How to Write a Literature Review

How to Write a Literature Review

General Information

A literature review can be described as both a recap and a clarification of the whole existing knowledge on a fixed subject as encountered in academic publications and scientific journals. Throughout your college education, you receive assignments to write two kinds of literature reviews. The first type of literature review represents an independent task that you need to complete for the course. This is usually related to your training in the study procedures in your field of study. The second is required when devising an introduction or when getting ready for a lengthier assignment, like a thesis or a study report. The emphasis and viewpoint of your paper and the type of hypothesis or thesis assertion you come up with will depend on the kind of literature review you need to write. To be able to comprehend the dissimilarities between these two varieties of paper in a proper way, you should take a look at issued reviews or the opening sections of theses and dissertations that approach your field of study. You ought to examine the outline of their arguments and observe the manner in which they present the problems.

The Target of a Literature Review

Here are the objectives that your literature review must accomplish:

  • It must enable the audience to easily access materials on a particular subject by picking well-written articles or research papers that are appropriate, significant, noteworthy and firm. All of these materials need to be summed up in a single full report.
  • It must offer a perfect jumping-off place for investigators who want to start studying a new field by stimulating them to recap, assess and analogize original studies that approach that particular subject.
  • It must prevent investigators from reproducing the researches that have already been conducted.
  • It may signalize the direction towards which ensuing studies are moving. It may also offer recommendations regarding the domains on which researchers should concentrate.
  • It needs to underline significant results.
  • It must detect incompatibilities, lacunas, and conflicts in literary works.\
  • It needs to supply a practical assessment of the methods and procedures used by different investigators.

The Sections of a Literature Review


The first section sheds light on the emphasis and indicates the significance of the subject. It talks about the types of researches that have been conducted on the subject and detects any inconsistencies within the area of study or any late study that has raised doubts regarding previous suppositions. You could also talk about the historical context. The last part of the introduction deals with the motivation or thesis assertion of your independent literature review. When writing this part, you need to summarize and assess the current state of events in your area of study. In case your paper is part of the introduction or preliminary phases to a thesis or study report, you need to indicate the manner in which your conclusions will contribute to the study you wish to carry out.


Frequently separated into titles and subtitles, the body of a literature review sums up and assesses the existing level of knowledge in an area of study. It observes the main subjects or motives, the most significant tendencies as well as any results that investigators accept or dispute. In case this paper precedes a larger thesis or study project, it has the target of devising an argument which will offer an explanation for your aimed study. As a result, it will only deal with those studies that are directly relevant to your lengthier paper.


The last section of your literature review recaps the entirety of the conveyed evidence and illustrates its importance. In case your paper is preliminary to a bigger study, your conclusion needs to underline lacunas and demonstrate the way in which prior materials influence your own study and the methods you’ve selected. On the other hand, if your paper amounts to an independent task for the course, you ought to propose possible implementations of the study. Moreover, you should mention the repercussions and options for ensuing studies.

The Phases of Drafting a Literature Review

  • Choose a feasible subject

Examine your particular field of study. Ponder on which topics attract you. Think about what would be adequate for your research. Discuss with your instructor, brainstorm, and browse through course observations and late issues of scientific magazines.

  • Examine the literary works
  1. Utilize keywords and browse through an online database. A good idea would be to use more than one database related to your area of study.
  2. Keep in mind that the citation indexes of late articles and reports may be of great help.
  3. Don’t forget that you also need to mention researchers that oppose your perspective.
  • Concentrate on your subject observantly and choose materials correspondingly
  1. Think about your interests and those of your audience.
  2. Decide on a time interval of study.
  3. Opt for a field of study that is appropriate for a literature review.
  • Read the chosen materials attentively and assess them
  1. What are the suppositions made by the majority of investigators?
  2. What are their approaches? Talk about their assessment techniques, subjects and material assessed.
  3. Appraise and synthesize the study results and deductions.
  4. Mention specialists in the area of study: names/laboratories that are often cited.
  5. Mention opposing hypotheses, findings, approaches.
  6. Take note of well-established theses. Talk about the way in which they have/haven’t evolved in the course of time.
  • Order the picked materials by searching for models and by devising subthemes
  1. Observe aspects like:
  2. Results that are widespread/disputed
  3. 2 or 3 significant tendencies in the study
  4. The theses that had the greatest influence
  • Devise a feasible hypothesis

Devise an assertion that recaps the conclusion you’ve arrived at regarding the most popular directions and evolutions you’ve identified in the studies that have approached your topic. This statement should be made of one or two phrases.

  • Categorize your literature review in accordance with the results from phases 4 and 5

Devise titles and subtitles. In case your paper is broad, use post-it notes or other similar tools. This way, it will be easier for you to order all of your results into categories. In case you feel like a particular point is better for a distinct category, just move it. The same goes for the situation in which you think it would be a good idea to create new subject titles.

  • Devise the body of your literature review

Stick to the structure we’ve discussed earlier. Make sure that every chapter is coherently connected to the one that precedes it and the one that follows it. Moreover, keep in mind that all of your chapters need to be separated by topics or subtopics and not by accounting the findings of recognized theoreticians or investigators.

  • Read your paper; concentrate on evaluation instead of description

Observe the subject phrases of every paragraph. Think about whether or not you’d be able to establish that the entire literature review shows straightforwardness and coherence by reading the subject phrases alone. For instance, if you notice that every paragraph commences with the name of an author, it may be that rather than assessing and analogizing the available written works from a critical perspective, you’ve merely listed the studies that have been conducted. This is amongst the most common issues encountered in this type of paper. Thus, in case your literature review still doesn’t seem to be governed by a primary, directional notion or fails to evaluate the chosen written works analytically, you ought to devise a new structure in accordance with the information you’ve included in each chapter and paragraph of the review. Ponder on your next course of action. You can either add new content, delete irrelevant content or reorganize the whole review.

For instance, take a look at the fragments presented below and observe that Writer 1 is solely presenting the written work. On the other hand, Writer 2 proves a more critical and appraising thinking, by analogizing and contrasting. Additionally, you can notice that this analytical approach is fully expressed by linguistic indicators that signal coherent associations (terms like “nevertheless” or “furthermore”) and sentences like “validates the assumption that." All of these elements signal substantiating proof and Writer 2’s capacity of synthesizing information.

Writer 1:

Johnson (1999) arrives at the conclusion that intimacy within the confines of their living environment is essential to nursing home inhabitants’ understanding of independence. The author advocates that the natural habitat in the open areas of the premises did not exert any considerable influence on their understandings. The same goes for the setup of the premises or the available pastimes. Andrews and Lloyd profess that all individuals have an innate need to control their own habitat (2004). The authors indicate that the methods employed by the majority of institutions, which involve the provision of complete nursing services, may be as harmful as the lack of treatment. Whenever individuals are deprived of personal choices, they are prone to depression.

Writer 2:

In the wake of his research on the inhabitants and personnel of two distinct nursing homes in the United States, Johnson (1999) found that apart from the level of individual intimacy that inhabitants benefitted from, the habitat of the aforementioned facilities exerted little to no influence on their understandings of control (independence). Nevertheless, Stevens (1993) and Patrick (1997) discovered that residents’ access to private spaces does not constitute the sole element of the habitat that influences inhabitants’ perception of independence. Patrick talked to 90 inhabitants from 15 distinct treatment facilities which presented distinct degrees of independence (1997). The researcher discovered that certain concrete aspects, like the fact that all rooms were decorated in the same fashion or the fact that the inhabitants did not possess keys to the premises lowered their sense of autonomy. Furthermore, Arnold (2006), who talked to 176 inhabitants from different treatment facilities, validates the assumption that certain attributes of the living environment are decisive to their feelings of autonomy. These are the resources that residents benefit from or the location of the nursing home.

Finalizing Your Literature Review: Revising and Editing

  1. By reading the paper out loud, you’ll be capable of detecting the places that require punctuation marks to indicate breaks or separations inside phrases. Moreover, this is also an excellent way of detecting grammar mistakes or phrases that are ambiguous.
  2. Seeing as the prime objective of your paper is to prove that you are well-acquainted with the significant written works on a particular topic, you should make sure you’ve approached all of the meaningful, actual and relevant materials. In case you study sciences or social sciences, you need to make certain that your materials are recent. When dealing with the humanities, this aspect is less significant.
  3. Verify the correctness of all of your quotations and bibliographical data. Check if the formatting style you’ve used is adequate for your area of study. In case you don’t know which style is right, talk to your instructor.
  4. Make certain that you’ve avoided plagiarism by all means! Keep in mind that plagiarism occurs whenever you forget to add a reference or you write an entire passage from a material without citing it. As a rule, in case you quote at least three different words directly from a material, you ought to use quotes and add a reference.
  5. Utilize a straightforward and succinct academic style. Avoid using too many descriptions or a day-to-day speech.
  6. Your literature review must not include any grammar or orthography mistakes!
  7. Your phrases ought to have a steady and coherent flow.
  8. If your review approaches the sciences or particular social sciences, you should structure it by using subtitles.
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