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- How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes .
What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .
There are five key steps to writing a literature review:
- Search for relevant literature
- Evaluate sources
- Identify themes, debates, and gaps
- Outline the structure
- Write your literature review
A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.
Table of contents
What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, frequently asked questions, introduction.
- Quick Run-through
- Step 1 & 2
When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:
- Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
- Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
- Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
- Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
- Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.
Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.
Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.
- Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
- Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
- Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
- Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)
You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.
Download Word doc Download Google doc
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Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .
If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .
Make a list of keywords
Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.
- Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
- Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
- Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth
Search for relevant sources
Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:
- Your university’s library catalogue
- Google Scholar
- Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
- Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
- EconLit (economics)
- Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)
You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.
Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.
You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.
For each publication, ask yourself:
- What question or problem is the author addressing?
- What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
- What are the key theories, models, and methods?
- Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
- What are the results and conclusions of the study?
- How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?
Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.
You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.
Take notes and cite your sources
As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.
It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.
To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:
- Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
- Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
- Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
- Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
- Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?
This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.
- Most research has focused on young women.
- There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
- But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.
There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).
The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.
Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.
If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.
For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.
If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:
- Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
- Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources
A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.
You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.
Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.
The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.
Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.
As you write, you can follow these tips:
- Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts
In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.
When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !
This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.
Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.
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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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Literature Review: Conducting & Writing
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Writing a Literature Review
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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.
Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?
There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.
A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.
Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.
What are the parts of a lit review?
Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.
- An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
- A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
- Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
- Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.
- Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
- Connect it back to your primary research question
How should I organize my lit review?
Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:
- Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
- Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
- Qualitative versus quantitative research
- Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
- Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.
What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?
Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .
As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.
Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:
- It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
- Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
- Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
- Read more about synthesis here.
The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.
Literature Review Challenge
- Examples of Literature Reviews
- Day 2: Stay on Top of Literature in Your Field
- Day 3: Organize What You Find
- Day 4: Manage Your Citations
- Day 5: Avoid Link Rot in Your References
A Bit More on Literature Reviews, Plus Examples
You may do any or all of the following as you prepare literature reviews for projects, publications, conference papers, and presentations.
A. You will likely conduct an initial literature review to:
- explore and better understand the existing research on your topic;
- develop your own perspective on an issue or problem;
- and begin to synthesize what you know about your topic.
You may have an initial thesis or hypothesis that, once you become more informed on your topic, you revise (sometimes multiple times).
B. As you further refine your research question(s) or interests, a more focused literature review will help you zero in on the concepts that are important to your particular area of inquiry.
C. As you conduct your experiment, ethnography, analysis, or field experience, other questions may arise, and further literature searching may become important.
D. Once you've completed your experiment, ethnography, analysis, or field experience, you will want to situate your findings in the literature. This may be come, in part, from literature you already have on hand. However, you may also encounter issues or themes during the course of your study that you want to further understand or expand upon through additional literature searching.
As you think about ways to weave literature into your work (and depending on the expectations in your field), consider these three examples of how literature reviews show up in different types of publications. You will find descriptions and links to three types of literature-rich papers below, and snapshots of the papers themselves in the carousel at the bottom of the page. 1. Understanding Information Spreading in Social Media during Hurricane Sandy The type of literature review we're most likely familiar with is the one that serves as a section of a piece of writing, usually near the beginning (e.g., in a paper, article, or book chapter). Although often called "Literature Review," this section is sometimes called "Introduction" or "Background." This type of literature review sets the stage for the research, critique, or analysis to come, and gives the reader a sense of the most important scholarship on a particular topic (and with context!).
2. Providing Health Consumers with Emergency Information A literature review can also comprise an entire paper. For example, a review article can help define or describe the scope of a particular issue or phenomenon to date. In this article, the authors examine a range of research focused on the effectiveness of social media use during public crises. These types of articles can be rich resources, not only to get a general understanding of where things stand with a particular issue, but also for identifying additional relevant literature on one's topic(s).
3. Does Compassion Go Viral? While not called a ‘literature review’ per se, we often see cited literature return to a paper/article/book chapter in the Discussion section (scroll to the Discussion section of this article as an example). Authors will often situate their findings within other, relevant scholarship by suggesting how their own research builds on, adds to, or echoes existing literature. You may also see authors address ways in which their findings diverge from or disagree with previous scholarship - this has the potential to spur new lines of thinking (and research questions!) around a topic, as well as novel approaches to addressing that topic.
Literature Review Examples
Does Compassion Go Viral?
While not called a ‘literature review’ per se, we often see cited literature return to a paper/article/book chapter in the Discussion section (scroll to the Discussion section of this article as an example). Authors will often situate their findings within other, relevant scholarship by suggesting how their own research builds on, adds to, or echoes existing literature. You may also see authors address ways in which their findings diverge from or disagree with previous scholarship - this has the potential to spur new lines of thinking (and research questions!) around a topic, as well as novel approaches to addressing that topic.
Providing Health Consumers with Emergency Information
A literature review can also comprise an entire paper. For example, a review article can help define or describe the scope of a particular issue or phenomenon to date. In this article, the authors examine a range of research focused on the effectiveness of social media use during public crises. These types of articles can be rich resources, not only to get a general understanding of where things stand with a particular issue, but also for identifying additional relevant literature on one's topic(s).
Understanding Information Spreading in Social Media during Hurricane Sandy
The type of literature review we're most likely familiar with is the one that serves as a section of a piece of writing, usually near the beginning (e.g., in a paper, article, or book chapter). Although often called "Literature Review," this section is sometimes called "Introduction" or "Background." This type of literature review sets the stage for the research, critique, or analysis to come, and gives the reader a sense of the most important scholarship on a particular topic (and with context!).
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Literature Review Samples And Examples
A literature review is a part of your academic writing and discusses the existing published content in that particular area. It can be hard for some students to work on the literature review. A smooth way to tackle this issue is to check the already available free samples of literature reviews available online to take inspiration from or to understand the structure and format of a literature review completely. We have curated some professional literature review samples to help students with this.
Literature Review Sample
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Discipline: Health Care
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Frequently Ask Questions?
How can our literature review samples help you.
A literature review is an integrated analysis of scholarly sources. You evaluate the existing literature on a similar topic as yours to understand the problem you are trying to solve.
Your literature review should include all concepts, models, and frameworks associated with the topic under investigation. All the critical theories about the topic should also be a part of your literature review.
To write a captivating literature review, you should pay attention to two points: the recency and relevancy of the sources.
To assess the relevancy of the scholarly source, you will have to evaluate its research aims and question, the methods of research employed the author employed, and the results’ reliability.
Once you know your chosen source’s relevancy, make sure it is not older than a few years. We recommend not to base your research on studies that were completed more than ten years ago. Following this recommendation will help you eliminate obsolete models and frameworks and draft a literature review based on the latest theories and concepts.
To help you write a winning literature review, we have published several undergraduate and postgraduate level literature review examples on our website. You will notice that each of our literature review samples introduces the topic by providing background information before analyzing the sources.
Pay attention to your writing style. Along with descriptive writing, you should be critical. You should be able to demonstrate your understanding by comparing and analysing one study with another. Do not forget to cite your sources while discussing them accurately.
Your final step should be to identify critical gaps and then find research questions that stem from these sources. These should be logical, and the research questions should not seem out of place.
If you are unsure how this should be structured, follow our literature review sample . Focus on how the writing is descriptive first, then critical, and in the end, gaps are identified.
Also, look at how the chapter is divided and the sub-headings that are used. This should be according to the topic of your study. It will help develop your literature review straight out of the dissertation outline so that it flows smoothly and is consistent.
Seek help from our literature review writing examples to comprehend these essential aspects and draft a literature review according to dissertation requirements.
We are here to guide you further! Talk to us , and we can help you prepare a literature review that is in line with your study requirements. Our expert writers take on the responsibility of including all essential elements of a literature review and helping you put together an outstanding dissertation.
What usually is the length of a Literature Review?
Literature reviews of undergraduate and Masters’ dissertations are generally 3000-6000 words in length depending on the module specifications. PhD-level dissertation literature reviews are much longer. The length of a PhD dissertation can vary anywhere between 10,000 to 20,000 words.
What does your literature review writing service include?
The Research Prospect literature review writing service covers literature review coursework assignments, also literature reviews for Ph.D., master’s, and undergraduate proposals and dissertations.
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To provide the best writers, that’s who we picked – the best. They’ve all been through our rigorous academic assault course to prove their worth. Every writer is qualified to write for you.
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- How It Works
Examples of literature reviews Step 1 – Search for relevant literature Step 2 – Evaluate and select sources Step 3 – Identify themes, debates, and gaps Step 4 – Outline your literature review’s structure Step 5 – Write your literature review Free lecture slides Frequently asked questions Introduction Quick Run-through Step 1 & 2 Step 3 Step 4
Literature Review: Conducting & Writing Sample Lit Reviews from Communication Arts Literature Review Sample 1 Literature Review Sample 2 Literature Review Sample 3 Have an exemplary literature review? Have you written a stellar literature review you care to share for teaching purposes?
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).
A literature review can also comprise an entire paper. For example, a review article can help define or describe the scope of a particular issue or phenomenon to date. In this article, the authors examine a range of research focused on the effectiveness of social media use during public crises.
Sample Literature Reviews; FAMU Writing Center; Sample Lit Reviews from Communication Arts Literature Review Sample 1 Literature Review Sample 2 ...
For example, a scientific review will be more analytical on the methods and results of previous research. In contrast, a philosophical review will be more argumentative, highlighting the discrepancies and correspondences between scholars. The lit review can either be part of a publication or a stand-alone document.
We have curated some professional literature review samples to help students with this. Masters Literature Review Sample Discipline: Education Quality: 1st / 74% View this Sample Masters Literature Review Sample Discipline: Health Care Quality: 2:2 / 59% View this Sample Masters Literature Review Sample Discipline: Business