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

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on August 15, 2023.

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

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

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

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

Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

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To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).


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.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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


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

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

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

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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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.


How to write the literature review of your research paper

Study Background & Introduction

Dr. Rishibha Sachdev

How to write the literature review of your research paper

Many researchers struggle when it comes to writing literature review for their research paper. A literature review is a comprehensive overview of all the knowledge available on a specific topic till date. When you decide on a research topic, usually the first step you take in the direction of conducting research is learn more about the previous research published on the topic, and this eventually translates into literature review when you write your research paper. Literature review is one of the pillars on which your research idea stands since it provides context, relevance, and background to the research problem you are exploring.  

Types of literature review

how to write a literature review of research paper

Theoretical literature review essentially involves two steps: 

  • Surveying and critically reading the existing literature: this step is commonly referred to as experimental literature review.
  • Summarizing and actually penning down the gist of your review in an organized manner: this is known as theoretical review.

Literature review could be a part of a dissertation or research article and a stand-alone literature review. Let us look at this in more detail.

Literature reviews for dissertation/research article

Every research report/ thesis/research article begins with an introduction to the topic of research. This forms the literature review for the article. The main purpose of the review is to introduce the readers to the need for conducting the said research. A literature review should begin with a thorough literature search using the main keywords in relevant online databases such as Google Scholar , PubMed , etc. Once all the relevant literature has been gathered, it should be organized as follows:

  • Background literature about the broad research topic to introduce the readers to the field of study.
  • Recent progress on the study topic which can be organized thematically or chronologically. Ideally, separate themes should be discussed in a chronological manner to describe how research in the field has evolved over time and to highlight the progress in the field.
  • The review should include a comparison and contrast of different studies. Discussing the controversial aspects helps to identify the main gaps that need to be worked upon. This is essential for defining the problem statement of the study and highlighting the significance of the research under question.
  • Once a problem statement has been defined, the strengths and pitfalls of other studies that have tackled the problem statement should be discussed. This is important for outlining the need and novelty of the research.

A literature review should not be a mere recounting of all the available information. It should be a critical and analytical summary of the selected literature that guides the readers through the central theme of the research.

Does your publication goal seem near yet too far? Explore the #POWERofMORE – the boost you need to achieve all your goals Click here to know more!   

Stand-alone literature reviews

Literature reviews can also be written as stand-alone articles. These are not different from the literature review sections described above; however, they are not followed by experimental data.

They basically fall into 2 broad categories: narrative reviews and systematic reviews.

1. Narrative reviews

These are theoretical discussions of relevant information on a particular topic and its critical analysis. These are mostly qualitative in nature similar to the review sections of larger articles.

Narrative reviews are usually organized as follows:

Introduction that establishes the context of the field of research and the topic of the review

Body is normally used for describing the different themes under the main topic by dividing them into different subheadings. This section compares and contrasts published studies and identifies gaps that have not been addressed or have been unsuccessfully addressed.

Conclusions. This section differs slightly between reviews which are part of research articles and narrative reviews. The section describes the main conclusions from analysis of all the current studies and puts forth further avenues for research. This section requires critical interpretation by the author such that the review adds value to existing literature. It should bring out ideas/hypotheses that can explain any discrepancies and provide solutions to existing problems.

2. Systematic reviews

On the other hand, systematic reviews follow a well-planned methodology to qualitatively or quantitatively analyze a defined number of studies. They usually focus on a single question and have clear study objectives that are worked upon in a systematic manner. These studies are based on a well-defined strategy unlike narrative reviews. Systematic reviews and narrative reviews are organized slightly differently. The details are described below:

Introduction: Systematic reviews begin with specific research questions that are defined in terms of the samples and research outcomes to be studied.

Methods (only for systematic reviews):  These studies have a comprehensive methodology that starts by narrowing down the literature for the review. Usually, specific inclusion/exclusion criteria are set based on the research questions and databases are searched based on these criteria. Once the sample studies have been shortlisted, they are analyzed in detail.

Results: The results section for these studies involves comprehensive data analysis to determine the significance of the study outcomes. Systematic reviews can be accompanied with Meta-analysis which involves statistical analysis of the included studies to increase the power of the results.

Discussion: This section usually interprets the study data based on their weighted significance and the power of the results. The study therefore provides strengthened results that are validated by the scientific rigor of the analytical method.

Before starting to write a review, it is important to determine what kind of review you want to write and follow the appropriate style and guidelines. An effective literature review is important for the complete life cycle of a research from defining the right research goals to correctly interpreting and presenting the research results.

If you wish to learn in more depth how to conduct literature search, check out this course designed exclusively for researchers:  How to conduct an effective literature search and review .

Bonus takeaway exclusively for community members

Writing a literature review requires you to read through and collate several research articles and literature sources. This can get very confusing considering the large amount of publications that need to be organized. There is no set way to do this as it will depend on your preference for reading printed articles or online resources. If you are old school and read printed articles better, then you should create a folder with all articles organized in this way:

1. Alphabetically with the last name of the first author, or

2. Chronologically with the date of publication, or

3. Thematically with different themes organized chronologically

For the more tech-savy users, organization of literature either by year of publication or themes would be more ideal. Citing and creating a reference list in your manuscript can be done either manually or by using reference management tools like Endnote from Clarivate analytics. Endnote is an excellent way to store your research library and import it into the manuscript in the format required by the journal.

The tips and guidelines in this post should help you write your literature review with ease.

Related reading: 

  • A young researcher's guide to writing a literature review
  • 5 Tips to write a great literature review


  • Tips for effective literature searching and keeping up with new publications
  • Writing a Literature Review
  • Systematic literature review X narrative review
  • Systematic Reviews: What is a systematic review?

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Grad Coach

How To Write An A-Grade Literature Review

3 straightforward steps (with examples) + free template.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewed By: Dr. Eunice Rautenbach | October 2019

Quality research is about building onto the existing work of others , “standing on the shoulders of giants”, as Newton put it. The literature review chapter of your dissertation, thesis or research project is where you synthesise this prior work and lay the theoretical foundation for your own research.

Long story short, this chapter is a pretty big deal, which is why you want to make sure you get it right . In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to write a literature review in three straightforward steps, so you can conquer this vital chapter (the smart way).

Overview: The Literature Review Process

  • Understanding the “ why “
  • Finding the relevant literature
  • Cataloguing and synthesising the information
  • Outlining & writing up your literature review
  • Example of a literature review

But first, the “why”…

Before we unpack how to write the literature review chapter, we’ve got to look at the why . To put it bluntly, if you don’t understand the function and purpose of the literature review process, there’s no way you can pull it off well. So, what exactly is the purpose of the literature review?

Well, there are (at least) four core functions:

  • For you to gain an understanding (and demonstrate this understanding) of where the research is at currently, what the key arguments and disagreements are.
  • For you to identify the gap(s) in the literature and then use this as justification for your own research topic.
  • To help you build a conceptual framework for empirical testing (if applicable to your research topic).
  • To inform your methodological choices and help you source tried and tested questionnaires (for interviews ) and measurement instruments (for surveys ).

Most students understand the first point but don’t give any thought to the rest. To get the most from the literature review process, you must keep all four points front of mind as you review the literature (more on this shortly), or you’ll land up with a wonky foundation.

Okay – with the why out the way, let’s move on to the how . As mentioned above, writing your literature review is a process, which I’ll break down into three steps:

  • Finding the most suitable literature
  • Understanding , distilling and organising the literature
  • Planning and writing up your literature review chapter

Importantly, you must complete steps one and two before you start writing up your chapter. I know it’s very tempting, but don’t try to kill two birds with one stone and write as you read. You’ll invariably end up wasting huge amounts of time re-writing and re-shaping, or you’ll just land up with a disjointed, hard-to-digest mess . Instead, you need to read first and distil the information, then plan and execute the writing.

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Step 1: Find the relevant literature

Naturally, the first step in the literature review journey is to hunt down the existing research that’s relevant to your topic. While you probably already have a decent base of this from your research proposal , you need to expand on this substantially in the dissertation or thesis itself.

Essentially, you need to be looking for any existing literature that potentially helps you answer your research question (or develop it, if that’s not yet pinned down). There are numerous ways to find relevant literature, but I’ll cover my top four tactics here. I’d suggest combining all four methods to ensure that nothing slips past you:

Method 1 – Google Scholar Scrubbing

Google’s academic search engine, Google Scholar , is a great starting point as it provides a good high-level view of the relevant journal articles for whatever keyword you throw at it. Most valuably, it tells you how many times each article has been cited, which gives you an idea of how credible (or at least, popular) it is. Some articles will be free to access, while others will require an account, which brings us to the next method.

Method 2 – University Database Scrounging

Generally, universities provide students with access to an online library, which provides access to many (but not all) of the major journals.

So, if you find an article using Google Scholar that requires paid access (which is quite likely), search for that article in your university’s database – if it’s listed there, you’ll have access. Note that, generally, the search engine capabilities of these databases are poor, so make sure you search for the exact article name, or you might not find it.

Method 3 – Journal Article Snowballing

At the end of every academic journal article, you’ll find a list of references. As with any academic writing, these references are the building blocks of the article, so if the article is relevant to your topic, there’s a good chance a portion of the referenced works will be too. Do a quick scan of the titles and see what seems relevant, then search for the relevant ones in your university’s database.

Method 4 – Dissertation Scavenging

Similar to Method 3 above, you can leverage other students’ dissertations. All you have to do is skim through literature review chapters of existing dissertations related to your topic and you’ll find a gold mine of potential literature. Usually, your university will provide you with access to previous students’ dissertations, but you can also find a much larger selection in the following databases:

  • Open Access Theses & Dissertations
  • Stanford SearchWorks

Keep in mind that dissertations and theses are not as academically sound as published, peer-reviewed journal articles (because they’re written by students, not professionals), so be sure to check the credibility of any sources you find using this method. You can do this by assessing the citation count of any given article in Google Scholar. If you need help with assessing the credibility of any article, or with finding relevant research in general, you can chat with one of our Research Specialists .

Alright – with a good base of literature firmly under your belt, it’s time to move onto the next step.

Need a helping hand?

how to write a literature review of research paper

Step 2: Log, catalogue and synthesise

Once you’ve built a little treasure trove of articles, it’s time to get reading and start digesting the information – what does it all mean?

While I present steps one and two (hunting and digesting) as sequential, in reality, it’s more of a back-and-forth tango – you’ll read a little , then have an idea, spot a new citation, or a new potential variable, and then go back to searching for articles. This is perfectly natural – through the reading process, your thoughts will develop , new avenues might crop up, and directional adjustments might arise. This is, after all, one of the main purposes of the literature review process (i.e. to familiarise yourself with the current state of research in your field).

As you’re working through your treasure chest, it’s essential that you simultaneously start organising the information. There are three aspects to this:

  • Logging reference information
  • Building an organised catalogue
  • Distilling and synthesising the information

I’ll discuss each of these below:

2.1 – Log the reference information

As you read each article, you should add it to your reference management software. I usually recommend Mendeley for this purpose (see the Mendeley 101 video below), but you can use whichever software you’re comfortable with. Most importantly, make sure you load EVERY article you read into your reference manager, even if it doesn’t seem very relevant at the time.

2.2 – Build an organised catalogue

In the beginning, you might feel confident that you can remember who said what, where, and what their main arguments were. Trust me, you won’t. If you do a thorough review of the relevant literature (as you must!), you’re going to read many, many articles, and it’s simply impossible to remember who said what, when, and in what context . Also, without the bird’s eye view that a catalogue provides, you’ll miss connections between various articles, and have no view of how the research developed over time. Simply put, it’s essential to build your own catalogue of the literature.

I would suggest using Excel to build your catalogue, as it allows you to run filters, colour code and sort – all very useful when your list grows large (which it will). How you lay your spreadsheet out is up to you, but I’d suggest you have the following columns (at minimum):

  • Author, date, title – Start with three columns containing this core information. This will make it easy for you to search for titles with certain words, order research by date, or group by author.
  • Categories or keywords – You can either create multiple columns, one for each category/theme and then tick the relevant categories, or you can have one column with keywords.
  • Key arguments/points – Use this column to succinctly convey the essence of the article, the key arguments and implications thereof for your research.
  • Context – Note the socioeconomic context in which the research was undertaken. For example, US-based, respondents aged 25-35, lower- income, etc. This will be useful for making an argument about gaps in the research.
  • Methodology – Note which methodology was used and why. Also, note any issues you feel arise due to the methodology. Again, you can use this to make an argument about gaps in the research.
  • Quotations – Note down any quoteworthy lines you feel might be useful later.
  • Notes – Make notes about anything not already covered. For example, linkages to or disagreements with other theories, questions raised but unanswered, shortcomings or limitations, and so forth.

If you’d like, you can try out our free catalog template here (see screenshot below).

Excel literature review template

2.3 – Digest and synthesise

Most importantly, as you work through the literature and build your catalogue, you need to synthesise all the information in your own mind – how does it all fit together? Look for links between the various articles and try to develop a bigger picture view of the state of the research. Some important questions to ask yourself are:

  • What answers does the existing research provide to my own research questions?
  • Which points do the researchers agree (and disagree) on?
  • How has the research developed over time?
  • Where do the gaps in the current research lie?

To help you develop a big-picture view and synthesise all the information, you might find mind mapping software such as Freemind useful. Alternatively, if you’re a fan of physical note-taking, investing in a large whiteboard might work for you.

Mind mapping is a useful way to plan your literature review.

Step 3: Outline and write it up!

Once you’re satisfied that you have digested and distilled all the relevant literature in your mind, it’s time to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard). There are two steps here – outlining and writing:

3.1 – Draw up your outline

Having spent so much time reading, it might be tempting to just start writing up without a clear structure in mind. However, it’s critically important to decide on your structure and develop a detailed outline before you write anything. Your literature review chapter needs to present a clear, logical and an easy to follow narrative – and that requires some planning. Don’t try to wing it!

Naturally, you won’t always follow the plan to the letter, but without a detailed outline, you’re more than likely going to end up with a disjointed pile of waffle , and then you’re going to spend a far greater amount of time re-writing, hacking and patching. The adage, “measure twice, cut once” is very suitable here.

In terms of structure, the first decision you’ll have to make is whether you’ll lay out your review thematically (into themes) or chronologically (by date/period). The right choice depends on your topic, research objectives and research questions, which we discuss in this article .

Once that’s decided, you need to draw up an outline of your entire chapter in bullet point format. Try to get as detailed as possible, so that you know exactly what you’ll cover where, how each section will connect to the next, and how your entire argument will develop throughout the chapter. Also, at this stage, it’s a good idea to allocate rough word count limits for each section, so that you can identify word count problems before you’ve spent weeks or months writing!

PS – check out our free literature review chapter template…

3.2 – Get writing

With a detailed outline at your side, it’s time to start writing up (finally!). At this stage, it’s common to feel a bit of writer’s block and find yourself procrastinating under the pressure of finally having to put something on paper. To help with this, remember that the objective of the first draft is not perfection – it’s simply to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, after which you can refine them. The structure might change a little, the word count allocations might shift and shuffle, and you might add or remove a section – that’s all okay. Don’t worry about all this on your first draft – just get your thoughts down on paper.

start writing

Once you’ve got a full first draft (however rough it may be), step away from it for a day or two (longer if you can) and then come back at it with fresh eyes. Pay particular attention to the flow and narrative – does it fall fit together and flow from one section to another smoothly? Now’s the time to try to improve the linkage from each section to the next, tighten up the writing to be more concise, trim down word count and sand it down into a more digestible read.

Once you’ve done that, give your writing to a friend or colleague who is not a subject matter expert and ask them if they understand the overall discussion. The best way to assess this is to ask them to explain the chapter back to you. This technique will give you a strong indication of which points were clearly communicated and which weren’t. If you’re working with Grad Coach, this is a good time to have your Research Specialist review your chapter.

Finally, tighten it up and send it off to your supervisor for comment. Some might argue that you should be sending your work to your supervisor sooner than this (indeed your university might formally require this), but in my experience, supervisors are extremely short on time (and often patience), so, the more refined your chapter is, the less time they’ll waste on addressing basic issues (which you know about already) and the more time they’ll spend on valuable feedback that will increase your mark-earning potential.

Literature Review Example

In the video below, we unpack an actual literature review so that you can see how all the core components come together in reality.

Let’s Recap

In this post, we’ve covered how to research and write up a high-quality literature review chapter. Let’s do a quick recap of the key takeaways:

  • It is essential to understand the WHY of the literature review before you read or write anything. Make sure you understand the 4 core functions of the process.
  • The first step is to hunt down the relevant literature . You can do this using Google Scholar, your university database, the snowballing technique and by reviewing other dissertations and theses.
  • Next, you need to log all the articles in your reference manager , build your own catalogue of literature and synthesise all the research.
  • Following that, you need to develop a detailed outline of your entire chapter – the more detail the better. Don’t start writing without a clear outline (on paper, not in your head!)
  • Write up your first draft in rough form – don’t aim for perfection. Remember, done beats perfect.
  • Refine your second draft and get a layman’s perspective on it . Then tighten it up and submit it to your supervisor.

Literature Review Course

Psst… there’s more!

This post is an extract from our bestselling Udemy Course, Literature Review Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

You Might Also Like:

How To Find A Research Gap: Step-By-Step Process


Phindile Mpetshwa

Thank you very much. This page is an eye opener and easy to comprehend.


This is awesome!

I wish I come across GradCoach earlier enough.

But all the same I’ll make use of this opportunity to the fullest.

Thank you for this good job.

Keep it up!

Derek Jansen

You’re welcome, Yinka. Thank you for the kind words. All the best writing your literature review.

Renee Buerger

Thank you for a very useful literature review session. Although I am doing most of the steps…it being my first masters an Mphil is a self study and one not sure you are on the right track. I have an amazing supervisor but one also knows they are super busy. So not wanting to bother on the minutae. Thank you.

You’re most welcome, Renee. Good luck with your literature review 🙂

Sheemal Prasad

This has been really helpful. Will make full use of it. 🙂

Thank you Gradcoach.


Really agreed. Admirable effort

Faturoti Toyin

thank you for this beautiful well explained recap.


Thank you so much for your guide of video and other instructions for the dissertation writing.

It is instrumental. It encouraged me to write a dissertation now.

Lorraine Hall

Thank you the video was great – from someone that knows nothing thankyou

araz agha

an amazing and very constructive way of presetting a topic, very useful, thanks for the effort,

Suilabayuh Ngah

It is timely

It is very good video of guidance for writing a research proposal and a dissertation. Since I have been watching and reading instructions, I have started my research proposal to write. I appreciate to Mr Jansen hugely.

Nancy Geregl

I learn a lot from your videos. Very comprehensive and detailed.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. As a research student, you learn better with your learning tips in research


I was really stuck in reading and gathering information but after watching these things are cleared thanks, it is so helpful.

Xaysukith thorxaitou

Really helpful, Thank you for the effort in showing such information

Sheila Jerome

This is super helpful thank you very much.


Thank you for this whole literature writing review.You have simplified the process.


I’m so glad I found GradCoach. Excellent information, Clear explanation, and Easy to follow, Many thanks Derek!

You’re welcome, Maithe. Good luck writing your literature review 🙂


Thank you Coach, you have greatly enriched and improved my knowledge


Great piece, so enriching and it is going to help me a great lot in my project and thesis, thanks so much

Stephanie Louw

This is THE BEST site for ANYONE doing a masters or doctorate! Thank you for the sound advice and templates. You rock!

Thanks, Stephanie 🙂

oghenekaro Silas

This is mind blowing, the detailed explanation and simplicity is perfect.

I am doing two papers on my final year thesis, and I must stay I feel very confident to face both headlong after reading this article.

thank you so much.

if anyone is to get a paper done on time and in the best way possible, GRADCOACH is certainly the go to area!

tarandeep singh

This is very good video which is well explained with detailed explanation

uku igeny

Thank you excellent piece of work and great mentoring

Abdul Ahmad Zazay

Thanks, it was useful

Maserialong Dlamini

Thank you very much. the video and the information were very helpful.

Suleiman Abubakar

Good morning scholar. I’m delighted coming to know you even before the commencement of my dissertation which hopefully is expected in not more than six months from now. I would love to engage my study under your guidance from the beginning to the end. I love to know how to do good job

Mthuthuzeli Vongo

Thank you so much Derek for such useful information on writing up a good literature review. I am at a stage where I need to start writing my one. My proposal was accepted late last year but I honestly did not know where to start


Like the name of your YouTube implies you are GRAD (great,resource person, about dissertation). In short you are smart enough in coaching research work.

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  • 04 December 2020
  • Correction 09 December 2020

How to write a superb literature review

Andy Tay is a freelance writer based in Singapore.

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

You have full access to this article via your institution.

Colourful bookmarks on note pads

Credit: Getty

Literature reviews are important resources for scientists. They provide historical context for a field while offering opinions on its future trajectory. Creating them can provide inspiration for one’s own research, as well as some practice in writing. But few scientists are trained in how to write a review — or in what constitutes an excellent one. Even picking the appropriate software to use can be an involved decision (see ‘Tools and techniques’). So Nature asked editors and working scientists with well-cited reviews for their tips.

WENTING ZHAO: Be focused and avoid jargon

Assistant professor of chemical and biomedical engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

When I was a research student, review writing improved my understanding of the history of my field. I also learnt about unmet challenges in the field that triggered ideas.

For example, while writing my first review 1 as a PhD student, I was frustrated by how poorly we understood how cells actively sense, interact with and adapt to nanoparticles used in drug delivery. This experience motivated me to study how the surface properties of nanoparticles can be modified to enhance biological sensing. When I transitioned to my postdoctoral research, this question led me to discover the role of cell-membrane curvature, which led to publications and my current research focus. I wouldn’t have started in this area without writing that review.

how to write a literature review of research paper

Collection: Careers toolkit

A common problem for students writing their first reviews is being overly ambitious. When I wrote mine, I imagined producing a comprehensive summary of every single type of nanomaterial used in biological applications. It ended up becoming a colossal piece of work, with too many papers discussed and without a clear way to categorize them. We published the work in the end, but decided to limit the discussion strictly to nanoparticles for biological sensing, rather than covering how different nanomaterials are used in biology.

My advice to students is to accept that a review is unlike a textbook: it should offer a more focused discussion, and it’s OK to skip some topics so that you do not distract your readers. Students should also consider editorial deadlines, especially for invited reviews: make sure that the review’s scope is not so extensive that it delays the writing.

A good review should also avoid jargon and explain the basic concepts for someone who is new to the field. Although I trained as an engineer, I’m interested in biology, and my research is about developing nanomaterials to manipulate proteins at the cell membrane and how this can affect ageing and cancer. As an ‘outsider’, the reviews that I find most useful for these biological topics are those that speak to me in accessible scientific language.

A man in glasses looking at the camera.

Bozhi Tian likes to get a variety of perspectives into a review. Credit: Aleksander Prominski

BOZHI TIAN: Have a process and develop your style

Associate professor of chemistry, University of Chicago, Illinois.

In my lab, we start by asking: what is the purpose of this review? My reasons for writing one can include the chance to contribute insights to the scientific community and identify opportunities for my research. I also see review writing as a way to train early-career researchers in soft skills such as project management and leadership. This is especially true for lead authors, because they will learn to work with their co-authors to integrate the various sections into a piece with smooth transitions and no overlaps.

After we have identified the need and purpose of a review article, I will form a team from the researchers in my lab. I try to include students with different areas of expertise, because it is useful to get a variety of perspectives. For example, in the review ‘An atlas of nano-enabled neural interfaces’ 2 , we had authors with backgrounds in biophysics, neuroengineering, neurobiology and materials sciences focusing on different sections of the review.

After this, I will discuss an outline with my team. We go through multiple iterations to make sure that we have scanned the literature sufficiently and do not repeat discussions that have appeared in other reviews. It is also important that the outline is not decided by me alone: students often have fresh ideas that they can bring to the table. Once this is done, we proceed with the writing.

I often remind my students to imagine themselves as ‘artists of science’ and encourage them to develop how they write and present information. Adding more words isn’t always the best way: for example, I enjoy using tables to summarize research progress and suggest future research trajectories. I’ve also considered including short videos in our review papers to highlight key aspects of the work. I think this can increase readership and accessibility because these videos can be easily shared on social-media platforms.

ANKITA ANIRBAN: Timeliness and figures make a huge difference

Editor, Nature Reviews Physics .

One of my roles as a journal editor is to evaluate proposals for reviews. The best proposals are timely and clearly explain why readers should pay attention to the proposed topic.

It is not enough for a review to be a summary of the latest growth in the literature: the most interesting reviews instead provide a discussion about disagreements in the field.

how to write a literature review of research paper

Careers Collection: Publishing

Scientists often centre the story of their primary research papers around their figures — but when it comes to reviews, figures often take a secondary role. In my opinion, review figures are more important than most people think. One of my favourite review-style articles 3 presents a plot bringing together data from multiple research papers (many of which directly contradict each other). This is then used to identify broad trends and suggest underlying mechanisms that could explain all of the different conclusions.

An important role of a review article is to introduce researchers to a field. For this, schematic figures can be useful to illustrate the science being discussed, in much the same way as the first slide of a talk should. That is why, at Nature Reviews, we have in-house illustrators to assist authors. However, simplicity is key, and even without support from professional illustrators, researchers can still make use of many free drawing tools to enhance the value of their review figures.

A woman wearing a lab coat smiles at the camera.

Yoojin Choi recommends that researchers be open to critiques when writing reviews. Credit: Yoojin Choi

YOOJIN CHOI: Stay updated and be open to suggestions

Research assistant professor, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Daejeon.

I started writing the review ‘Biosynthesis of inorganic nanomaterials using microbial cells and bacteriophages’ 4 as a PhD student in 2018. It took me one year to write the first draft because I was working on the review alongside my PhD research and mostly on my own, with support from my adviser. It took a further year to complete the processes of peer review, revision and publication. During this time, many new papers and even competing reviews were published. To provide the most up-to-date and original review, I had to stay abreast of the literature. In my case, I made use of Google Scholar, which I set to send me daily updates of relevant literature based on key words.

Through my review-writing process, I also learnt to be more open to critiques to enhance the value and increase the readership of my work. Initially, my review was focused only on using microbial cells such as bacteria to produce nanomaterials, which was the subject of my PhD research. Bacteria such as these are known as biofactories: that is, organisms that produce biological material which can be modified to produce useful materials, such as magnetic nanoparticles for drug-delivery purposes.

how to write a literature review of research paper

Synchronized editing: the future of collaborative writing

However, when the first peer-review report came back, all three reviewers suggested expanding the review to cover another type of biofactory: bacteriophages. These are essentially viruses that infect bacteria, and they can also produce nanomaterials.

The feedback eventually led me to include a discussion of the differences between the various biofactories (bacteriophages, bacteria, fungi and microalgae) and their advantages and disadvantages. This turned out to be a great addition because it made the review more comprehensive.

Writing the review also led me to an idea about using nanomaterial-modified microorganisms to produce chemicals, which I’m still researching now.

PAULA MARTIN-GONZALEZ: Make good use of technology

PhD student, University of Cambridge, UK.

Just before the coronavirus lockdown, my PhD adviser and I decided to write a literature review discussing the integration of medical imaging with genomics to improve ovarian cancer management.

As I was researching the review, I noticed a trend in which some papers were consistently being cited by many other papers in the field. It was clear to me that those papers must be important, but as a new member of the field of integrated cancer biology, it was difficult to immediately find and read all of these ‘seminal papers’.

That was when I decided to code a small application to make my literature research more efficient. Using my code, users can enter a query, such as ‘ovarian cancer, computer tomography, radiomics’, and the application searches for all relevant literature archived in databases such as PubMed that feature these key words.

The code then identifies the relevant papers and creates a citation graph of all the references cited in the results of the search. The software highlights papers that have many citation relationships with other papers in the search, and could therefore be called seminal papers.

My code has substantially improved how I organize papers and has informed me of key publications and discoveries in my research field: something that would have taken more time and experience in the field otherwise. After I shared my code on GitHub, I received feedback that it can be daunting for researchers who are not used to coding. Consequently, I am hoping to build a more user-friendly interface in a form of a web page, akin to PubMed or Google Scholar, where users can simply input their queries to generate citation graphs.

Tools and techniques

Most reference managers on the market offer similar capabilities when it comes to providing a Microsoft Word plug-in and producing different citation styles. But depending on your working preferences, some might be more suitable than others.

Reference managers

Here is a comparison of the more popular collaborative writing tools, but there are other options, including Fidus Writer, Manuscript.io, Authorea and Stencila.

Collaborative writing tools

*Markdown and LaTex are code-based formatting languages favoured by physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists who code on a regular basis, and less popular in other disciplines such as biology and chemistry.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-03422-x

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Updates & Corrections

Correction 09 December 2020 : An earlier version of the tables in this article included some incorrect details about the programs Zotero, Endnote and Manubot. These have now been corrected.

Hsing, I.-M., Xu, Y. & Zhao, W. Electroanalysis 19 , 755–768 (2007).

Article   Google Scholar  

Ledesma, H. A. et al. Nature Nanotechnol. 14 , 645–657 (2019).

Article   PubMed   Google Scholar  

Brahlek, M., Koirala, N., Bansal, N. & Oh, S. Solid State Commun. 215–216 , 54–62 (2015).

Choi, Y. & Lee, S. Y. Nature Rev. Chem . https://doi.org/10.1038/s41570-020-00221-w (2020).

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Writing Research Papers

  • Writing a Literature Review

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

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

Different Types of Literature Reviews

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

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

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

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

How to Write a Literature Review

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

Steps for Writing a Literature Review

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

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

2. Conduct a literature search.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Tips for Writing a Literature Review

Full-length literature reviews

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

Literature reviews as part of a larger paper

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

Benefits of Literature Reviews

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

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

Downloadable Resources

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

Further Resources

How-To Videos     

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

External Resources

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

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

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

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  • Evaluating References and Taking Notes
  • Citing References
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Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

Marco pautasso.

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

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

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

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

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

Rule 1: Define a Topic and Audience

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

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

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

Rule 2: Search and Re-search the Literature

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

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

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

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is pcbi.1003149.g001.jpg

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

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

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

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

Rule 3: Take Notes While Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rule 6: Be Critical and Consistent

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

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

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

Rule 7: Find a Logical Structure

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

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

Rule 8: Make Use of Feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Funding Statement

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

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How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper

Last Updated: June 30, 2023 References

This article was co-authored by wikiHow Staff . Our trained team of editors and researchers validate articles for accuracy and comprehensiveness. wikiHow's Content Management Team carefully monitors the work from our editorial staff to ensure that each article is backed by trusted research and meets our high quality standards. There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 32,131 times. Learn more...

You’re all set to write your first research paper in college, and then your professor says that you need to write a literature review for the paper. If you’ve never even heard of one of these before, don’t panic! It’s a very common assignment and all students have to write their first one eventually. A literature, or lit, review is basically a statement on where the field that you’re studying currently stands. It requires researching key publications within a field and presenting those arguments in a concise, clear section of your paper. It takes some time and research, but once you know what you’re doing, you can tackle the lit review and get on with the rest of your paper.

Evaluating Your Sources

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 1

  • Your library search engine is the best source for recent or classic work. If your topic is the effect of racism on hiring, try searching keywords like “employment,” “discrimination,” “racism,” and “United States.”
  • The librarians in your library are there to help, so don’t hesitate to ask if you need any assistance finding work to read.
  • Remember that newer publications aren’t necessarily better than older ones. But it’s important to find new work so your review is up-to-date.
  • You could also check the bibliographies in the work you're already using or ask your professor for reading suggestions if you need more ideas. [2] X Trustworthy Source University of North Carolina Writing Center UNC's on-campus and online instructional service that provides assistance to students, faculty, and others during the writing process Go to source

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 2

  • Try to state each argument as simply as possible. Sum up the author’s point in a sentence, if you can.
  • In most cases, you won’t have to read the entire work to understand the author’s argument. Some state their arguments at the beginning very clearly. Only read enough so you can identify that argument so you don’t make too much work for yourself.

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 3

  • One way you could evaluate a source on employment discrimination is by looking at the evidence. One source might use mostly newspaper articles for evidence, which aren’t always reliable. Another might use statistical data and government studies, which are usually more reliable, and therefore this source is more convincing.
  • The evidence that the author uses should also be easy to find, and they should provide clear citations and links if possible. If you can't track down the sources the author is using, then their argument is suspect. [5] X Research source

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 4

  • If you’re researching music in 20th-century Europe, for example, a musician might say that they had a huge impact on the scene. The fact that this person was a musician at the time could make their opinion biased.
  • Remember that all people have bias, so a biased work isn't necessarily useless. But it's something to note in your lit review to show that you've evaluated all your sources carefully.
  • Personal bias is another important part of evaluating sources.

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 5

  • It’s best to take notes while you’re reading and jot down each author’s argument, sources, bias, and your own thoughts on the work. This keeps all of your information in a nice, compact place.

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 6

  • Sticking with the employment discrimination topic, you might come across some authors who say this is a big problem, and others who don’t think it’s so severe. You might also see some authors acknowledging discrimination but attributing it to different causes.

Organizing Your Review

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 7

  • If you need help organizing your thoughts, you could always start with a bullet-point list. This is great to get started. However, you'll need to polish this into an actual essay.
  • Generally the lit review doesn't need a different format from the rest of the paper, so don't change anything unless your professor tells you to.

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 8

  • Use section headings like "Introduction" and "Literature Review" to keep yourself organized. You can leave these in if your professor tells you it's okay.
  • Some professors may give you a specific outline to base your review or paper around. Always follow their instructions so you get full credit.

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 9

  • Try to make some larger statements as you write chronologically. You could say, “Prior to the 1950s, scholars didn’t take employment discrimination seriously. In the 1960s and 1970s, new work emerged arguing that it was a major problem that millions of people experience.” This helps move your reader along.
  • If you can, tie a chronological lit review to larger historical developments. For example, you could note that the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s led scholars to analyze discrimination more closely.

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 10

  • A thematic approach might work better for medical or scientific topics, since there is often a lot of disagreement going on at the same time within these fields. Your topic could be different approaches to the treatment of cancer, with a section on each proposed treatment regimen.
  • You could still work chronologically within a thematic organization. When you move on to a new theme, for example, start with the author who first introduced that concept or conclusion.

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 11

  • There are also systematic reviews, or article-length literature reviews that analyze all the relevant work in a topic. Journals periodically publish pieces like this. These can be great resources for more sources and ideas.

Writing the Review

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 12

  • Your research might show you that most writers agree that employment discrimination is a problem, but aren’t united on what the causes are. Your opening statement could be, “Scholars are in widespread agreement that African-Americans face discrimination on the job. However, they are divided on the causes. The most common explanations they give are racism among hiring managers, a lack of educational opportunity, and structural disadvantages that produce less past work experience.”
  • Your statement doesn’t have to show agreement. It’s perfectly fine to say something like “Child psychologists are currently divided on how homework influences grade-schoolers’ development. Some see it as a crucial intellectual exercise, while others criticize it as busywork that has no real benefit.”

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 13

  • If you're organizing your essay chronologically, you could break down paragraphs by decade. The first paragraph could explain how authors discussed a problem in the 1960s, then your second one moves to the 1970s, and so on.
  • This also works if you're proceeding thematically. You could have a paragraph about authors who support one conclusion and another about authors who disagree.

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 14

  • Remember to show how each work fits in your main narrative as well. If it’s not clear why a work fits the theme you’ve placed it in, you might lose credit.
  • Quotes are always good to demonstrate a point, but make sure you don’t overuse them. 1 or 2 quotes per work is plenty. Stick with your own words for the analysis.

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 15

  • You could say, “This author overall concludes that racism is not a major component of employment discrimination. This might be true on the job, but it ignores systemic racism, which could lead to disparate outcomes for those who experience it.”
  • Be fair when you’re criticizing authors. They’ve probably researched the topic, and though you don’t agree with their conclusions, it’s not fair to act like they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 16

  • You can make suggestions no matter what the review shows. If the field is divided, you could say “We clearly need more research to solve these disagreements.” If a field is united, you could say “Perhaps some more diverse voices or perspectives could complicate this field and drive it in new directions.”
  • If this lit review is part of a larger research paper, then conclude by stating how your research solves some of these problems.

Image titled Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper Step 17

  • For a 10-20-page paper, the lit review can be a few pages. Try not to go over 2-3 unless your professor tells you to.
  • In an MA thesis or PhD dissertation, the lit review might make up a whole chapter of over 20 pages.

Expert Q&A

  • Always make sure you follow your professor’s directions for writing a literature review. Some may tell you how many sources to use or what types of sources are acceptable. Always stick with these guidelines. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • If you have any questions at all, it's best to ask your professor for guidance. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Cite everything while you write! It’s easy to get caught up and forget to cite during a lit review, so always double check to make sure you referenced everything. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

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  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/literature-reviews/
  • ↑ https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/literaturereview
  • ↑ https://library.concordia.ca/help/writing/literature-review.php
  • ↑ https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/evaluatesources
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/conducting_research/writing_a_literature_review.html
  • ↑ https://writing.wisc.edu/handbook/assignments/reviewofliterature/
  • ↑ http://www.philau.edu/learning/INC/pdf/Writing%20a%20Literature%20Review%20SLA%20%20Arch.pdf
  • ↑ https://libguides.uwf.edu/c.php?g=215199&p=1420568

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A complete guide on how to write a literature review

Deeptanshu D

Table of Contents

A literature review is much more than just another section in your research paper. It forms the very foundation of your research. It is a formal piece of writing where you analyze the existing theoretical framework, principles, and assumptions and use that as a base to shape your approach to the research question.

Curating and drafting a solid literature review section not only lends more credibility to your research paper but also makes your research tighter and better focused. But, writing literature reviews is a difficult task. It requires extensive reading, plus you have to consider market trends and technological and political changes, which tend to change in the blink of an eye.

Now streamline your literature review process with the help of SciSpace Copilot. With this AI research assistant, you can efficiently synthesize and analyze a vast amount of information, identify key themes and trends, and uncover gaps in the existing research. Get real-time explanations, summaries, and answers to your questions for the paper you're reviewing, making navigating and understanding the complex literature landscape easier.

Perform Literature reviews using SciSpace Copilot

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything from the definition of a literature review, its appropriate length, various types of literature reviews, and how to write one.

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a collation of survey, research, critical evaluation, and assessment of the existing literature in a preferred domain.

Eminent researcher and academic Arlene Fink, in her book Conducting Research Literature Reviews , defines it as the following:

“A literature review surveys books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated.

Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have explored while researching a particular topic, and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within a larger field of study.”

Simply put, a literature review can be defined as a critical discussion of relevant pre-existing research around your research question and carving out a definitive place for your study in the existing body of knowledge. Literature reviews can be presented in multiple ways: a section of an article, the whole research paper itself, or a chapter of your thesis.

A literature review paper

A literature review does function as a summary of sources, but it also allows you to analyze further, interpret, and examine the stated theories, methods, viewpoints, and, of course, the gaps in the existing content.

As an author, you can discuss and interpret the research question and its various aspects and debate your adopted methods to support the claim.

What is the purpose of a literature review?

A literature review is meant to help your readers understand the relevance of your research question and where it fits within the existing body of knowledge. As a researcher, you should use it to set the context, build your argument, and establish the need for your study.

What is the importance of a literature review?

The literature review is a critical part of research papers because it helps you:

  • Gain an in-depth understanding of your research question and the surrounding area
  • Convey that you have a thorough understanding of your research area and are up-to-date with the latest changes and advancements
  • Establish how your research is connected or builds on the existing body of knowledge and how it could contribute to further research
  • Elaborate on the validity and suitability of your theoretical framework and research methodology
  • Identify and highlight gaps and shortcomings in the existing body of knowledge and how things need to change
  • Convey to readers how your study is different or how it contributes to the research area

How long should a literature review be?

Ideally, the literature review should take up 15%-40% of the total length of your manuscript. So, if you have a 10,000-word research paper, the minimum word count could be 1500.

Your literature review format depends heavily on the kind of manuscript you are writing — an entire chapter in case of doctoral theses, a part of the introductory section in a research article, to a full-fledged review article that examines the previously published research on a topic.

Another determining factor is the type of research you are doing. The literature review section tends to be longer for secondary research projects than primary research projects.

What are the different types of literature reviews?

All literature reviews are not the same. There are a variety of possible approaches that you can take. It all depends on the type of research you are pursuing.

Here are the different types of literature reviews:

Argumentative review

It is called an argumentative review when you carefully present literature that only supports or counters a specific argument or premise to establish a viewpoint.

Integrative review

It is a type of literature review focused on building a comprehensive understanding of a topic by combining available theoretical frameworks and empirical evidence.

Methodological review

This approach delves into the ''how'' and the ''what" of the research question —  you cannot look at the outcome in isolation; you should also review the methodology used.

Systematic review

This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research and collect, report, and analyze data from the studies included in the review.

Meta-analysis review

Meta-analysis uses statistical methods to summarize the results of independent studies. By combining information from all relevant studies, meta-analysis can provide more precise estimates of the effects than those derived from the individual studies included within a review.

Historical review

Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, or phenomenon emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and identify future research's likely directions.

Theoretical Review

This form aims to examine the corpus of theory accumulated regarding an issue, concept, theory, and phenomenon. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories exist, the relationships between them, the degree the existing approaches have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested.

Scoping Review

The Scoping Review is often used at the beginning of an article, dissertation, or research proposal. It is conducted before the research to highlight gaps in the existing body of knowledge and explains why the project should be greenlit.

State-of-the-Art Review

The State-of-the-Art review is conducted periodically, focusing on the most recent research. It describes what is currently known, understood, or agreed upon regarding the research topic and highlights where there are still disagreements.

Can you use the first person in a literature review?

When writing literature reviews, you should avoid the usage of first-person pronouns. It means that instead of "I argue that" or "we argue that," the appropriate expression would be "this research paper argues that."

Do you need an abstract for a literature review?

Ideally, yes. It is always good to have a condensed summary that is self-contained and independent of the rest of your review. As for how to draft one, you can follow the same fundamental idea when preparing an abstract for a literature review. It should also include:

  • The research topic and your motivation behind selecting it
  • A one-sentence thesis statement
  • An explanation of the kinds of literature featured in the review
  • Summary of what you've learned
  • Conclusions you drew from the literature you reviewed
  • Potential implications and future scope for research

Abstract of a literature review

Is a literature review written in the past tense?

Yes, the literature review should ideally be written in the past tense. You should not use the present or future tense when writing one. The exceptions are when you have statements describing events that happened earlier than the literature you are reviewing or events that are currently occurring; then, you can use the past perfect or present perfect tenses.

How many sources for a literature review?

There are multiple approaches to deciding how many sources to include in a literature review section. The first approach would be to look level you are at as a researcher. For instance, a doctoral thesis might need 60+ sources. In contrast, you might only need to refer to 5-15 sources at the undergraduate level.

The second approach is based on the kind of literature review you are doing — whether it is merely a chapter of your paper or if it is a self-contained paper in itself. When it is just a chapter, sources should equal the total number of pages in your article's body. In the second scenario, you need at least three times as many sources as there are pages in your work.

Six quick tips on how to write a literature review

To know how to write a literature review, you must clearly understand its impact and role in establishing your work as substantive research material.

You need to follow the below-mentioned steps, to write a literature review:

  • Outline the purpose behind the literature review
  • Search relevant literature
  • Examine and assess the relevant resources
  • Discover connections by drawing deep insights from the resources
  • Structure planning
  • Write a good literature review

1. Outline and identify the purpose of  a literature review

As a first step on how to write a literature review, you must know what the research question or topic is and what shape you want your literature review to take. Ensure you understand the research topic inside out, or else seek clarifications. You must be able to the answer below questions before you start:

  • How many sources do I need to include?
  • What kind of sources should I analyze?
  • How much should I critically evaluate each source?
  • Should I summarize, synthesize or offer a critique of the sources?
  • Do I need to include any background information or definitions?

Additionally, you should know that the narrower your research topic is, the swifter it will be for you to restrict the number of sources to be analyzed.

2. Search relevant literature

Dig deeper into search engines to discover what has already been published around your chosen topic. Make sure you thoroughly go through appropriate reference sources like books, reports, journal articles, government docs, and web-based resources.

You must prepare a list of keywords and their different variations. You can start your search from any library’s catalog, provided you are an active member of that institution. The exact keywords can be extended to widen your research over other databases and academic search engines like:

  • Google Scholar
  • Microsoft Academic
  • Science.gov

Besides, it is not advisable to go through every resource word by word. Alternatively, what you can do is you can start by reading the abstract and then decide whether that source is relevant to your research or not.

Additionally, you must spend surplus time assessing the quality and relevance of resources. It would help if you tried preparing a list of citations to ensure that there lies no repetition of authors, publications, or articles in the literature review.

3. Examine and assess the sources

It is nearly impossible for you to go through every detail in the research article. So rather than trying to fetch every detail, you have to analyze and decide which research sources resemble closest and appear relevant to your chosen domain.

While analyzing the sources, you should look to find out answers to questions like:

  • What question or problem has the author been describing and debating?
  • What is the definition of critical aspects?
  • How well the theories, approach, and methodology have been explained?
  • Whether the research theory used some conventional or new innovative approach?
  • How relevant are the key findings of the work?
  • In what ways does it relate to other sources on the same topic?
  • What challenges does this research paper pose to the existing theory
  • What are the possible contributions or benefits it adds to the subject domain?

Be always mindful that you refer only to credible and authentic resources. It would be best if you always take references from different publications to validate your theory.

Always keep track of important information or data you can present in your literature review right from the beginning. It will help steer your path from any threats of plagiarism and also make it easier to curate an annotated bibliography or reference section.

4. Discover connections

At this stage, you must start deciding on the argument and structure of your literature review. To accomplish this, you must discover and identify the relations and connections between various resources while drafting your abstract.

A few aspects that you should be aware of while writing a literature review include:

  • Rise to prominence: Theories and methods that have gained reputation and supporters over time.
  • Constant scrutiny: Concepts or theories that repeatedly went under examination.
  • Contradictions and conflicts: Theories, both the supporting and the contradictory ones, for the research topic.
  • Knowledge gaps: What exactly does it fail to address, and how to bridge them with further research?
  • Influential resources: Significant research projects available that have been upheld as milestones or perhaps, something that can modify the current trends

Once you join the dots between various past research works, it will be easier for you to draw a conclusion and identify your contribution to the existing knowledge base.

5. Structure planning for a literature review

There exist different ways towards planning and executing the structure of a literature review. The format of a literature review varies and depends upon the length of the research.

Nevertheless, a good literature review can be structured according to the chronological, thematic, methodological, or theoretical framework approach.

a) Chronological

The chronological approach to building the structure of a literature review has been described as one of the most straightforward approaches. However, do not just make a list or summarize the reference resources. Instead, try to put in a brief discussion and analysis of the critical arguments, research, and trends that have shaped the current status of your subject domain. Additionally, you must provide an interpretation of these events in your curated version.

b) Thematic

The format of a literature review is structured in sections and sub-sections. Every part stays dedicated to presenting a different aspect of your chosen topic. Unlike the chronological approach, the primary focus here is on a topic or issue instead of the progression of certain events.

c) Methodological

You can present your structure in a form by showing a comparison between crucial findings, gatherings, and outcomes from different research methods. These portions may include drawing insights and analysis of:

  • Gatherings extracted from qualitative vs. quantitative methods.
  • Leveraging the empirical and theoretical methods to validate your key findings and results.
  • Classification of resources based upon the context of history, culture, and economy.

d) Theoretical

Literature reviews are often used to discuss and analyze vital concepts and theories. Adopting this approach, you can significantly put forth the relevance and critical findings of a particular theoretical method. Proceeding in the same way, you can also outline an entirely new research framework.

6. Write a good literature review

Like any other research paper, the literature review format must contain three sections: introduction, body, and conclusion. The goals and objectives of the research question determine what goes inside these three sections.

a) Introduction for a good literature review

Since it happens to be the first paragraph, you must include and define its purpose and critical aspects.

If you are writing the literature review for your thesis or dissertation, you should restate the research question. Likewise, you can even go towards presenting a summary of the whole context and highlighting the gaps existing within.

Besides, if you are writing the literature review as a separate assignment, you must choose to provide a piece of background information. Additionally, you must state its scope and objectives. However, in any case, do not skip mentioning results that you intend to draw from the literature.

b) Body of the literature review

To write a good literature review, the format and structure of the central body part play a pivotal role. Thus, you must use sections and subsections to divide the body for each methodological approach or theme aspect.

While writing the literature review, you can choose to adopt either or all of the following measures:

  • A general overview or summary must be provided, focusing on the critical points of each source and coherent sync among all the references.
  • It would be best to put your interpretations towards every source you opted to include. Paraphrasing others' work is something you should avoid altogether.
  • Justify and validate your results per your research.
  • Be specific about the strengths and weaknesses of specified sources.
  • Transitions and topic sentences can be advantageous while writing nicely oriented body paragraphs.

c) Conclusion of the literature review

The conclusion of your literature review must be focused on your key findings, their results, and an elaborated emphasis on the significance of all aspects.

Describing the research gaps and your contributions can be helpful in case you are writing for a dissertation or thesis. Moreover, you must specify the procedure and research methodology for developing the framework for your research topic.

Additionally, if the literature review is a standalone assignment for you, present the conclusion centered on the implications and suggestions for future references.

Lastly, you must ensure that your research paper does not miss any critical aspects and must not contain any grammatical or spelling mistakes. For this, you must proofread and edit it to perfection.

Sample literature reviews

1. Standalone

Standalone literature review

2. As a section of a research paper

Literature review as a chapter/section

How SciSpace Discover makes literature review a breeze?

SciSpace Discover is a one-stop solution to do an effective literature search and get barrier-free access to scientific knowledge. It is an excellent repository where you can find millions of only peer-reviewed articles and full-text PDF files. Here’s more on how you can use it:

Find the right information

SciSpace helps you find the right information with best-in-class filters and sort options

Find what you want quickly and easily with comprehensive search filters that let you narrow down papers according to PDF availability, year of publishing, document type, and affiliated institution. Moreover, you can sort the results based on the publishing date, citation count, and relevance.

Assess credibility of papers quickly

SciSpace helps you assess the credibility of research papers by showcasing citation count and H-index

When doing the literature review, it is critical to establish the quality of your sources. They form the foundation of your research. SciSpace Discover helps you assess the quality of a source by providing an overview of its references, citations, and performance metrics.

Get the complete picture in no time

SciSpace's personalized recommendation engine

SciSpace Discover’s personalized suggestion engine helps you stay on course and get the complete picture of the topic from one place. Every time you visit an article page, it provides you links to related papers. Besides that, it helps you understand what’s trending, who are the top authors, and who are the leading publishers on a topic.

Make referring sources super easy

Make referring papers super-easy

To ensure you don't lose track of your sources, you must start noting down your references when doing the literature review. SciSpace Discover makes this step effortless. Click the 'cite' button on an article page, and you will receive preloaded citation text in multiple styles — all you've to do is copy-paste it into your manuscript.

Final tips on how to write a literature review

A massive chunk of time and effort is required to write a good literature review. But, if you go about it systematically, you'll be able to save a ton of time and build a solid foundation for your research.

We hope this guide has helped you answer several key questions you have about writing literature reviews.

Would you like to explore SciSpace Discover and kick off your literature search right away? You can get started here .

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. what is a literature review.

A literature review is a critical assessment of the existing research on a given topic. It synthesizes the research on a topic by examining the results of related studies and identifying gaps, contradictions, or areas for improvement in the current knowledge base.

2. How to write a literature review?

• Outline the purpose behind the literature review

• Search relevant literature

• Examine and assess the relevant resources

• Discover connections by drawing deep insights from the resources

• Structure planning

• Write a good literature review

3. What is the purpose of a literature review?

The purpose of a literature review is to share information about a topic that has been written about by others. The review summarizes the work that has been done on the topic, identifies gaps in the literature, and relates how this work fits into a larger body of knowledge that includes previous research.

4. How long should a literature review be?

5. how to start a literature review.

• What questions do you want to answer?

• What sources do you need to answer these questions?

• What information do these sources contain?

• How can you use this information to answer your questions?

6. What to include in a literature review?

• A brief background of the problem or issue

• What has previously been done to address the problem or issue

• A description of what you will do in your project

• How this study will contribute to research on the subject

7. Why literature review is important?

The literature review is an important part of any research project because it allows the writer to look at previous studies on a topic and determine existing gaps in the literature, as well as what has already been done. It will also help them to choose the most appropriate method for their own study.

8. How to cite a literature review in APA format?

To cite a literature review in APA style, you need to provide the author's name, the title of the article, and the year of publication. For example: Patel, A. B., & Stokes, G. S. (2012). The relationship between personality and intelligence: A meta-analysis of longitudinal research. Personality and Individual Differences, 53(1), 16-21

9. What are the components of a literature review?

• A brief introduction to the topic, including its background and context. The introduction should also include a rationale for why the study is being conducted and what it will accomplish.

• A description of the methodologies used in the study. This can include information about data collection methods, sample size, and statistical analyses.

• A presentation of the findings in an organized format that helps readers follow along with the author's conclusions.

10. What are common errors in writing literature review?

• Not spending enough time to critically evaluate the relevance of resources, observations and conclusions.

• Totally relying on secondary data while ignoring primary data.

• Letting your personal bias seep into your interpretation of existing literature.

• No detailed explanation of the procedure to discover and identify an appropriate literature review.

11. What are the 5 C's of writing literature review?

• Cite - the sources you utilized and referenced in your research.

• Compare - existing arguments, hypotheses, methodologies, and conclusions found in the knowledge base.

• Contrast - the arguments, topics, methodologies, approaches, and disputes that may be found in the literature.

• Critique - the literature and describe the ideas and opinions you find more convincing and why.

• Connect - the various studies you reviewed in your research.

12. How many sources should a literature review have?

When it is just a chapter, sources should equal the total number of pages in your article's body. if it is a self-contained paper in itself, you need at least three times as many sources as there are pages in your work.

13. Can literature review have diagrams?

• To represent an abstract idea or concept

• To explain the steps of a process or procedure

• To help readers understand the relationships between different concepts

14. How old should sources be in a literature review?

Sources for a literature review should be as current as possible or not older than ten years. The only exception to this rule is if you are reviewing a historical topic and need to use older sources.

15. What are the types of literature review?

• Argumentative review

• Integrative review

• Methodological review

• Systematic review

• Meta-analysis review

• Historical review

• Theoretical review

• Scoping review

• State-of-the-Art review

16. Is a literature review mandatory?

Yes. Literature review is a mandatory part of any research project. It is a critical step in the process that allows you to establish the scope of your research, and provide a background for the rest of your work.

But before you go,

  • Six Online Tools for Easy Literature Review
  • Evaluating literature review: systematic vs. scoping reviews
  • Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review
  • Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples

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What is a review article?

Learn how to write a review article.

What is a review article? A review article can also be called a literature review, or a review of literature. It is a survey of previously published research on a topic. It should give an overview of current thinking on the topic. And, unlike an original research article, it will not present new experimental results.

Writing a review of literature is to provide a critical evaluation of the data available from existing studies. Review articles can identify potential research areas to explore next, and sometimes they will draw new conclusions from the existing data.

Why write a review article?

To provide a comprehensive foundation on a topic.

To explain the current state of knowledge.

To identify gaps in existing studies for potential future research.

To highlight the main methodologies and research techniques.

Did you know? 

There are some journals that only publish review articles, and others that do not accept them.

Make sure you check the  aims and scope  of the journal you’d like to publish in to find out if it’s the right place for your review article.

How to write a review article

Below are 8 key items to consider when you begin writing your review article.

Check the journal’s aims and scope

Make sure you have read the aims and scope for the journal you are submitting to and follow them closely. Different journals accept different types of articles and not all will accept review articles, so it’s important to check this before you start writing.

Define your scope

Define the scope of your review article and the research question you’ll be answering, making sure your article contributes something new to the field. 

As award-winning author Angus Crake told us, you’ll also need to “define the scope of your review so that it is manageable, not too large or small; it may be necessary to focus on recent advances if the field is well established.” 

Finding sources to evaluate

When finding sources to evaluate, Angus Crake says it’s critical that you “use multiple search engines/databases so you don’t miss any important ones.” 

For finding studies for a systematic review in medical sciences,  read advice from NCBI . 

Writing your title, abstract and keywords

Spend time writing an effective title, abstract and keywords. This will help maximize the visibility of your article online, making sure the right readers find your research. Your title and abstract should be clear, concise, accurate, and informative. 

For more information and guidance on getting these right, read our guide to writing a good abstract and title  and our  researcher’s guide to search engine optimization . 

Introduce the topic

Does a literature review need an introduction? Yes, always start with an overview of the topic and give some context, explaining why a review of the topic is necessary. Gather research to inform your introduction and make it broad enough to reach out to a large audience of non-specialists. This will help maximize its wider relevance and impact. 

Don’t make your introduction too long. Divide the review into sections of a suitable length to allow key points to be identified more easily.

Include critical discussion

Make sure you present a critical discussion, not just a descriptive summary of the topic. If there is contradictory research in your area of focus, make sure to include an element of debate and present both sides of the argument. You can also use your review paper to resolve conflict between contradictory studies.

What researchers say

Angus Crake, researcher

As part of your conclusion, include making suggestions for future research on the topic. Focus on the goal to communicate what you understood and what unknowns still remains.

Use a critical friend

Always perform a final spell and grammar check of your article before submission. 

You may want to ask a critical friend or colleague to give their feedback before you submit. If English is not your first language, think about using a language-polishing service.

Find out more about how  Taylor & Francis Editing Services can help improve your manuscript before you submit.

What is the difference between a research article and a review article?

Before you submit your review article….

Complete this checklist before you submit your review article:

Have you checked the journal’s aims and scope?

Have you defined the scope of your article?

Did you use multiple search engines to find sources to evaluate?

Have you written a descriptive title and abstract using keywords?

Did you start with an overview of the topic?

Have you presented a critical discussion?

Have you included future suggestions for research in your conclusion?

Have you asked a friend to do a final spell and grammar check?

how to write a literature review of research paper

Expert help for your manuscript

how to write a literature review of research paper

Taylor & Francis Editing Services  offers a full range of pre-submission manuscript preparation services to help you improve the quality of your manuscript and submit with confidence.

Related resources

How to edit your paper

Writing a scientific literature review

how to write a literature review of research paper

How to write a good scientific review article


  • 1 The FEBS Journal Editorial Office, Cambridge, UK.
  • PMID: 35792782
  • DOI: 10.1111/febs.16565

Literature reviews are valuable resources for the scientific community. With research accelerating at an unprecedented speed in recent years and more and more original papers being published, review articles have become increasingly important as a means to keep up to date with developments in a particular area of research. A good review article provides readers with an in-depth understanding of a field and highlights key gaps and challenges to address with future research. Writing a review article also helps to expand the writer's knowledge of their specialist area and to develop their analytical and communication skills, amongst other benefits. Thus, the importance of building review-writing into a scientific career cannot be overstated. In this instalment of The FEBS Journal's Words of Advice series, I provide detailed guidance on planning and writing an informative and engaging literature review.

© 2022 Federation of European Biochemical Societies.

Publication types

Research Paper Guide

How To Write A Literature Review

Nova A.

Learn How To Write A Literature Review In Simple Steps

Published on: Dec 21, 2017

Last updated on: Mar 16, 2023

how to write a literature review

On This Page On This Page

A literature review requires a lot of research work. Most students contemplate it as the hardest and complicated part while writing a  research paper . Besides, you may also have to write it as a stand-alone assignment.

Drafting a strong literature review is considered the foundation of any research. It helps to evaluate existing research and tells your teacher how your research is relevant to the respective field. Moreover, it also discusses new insights that your research will contribute to the field of study.

Thus, a writer needs to be well prepared to utilize multiple scholarly sources to find the required research material. An organizational plan must also be developed to combine both the summary and synthesis of the previous literature.

Keep on reading this complete guide to learning how to write a literature review paper in simple steps.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is the research and evaluation of the available literature in your chosen topic area. It includes a survey of scholarly sources to provide an overview of the current research and available data and knowledge.

These sources include books, journal articles, and newspapers, that relate to your research question.

Moreover, it not only summarizes the sources. But it also analyzes, interprets, and evaluates the relevant theories, methods, points of view, and gaps in the existing literature.

However, this does not mean that a literature review is based on previous searches only. The writer discusses the research question and its various aspects and discusses the relevant study to support this claim.

What is the Importance of a Good Literature Review?

Some of the key reasons to add a literature review into your research paper, thesis, and dissertation include:

  • It shows that the writer is familiar with the topic and the relevant literature.
  • It helps to develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research.
  • It positions a writer in relation to other researchers and scholars.
  • It enables you to identify a research gap and contribute to filling that void by contributing to the field.
  • It resolves any conflicts between the previous studies.

The length of a literature review usually depends on the length of the research project. For example, if you are writing a research paper of 10 pages. You will have to include 5 to 6 sources in your literature review.

However, consulting with the professor about proper requirements beforehand is a better way to avoid any last-minute issues.

Types of Literature Review

Here are the types of literature review.

types of literature review

How to Write a Literature Review?

To write a good literature review for a research paper, follow the given steps.

1. Search Relevant Literature

The first important step before starting a review section is to have a clearly defined topic.

Writing a literature review for a research paper requires you to search for literature. It should be relevant to your research problem and questions. Similarly, use the keywords to search for different sources.

To find the relevant journals and articles, look for the following useful academic databases.

  • The institution's library catalog
  • Google Scholar

However, for writing a review as a stand-alone assignment, develop a research question that gives direction to your search.

Such a question must be answered without gathering original data. Instead, you should answer it by reviewing the existing material.

Furthermore, create a list of keywords related to the topic and research question. Find useful articles and check for the reference list to come up with more authentic sources.

You probably would not be able to cover everything on the chosen topic. Thus, begin by reading the abstract to identify whether the article is relevant or not.

Also, take enough time to evaluate the sources. Make a list of citations and ensure there are no repetitive authors, articles, or publications in the literature review.

2. Analyze and Select Sources

Obviously, it is impossible to read each and every single thing written about the research topic. Instead, you have to analyze the sources that are most relevant to your research questions.

Answer the below questions while analyzing each source.

  • What is the question or problem that the writer has been discussing?
  • How are the key concepts are defined?
  • What theories, approaches, and methods are addressed?
  • Does the research study follow an established or innovative approach?
  • What are the key findings of the research work?
  • How is the literature related to other publications?
  • Does the study pose any challenges to the existing literature?
  • What are the possible contributions to the field knowledge?
  • Discuss the key arguments.
  • Elaborate on the strengths and weaknesses of the research work.

Make sure you are using credible and authentic sources. Also, read the important publications and articles to justify your argument.

Moreover, the scope of the literature review largely depends on the topic and discipline. For example, science students only evaluate recent literary work to write their reviews. Nevertheless, the humanities students also have to study and discuss the historical research and perspective about the topic.

Begin the writing process along with searching and reading the relevant sources. Note down important information to use in the text of your literature review.

It is better to cite your sources at this stage to avoid the risk of plagiarism. Moreover, it can also help in developing an  annotated bibliography .

3. Identify Connections

Start organizing the argument and structure of a literature review. For this, you have to identify the connection between the sources that are used while  writing an abstract .

Based on your evaluation, you can look for the following things:

  • Trends or Patterns:  What theories and methods can become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes:  What concepts repeatedly occur?
  • Debate and Conflicts:  What conflicts do the sources have?
  • Gaps:  What is missing in the literature and what elements further need to be addressed?
  • Influential Literature:  Are there any influential research work available that can change the direction of the field?

These elements will help you identify your contribution to the existing knowledge.

4. Decide the Structure

There are various approaches that can be used to organize the literature review. Depending upon the length, it can follow a chronological, thematic, methodological, or theoretical framework.

The approaches to organizing a review are discussed below in detail.

It is the simplest approach to structure your literature review. However, do not just summarize and list the sources. Instead, analyze the critical debates, research, and patterns that have shaped the direction of the field. Also, discuss your interpretation of the developments.

This type of approach helps to organize the review into subsections. Each section will discuss a different aspect of the chosen topic.

It helps to compare the outcomes of gathering sources from different research methods. It may include the analysis of:

  • Results emerged from a qualitative vs quantitative approach.
  • Discussion of the topic through an empirical and theoretical approach.
  • Division of the literature into historical, and cultural sources.

A literature review is often used to discuss various theories and key concepts. By using this approach, you can argue the relevance of a particular theoretical method. Similarly, you can also combine different theories to make a new framework for your research.

5. Write Your Literature Review

Like any other academic paper, a literature review format must have three sections: introduction, body section, and a conclusion. What to include in each section depends on the aims and objectives of your literature review.

5.1 Literature Review Introduction

It is the first paragraph that clearly defines the purpose and focus of the review.

If your literature review is part of your thesis or dissertation, restate the research question. Similarly, briefly summarize the whole context by highlighting literature gaps.

If you are writing a standalone literature review, provide background information on the topic. Also, discuss the scope of the literature and your research objectives. However, don’t forget to mention the results that you will draw from the literature.

5.2 Literature Review Body

Divide the body into subsections for each theme or a methodological approach. While writing the body of a literature review, keep in mind the following things.

  • Provide an overview of the key points of each source and combine them coherently.
  • Do not just paraphrase other’s research, make your own interpretations where possible.
  • Discuss the significance of your findings in relation to your research.
  • State the strengths and weaknesses of the sources.
  • Make use of the transitions and  topic sentences  to write well-structured body paragraphs.

5.3 Literature Review Conclusion

Summarize your key findings and emphasize their significance in the conclusion section.

While writing a conclusion for a dissertation or thesis, demonstrate the research gaps and your contributions. Also, discuss how you have developed the research framework by using the theories and methods.

However, a conclusion of a stand-alone literature review will discuss the overall implications and suggestions for future research.

6. Edit And Proofread

Once you are done with the writing process, don’t forget to edit and proofread your paper. It will help you ensure that the paper does not miss anything important and is free from grammatical, and spelling mistakes.

Have a look at the below-given document to learn writing a literature review.

Writing Literature Review for a Research Paper

Sample Literature Review

The above guide will definitely help you understand what a literature review is and how to write one. Here are some literature review examples and samples for you to learn the detailed structure.

Effects of Communication Styles on Marital Satisfaction

Divorce, Fertility, and Labor Force Participation

View Literature Review for a Qualitative Research Paper Here

View Literature Review for a Scientific Research Paper

Critical Thinking and Transferability: A Review of the Literature

Common Mistakes to Avoid

The following are some common mistakes that should be avoided while writing a perfect literature review.

  • Students do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources.
  • Sources of your literature review are not related to the research problem.
  • Excessive reliance on secondary sources rather than relevant primary data.
  • Accepting other research findings as valid rather than critically examining the research design and analysis.
  • Not describing the search procedures to identify the review of the literature.
  • Only considering statistical results as valid rather than integrating the chi-squared or meta-analytic methods.
  • Not considering the research findings and interpretations found in the literature.

There is a considerable amount of effort that goes into the literature review writing process. It is a complicated academic assignment that you get at high school, college, or university.

Some students lack good writing skills and for some, it is just a boring task. Thus, they look for professional help to deal with such a complex assignment.

This detailed guide will help you learn how to do a literature review in no time. However, you can take help from our top essay writing service  that can help you write perfect literature reviews for research papers. 

The expert writers at  MyPerfectWords.com  have the right skills and experience to deliver your order within the given deadline.

By choosing our essay writer, you will realize that buying a literature review has never been easier than it is now. We can also provide you with an example of a literature review to get a better idea.

Moreover, you can easily buy a well-written review by contacting our support team which is available 24/7. Simply, place your order now and get a high-quality literature review at affordable rates.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many sources should a literature review have.

To write a paper, 10 sources are needed in the literature review. To have 100 pages of text (in the body), you need at least 100 sources for your research. 

How do you start an introduction to a literature review?

The literature review in the introduction should introduce, establish the significance of the study, provide an overview of relevant literature to show context for research, and identify knowledge gaps. It will also illustrate how it can advance our understanding of a topic using studies that have been conducted before. 

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Nova Allison is a Digital Content Strategist with over eight years of experience. Nova has also worked as a technical and scientific writer. She is majorly involved in developing and reviewing online content plans that engage and resonate with audiences. Nova has a passion for writing that engages and informs her readers.

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Writing A Literature Review: General Guidelines

31 Oct 2021

Quick Navigation

❓What Is a Literature Review?

❔What Is the Purpose?

📑Steps in the Review Process

✒️Structure of a Literature Review

✍️Writing Process of a Literature Review

What Is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a survey of key scholarly sources to do with a particular topic. It lists a number of important and relevant pieces of writing and, in doing so, gives the reader a summary of the topic’s current knowledge and debates. When writing a literature review, a student should do more than just summarise each individual source. They should analyze them closely and compare them with one another.

A key part of academic writing involves understanding what has been said and debated about the chosen topic. Once a student has done their research, they’re in a better place to write their research paper and put their point across. A good literature review should let the reader know what the salient points from the student’s research are.

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What Is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

The purpose of a literature review is to show the reader what research has been carried out on the chosen topic in the past. When writing one, you’re aiming to bring the reader up to speed with other people’s research before sharing your own findings. You should summarise where the topic’s at right now before building on it with your research.

Another important purpose is to give more weight to a student’s key arguments. By listing and comparing some of the key sources, a student can give context to the main points in their research paper; they can even fill any gaps in certain areas that others haven’t yet managed to fill.

If you want to know how to write a literature review in a research paper, carry on reading. We’ll run you through the process of putting one together, and we’ll talk about some of the different approaches you can take in writing one.

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Steps in the Literature Review Process

A literature review can make a Ph.D., dissertation , or any other kind of research paper more convincing. For a review to be effective, it should be detailed and have substance but without overdoing it; in other words, it should be concise.

If you’re not sure how to write a literature review for a research paper, we’ll show you how in this section. Here are the main steps to take:

  • Decide on your topic Your topic is the base on which you build your research. It also determines what research you carry out.
  • Search for sources to include The sources you look at for your research paper should be authoritative and relevant. They should be scholarly in nature, though not all of them will be.
  • Determine which ones are the most useful Look through your sources and think about how much each one adds to both the topic you’re exploring and the research you’re carrying out. Including all sources isn’t practical, so only choose the most appropriate and fitting ones.
  • Identify where the research is currently at By reading other people’s research, you can get an idea of what the current thoughts and debates relating to your chosen topic area.
  • Come up with a structure Literature reviews have quite simple structures. More information on these is given below. Think about how you want to present yours and how you’re going to arrange your findings.
  • Write your literature review A well-written literature review gives the reader all the necessary information about each of the sources. It clearly explains how the sources are connected and what they contribute to the chosen topic.

It’s a good idea to come up with headings and subheadings and go from there. These are both important, and we’ll talk about them in more detail later on. During the planning process, they can help you come up with a definitive structure for your literature review and consolidate your thoughts.

You may want to pay someone to write a literature review for you. Many people who are struggling with literature reviews do this. They don’t hand in the work that someone else has done for them. Instead, they read through the other person’s work to get ideas and inspiration. Doing this can help people write their own literature review much more effectively.

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Structure of a Literature Review

For this section, we’ll look at how to write a literature review. We’ll focus on the different approaches you can take according to the type of research you’re doing and how you wish to present it.


Listing your sources in chronological order is perhaps the simplest approach to take. However, make sure you don’t just list the sources and summarise them. You should still try to establish some sort of connection between them. Highlight movements, patterns, and new ideas. Show the reader how scholarship on the topic has changed over time. You could even organize your sources into broad historical periods and have these as subheadings in the literature review, for example.

When writing a thematic literature review , you should organize your sources by theme. You should consider this approach if you’ve found multiple themes during your research. Create literature review subheadings for each theme that stands out to you. If you go for a thematic style, think about what your RRL subtopics are and what themes you would use to organize them.


A methodological literature review is one whose sources involve the use of different research methods . You could have one source that’s numerical and involves graphs and statistics, for example, and another that’s entirely made up of written text. The subheadings in a literature review that’s methodological could focus on different types of research, focusing not so much on what has been researched but how it’s been researched. As a literature review subheadings example, you could therefore have one subheading for literary sources, another for numerical/graph-based data, and so on.


With a theoretical approach, the focus is on the body of theories relating to the topic that’s being discussed. The aim is to determine what theories there currently are, how they relate to one another, and how much they’ve been looked into.

These are just some of the different ways you can go about writing a literature review. The approach you take will depend on the nature of your review and the topic you’re looking at.

Writing a literature review can be an intimidating task to tackle, especially if you are not familiar with the literature in the field. Fortunately, there is a  paper writing service online that can help you create an outstanding literature review in no time. Our service is helpful for students, researchers, and others who need to compile a comprehensive and informative literature review.

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Writing Process of a Literature Review

Some students aren’t sure how to write a literature review for a research paper. Thankfully, the process of putting one together isn’t complicated at all. A typical literature review outline template has three distinct sections: an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. 

The literature review headings will be things like the introduction, key points in the body paragraphs section, and the conclusion. You’ll also have a heading for the references section. The subheadings for the literature review can be secondary points you want to make in the bulk of the writing, i.e., the body paragraphs section.

The headings for the literature review should be succinct and to the point. They should give the reader a clear indication of what the focus of the upcoming section will be, but without revealing what the section concludes. Each heading and subheading in the literature review should organize the work into sections and subsections that are distinct yet still linked together in a logical way.

Here’s a summary of the three main components of a literature review:


  • Here you explain to the reader what your topic of research is but without going into too much detail
  • You should also give a preview of some of your literature review’s key points

Body Paragraphs

  • This is where your literature review subtopics are. Each one should cover an individual source or a collection of sources
  • For each source, you should summarise what it says and mention some key points. You should add some thoughts, ideas, and interpretations of your own
  • You should also highlight what your sources’ strengths are and point out some weaknesses if there are any
  • Whatever structure you use, your subtopics in the literature review should be well-connected, and your writing should flow well. You should be making connections and comparisons wherever possible
  • This is where you summarise the findings that you’ve outlined in the body paragraphs
  • You should also link your findings back to the question/title of your research project

Take an organized approach to write your literature review, and you shouldn’t find it hard at all. If you’re still having problems with it, consider using the best literature review writing service for some extra help.

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As well as learning how to write a literature review in a research paper, you’ll learn to be more productive and use your time more wisely. Writing services help you put together literature reviews more efficiently. They give you the opportunity to work with an experienced writer who can offer tips in writing RRL, help you with literature review formatting, and more. For example, you can even get things like literature review headings and subheadings so you can see how best to write your headings.

Remember that while the literature review isn’t the main part of a research assignment, it’s still significant. It’s important that you write it as best you can so that your research has more backing and will be taken more seriously.

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how to write a literature review of research paper

How to Write a Literature Review: Actionable Tips & Links

So you have to write a literature review. You find your favorite novel and then start analyzing it. This is how it’s usually done, right? It’s not. You have to learn the elements of literature review and how to deal with them.

For the starters:

Literature can be anything from a set of poems about love to serious scholarly articles about pneumonia treatment. And the word review does not mean that you have to provide a conceptual framework about these sources.

For you to find out about every crucial detail, our team created this guide on how to write a literature review. In the article, you’ll see the definition and instructions on writing the paper.

  • 📖 What Is It?
  • 🎯 What Is the Purpose?
  • 📌 Review Elements
  • ✍️  How to Write It
  • 🔗  References

📖 What Is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a thorough review and analysis of the literature available in a chosen or given subject area. It shouldn’t just look like a chronological catalog of the sources you have found or the quotes you might find relevant.

Instead, a literature review definition shows that it:

  • Locates your research focus within the context of the existing literature in the field.
  • Presents your critical review of the relevant literature.
  • Explains all sides of the argument.
  • Evaluates the research findings and their quality.

🎯 What Is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

When answering what the purpose of a literature review is, one needs to remember a few objectives of a literature review:

  • It identifies and narrows down the problem you are studying.
  • It synthesizes the information from your literature survey into a summary.
  • It presents the literature in an organized way.
  • Finding gaps in current studies.
  • Showing limitations of the proposed points of view and theories.
  • It provides suggestions for further research and reviews controversial areas.

What is a literature review in a research paper? It’s an overview and evaluation of what has been found, explored, and written on the topic of a given research paper.

Creating a literature review might be a part of a graduate or post-graduate work, such as a thesis or dissertation. Additionally, it can be a part of smaller academic writing pieces and research proposals.

📌 Literature Review Elements

So, what are the main features of a good literature review? You have to learn about them to write a flawless paper.

Five key elements of a literature review play an essential role:

This video will help you get more closely acquainted with the parts of the literature review:

✍️ How to Write a Literature Review

Now that you are familiar with the elements, it’s time to figure out how to write a literature review for a research paper.

Below, you will find a list of useful tips to ease your studies. And don’t forget to check out valuable links at the end of the article!

Check the Format

Before you start your paper, you need to get acquainted with the required citation style guidelines to format your literature review correctly. Here are several reasons why you need to do this first:

  • To recognize the author(s) of the materials you’re using in your research.
  • To give context to your study and show that your paper is properly researched.
  • To enable your readers to find the sources for more detailed information if needed.
  • To allow for further research by informing others about what has already been studied on a given topic.

Be sure to cite other authors’ ideas and words whenever you:

  • Paraphrase.
  • Make a summary.
  • Quote directly.
  • Use relatively unknown facts.
  • Incorporate evidence that directly relates to your argument.

Choose a Topic

Selecting the right topic for your literature review is a vital step towards writing an effective paper.

The best tips for the issue are as follows:

  • Look for a topic that you find interesting. The right choice will make the researching and writing process more pleasurable and rewarding in the end.
  • Brainstorm your ideas. Try this method to make your ideas flow more freely. Keep refining your ideas until you find something that will pique your curiosity.
  • Skim through the sources. You won’t write a literature review on this topic correctly if it hasn’t been researched by others yet. Make sure that there is enough related literature available for your review.
  • Make it neither too general nor too specific. Too broad of a topic will spread your and your readers’ attention thin, and it will be challenging to study. Too narrow of an idea might be detrimental for a literature review, meaning one might not have enough supporting articles. However, if you find enough studies on a specific idea, that would be ideal.

Find Core Materials

By now, you have defined the topic and scope of your literature review. Your next step is to start identifying specific resources. Thorough academic research will undoubtedly take some time.

The good news is this:

Once it’s done the way it should be, the research almost writes the literature review for you.

Finding sources for a literature review.

Here are some tips:

Write down any keywords that describe your topic. Use a reference tool or a thesaurus to generate this list. Then use these keywords to research scholarly databases. These search terms will help you find useful sources.

Choosing incorrect or non-descriptive keywords will return results that are too shallow.

Here are some suggestions for online multidisciplinary databases that you might use:

  • ScienceDirect

Evaluate the Sources

Before deciding whether you should include the material you’ve found, you should engage in a critical literature evaluation.

Some of the materials retrieved from the Internet may end up not being credible or not valuable enough for your project. Peer-reviewed journals are more likely to be scientifically valid.

You can use this table as a checklist for evaluating your sources:

Analyze the Websites

Before you use or cite any information you find on a website, you should carefully evaluate the source in a few ways:

  • Search for information about the author: “About Us,” “About This Site,” etc.
  • Make sure you can reach the website’s author/webmaster by e-mail or some other means.
  • Assess the authority of the URL (site’s web address).

Pay special attention to top-level domains: – .com – most likely a commercial site (maybe selling products or services). – .edu – an educational institution (mostly reliable, but still may be a personal web page of an institution’s member). – .gov  – highly reliable, representing a government department or agent. – .net  – network access provider. – .org  – a non-profit organization (reliability level may vary).

Make a Summary

The summaries of your findings in the format of a table or concept map will help you review, manage, and summarize the literature you’ve dug up.

  • If you use tables for your review, they must include an analysis to summarize, explain, and synthesize the material that you’re reviewing.

What’s the best way to create tables?

You can use Microsoft Word’s table functionality, or you can create the table in Excel first and then copy→paste/import the completed Excel sheet into Word. Using Excel will let you incorporate some useful functions like sorting your findings (e.g., by date, by author, by method, and then by date, etc.)

Mind Meister website screenshot.

  • MindMeister
  • WiseMapping
  • Keywords and concepts.
  • Points of view.
  • Facts and statistics.
  • Research methods.
  • Research results summary, etc.

Outline and Write

Do you still think you can do without a literature review outline when translating your research into writing? You might end up having to spend too much time writing without one!

Go ahead and create an outline before you start writing your paper.

The literature review structure contains the same elements as a regular essay would:

How do you write a literature review for a research paper?

Pay special attention to these important details as well:

  • Define the general problem you’re studying without making global statements.
  • Somewhere at the beginning of the paper, mention why your topic is crucial.
  • Make sure to highlight only the essential points from each source. And these points should refer directly to the focus of your review.
  • Explain the difference between your research and that of other sources.
  • Break your findings up by concepts and categories (in defense of or opposition to a particular position).
  • Synthesize the materials under consideration: compare the studies, reveal their strengths and weaknesses, highlight gaps and trends in the research, etc.
  • Describe the timeframe if you’re going to comment on the topic’s timeliness.
  • If you need to cite a classic or landmark study, define it as it is.
  • If you replicate some landmark study, point it out.
  • Keep your voice front and center. Even though a literature review describes ideas from other authors, you should maintain your voice. Try to start and end the paragraph with your statements and words.
  • Like any other academic paper, you should reference a few other resources when you make a point. Always back up your explanations with evidence to confirm the validity of your words.
  • Comments like “no studies were found” should always be justified.
  • Always give credit to authors whenever you use their ideas. And quote reasonably. Use quotes only to highlight a specific idea or fact that exemplifies your research.
  • Draw conclusions about the literature that made the most significant contributions to your study area.

Now that you’ve read tips on literature review conducting and writing will be more manageable.

Helpful Links

The links below will provide you with useful literature review guidelines in different study areas. And you’ll find examples of literature reviews below!

  • Literature Reviews in the Health Sciences
  • Scientific Literature Review: What it is and what it’s not (13 min video)
  • Arts in Medicine Literature Review (sample of literature review in pdf)
  • Literature Reviews in Sociology
  • Sociology: Literature Review Checklist (pdf)

Psychology literature review

  • How to Write a Literature Review in Psychology
  • Conducting Literature Review in Education and the Behavioral Sciences (audio tutorial)

Business and economics

  • Business and Economics Literature Review
  • Writing a literature review in Business and Economics
  • Projects and Their Management: A Literature Review (sample in pdf)

Literature Review Topics

  • Literature review: traumatic brain injury .  
  • Analyze the academic literature on the empowerment of youth in the UAE issue.  
  • Explore the literature discussing the speaker recognition process.  
  • Write a literature review of the articles examining the problem of digital signature . 
  • Cyber security of young children: a literature review . 
  • Examine the pertinent scholarly articles analyzing the role of an auditor in detecting fraud .  
  • Review the literature that discusses the connection between COVID-19 and eye diseases .  
  • Provide a review of the literature exploring the pros and cons of vegetarianism .  
  • Review the articles and studies analyzing the opioid crisis problem.  
  • Write the literature review on Alzheimer’s disease .  
  • Analyze the literature on the complication of caring for a child with ASD .  
  • Explore the literature discussing the problem of workplace bullying .  
  • Write a literature review of the articles and studies on autism spectrum disorder .  
  • Present a literature review on the topic of encountering the landscapes of life and death .  
  • Examine the literature analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of flipped classroom approach .  
  • Review the literature on the importance, production, and regulation of hepcidin .  
  • Present the literature describing the life of Native Americans in the USA .  
  • Analyze the literature exploring the causes and the outcomes of the Stono revolt .  
  • Write a review of the literature that examines the problem of substance abuse . 
  • Examine the literature discussing the critical traits of an effective educational leader .   
  • Explore the literature on human resource development issues.  
  • Provide a review of the literature that discusses key management skills and qualities.  
  • Review of the literature on evidence-based nursing practice .  
  • Review the literature that studies chronic fatigue .  
  • Analyze the articles and studies that explore the acceptability of genetic engineering .  
  • Write a review of studies on the legalization of physician-assisted suicide .  
  • Examine the literature discussing British imperialism in India .  
  • Provide a review of literature that describes the Civil War .  
  • Literature review on the ecology in art .  
  • Review the literature analyzing the influence of the token economy on the behavior of students with autism . 
  • Explore the literature studying the specifics of American football .  
  • Analyze the articles that examine the peculiarities of evidence-based nursing practices.  
  • Write a literature review on the benefits of electronic health records .  
  • Provide a literature review of the studies examining the challenges of single African American parents .  
  • Study the literature analyzing childhood obesity and ways to improve the situation.  
  • Literature review of the articles on breast cancer .  
  • Write a review of the literature studying emergency room wait time .  
  • Review the articles studying the importance of physical exercises for elderly people. 
  • Analyze the literature sources discussing the operation Jawbreaker course and outcomes.  
  • Review the literature on the Capstone’s PICOT question . 
  • Examine the academic literature researching patient fall prevention .  
  • Explore the literature that analyzes the ways of pressure ulcer prevention .  
  • Provide a review of studies examining how substance abuse results in healthcare costs for employers .  
  • Provide a literature review on the third culture kids issue . 
  • Write a literature review of academic articles discussing the strength and weaknesses of modern chronic pain management methods.  
  • Analyze the literature on the symptoms and treatment methods of irritable bowel syndrome .  
  • Examine the academic sources studying the history of autism spectrum disorder and its prevalence in different countries.  
  • Literature review: practice in healthcare .  
  • Review the papers researching anemia of chronic diseases .  
  • Explore the academic literature examining the role of corticosteroids in asthma treatment .  

Thanks for reading the article! Now you can nail your literature review without a struggle. Share the page with peers who may need our advice.

🔗 References

  • Literature Reviews: The Writing Center, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The Literature Review A Few Tips On Conducting It Writing Advice: Dena Taylor, Health Sciences Writing Centre, the University of Toronto
  • Learn How to Write a Review of Literature: The Writing Center, the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Literature Reviews, An Overview for Graduate Students: NC State University Libraries
  • What is a Literature Review: Martyn Shuttleworth, Explorable
  • The Literature Review, Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Research Guides at the University of Southern California
  • Steps for Conducting a Lit Review: LibGuides at University of West Florida Libraries
  • Write a Literature Review: Library Guides at University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Literature Reviews: LibGuides at University of Reading
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How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper: Tips and Tricks

A literature review is a crucial component of any research paper, as it provides a comprehensive analysis of the existing scholarly work related to your research topic. This process not only helps you establish the foundation of your study but also allows you to identify potential gaps in knowledge that your research aims to address.

Understanding the Purpose of a Literature Review

1. identifying the scope and objectives.

Before diving into writing a literature review, it’s crucial to understand its purpose and objectives. A literature review provides an overview of existing research on a specific topic, identifies gaps, and sets the context for your study. It allows you to establish your research’s relevance and significance, demonstrating how it will contribute to the field.

2. Importance of a Literature Review in Research

A well-written literature review not only showcases your knowledge of the subject but also helps you identify trends, patterns, and contradictions in the existing research. It ultimately forms the foundation for your research question or hypothesis, guiding the direction of your study.

Also, Check: How to Write a Research Proposal for PhD Students | Tips for Success

Preparing for the Literature Review

1. conducting a thorough literature search.

To write a comprehensive literature review, you must first conduct a thorough search of existing literature. Use academic databases, such as Google Scholar, PubMed, and JSTOR, to find relevant articles, books, and reports. Be sure to use appropriate keywords and search strategies to ensure you don’t miss any essential publications.

2. Organizing Your Sources

As you gather sources, it’s essential to organize them in a way that makes it easy to analyze and synthesize the information. Create a system for organizing your sources, such as by topic, methodology, or chronology. This will help you identify patterns and trends, making it easier to structure your review.

Writing the Literature Review

1. introduction.

Begin your literature review with a clear and concise introduction that outlines the topic, scope, and objectives of your review. Provide a brief overview of the research question or problem you are addressing and explain why it is essential to conduct a literature review on this topic.

2. Thematic Organization

Organize your literature review thematically, grouping similar studies or findings together. This helps create a logical flow and allows you to highlight patterns, trends, and contradictions in the existing research.

Be sure to use appropriate subheadings (H2, H3, or H4) to clearly delineate each theme or topic.

3. Synthesis and Analysis

As you present the existing research, be sure to synthesize and analyze the information. Discuss the methodologies used, the results obtained, and any limitations or biases in the studies.

Identify gaps in the research and discuss how your study will address these gaps, contributing to the existing knowledge.

Conclude your literature review by summarizing the main findings and highlighting the relevance of your research. Explain how your study will build upon the existing literature and contribute to the field.

Be sure to emphasize the importance of your research question or problem and the potential implications of your study.

Tips for Writing a High-Quality Literature Review

Good vs. bad practices in literature review writing, maintaining objectivity and balance.

When writing a literature review, it’s essential to maintain objectivity and balance. Present the existing research fairly and accurately, avoiding personal biases or opinions. Ensure that you provide a comprehensive overview of the literature, including both supportive and contradictory findings.

Ensuring Accuracy and Reliability

To establish credibility, it’s vital to ensure the accuracy and reliability of your literature review. Double-check your facts, figures, and citations, and make sure you accurately represent the research findings. Use reliable sources and avoid using outdated or discredited information.

Writing in a Conversational Style

Although a literature review is an academic piece of writing, it’s essential to write in a conversational style. Use an informal tone, personal pronouns, and simple language to engage the reader. Incorporate rhetorical questions, analogies, and metaphors to help explain complex concepts and make the information more accessible.

Writing a literature review for a research paper can be a daunting task, but with the right preparation and approach, it can be an enriching and rewarding experience.

By understanding the purpose of a literature review, conducting a thorough literature search, organizing your sources, and following a clear structure, you can create a high-quality, comprehensive review that showcases your knowledge of the subject and sets the foundation for your research.

Frequently Asked Questions about How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper

How long should a literature review be.

The length of a literature review can vary depending on the scope of your research and the amount of existing literature on the topic. Generally, a literature review for a research paper can range from a few pages to several sections of a paper.

Can I include my opinion in a literature review?

A literature review is meant to be an objective analysis of the existing research, so it’s essential to avoid including personal opinions or biases. Instead, focus on presenting the research findings accurately and fairly.

How do I know if I have included enough sources in my literature review?

The number of sources you should include in your literature review depends on the topic and scope of your research. A good rule of thumb is to include a comprehensive range of sources that covers the key studies, theories, and debates in your field.

How can I ensure that my literature review is well-organized?

To ensure your literature review is well-organized, create a clear structure based on thematic organization. Use appropriate headings and subheadings to delineate each theme or topic and help guide the reader through the review.

Is it necessary to include a conclusion in my literature review?

Yes, a conclusion is an essential part of a literature review. It helps summarize the main findings, highlights the relevance of your research, and explain how your study will build upon the existing literature.

6 thoughts on “How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper: Tips and Tricks”

Great information.

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  • A Research Guide
  • Research Paper Guide

How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper

  • Purpose of a literature review

4 types of literature reviews

  • Key components
  • Step-by-step writing guide
  • Short checklist
  • Literature review format
  • Literature review example

How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Raper

Now, we will analyze what a literature review is and how to make lit citing of high quality.

Main purpose of a literature review

A literature review is a type of research allowing you to examine information on some issue. Suppose you are studying medicine and cancer treatment. In that case, your task when writing a literature review is to read and analyze all the data on the topic of other authors. You can read patents, books, and scientific articles and make your lit research out of it.

Writing such a paper aims to immerse yourself in the subject under study, understand what has already been done, offer methods for solving the problem , and draw conclusions.

While writing a literature review paper part, you learn the importance of the different opinions and conclusions and find gaps in existing data. It can be used to create your scientific research paper after.

You can take different approaches to writing a literature review and get this type of paper for various assignments. Therefore, we suggest you familiarize yourself with the most addressed literature reviews.

Chronological lit review

To write it, you need to collect different literature sources over different times and trace how the attitude towards the problem under study has changed. For example, they could change the approach to the problem over time or use new techniques. Arrange the lit sources in sequential chronological order and analyze them. However, do not turn it into a historical reference. Instead, you need to list dates and events and explore the topic under study, and to include in a literature review your ideas and vision.

Thematic lit review

This one is suitable for the study of volumetric topics with many components. You can explore the central research topic from different perspectives and in the context of various side events. Here is the sample: imagine you are researching the industrial revolution. You can look at this question regarding the attitude of male workers, women workers, governments, business owners, etc.

Methodological lit review

To conduct a literature review, you need to analyze different research methods on the subject you are interested in, compare results and conclusions, analyze various points of view, and give your assessment. Therefore, this literature review is one of the most complete and comprehensive.

Theoretical lit review

This lit investigation is most common in the humanities and helps create a general problem impression and draw conclusions. It may contain an overview of popular points of view on the topic, key concepts and terms, and an audit of famous authors’ works.

Now, you understand the differences and which lit review you should use for your next assignment.

Key components of the literature review

Even though you have to write a scientific literature review according to different principles, its key components are the same.

  • Introduction ;
  • Conclusion.

The introduction can contain several sentences or be very voluminous. The introduction should be short if the literature review is part of a research paper. However, if this is an independent paper, it is worth making it more voluminous and talking about the purpose of the literary study, the methods used, and what type of literature was analyzed.

In the main part, you analyze the literature and research to describe your findings in the paper. This part can be very voluminous. The more accurately you describe your research and conclusions here, the more complete your assignment will be.

The conclusion can also be of different sizes. Usually, it is less than the main part. Here, you recall the topic of the study and the main points and conclusions of your study and give suggestions for further problem research or ways to solve it.

6 main steps to writing a literature review

Now, let’s look at how to write a literature review section of a research paper your teacher will consider exemplary.

1. Searching and selecting literature

Choose a topic on which you will write a literature review and find authors who have already researched this issue.

  • You can start with a list of basic concepts to describe this question and search the Internet for what has already been written on this topic.
  • You can visit the library for individual books, patents, or research papers to search for similar ideas.
  • You can read the annotation to understand whether the chosen book, article, paper, or study suits you.

Once you have collected enough sources, move on to the next step.

2. Research literature sources

To write a literature review, learn all the collected lit sources and evaluate:

  • What issue was the author researching, and how does it relate to your literature review?
  • What methodology did the author use, and is this lit source suitable for you?
  • What results and conclusions did the author obtain?
  • To what extent are results and findings relevant today?
  • How can you evaluate their research, and what conclusions to draw?

Gather answers to all of these questions to form the basis of your literature review. Afterward, read various sources, create your own opinion, and see how you can support your point of view.

Remember to take notes and write down where you got this or that idea from to indicate the correct lit source citation later.


3. Dive into the research topic

Consider different points of view on the problem, and find contradictions and confirmations of individual facts. While researching the issue, you may find some gaps that may be one of the topics of your following research. Additionally, you can find some shortcomings in the methods and see ways to improve the study of a particular issue.

Thus, while a literature review may seem simple, it is often a good fundamental research effort.

4. Write down the plan and literature review structure

At this point, you should have enough material to write a literature review. However, it is worth creating a plan and structure to keep your thoughts consistent and logical.

Think about how to describe certain papers and what order to choose to show different parts at best. A literature review’s structure depends on your research type: methodological, chronological, thematic, or theoretical.

5. Write a literature review according to your plan

First, write down all the found facts and thoughts, draw the appropriate conclusions, and give your ideas. Then, expand the research question from different angles. Feel free to write conflicting points and analyze and compare them.

6. Complete your literature review

After writing a literature review, you must check for errors, typos, logical gaps, and other problems. Remove all that may be superfluous, and get rid of errors. Also, arrange your literature review according to the citation rules and indicate all the used lit sources.

Be careful because incorrect citation formatting can lead to accusations of plagiarism. Remember that lit citation standard are different, and before writing, you need to ask your professor what criteria should be observed in your research.

How to write a lit review for a research paper: short checklist

This short checklist will help you take all the steps and quality review the literature.

  • Define the research topic .
  • Find keywords, definitions, and queries on the research topic.
  • Search for sources on the topic.
  • Make a list of ideas, opinions, and research done.
  • Plan your literature review paper.
  • Write a literature review.
  • Check the literature review for errors, typos, and gaps.
  • Design the study according to the citation standards.
  • Check if the study contains your findings and suggestions for research.

If you did everything right, you have a ready-made literature review for the teacher.

How to choose the literature review format?

Depending on what type of lit citation is used at your university: MLA , APA , Chicago , ASA, AMA , etc., there are some peculiarities in the design of a literature review and research.

For example, when you list an author in MLA, you must show the title of the book or article, authors, year of research, and publisher. In the text of a literature review, you need to add references to different authors, which may look like source number, author’s name or year of research, the full title of the paper, etc.

Therefore, before writing a paper and citing literature, you must ask the professor how to format your research.

Bonus literature review example

Here is a short example of how you can write a literature review. You can use this outline as a template to write your lit review.


This literature review focuses on building factories in South America and their impact on global warming. In South America, there are now 18,997 factories of various industries (16). Each makes specific emissions into the atmosphere, water and produces a certain amount of heat. Because South America is located close to Antarctica, these factory activities strongly impact climate change. Next, we will consider this issue in more detail.

Global warming is a problem that humanity has been fighting for over 70 years. It arose after the industrial revolution and increased chemical emissions into the atmosphere (43). J. Kearns believes it is enough to reduce world production by 10% (10). But this point of view is supported by a limited number of scientists (8, 17, 9). After reviewing the literature on the subject, I have concluded that reducing production is not enough to reduce the problem of global warming. In addition, this may entail many undesirable consequences. However, you can approach this problem from the other side and establish proper waste treatment.

Having analyzed the impact of factories in South America on global warming, we can conclude that the issue is still poorly understood, and there is no straightforward solution to the problem. Therefore, I reviewed 89 sources that are described in this literature review. As a result of the study, I propose paying more attention to the purification of waste from factories to reduce the burden on the environment.

  • Writing a Research Paper
  • Research Paper Title
  • Research Paper Sources
  • Research Paper Problem Statement
  • Research Paper Thesis Statement
  • Hypothesis for a Research Paper
  • Research Question
  • Research Paper Outline
  • Research Paper Summary
  • Research Paper Prospectus
  • Research Paper Proposal
  • Research Paper Format
  • Research Paper Styles
  • AMA Style Research Paper
  • MLA Style Research Paper
  • Chicago Style Research Paper
  • APA Style Research Paper
  • Research Paper Structure
  • Research Paper Cover Page
  • Research Paper Abstract
  • Research Paper Introduction
  • Research Paper Body Paragraph
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  • Research Paper Background
  • Research Paper Methods Section
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  • Research Paper Discussion Section
  • Research Paper Conclusion
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    2. MOTIVATE YOUR RESEARCH in addition to providing useful information about your topic, your literature review must tell a story about how your project relates to existing literature. popular literature review narratives include: ¡ plugging a gap / filling a hole within an incomplete literature ¡ building a bridge between two "siloed" literatures, putting literatures "in conversation"

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  17. What is a review article?

    A review article can also be called a literature review, or a review of literature. It is a survey of previously published research on a topic. It should give an overview of current thinking on the topic. And, unlike an original research article, it will not present new experimental results. Writing a review of literature is to provide a ...

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    Choose a Topic. Selecting the right topic for your literature review is a vital step towards writing an effective paper. The best tips for the issue are as follows: Look for a topic that you find interesting. The right choice will make the researching and writing process more pleasurable and rewarding in the end.

  22. How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper: Tips and Tricks

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