself with the topic before you begin writing your paper or research paper. So, if you're writing about something that you're not quite familiar with, make sure that you spend enough time learning about it beforehand. This way, once you've finished writing your paper, there won't be any gaps in your research or any information missing from the paper itself.
We recommend that you start by reading through the assignment instructions carefully so that you know exactly what type of information they are looking for in your paper and what format they want it written in (literature review outline template APA style). Make sure that you follow APA literature review outline instructions as closely as possible so that your teacher doesn't get confused.
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Literature Review Outline: Writing Tips
When you're writing a literature review outline, it's important to include all of the information that your assignment requires. Sometimes, instructors will give you specific guidelines for how long your literature review should be and how many sources it needs to include. If they don't, however, you'll need to decide what works best for your situation.
A literature review outline will be the foundation of your paper. It will tell you what information is important and how to write it in a way that is cohesive and logical. When writing, it's important to only include facts backed up by evidence. This means that if you are writing about any kind of research topic, there must be at least one piece of published work that backs up each claim or opinion that you present.
If there isn't a single source supporting what you are writing, then don't put it in because it makes your paper seem like speculation or opinion rather than fact-based knowledge about the issue at hand. Another tip for writers is to write clearly and concisely so that readers can understand what they are reading quickly without having any difficulty following along from one point to another throughout the entire essay (or book).
Readers may get bored very quickly if they feel like they have to struggle through something too much before getting into where things go next; therefore proper grammar usage should also be kept while doing this type as well so there are no mistakes left behind after editing later down line during publishing stage itself.
The following are the most important tips for writing a literature review outline:
- Use bullet points to create an outline of your review.
- Make sure that each paragraph covers a single subject or idea.
- Start with a thesis statement, which should sum up the main idea of the paper in one sentence.
- Write each paragraph in a way that flows from one point to another logically and coherently.
- Include quotes and paraphrases from sources you have read in order to support your arguments and conclusions.
- Make sure that you use credible sources as evidence for your claims and arguments in your paper.
Now that you have learned all the elements of an outline for literature review, it is time to start writing your own. An outline of a literature review is important for research papers and can be used in many other areas of writing as well. By following these steps, we hope that your outline will be easy to read and understand so that readers can better understand what research was done before writing their own paper!
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Literature Review: Outline, Strategies, and Examples 
Writing a literature review might be easier than you think. You should understand its basic rules, and that’s it! This article is just about that.
Why is the literature review important? What are its types? We will uncover these and other possible questions.
Whether you are an experienced researcher or a student, this article will come in handy. Keep reading!
What Is a Literature Review?
- Step-by-Step Strategy
Let’s start with the literature review definition.
Literature review outlooks the existing sources on a given topic. Its primary goal is to provide an overall picture of the study object. It clears up the context and showcases the analysis of the paper’s theoretical methodology.
In case you want to see the examples of this type of work, check out our collection of free student essays .
Importance of Literature Review
In most cases, you need to write a literature review as a part of an academic project. Those can be dissertations, theses, or research papers.
Why is it important?
Imagine your final research as a 100% bar. Let’s recall Pareto law: 20% of efforts make 80% of the result. In our case, 20% is preparing a literature review. Writing itself is less important than an in-depth analysis of current literature. Do you want to avoid possible frustration in academic writing? Make a confident start with a literature review.
Sure, it’s impossible to find a topic that hasn’t been discussed or cited. That is why we cannot but use the works of other authors. You don’t have to agree with them. Discuss, criticize, analyze, and debate.
So, the purpose of the literature review is to give the knowledge foundation for the topic and establish its understanding. Abstracting from personal opinions and judgments is a crucial attribute.
Types of Literature Review
You can reach the purpose we have discussed above in several ways, which means there are several types of literature review.
What sets them apart?
In short, it’s their research methods and structure. Let’s break down each type:
- Meta-analysis implies the deductive approach. At first, you gather several related research papers. Then, you carry out its statistical analysis. As a result, you answer a formulated question.
- Meta-synthesis goes along with the inductive approach. It bases qualitative data assessment.
- Theoretical literature review implies gathering theories. Those theories apply to studied ideas or concepts. Links between theories become more explicit and clear. Why is it useful? It confirms that the theoretical framework is valid. On top of that, it assists in new hypothesis-making.
- Argumentative literature review starts with a problem statement. Then, you select and study the topic-related literature to confirm or deny the stated question. There is one sufficient problem in this type, by the way. The author may write the text with a grain of bias.
- Narrative literature review focuses on literature mismatches. It indicates possible gaps and concludes the body of literature. The primary step here is stating a focused research question. Another name for this type — a traditional literature review.
- Integrative literature review drives scientific novelty. It generates new statements around the existing research. The primary tool for that is secondary data. The thing you need is to review and criticize it. When is the best option to write an integrative literature review? It’s when you lack primary data analysis.
Remember: before writing a literature review, specify its type . Another step you should take is to argue your choice. Make sure it fits the research framework. It will save your time as you won’t need to figure out fitting strategies and methods.
Annotated Bibliography vs. Literature Review
Some would ask: isn’t what you are writing about is just an annotated bibliography ? Sure, both annotated bibliography and literature review list the research topic-related sources. But no more than that. Such contextual attributes as goal, structure, and components differ a lot.
For a more visual illustration of its difference, we made a table:
To sum up: an annotated bibliography is more referral. It does not require reading all the sources in the list. On the contrary, you won’t reach the literature review purpose without examining all the sources cited.
Literature Review: Step-by-Step Strategy
Now it’s time for a step-by-step guide. We are getting closer to a perfect literature review!
✔️ Step 1. Select the Topic
Selecting a topic requires looking from two perspectives. They are the following:
- Stand-alone paper . Choose an engaging topic and state a central problem. Then, investigate the trusted literature sources in scholarly databases.
- Part of a dissertation or thesis . In this case, you should dig around the thesis topic, research objectives, and purpose.
Regardless of the situation, you should not just list several literature items. On the contrary, build a decent logical connection and analysis. Only that way, you’ll answer the research question .
✔️ Step 2. Identify the Review Scope
One more essential thing to do is to define the research boundaries: don’t make them too broad or too narrow.
Push back on the chosen topic and define the number and level of comprehensiveness of your paper. Define the historical period as well. After that, select a pool of credible sources for further synthesis and analysis.
✔️ Step 3. Work with Sources
Investigate each chosen source. Note each important insight you come across. Learn how to cite a literature review to avoid plagiarism.
✔️ Step 4. Write a Literature Review Outline
No matter what the writing purpose is: research, informative, promotional, etc. The power of your future text is in the proper planning. If you start with a well-defined structure, there’s a much higher chance that you’ll reach exceptional results.
✔️ Step 5. Review the Literature
Once you’ve outlined your literature review, you’re ready for a writing part. While writing, try to be selective, thinking critically, and don’t forget to stay to the point. In the end, make a compelling literature review conclusion.
On top of the above five steps, explore some other working tips to make your literature review as informative as possible.
Literature Review Outline
We’ve already discussed the importance of a literature review outline. Now, it’s time to understand how to create it.
An outline for literature review has a bit different structure comparing with other types of paper works. It includes:
- Selected topic
- Research question
- Related research question trends and prospects
- Research methods
- Expected research results
- Overview of literature core areas
- Research problem consideration through the prism of this piece of literature
- Methods, controversial points, gaps
- Cumulative list of arguments around the research question
- Links to existing literature and a place of your paper in the existing system of knowledge.
It can be a plus if you clarify the applicability of your literature review in further research.
Once you outline your literature review, you can slightly shorten your writing path. Let’s move on to actual samples of literature review.
Literature Review Examples
How does a well-prepared literature review look like? Check these three StudyCorgi samples to understand. Follow the table:
Take your time and read literature review examples to solidify knowledge and sharpen your skills. You’ll get a more definite picture of the literature review length, methods, and topics.
Do you still have any questions? Don’t hesitate to contact us! Our writing experts are ready to help you with your paper on time.
❓ What Is the Purpose of a Literature Review?
Literature review solves several problems at once. Its purpose is to identify and gather the top insights, gaps, and answers to research questions. Those help to get a general idea of the degree of topic exploration. As a result, it forms a basis for further research. Or vice versa: it reveals a lack of need for additional studies.
❓ How Do You Structure a Literature Review?
Like any other academic paper, a literature review consists of three parts: introduction, main body, and the conclusion. Each of them needs full disclosure and logical interconnection
The introduction contains the topic overview, its problematics, research methods, and other general attributes of academic papers.
The body reveals how each of the selected literature sources answers the formulated questions from the introduction.
The conclusion summarizes the key findings from the body, connects the research to existing studies, and outlines the need for further investigation.
To ensure the success of your analysis, you should equally uphold all of these parts.
❓ What Must a Literature Review Include?
A basic literature review includes the introduction with the research topic definition, its arguments, and problems. Then, it has a synthesis of the picked pieces of literature. It may describe the possible gaps and contradictions in existing research. The practical relevance and contribution to new studies are also welcome.
❓ What Are the 5 C's of Writing a Literature Review?
Don’t forget about these five C’s to make things easier in writing a literature review:
Cite. Make a list of references for research you’ve used and apply proper citation rules. Use Google Scholar for this.
Compare. Make a comparison of such literature attributes as theories, insights, trends, arguments, etc. It’s better to use tables or diagrams to make your content visual.
Contrast. Use listings to categorize particular approaches, themes, and so on.
Critique. Critical thinking is a must in any scientific research. Don’t take individual formulations as truth. Explore controversial points of view.
Connect. Find a place of your research between existing studies. Propose new possible areas to dig further.
❓ How Long Should a Literature Review Be?
In most cases, professors or educational establishment guidelines determine the length of a literature review. Study them and stick to their requirements, so you don’t get it wrong.
If there are no specific rules, make sure it is no more than 30% of the whole research paper.
If your literature review is not a part of the thesis and goes as a stand-alone paper — be concise but explore the research area in-depth.
- Literature Reviews – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- What is a literature review? – The Royal Literary Fund
- Literature Review: Purpose of a Literature Review – University of South Carolina
- The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It – University of Toronto
- Steps for Conducting a Lit Review – Florida A&M University Libraries
- Types of Literature Review – Business Research Methodology
- How to Conduct a Literature Review: Types of Literature Reviews – University Libraries
- Annotated bibliography VS. Literature Review – UNT Dallas Learning Commons
- Literature Review: Conducting & Writing – University of West Florida
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How to Outline A Literature Review (Plus Examples You Can Use)
by Antony W
September 11, 2022
In this guide, you'll learn exactly how to outline a literature review.
So if you are currently in the academic year in which you have to write a literature review for a research proposal, a dissertation, or a research paper, this guide is for you.
- You can structure your literature review in Chicago, APA, or MLA format.
- The outline of a literature review should include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion paragraph.
- You can structure the body section of the literature review thematically, chronologically, thematically, or theoretically.
Literature Review Writing Help
Identifying a research issue, developing a research question, conducting research, structuring, and writing your literature review can be time consuming.
It gets even more challenging if you have to juggle between urgent assignments and your social life.
Our academic writing team is here to help you. Whether you haven’t started the project or you feel stuck in the introduction, you can click here to get literature review writing help and get the task completed fast.
The objective of a literature review is to give an overview of existing knowledge without adding your personal opinions or ideas.
It’s through a literature review that you identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the already existing research.
What is a Literature Review Outline?
To write a comprehensive literature review , you first have to create an outline, which you’ll use to present your studies in a way that shows what you’ve found by analyzing and summarizing the ideas and concepts of other authors.
An online for a literature review features an introduction, body, and conclusion. Start the review with a hook and then structure the body paragraphs thematically, theoretically, chronologically, or methodologically. The conclusion of your review show the strength and weaknesses gathered from the study.
In the following section, we’ll look at the main elements of a literature review’s outline and give you some tips you can use to make your outline stand out.
How Literature Review Compares With Other Assignments
Before we look at the elements of a comprehensive literature review outline, it might help to learn how literature review compares with other assignments.
We've included links to our researched guides to help you with these. All you have to do is read them now or bookmark this page for future reading.
- Literature Review vs Research Paper
- Literature Review vs Systematic Paper
- Annotated Bibliography vs Literature Review
With that out of the way, let's look at the elements that make a good literature review outline.
The Elements of a Literature Review Outline
Your literature review should start with a strong introduction to grab the attention of a reader form the get go.
A good introduction is the one that starts with a hook and then provide an overview of the question you wish to explore in your research.
Your description of the literature should be relevant to the topic and naturally present your interest in the research.
The body of the literature review should give a clear picture of the already existing knowledge on the research question you’re trying to explore.
Since you’re looking into already existing work, you shouldn’t have a hard time analyzing and interpreting information.
It’s best to have an easy time working on this section than struggling to put words together. So try to use subheadings and transition words to make your work easier.
To make the body section easier to write, consider structuring your work chronologically, methodically, theoretical, or thematically.
Credit: Science Direct
Given that a literature review is the core of a theoretical framework , you’re free to write about different theories and models.
Even better, you can argue for a certain theoretical approach or give definitions of key concepts if your topic demands.
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With the chronological structure , you write the literature review based on a sequence. In such a case, the focus is on the timeline, starting from the very beginning to the end.
You don’t necessarily have to list all the event in the order of their occurrence, as doing so may make your literature review unnecessarily longer.
Instead, look at themes and turning points and then focus only on those that are more significant.
In a thematic review structure, you have to find link between your sources and the literary text you wish to summarize. You’ll have to organize central issues into subsections and address each.
Keep in mind that your professor will be looking closely into the details you provide in the thematic structure.
So make sure you analyze each central issue in details. Doing so might take time, but the results will be worth it.
If you choose to write your literature review methodically, your focus will be on analyzing concepts by presenting methods based on their impact.
Also, you may need to focus on quantitative and qualitative nature, ethical nature, sociological, and cultural impact of your literature.
The concluding section of your literature review doesn’t have to be too long.
You’re wrapping up your work, so it’s best to summarize your most valuable points and then show the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the existing knowledge.
Depending on the research question you wish to explore, you may also give an emphasis on the significance of the literature review.
Format for a Literature Review
You can format your literature review in APA, MLA, and Chicago. Your instructor will indicate the citation style they want you to use.
In the case that they don’t suggest a format to use, feel free to use either APA, MLA, or Chicago – or consult them for further assistance.
The following is how to structure your literature review in the MLA format:
- 1-inch page margins
- You should double-space the whole text
- Each new paragraph should have a half an inch indent
- Use Times New Roman with 12-point font size
- Doesn’t require a title page, but you’re may include one
- There must be a running head in the top corner of each page
The following are the rules for structuring your literature review paper in the APA format:
- Double-space the whole text – unless stated otherwise
- Page numbers should appear in the upper right corner of every page
- For fonts, use Times New Roman with 12-point font size
- There should be a header at the top of every page. It should be not more than 50 characters and in capital
- Include a title page
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You should observe the following rules if your instructor ask you to use the Chicago style to write your literature review.
- No spaces between paragraphs
- Times New Roman or Courier font with font size between 10 and 12 points
- Double-space for texts, except for references, figure captions, table titles notes, and block quotes
- Page numbers must appear at the top right corner of every page
- Include a cover page, which should show your full name, class details, and the date
Frequently Asked Questions
1. what is an outline in literature.
An outline in a literature is the formal structure used to present information to demonstrate a comprehensive and clear analysis of a research issue.
With an outline, you can organize your topic and subtopics in a logical order, from the declaration sentence , through the supporting evidence, all the way to the conclusion.
2. Is It Necessary to Outline the Structure of a Literature Review?
It’s necessary to outline the structure of a literature review so that you can have a logical flow of ideas from the introduction to the conclusion.
Notably, you’ll find the outline extremely useful when drawing your research from a variety of subjects or if you’re analyzing varying methodologies.
3. How Do You Structure a Literature Review Paragraph?
The best way to structure a literature review paragraph is to state the main idea in the beginning.
Following the topic sentence should be evidence relevant to the topic, analysis of the evidence clearly explained within the paragraph, and a conclusion written in your own words.
4. What Makes a Good Literature Review?
For your literature review to be comprehensive or good enough, you have to demonstrate clear synthesis and understanding of the topic under investigation.
Don’t hold back on going the extra mile to present a strong evidence of analytical creativity that connect between the literatures under review.
About the author
Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.
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- How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes .
What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .
There are five key steps to writing a literature review:
- Search for relevant literature
- Evaluate sources
- Identify themes, debates, and gaps
- Outline the structure
- Write your literature review
A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.
Table of contents
What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, frequently asked questions, introduction.
- Quick Run-through
- Step 1 & 2
When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:
- Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
- Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
- Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
- Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
- Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.
Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.
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 problem and questions .
Make a list of keywords
Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.
- Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
- Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
- Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth
Search for relevant sources
Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:
- Your university’s library catalogue
- Google Scholar
- Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
- Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
- EconLit (economics)
- Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)
You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.
Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.
You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.
For each publication, ask yourself:
- What question or problem is the author addressing?
- What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
- What are the key theories, models, and methods?
- Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
- What are the results and conclusions of the study?
- How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?
Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.
You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.
Take notes and cite your sources
As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.
It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.
To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:
- Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
- Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
- Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
- Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
- Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?
This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.
- Most research has focused on young women.
- There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
- But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.
There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).
The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.
Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.
If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.
For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.
If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:
- Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
- Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources
A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.
You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.
Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.
The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.
Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.
As you write, you can follow these tips:
- Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts
In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.
When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !
This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.
Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.
Open Google Slides Download PowerPoint
A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .
It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.
There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:
- To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
- To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
- To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
- To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
- To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic
Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.
The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .
A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .
An annotated bibliography is a list of source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a paper .
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How to Outline a Literature Review in 5 Steps
Table of contents
Have you ever had to write a literature review, not knowing what it is or how to write it, and then failed miserably on paper and in the eyes of your professor?
But first -- why should one have to write a stellar literature review?
The purpose of writing a literature review is to summarize and analyze the ideas and concepts of the author, without bringing your personal opinions and ideas into the review.
In this article, you will learn how to outline a literature review in five simple steps.
What are the Elements of a Literature Review Outline
The objective of a literature review is to identify a central trend, theme, principle, or concept that exists in the publication. This gives the plot meaning and highlights the significance of the topic within the specific subject area, which eventually ties the entire text together.
Literature reviews help in finding the relationship between two existing ideas and recognize major gaps and controversial elements within the topic.
The best way to deliver a top-notch literature review is to construct a well-structured outline.
3 Key Elements of a Literature Review Outline
The introduction of this paper should give a basic gist about your topic, have a strong thesis statement, and should establish the purpose of writing about your chosen topic.
Additionally, you should also include your point of view about the subject matter as well as the process or methodology that you’ll use to frame your literature review.
It is also a good idea to write the outcome you would expect to see by the end of your paper, for your professor to understand what you want to achieve from this.
The body paragraph of a literature review can be approached using different approaches. This portion of the review analyzes and interprets the different findings that relate to the literature, as well as includes the central theme that ties it together as a whole.
Always remember to use transition words, as well as subheadings, to make it easier for your professor to be able to understand the systematic flow of words.
Here are three of the most important ones that have been used to effectively structure the body paragraph of a literature review:
This approach is the simplest as you write the review based on the overall timeline, which starts at the beginning, and to the end.
In this approach, you can identify the development and growth of the chosen topic or a particular concept that you have examined over time. Keep in mind not to list down all the events in order, but to rather analyze important patterns, major themes, or key turning points in chronological order.
Very different from the timeline approach, in this, you are required to examine, elaborate, and find a link between your sources and your chosen literary text.
The thematic approach revolves around the central issue or dispute, which is organized into subsections that address each aspect of the issue(s). These are analyzed in-depth and are time-consuming.
This type of approach is to understand the methods used to define or analyze a certain concept. By presenting the methods, you can compare them based on the severity, the sociological or cultural impacts, the qualitative or quantitative nature, the ethicality of the literature, and so on.
Summarize all your important points into a short paragraph, point out the strengths and weaknesses that you’ve gathered after researching the literature you analyzed, and emphasize the significance of writing a literature review on this chosen text.
5 Steps to Outline a Literature Review
Now that you know what goes into a literature review outline let’s take a look at how you can outline a literature review in five steps.
Original: Source Narrow down on your topic
Before you start looking for literary texts to analyze, you need to figure out a clear and defined topic . Based on this topic, you can start searching for relevant literature that surrounds your chosen topic or the question that is to be analyzed.
During the search for your literature review topic, consider subject matters that are interesting to you or something that you would want to know in-depth about. You can also look for popular texts that could have multiple sources to work with.
To make this process easier, you should:
- Start writing down keywords that are related and relevant to your topic of choice. List any synonyms or related terms that you think would help in narrowing down your topic. As you keep searching for your literature, you can add any other keywords that come your way.
- Ask yourself questions and brainstorm topic ideas that can lead to you figuring out your chosen topic, or talk to your professor if you require their guidance.
- Try mapping out the concepts for your outline by creating a graphic map with all the ideas and concepts that you would want to include in the review. Make it a point to incorporate all of these ideas while writing your literature review.
Review relevant sources
When you have your topic picked out, the first thing you should do is use your compiled list of keywords to search for relevant literature and sources. At this time, it is crucial to use trusted sources like libraries, published research papers , and online databases.
After finding credible sources for your literature review, take a minute to see if your topic is actually related to the sources that you’ve found. Assess these sources and prioritize them according to what is relevant, what fits, and what doesn’t.
Map out a structure
For outlining the body of your literature review, multiple approaches can be used to create a proper, well-organized structure, which we have discussed in the above section.
Before you begin, you should have a rough idea about how you would wish to start your literature review. No academic paper should be attempted before having a proper plan for framing the content of your paper.
Through this organized skeleton structure of the paper, you can quickly and easily identify the points that you want to be included.
Identifying key themes and patterns
Read your literature multiple times to understand the connections and the relationship between the sources you’ve used and the text that needs to be analyzed.
This will help you have a solid knowledge about the subject before you start writing, as well as create a proper flow of ideas to make writing your literature review a simpler process.
Some of the things you need to look out for during this process include the following:
- themes and concepts that recur throughout the literature;
- debates or contradictions that include conflicts around the theories present in the text;
- gaps and weaknesses in the literature that needs to be filled or addressed;
- trends and patterns that are prevalent and are an important portion of the review.
Working on this point will help show your professor that you can contribute a major portion of ideas and knowledge through your research, to the already existing content.
Here’s a useful video by Scribbr on identifying themes in literature
Write your draft and proofread
At this point, you can start writing your literature review. Since you have all your sources, citations, a complete detailed outline, and extra notes, figuring out which point needs to go in which section will become a much smoother process.
All you need to do now is to follow your plan and maintain the structure that you have created to draft your review.
Most students neglect to revise and proofread their papers, which can cause unnecessary, avoidable errors that bring down the entire quality and authority of your submission. Make sure to check for spelling and grammatical mistakes as well as the flow of your sentences.
Check to make sure that there is no portion in your literature review that has been plagiarized . This can happen if you have failed to cite a source or reference or if you have used (copied) phrases directly from another source.
Proofreading your submissions before sending them out will help you pinpoint these mistakes.
Writing a literature review is intimidating and not anywhere near to being an easy process, but it can be made simpler if you know the correct strategies and have appropriate ideas to deal with tough academic papers like these.
So, keep these five effective steps in mind to create a top-notch literature review that will leave your professor impressed.
Still not confident? Writers Per Hour is just an email away.
Our expert writers can help you outline and write a literature review from scratch. All you need to do is give us your requirements, and we’ll have an original, 100% plagiarism-free literature review delivered right on time.
Last edit at Dec 24 2022
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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 Review Outline: Examples, Approaches, & Templates
A literature review is an update on the status of current research related to the issue in question . Its purpose is to provide the reader with a guide to a particular research topic. And for the writer, a well-written literature review is the best way to show their competence in the field.
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As with any other academic paper, the key to a successful literature review is its outline. Below you’ll find great tips for creating a perfect one. See where you can place your thesis statement in the introduction and when it’s time to reference sources. And you can examine an example of a literature review outline (APA format). Just keep reading this article prepared by Custom-writing experts!
- 🔭 General Information
- 📑 Main Approaches
- 🗺️ Mapping the Concepts
- ✍️ Writing Tips
🔭 literature review outline: general information.
Literature reviews are written mostly in sciences and social sciences, and sometimes in humanities. A literature review aims to discuss published information on the studies in a particular area. The most simple version of a literature review can be a mere summary of the sources. However, it usually features an organizational pattern and implies not only summary but also synthesis.
A literature review aims to provide a reader with a clear and understandable guide to a particular research topic. And for its writer, a solid review is an excellent opportunity to show them as an expert in a chosen field.
As MLA, Chicago, or APA style cover page generators help students with the very first part of any paper, the key to a successful literature review is a good outline . When planning a literature review, remember that no matter whether you’re dealing with a Chicago, MLA, or APA literature review outline, you’ll have to remember several important things.
📑 Literature Review Outline: Approaches to Structuring
A well-formed vision of the writing strategy before you start the main body paragraphs is half of the success. There are four approaches to arranging a literature review. Depending on the intended length of your paper, you can combine some or all of them. For instance, more than often, thematic and methodological strategies comprise a theoretical approach when it comes to details.
Tracing the reviewed works in succession, starting with the earliest available materials, is the easiest way to examine the specific topic. Be careful not to list the works in chronological order with their summaries. The purpose of such a review is to find out the key patterns, central debates, and turning points of the prevailing opinion at specific periods.
Here is a sample to make the approach clear. If the first available source dates 1995, and the most recent one was written in 2017, divide your analysis into decades: 1995 – 2000, 2001 – 2010, and 2010 – present.
The chronological approach can perfectly combine with thematic or methodological ones. In such a case, the timescale is divided not by decades but by periods characterized by a predominant methodology or preferred theme.
This method is organized around a particular issue, rather than time progression. If you have found recurring themes in the course of your reading, it is an excellent idea to focus the review on them. As a rule, the thematic approach requires an in-depth study of the available scientific literature. It also looks more substantial and time-consuming than the chronological one.
Here, the sections dwell upon different issues or various aspects of one topic. For example, an overview of psychology literature on nonverbal communication can be divided into the following parts: facial expressions, postures, eye contact, gestures, touch, etc.
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Sometimes the results of findings are not as outstanding as the ways of obtaining those results. A review of research methods provides a profound scientific understanding of the subject field, notably the approaches to data collection, study, and systematization. It also provides an insight into how scientists went from isolated data to a concept, and from the concept to practical conclusions.
This form proves to be the most successful in the analysis of multidisciplinary works. You can list all the methods used and conclude on their efficiency. Alternatively, you can compare the qualitative and quantitative, empirical and theoretical, or any other incompatible methodology. The materials for analysis are the results obtained by such or another method.
Very often, a literature review becomes the basis for a theoretical framework of a research paper. In this case, the theoretical approach is the most effective way to structure the report.
Wherever you can single out several theories on a single phenomenon, different models of a system, or diverging definitions of the same concept, the theoretical approach is the best choice. The purpose is to analyze the corpus of theory that has accumulated regarding an idea, opinion, or event. Usually, this form establishes the existing scientific knowledge gaps and finds out the outstanding research questions.
🗺️ Literature Review Outline: Mapping the Concepts
Wish to outline literature review papers correctly? First, try drawing a concept map for your outline! Create a graphic map with all the concepts and ideas you’ll want to include in the literature review outline. When you start writing, make sure that you’ve included everything you have on the map.
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Well, now you’re ready to write the most fantastic outline for a literature review ever! So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and try writing your own outline using the template below – success is just around the corner!
📰 Literature Review Outline: Template
Feel free to use the literature review outline template below! Note that the template is organized thematically.
I. ISSUE #1
A. Its features
1. Positive features
a) Feature #1
b) Feature #2
2. Negative features
B. Its significance
1. Positive effects
a) Effect #1
b) Effect #2
2. Negative effects
II. ISSUE #2…
Check the literature review samples by the University of West Florida to get a clear idea on how to write this type of paper.
And now, it’s time for you to see an example of an outline for literature review writing!
👌 Literature Review Outline: Example
When creating your own review, consider the following literature review example:
Literature Review Outline: Postmodern Literature
- Introduction: postmodern literature
- Definition of the phenomenon
- The development of postmodern literature
- Research studies on postmodern themes
- Research studies on postmodern techniques
- Research studies on postmodern perspectives
- Conclusion: promising ideas for research on postmodern literature
With this literature review outline example, you’ll surely handle even the most complicated literature review structure!
✍️ Literature Review Outline: Writing Tips
When you start writing a literature review, you should keep the following issues in mind:
- Use evidence to support your interpretation of available sources.
- Be selective. Limit your literature review to sources relevant to the topic of your research. You should select only the most important points in each source.
- Compare and contrast the views of different authors. Organize the material for your reader to show trends in the literature.
- Use quotes sparingly. Apply them only when you want to emphasize the author’s point and cannot rewrite it in your own words. Always focus on giving your own summary and interpretation of the literature, showing your original thinking and analysis.
- Paraphrase in your own words to explain authors’ ideas . Give references to other sources when you are writing, but start and end the paragraphs with your own ideas.
- Summarize and synthesize your literature review sources. Identify the main points in a concise manner for your readers. Evaluate your sources , consider their strengths and weaknesses, compare and contrast the results of the studies, and discuss the strength of the evidence.
- Look for gaps in the existing research. Think about what aspects of your literature review topic have not yet been explored.
- Be creative!
- Draft and redraft. Improve the quality of your literature review by editing and proofreading.
Writing a good literature review is not an easy task. It requires quite a lot of reading and researching. Check our 45 great tips on how to format and structure the literature review for more advice.
If you still have any problems in writing your literature review outline, ask for professional writing help online.
✏️ Literature Review FAQ
The way such paper should look like is best presented in the form of an outline . A simplified form would include an introduction, 3+ paragraphs (preferably with 2+ subparagraphs in each) as a review body, and a conclusion.
You should write about your interpretation of the literary piece. Include your understanding of the author’s message and the way he puts that idea across (scenes, characters, allusions, etc.). For a research paper, however, include more precise details than personal impressions.
Outlines for a paper should list concise notes about the structure of the text and its content (usually in the format of bullet points). Remember that an outline is not a research proposal or dissertation, so do not write about the goals, objectives, methods, etc.
Do you have a list of ideas you want to describe in the paper already? If so, just make those notes structured in logical consequence and format them as bullet points highlighting the gist of each part.
- Literature Review Outline
- Literature Review Outline: What You Need to Get Started
- Writing a Literature Review
- Literature Reviews
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please I was asked to write a 3000-word essay Evaluating Approaches to Literature Searching and Literature Review in Educational Research. And I don’t know how write or go about it. Can someone please help me with an outline in writing this. please someone should help
Hello! Our experts will help you with any task!
HI, how long would you suggest an undergraduate’s final year research paper should be? ( minimum in pages for both quanti and quali researches) and is 15 pages of literature review( double spacing okay?
It would probably be between 10 and 20 pages. But it all comes down to the specific topic and instructions given. Fifteen pages for a literature review sounds good, if it’s an independent type of assignment. However, if it’s part of the undergraduate’s final year research paper mentioned above, then fifteen pages is probably too much. But, again, it all depends on the instructions, topic, etc.
thankyouuuu!!!!!!! best one so far
We are glad to hear your opinion! Thank you, Sadia🙂!
useful blog keep going
Thank you, Soran! Glad you found the blog useful 🙂
Very well explained!
Thank you, Rimpy!
Really appreciate the great information guide on writing. It’s outstanding and brilliant how the outline process is explained herewith. Thanks.
Thank you for your kind words, Dominic! Glad the article was useful for you.
Thank you so much. This was so helpful, especially with your examples of an outline.
I’m glad the article was helpful for you, Jane!
I am working on a literary review on a couple of articles having to do with college football players getting paid. I have started my intro with info about the college athletic industry and how it is controversial, but how do I introduce/transition into the articles and the actually literary review?
Try to go with the facts, and stick with them. It would work kind of well, Janeth.
Thanks for stopping by. Try to write about features, positive and negative ones.
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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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