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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.
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APA Headings and Subheadings | With Sample Paper
Published on November 7, 2020 by Raimo Streefkerk . Revised on October 24, 2022.
Headings and subheadings provide structure to a document. They signal what each section is about and allow for easy navigation of the document.
APA headings have five possible levels. Each heading level is formatted differently.
Table of contents
Additional guidelines for apa headings, how many heading levels should you use, when to use which apa heading level, section labels vs headings, sample paper with apa headings, using heading styles in word or google docs.
As well as the heading styles, there are some other guidelines to keep in mind:
- Double-space all text, including the headings.
- Use the same font for headings and body text (e.g., Times New Roman 12pt.).
- Don’t label headings with numbers or letters.
- Don’t add extra “enters” above or below headings.
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Depending on the length and complexity of your paper, you may not use all five heading levels. In fact, shorter student papers may have no headings at all.
It’s also perfectly fine for some sections in your paper to go as deep as five levels, where others use only heading level 1.
Heading level 1 is used for main sections like “ Methods ”, “ Results ”, and “ Discussion ”. There is no “ Introduction ” heading at the beginning of your paper because the first paragraphs are understood to be introductory.
Heading level 2 is used for subsections under level 1. For example, under “Methods” (level 1) you may have subsections for “Sampling Method” and “Data Analysis” (level 2). This continues all the way down to heading level 5.
Always use at least two subheadings or none at all. If there is just one subheading, the top-level heading is sufficient.
In addition to regular headings, APA works with “section labels” for specific parts of the paper. They’re similar to headings but are formatted differently. Section labels are placed on a separate line at the top of a new page in bold and centered.
Use section labels for the following sections in an APA formatted paper :
- Author note
- Paper title
- Reference page
Instead of formatting every heading individually, you can use the “Styles” feature in Word or Google Docs. This allows you to save the styling and apply it with just a click.
The first time you use APA Style, you need to update the default heading styles to reflect the APA heading guidelines. Click here for the instructions for Microsoft Word and Google Docs .
An added benefit of using the “Styles” feature is that you can automatically generate a table of contents .
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How To Structure Your Literature Review
3 options to help structure your chapter.
By: Amy Rommelspacher (PhD) | Reviewer: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | November 2020 (Updated May 2023)
Writing the literature review chapter can seem pretty daunting when you’re piecing together your dissertation or thesis. As we’ve discussed before , a good literature review needs to achieve a few very important objectives – it should:
- Demonstrate your knowledge of the research topic
- Identify the gaps in the literature and show how your research links to these
- Provide the foundation for your conceptual framework (if you have one)
- Inform your own methodology and research design
To achieve this, your literature review needs a well-thought-out structure . Get the structure of your literature review chapter wrong and you’ll struggle to achieve these objectives. Don’t worry though – in this post, we’ll look at how to structure your literature review for maximum impact (and marks!).
But wait – is this the right time?
Deciding on the structure of your literature review should come towards the end of the literature review process – after you have collected and digested the literature, but before you start writing the chapter.
In other words, you need to first develop a rich understanding of the literature before you even attempt to map out a structure. There’s no use trying to develop a structure before you’ve fully wrapped your head around the existing research.
Equally importantly, you need to have a structure in place before you start writing , or your literature review will most likely end up a rambling, disjointed mess.
Importantly, don’t feel that once you’ve defined a structure you can’t iterate on it. It’s perfectly natural to adjust as you engage in the writing process. As we’ve discussed before , writing is a way of developing your thinking, so it’s quite common for your thinking to change – and therefore, for your chapter structure to change – as you write.
Need a helping hand?
Like any other chapter in your thesis or dissertation, your literature review needs to have a clear, logical structure. At a minimum, it should have three essential components – an introduction , a body and a conclusion .
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
1: The Introduction Section
Just like any good introduction, the introduction section of your literature review should introduce the purpose and layout (organisation) of the chapter. In other words, your introduction needs to give the reader a taste of what’s to come, and how you’re going to lay that out. Essentially, you should provide the reader with a high-level roadmap of your chapter to give them a taste of the journey that lies ahead.
Here’s an example of the layout visualised in a literature review introduction:
Your introduction should also outline your topic (including any tricky terminology or jargon) and provide an explanation of the scope of your literature review – in other words, what you will and won’t be covering (the delimitations ). This helps ringfence your review and achieve a clear focus . The clearer and narrower your focus, the deeper you can dive into the topic (which is typically where the magic lies).
Depending on the nature of your project, you could also present your stance or point of view at this stage. In other words, after grappling with the literature you’ll have an opinion about what the trends and concerns are in the field as well as what’s lacking. The introduction section can then present these ideas so that it is clear to examiners that you’re aware of how your research connects with existing knowledge .
2: The Body Section
The body of your literature review is the centre of your work. This is where you’ll present, analyse, evaluate and synthesise the existing research. In other words, this is where you’re going to earn (or lose) the most marks. Therefore, it’s important to carefully think about how you will organise your discussion to present it in a clear way.
The body of your literature review should do just as the description of this chapter suggests. It should “review” the literature – in other words, identify, analyse, and synthesise it. So, when thinking about structuring your literature review, you need to think about which structural approach will provide the best “review” for your specific type of research and objectives (we’ll get to this shortly).
There are (broadly speaking) three options for organising your literature review.
Option 1: Chronological (according to date)
Organising the literature chronologically is one of the simplest ways to structure your literature review. You start with what was published first and work your way through the literature until you reach the work published most recently. Pretty straightforward.
The benefit of this option is that it makes it easy to discuss the developments and debates in the field as they emerged over time. Organising your literature chronologically also allows you to highlight how specific articles or pieces of work might have changed the course of the field – in other words, which research has had the most impact . Therefore, this approach is very useful when your research is aimed at understanding how the topic has unfolded over time and is often used by scholars in the field of history. That said, this approach can be utilised by anyone that wants to explore change over time .
For example , if a student of politics is investigating how the understanding of democracy has evolved over time, they could use the chronological approach to provide a narrative that demonstrates how this understanding has changed through the ages.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you structure your literature review chronologically.
- What is the earliest literature published relating to this topic?
- How has the field changed over time? Why?
- What are the most recent discoveries/theories?
In some ways, chronology plays a part whichever way you decide to structure your literature review, because you will always, to a certain extent, be analysing how the literature has developed. However, with the chronological approach, the emphasis is very firmly on how the discussion has evolved over time , as opposed to how all the literature links together (which we’ll discuss next ).
Option 2: Thematic (grouped by theme)
The thematic approach to structuring a literature review means organising your literature by theme or category – for example, by independent variables (i.e. factors that have an impact on a specific outcome).
As you’ve been collecting and synthesising literature , you’ll likely have started seeing some themes or patterns emerging. You can then use these themes or patterns as a structure for your body discussion. The thematic approach is the most common approach and is useful for structuring literature reviews in most fields.
For example, if you were researching which factors contributed towards people trusting an organisation, you might find themes such as consumers’ perceptions of an organisation’s competence, benevolence and integrity. Structuring your literature review thematically would mean structuring your literature review’s body section to discuss each of these themes, one section at a time.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when structuring your literature review by themes:
- Are there any patterns that have come to light in the literature?
- What are the central themes and categories used by the researchers?
- Do I have enough evidence of these themes?
PS – you can see an example of a thematically structured literature review in our literature review sample walkthrough video here.
Option 3: Methodological
The methodological option is a way of structuring your literature review by the research methodologies used . In other words, organising your discussion based on the angle from which each piece of research was approached – for example, qualitative , quantitative or mixed methodologies.
Structuring your literature review by methodology can be useful if you are drawing research from a variety of disciplines and are critiquing different methodologies. The point of this approach is to question how existing research has been conducted, as opposed to what the conclusions and/or findings the research were.
For example, a sociologist might centre their research around critiquing specific fieldwork practices. Their literature review will then be a summary of the fieldwork methodologies used by different studies.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself when structuring your literature review according to methodology:
- Which methodologies have been utilised in this field?
- Which methodology is the most popular (and why)?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the various methodologies?
- How can the existing methodologies inform my own methodology?
3: The Conclusion Section
Once you’ve completed the body section of your literature review using one of the structural approaches we discussed above, you’ll need to “wrap up” your literature review and pull all the pieces together to set the direction for the rest of your dissertation or thesis.
The conclusion is where you’ll present the key findings of your literature review. In this section, you should emphasise the research that is especially important to your research questions and highlight the gaps that exist in the literature. Based on this, you need to make it clear what you will add to the literature – in other words, justify your own research by showing how it will help fill one or more of the gaps you just identified.
Last but not least, if it’s your intention to develop a conceptual framework for your dissertation or thesis, the conclusion section is a good place to present this.
Example: Thematically Structured Review
In the video below, we unpack a literature review chapter so that you can see an example of a thematically structure review in practice.
In this article, we’ve discussed how to structure your literature review for maximum impact. Here’s a quick recap of what you need to keep in mind when deciding on your literature review structure:
- Just like other chapters, your literature review needs a clear introduction , body and conclusion .
- The introduction section should provide an overview of what you will discuss in your literature review.
- The body section of your literature review can be organised by chronology , theme or methodology . The right structural approach depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your research.
- The conclusion section should draw together the key findings of your literature review and link them to your research questions.
If you’re ready to get started, be sure to download our free literature review template to fast-track your chapter outline.
Psst… there’s more!
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 .
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Great work. This is exactly what I was looking for and helps a lot together with your previous post on literature review. One last thing is missing: a link to a great literature chapter of an journal article (maybe with comments of the different sections in this review chapter). Do you know any great literature review chapters?
I agree with you Marin… A great piece
I agree with Marin. This would be quite helpful if you annotate a nicely structured literature from previously published research articles.
Awesome article for my research.
I thank you immensely for this wonderful guide
It is indeed thought and supportive work for the futurist researcher and students
Very educative and good time to get guide. Thank you
Great work, very insightful. Thank you.
Thanks for this wonderful presentation. My question is that do I put all the variables into a single conceptual framework or each hypothesis will have it own conceptual framework?
Thank you very much, very helpful
This is very educative and precise . Thank you very much for dropping this kind of write up .
Pheeww, so damn helpful, thank you for this informative piece.
I’m doing a research project topic ; stool analysis for parasitic worm (enteric) worm, how do I structure it, thanks.
comprehensive explanation. Help us by pasting the URL of some good “literature review” for better understanding.
great piece. thanks for the awesome explanation. it is really worth sharing. I have a little question, if anyone can help me out, which of the options in the body of literature can be best fit if you are writing an architectural thesis that deals with design?
I am doing a research on nanofluids how can l structure it?
Beautifully clear.nThank you!
Brilliant work, well understood, many thanks
I like how this was so clear with simple language 😊😊 thank you so much 😊 for these information 😊
Insightful. I was struggling to come up with a sensible literature review but this has been really helpful. Thank you!
You have given thought-provoking information about the review of the literature.
Thank you. It has made my own research better and to impart your work to students I teach
I learnt a lot from this teaching. It’s a great piece.
I am doing research on EFL teacher motivation for his/her job. How Can I structure it? Is there any detailed template, additional to this?
You are so cool! I do not think I’ve read through something like this before. So nice to find somebody with some genuine thoughts on this issue. Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This site is one thing that is required on the internet, someone with a little originality!
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Structuring a literature review
In general, literature reviews are structured in a similar way to a standard essay, with an introduction, a body and a conclusion. These are key structural elements. Additionally, a stand-alone extended literature review has an abstract. Throughout, headings and subheadings are used to divide up the literature review into meaningful sections.
There is no single “correct” structure for how to structure the content of your literature review – every review is shaped by the nature of the field being reviewed and the specific argument the review is supporting. Here are some common literature review organising patterns:
- historical development (chronological)
- pros and cons
- methodological issues
- key works of a single author
- key works in a particular field of study
For example, a literature review on the definitions of key terms or concepts in a particular field of study might analyse a variety of definitions and conclude by defending a selected definition.
Some of the organising patterns listed above may be used in combination.
Structure a lit review accordion
If you are writing a stand-alone extended literature review, you are required to provide an abstract. The purpose of an abstract is to provide potential readers with an overview of the review content, so that they can determine if it is relevant to their research. The abstract should include brief background information, including any knowledge gaps or discrepancies that the review aims to address, as well as a statement regarding the purpose and scope of the review. A complete abstract also includes a brief statement of the main findings and how they relate to the broader context. The example abstract below includes these elements.
Not all introductions follow exactly the same order. However, there are some key points to include in the introduction to provide your reader with the context and purpose of your review. The general guidelines for the structure of a literature review introduction are:
- Start with a broad introduction to the topic. Include relevant background information and definitions or explanations of the main terms and concepts.
- Provide information that is relevant for your specific topic, and explain the importance of your topic (e.g. why it’s worth reading your literature review).
- Tell the reader what the scope of your review is (e.g. what key points you will include in the body of your review).
- Tell your reader what the aim or purpose of your review is. This is often included at the end of the introduction.
The body of the review contains your review of the literature relevant to your research question or aim. You should structure the body of your literature review in a logical and coherent way. Consider what your sub-topics or sections will be in order to answer your research question thoroughly and coherently. Then consider the most logical order to discuss your sections. Creating sub-headings for the sections of your review will assist you in creating a logical structure and keep you focused on sub-topics relevant to your research aim.
In the body of your literature review, it is important to analyse the literature rather than to merely describe the findings of a number of different literature sources. Some description of the key findings is important to give the reader context. However, your review should also include an analysis of the key themes, gaps in understanding, and points of disagreement between the different literature sources.
There are numerous ways to organise your body paragraphs, depending on your topic. You may want to organise some of your paragraphs:
- in chronological order, e.g. historical findings, more recent findings, current research
- group your literature sources into paragraphs based on similar arguments or findings
- categorise your sources into similar sub-topics and compare different findings within a single paragraph.
Remember to include accurate and relevant citations and references throughout this section.
The assignment excerpt below is an example of how to group similar findings together.
Body paragraph example 1
Another method of organising your body paragraphs is to group papers together that have found different or contradictory results related to the same topic. This helps you to demonstrate your understanding of the literature and highlights the inconsistencies between findings. The assignment body paragraph below is an example of how this can be done.
Body paragraph example 2
Conclude by demonstrating how you have answered your research question and/or how you have achieved your research aim. This tells the audience you have achieved what you intended. Then highlight the key points you discussed. Now you can refer to implications of this knowledge in a broader sense, as well as recommendations for future studies/research (if applicable). The conclusion starts specific and finishes broad.
There are several conventions to note when you are writing your conclusion:
- Don’t include new information in your conclusion. Instead, highlight the key points raised in the earlier sections of your literature review.
- Don’t include in-text citations in your conclusion. This relates to the point above in regards to not including new information.
The example below demonstrates the structural elements of a conclusion.
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Research: Overview & Approaches
- Getting Started with Undergraduate Research
- Planning & Getting Started
- Building Your Knowledge Base
- Locating Sources
- Reading Scholarly Articles
- Creating a Literature Review
Finding and Completing a Literature Review
Intro to creating a literature review.
- Productivity & Organizing Research
- Scholarly and Professional Relationships
- Empirical Research
- Interpretive Research
- Action-Based Research
- Creative & Experimental Approaches
- Palgrave's Study Guide to Carrying Out a Literature Review Your research is seen as a contribution to knowledge in the field and it needs to indicate, therefore, that there is an awareness of what that knowledge comprises. Read this guide to getting started.
- Purdue OWL's Guide to Writing a Literature Review A literature review requires the writer to perform extensive research on published work in one’s field in order to explain how one’s own work fits into the larger conversation regarding a particular topic. This task requires the writer to spend time reading, managing, and conveying information; the complexity of literature reviews can make this section one of the most challenging parts of writing about one’s research. This handout will provide some strategies for revising literature reviews.
Every time you conduct research, you will need to make it clear where you got your evidence from. This work of citing our sources is absolutely essential for a couple of reasons.
- It demonstrates to the readers of our own research that we have evidence to back up our claims.
- A complete and correct citation directs readers to the original source for them to verify our claims and learn more.
- It gives credit to the researchers whose intellectual work helped form our own research.
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- URL: https://guides.lib.purdue.edu/research_approaches
Evidence-Based Practice (EBP)
- The EBP Process
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- Inclusion & Exclusion Criteria
- Acquiring Evidence
- Appraising the Quality of the Evidence
- Writing a Literature Review
- Finding Psychological Tests & Assessment Instruments
What Is a Literature Review?
A literature review is an integrated analysis of scholarly writings that are related directly to your research question. Put simply, it's a critical evaluation of what's already been written on a particular topic . It represents the literature that provides background information on your topic and shows a connection between those writings and your research question.
A literature review may be a stand-alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment. Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.
What a Literature Review Is Not:
- A list or summary of sources
- An annotated bibliography
- A grouping of broad, unrelated sources
- A compilation of everything that has been written on a particular topic
- Literary criticism (think English) or a book review
Why Literature Reviews Are Important
- They explain the background of research on a topic
- They demonstrate why a topic is significant to a subject area
- They discover relationships between research studies/ideas
- They identify major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic
- They identify critical gaps and points of disagreement
- They discuss further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies
To Learn More about Conducting and Writing a Lit Review . . .
Monash University (in Australia) has created several extremely helpful, interactive tutorials.
- The Stand-Alone Literature Review, https://www.monash.edu/rlo/assignment-samples/science/stand-alone-literature-review
- Researching for Your Literature Review, https://guides.lib.monash.edu/researching-for-your-literature-review/home
- Writing a Literature Review, https://www.monash.edu/rlo/graduate-research-writing/write-the-thesis/writing-a-literature-review
Keep Track of Your Sources!
A citation manager can be helpful way to work with large numbers of citations. See UMSL Libraries' Citing Sources guide for more information. Personally, I highly recommend Zotero —it's free, easy to use, and versatile. If you need help getting started with Zotero or one of the other citation managers, please contact a librarian.
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Writing the literature review.
Generally, the purpose of a literature review is to identify, synthesize, and analyze a published body of knowledge on a topic. A review may be an end in itself (a survey of what is known about a topic) or a preface to and rationale for engaging in primary research. A systematic review of literature makes transparent the criteria for including and excluding literature, primarily in the methods section.
- Be selective. Include only studies that are relevant to your topic.
- Organize the literature review around major topics of concepts. Use headings or topic sentences to communicate your organizational principle.
- Synthesize and evaluate – don’t just summarize.
- Use summary to help the reader relate each section to the larger topic and to make clear the movement of your argument. Where have we just been and where are we now going?
- Tell a story about the research. Use this to guide your organization.
Place background information (e.g., descriptions of a clinical situation or a theoretical model) at points where it will be most useful for readers. For example, if several researchers have used the same theoretical approach, describe that framework prior to reviewing those studies.
Divide your review into sections with appropriate descriptors, following the guidelines of the documentation system you are using. Your outline provides the basis for this division because it has already grouped studies together under headings and subheadings. Note that you may want to cite a particular study in more than one section.
End each section in your review with a summary sentence or paragraph. The length of summary should reflect the length of the section. End the entire review with a comprehensive summary that reiterates the most significant aspects and findings. This final summary (the “Discussion” section listed in your overview) is also the place to make major comparisons, offer your opinion or critique the adequacy of research approaches and methods, and point out critical inconsistencies. Your critique paves the way for you to close your review by posing unanswered questions, recommending approaches and variables for future research, and suggesting implications. If your review is a preface to your study, your critique should reinforce the rationale for conducting your research. You will then state your research question(s) and/or hypotheses.
Suppose you’re planning to write a literature review regarding the effectiveness of short-term group therapy in reducing depression among nursing home residents. You have now collected research and made a list of the areas covered by your research:
Elderly people in nursing homes Pharmacological treatment of depression Use of psychotherapy among elderly people Depression – causes, behavioral manifestations, effects Measurement tools for depression Societal attitudes toward aging Psychological problems in elderly people Depression in elderly people Effects of group therapy Side effects of drugs used to treat depression.
Possible outline for the literature review:
Depression in general (problem) Theories of causation Behavioral manifestation Effects Depression in elderly people, particularly in nursing homes (problem and its scope) Approaches other than therapy (previous work done) Effects of therapy on depression Long-term – disadvantages Short-term Group
Notice that the outline proceeds from general to specific. As you move down the outline, you will deal with material in increasing depth, just as the relevance of the information to your own project increases.
In the excerpts below, consider how the following affect readability: focus, sentence strength, citation placement, transition, and active vs. passive voice.
The relationship between motivation and the decision to acquire literacy has been studied by Smith (1975), Jones (1983), and Brown (1988). Motivation involves a number of expectations (Snappe, 1986; Krakel, 1988). A large study conducted by Amundson (1981) explored the beliefs of people entering literacy programs, specifically outcome expectations and self-efficacy despite obstacles. Paape (1979), and in a follow-up project Johnson (1985), studied resistance to motivational efforts or the tendency to ignore information about an issue that is difficult to acknowledge. A literacy promotion program needs to overcome the tendency to minimize the problem and to help people believe.
Research suggests that several factors influence an adult’s decision to acquire literacy. People need to be motivated to make such a decision (Smith, 1975; Jones, 1983; Brown, 1988). Motivation encompasses at least two categories of expectations (Snappe, 1986; Krakel, 1988). One must believe that literacy will affect one’s life positively (outcome expectations) and also that one can succeed in the effort to learn new skills (self-efficacy) despite obstacles (Amundson, 1981). Other research shows that when the problem is difficult to acknowledge, people tend to ignore information about it, i.e. to resist motivational efforts (Paape, 1979; Johnson, 1985). All these findings imply that a literacy promotion program needs to overcome the tendency to minimize the problem and to help people believe.
Comparing these paragraphs should illustrate how certain rhetorical choices affect readability and clarity. Some guidelines: (1) Use headings and topic sentences to tell readers what the topic is and what point the material is contributing to the discussion. (2) Test sentences for relevance to the central point. (3) Don’t just point to the existence of literature on the topic; write about methods or results in the studies you discuss. (4) Place citations where they don’t interrupt or distract from the line of thought you’re presenting. (5) Use transitions. (6) Use strong, content laden, active verbs.
- Keep your tone objective as you summarize the research but don’t allow your objectivity to turn your review into an annotated bibliography (a laundry list). Rather, point out as you go along how studies relate to one another (e.g., “Smith (1988) and Jones (1990) used different samples to examine the same phenomenon”).
- Be analytical; writing a review is an exercise in comparative thinking. Save your critique (opinions and judgments) for your final discussion, where they will be more effective and meaningful to the reader.
- These connections may need to be made within a paragraph as well as among a group of paragraphs (e.g., “Jones (1989) and Smith (1991) were among the first to examine the effects of childhood abuse....Like Jones, Smith also used the State-Trait Inventory but included males in his sample” or “Lee’s studies of learned helplessness support this study’s perspective of behavior modification as situation-specific”).
- Use speculative language. Hypotheses are not proved; they are supported. Theories are not verified, but they may be tentatively accepted. Don’t make blanket generalizations. Use “may” rather than “will,” and modify your commentary with words such as “a majority of,” “to date,” and “appears to occur” because tomorrow’s findings may nullify today’s.
- Choose verbs that accurately describe what the research did; hypothesized, questioned, developed, implemented, measured, tested, and modified have quite different meanings. Avoid using “should” and “must”; they tend to sound preachy.
- Use direct quotations sparingly. They often take up more space than sentences constructed to summarize the original. Quotations may include concepts and vocabulary unfamiliar to the reader.
- wordy phrases : “the area of education” = “in education”, “at this period of time” = “at this time”, “in an accurate manner” = “accurately”; and
- unnecessary modification : “exact replica,” “ultimate outcome,” “personal opinion”.
- Use verb tenses appropriately. Use the past tense to summarize studies and procedures (e.g., “Danz measured four dimensions of self-efficacy...He modified two questionnaires”). Use the present perfect tense to suggest that something has occurred more than once in the past and may be continuing (e.g., “During the last two decades, researchers have often focused on the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder”). Use the present tense to describe theory and instruments (e.g., “Developmental tasks are central to Piaget’s theory”; “The STA uses a Likert scale to measure stress”), to discuss and critique (e.g., “The use of self-report has two major limitations”) and to generalize (e.g., “These findings suggest that adult learners prefer self-evaluation”).
- Use the active and the passive voice appropriately. The active voice (“Cole replicated this test with four samples”) is less wordy and more dynamic than the passive voice (“This test was replicated with four samples by Cole”). However, it is effective to use the passive voice when the object is more important than the subject (e.g., “The children in group one were shown the videotape”); when the subject is unknown (“This phenomenon was first described according to eighteenth century standards”); when it would not be a good idea to identify the subject (“The first set of data was not accurately coded”); and when placing the object before the subject more clearly links into a previous sentence or paragraph (“...screen methods that enhance job satisfaction. These screening methods were also evaluated...”). Overuse of the passive voice suggests that research is occurring by itself and confuses the reader about who is doing what.
[Adapted by Lisha Storey from Elizabeth Tornquist's, From Proposal to Publication (1986)]
Why write a literature review?
What is a literature review, how do i get started, searching for sources.
- Undertaking your literature review
- Developing your literature review
- Writing systematic reviews
Useful links for literature reviews
- Study Advice Helping students to achieve study success with guides, video tutorials, seminars and one-to-one advice sessions.
- Doing your literature review (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
- Doing your literature review (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.
- Literature searching guide A guide to finding articles, books and other materials on your subject
- Doing your literature search video - University of Reading Brief video on literature searching from our Academic Liaison Librarians.
- Royal Literary Fund: Writing a Literature Review A guide to writing literature reviews from the Royal Literary Fund
- What it means to be a critical student A brief and very useful video tutorial from the University of Leicester.
- Reading and notemaking LibGuide Expert guidance on managing your reading and making effective notes.
- Dissertations and major projects LibGuide Expert guidance on planning, researching and writing dissertations and major projects.
Before getting started on sourcing and reviewing the background literature for a research project, it is important to understand the role that a literature review plays in the research process, and how it can be helpful later on for placing your own findings in context. Knowing the job that a literature review does means you can be more targeted and systematic in your literature searching. The guidance on this page will explain what you need to know about the purpose of a literature review and how to begin scoping your search.
New discoveries don't materialise out of nowhere; they build upon the findings of previous experiments and investigations. A literature review shows how the investigation you are conducting fits with what has gone before and puts it into context.
If you are doing a thesis, dissertation, or a long report it is likely that you will need to include a literature review. If you are doing a lab write-up or a shorter report, some background reading may be required to give context to your work, but this is usually included as an analysis in the introduction and discussion sections.
A literature review is a select analysis of existing research which is relevant to your topic, showing how it relates to your investigation. It explains and justifies how your investigation may help answer some of the questions or gaps in this area of research.
A literature review is not a straightforward summary of everything you have read on the topic and it is not a chronological description of what was discovered in your field.
A longer literature review may have headings to help group the relevant research into themes or topics. This gives a focus to your analysis, as you can group similar studies together and compare and contrast their approaches, any weaknesses or strengths in their methods, and their findings.
One common way to approach a literature review is to start out broad and then become more specific . Think of it as an inverted triangle:
- First briefly explain the broad issues related to your investigation; you don't need to write much about this, just demonstrate that you are aware of the breadth of your subject.
- Then narrow your focus to deal with the studies that overlap with your research.
- Finally, hone in on any research which is directly related to your specific investigation. Proportionally you spend most time discussing those studies which have most direct relevance to your research.
- What research has already been done on this topic?
- What are the sub-areas of the topic you need to explore?
- What other research (perhaps not directly on the topic) might be relevant to your investigation?
- How do these sub-topics and other research overlap with your investigation?
Note down all your initial thoughts on the topic. You can use a spidergram or list to help you identify the areas you want to investigate further. It is important to do this before you start reading so that you don't waste time on unfocussed and irrelevant reading.
It's easy to think that the best way to search for texts is to use the Internet - to 'Google it'. There are useful online tools that you may use, like Google Scholar. However, for most literature reviews you will need to focus on academically authoritative texts like academic books, journals, research reports, government publications. Searching Google will give you thousands of hits, few of them authoritative, and you will waste time sorting through them.
A better idea is to use databases. These are available through the Library in paper and electronic (usually online) forms.
Use journal articles: They normally have the most up-to-date research and you will be expected to refer to them in your literature review. The Library has a guide on finding journal articles.
The Library also has an Academic Liaison Librarian for each subject and guides to finding information in your subject.
You may find review articles that survey developments in your field. These are very useful for identifying relevant sources - but do go back to the original texts and develop your own critical analysis if possible.
Another good way to find sources is to look at the reference lists in articles or books already identified as relevant to your topic. You will be expected to prioritise recent research, but it's also important to acknowledge the standard texts in your field. An easy way to identify these is to check reference lists to see which texts are frequently cited.
- Guide to searching databases Guide from the Library to help you make the most of your database searches.
- Finding journal articles A guide from the Library about how to find articles for your research.
- Contact your Academic Liaison Librarian
- Subject guides Guides to specialist resources in subjects studied at the University.
- Keeping up-to-date (Library) Library guide to keeping up to date with new publications in your subject.
- Doing your literature search - University of Reading Short video tutorial on literature searching from the Library.
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Method of Research--Research Process
- Explore Web Resources
- Reference Books
- Scholarly Articles
- Set up a Research Account!
- Article Log
- Keywords and Subject Terms
- Trunication and Wild Card Symbols
- Evaluating Information
- Primary and Secondary Sources
- Academic, Popular, and Trade Publications
- Scholarly and Peer-Reviewed Journals
- Grey Literature
- Finding Scales, Measurements and Assessments
- Annotated Bibliography
- Literature Review
- Library Guide
AP 7th Edition Headings
You'll want to use headings to structure your lit review. The APA 7th Additions specifies five levels of headings, in descending levels of emphasis (i. e. level 1 headings are the most important and level 5 headings the least). The number of headings you use will depend on the length and complexity of your paper, but in any case, make sure to begin with a level 1 heading and proceed sequentially to level 2, then level 3, etc.
The introduction to your paper does not begin with a heading of any kind. Note that there cannot be single level 3, 4, or 5 headings. That is, you must have more than one heading at each of those levels.
Level 1 Headings Are Centered, Title Case and Bold With No Closing Period
Start a new, indented paragraph on the next line after Level 1 headings.
Level 2 Headings Are Flush Left (Not Centered and Not Indented) and Are Title Case and Bold With No Closing Period
Start a new, indented paragraph on the next line after Level 2 headings.
Level 3 Headings Are Flush Left (Not Centered and Not Indented) and Are Title Case, Bold, and Italicized, With No Closing Period
Start a new, indented paragraph on the next line after Level 3 headings.
Level 4 Headings are Indented Left , Title Case and Bold With a Closing Period. Continue writing the paragraph on the same line after Level 4 headings.
Level 5 Headings are Indented Left , Title Case , Bold, and Italicized With a Closing Period . Continue writing the paragraph on the same line after Level 5 headings.
Template for APA 7th Edition Papers
- APA 7th Edition Template Here's a handy template for writing papers conforming to the APA 7th Edition, created by our own Prof. William Doverspike. This is a great resource to use when formatting your research papers.
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- Last Updated: Nov 14, 2023 3:48 PM
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Writing A Literature Review: General Guidelines
31 Oct 2021
❓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
- 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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Writing the Dissertation - Guides for Success: The Literature Review
- Writing the Dissertation Homepage
- Overview and Planning
- The Literature Review
- The Methodology
- The Results and Discussion
- The Conclusion
- The Abstract
- Getting Started
- Research Gap
- What to Avoid
Overview of writing the literature review
Conducting a literature review enables you to demonstrate your understanding and knowledge of the existing work within your field of research. Doing so allows you to identify any underdeveloped areas or unexplored issues within a specific debate, dialogue or field of study. This, in turn, helps you to clearly and persuasively demonstrate how your own research will address one or more of these gaps.
Please note: this guide is not specific to any one discipline. The literature review can vary depending on the nature of the research and the expectations of the school or department. Please adapt the following advice to meet the demands of your dissertation and the expectations of your school or department. Consult your supervisor for further guidance; you can also check out Writing Across Subjects guide .
As part of the Writing the Dissertation series, this guide covers the most common expectations for the literature review chapter, giving you the necessary knowledge, tips and guidance needed to impress your markers! The sections are organised as follows:
- Getting Started - Defines the literature review and presents a table to help you plan.
- Process - Explores choosing a topic, searching for sources and evaluating what you find.
- Structure - Presents key principles to consider in terms of structure, with examples to illustrate the concepts.
- Research gap - Clarifies what is meant by 'gap' and gives examples of common types of gaps.
- What to Avoid - Covers a few frequent mistakes you'll want to...avoid!
- FAQs - Answers to common questions about research gaps, literature availability and more.
- Checklist - Includes a summary of key points and a self-evaluation checklist.
Training and tools
- The Academic Skills team has recorded a Writing the Dissertation workshop series to help you with each section of a standard dissertation, including a video on writing the literature review .
- Check out the library's online Literature Review: Research Methods training.
- Our literature reviews summary guide provides links to further information and videos.
- The dissertation planner tool can help you think through the timeline for planning, research, drafting and editing.
- iSolutions offers training and a Word template to help you digitally format and structure your dissertation.
What is the literature review?
The literature review of a dissertation gives a clear, critical overview of a specific area of research. Our main Writing the Dissertation - Overview and Planning guide explains how you can refine your dissertation topic and begin your initial research; the next tab of this guide, 'Process', expands on those ideas. In summary, the process of conducting a literature review usually involves the following:
- Conducting a series of strategic searches to identify the key texts within that topic.
- Identifying the main argument in each source, the relevant themes and issues presented and how they relate to each other.
- Critically evaluating your chosen sources and determining their strengths, weaknesses, relevance and value to your research along with their overall contribution to the broader research field.
- Identifying any gaps or flaws in the literature which your research can address.
Literature review as both process and product
Writers should keep in mind that the phrase 'literature review' refers to two related, but distinct, things:
- 'Literature review' refers, first, to the active process of discovering and assessing relevant literature.
- 'Literature review' refers, second, to the written product that emerges from the above process.
This distinction is vital to note because every dissertation requires the writer to engage with and consider existing literature (i.e., to undertake the active process ). Research doesn't exist in a void, and it's crucial to consider how our work builds from or develops existing foundations of thought or discovery. Thus, even if your discipline doesn't require you to include a chapter titled 'Literature Review' in your submitted dissertation, you should expect to engage with the process of reviewing literature.
Why is it important to be aware of existing literature?
- You are expected to explain how your research fits in with other research in your field and, perhaps, within the wider academic community.
- You will be expected to contribute something new, or slightly different, so you need to know what has already been done.
- Assessing the existing literature on your topic helps you to identify any gaps or flaws within the research field. This, in turn, helps to stimulate new ideas, such as addressing any gaps in knowledge, or reinforcing an existing theory or argument through new and focused research.
Not all literature reviews are the same. For example, in many subject areas, you are expected to include the literature review as its own chapter in your dissertation. However, in other subjects, the dissertation structure doesn't include a dedicated literature review chapter; any literature the writer has reviewed is instead incorporated in other relevant sections such as the introduction, methodology or discussion.
For this reason, there are a number of questions you should discuss with your supervisor before starting your literature review. These questions are also great to discuss with peers in your degree programme. These are outlined in the table below (see the Word document for a copy you can save and edit):
- Dissertation literature review planning table
Literature review: the process
Conducting a literature review requires you to stay organised and bring a systematic approach to your thinking and reading. Scroll to continue reading, or click a link below to jump immediately to that section:
Choosing a topic
The first step of any research project is to select an interesting topic. From here, the research phase for your literature review helps to narrow down your focus to a particular strand of research and to a specific research question. This process of narrowing and refining your research topic is particularly important because it helps you to maintain your focus and manage your material without becoming overwhelmed by sources and ideas.
Try to choose something that hasn’t been researched to death. This way, you stand a better chance of making a novel contribution to the research field.
Conversely, you should avoid undertaking an area of research where little to no work has been done. There are two reasons for this:
- Firstly, there may be a good reason for the lack of research on a topic (e.g. is the research useful or worthwhile pursuing?).
- Secondly, some research projects, particularly practice-based ones involving primary research, can be too ambitious in terms of their scope and the availability of resources. Aim to contribute to a topic, not invent one!
Searching for sources
Researching and writing a literature review is partly about demonstrating your independent research skills. Your supervisor may have some tips relating to your discipline and research topic, but you should be proactive in finding a range of relevant sources. There are various ways of tracking down the literature relevant to your project, as outlined below.
Make use of Library Search
One thing you don’t want to do is simply type your topic into Google and see what comes up. Instead, use Library Search to search the Library’s catalogue of books, media and articles.
Online training for 'Using databases' and 'Finding information' can be found here . You can also use the Library's subject pages to discover databases and resources specific to your academic discipline.
Engage with others working in your area
As well as making use of library resources, it can be helpful to discuss your work with students or academics working in similar areas. Think about attending relevant conferences and/or workshops which can help to stimulate ideas and allows you to keep track of the most current trends in your research field.
Look at the literature your sources reference
Finding relevant literature can, at times, be a long and slightly frustrating experience. However, one good source can often make all the difference. When you find a good source that is both relevant and valuable to your research, look at the material it cites throughout and follow up any sources that are useful. Also check if your source has been cited in any more recent publications.
Think of the bibliography/references page of a good source as a series of breadcrumbs that you can follow to find even more great material.
Note: This is a shortcut to finding good sources, not a shortcut for using them. You should always locate the original source and read it to extract the information you want (rather than citing it secondhand, which is a poor research practice).
It is very important to be selective when choosing the final sources to include in your literature review. Below are some of the key questions to ask yourself:
- If a source is tangentially interesting but hasn’t made any particular contribution to your topic, it probably shouldn’t be included in your literature review. You need to be able to demonstrate how it fits in with the other sources under consideration, and how it has helped shape the current state of the literature.
- There might be a wealth of material available on your chosen subject, but you need to make sure that the sources you use are appropriate for your assignment. The safest approach to take is to use only academic work from respected publishers. However, on occasions, you might need to deviate from traditional academic literature in order to find the information you need. In many cases, the problem is not so much the sources you use, but how you use them. Where relevant, information from newspapers, websites and even blogs are often acceptable, but you should be careful how you use that information. Do not necessarily take any information as factual. Instead be critical and interpret the material in the context of your research. Consider who the writer is and how this might influence the authority and reliability of the information presented. Consult your supervisor for more specific guidance relating to your research.
- The mere fact that something has been published does not automatically guarantee its quality, even if it comes from a reputable publisher. You will need to critique the content of the source. Has the author been thorough and consistent in their methodology? Do they present their thesis coherently? Most importantly, have they made a genuine contribution to the topic?
Keeping track of your sources
Once you have selected a source to use in your literature review, it is useful to make notes on all of its key features, including where it comes from, what it says, and what its main strengths and weaknesses are. This way you can easily re-familiarise yourself with a source without having to re-read it. Keeping an annotated bibliography is one way to do this.
Alternately, below is a table you can copy and fill out for each source (see the Word document to save an editable copy for yourself). Software such as EndNote also allows you to keep an electronic record of references and your comments on them.
- Source evaluation table
Writing your literature review
As we explored in the 'Getting Started' tab, the literature review is both a process you follow and (in most cases) a written chapter you produce. Thus, having engaged the review process, you now need to do the writing itself. Please continue reading, or click a heading below to jump immediately to that section.
The structure of the final piece will depend on the discipline within which you are working as well as the nature of your particular research project. However, here are a few general pieces of advice for writing a successful literature review:
- Show the connections between your sources. Remember that your review should be more than merely a list of sources with brief descriptions under each one. You are constructing a narrative. Show clearly how each text has contributed to the current state of the literature, drawing connections between them.
- Engage critically with your sources. This means not simply describing what they say. You should be evaluating their content: do they make sound arguments? Are there any flaws in the methodology? Are there any relevant themes or issues they have failed to address? You can also compare their relative strengths and weaknesses.
- Signpost throughout to ensure your reader can follow your narrative. Keep relating the discussion back to your specific research topic.
- Make a clear argument. Keep in mind that this is a chance to present your take on a topic. Your literature review showcases your own informed interpretation of a specific area of research. If you have followed the advice given in this guide you will have been careful and selective in choosing your sources. You are in control of how you present them to your reader.
There are several different ways to structure the literature review chapter of your dissertation. Two of the most common strategies are thematic structure and chronological structure (the two of which can also be combined ). However you structure the literature review, this section of the dissertation normally culminates in identifying the research gap.
Variations of this structure are followed in most literature reviews. In a thematic structure , you organise the literature into groupings by theme (i.e., subtopic or focus). You then arrange the groupings in the most logical order, starting with the broadest (or most general) and moving to the narrowest (or most specific).
The funnel or inverted pyramid
To plan a thematic structure structure, it helps to imagine your themes moving down a funnel or inverted pyramid from broad to narrow. Consider the example depicted below, which responds to this research question:
What role did the iron rivets play in the sinking of the Titanic?
The topic of maritime disasters is the broadest theme, so it sits at the broad top of the funnel. The writer can establish some context about maritime disasters, generally, before narrowing to the Titanic, specifically. Next, the writer can narrow the discussion of the Titanic to the ship's structural integrity, specifically. Finally, the writer can narrow the discussion of structural integrity to the iron rivets, specifically. And voila: there's the research gap!
Note: The top of the funnel is widest to represent that it contains the broadest, or most general, theme. However, the length and depth of your discussion will actually increase , not decrease, as you move farther down the funnel. This is because the literature most closely related to your research gap (i.e., near the bottom) warrants the most comprehensive attention in the literature review, whereas the broad themes at the top can be covered more quickly.
The broad-to-narrow structure is intuitive for readers. Thus, it is crucial to consider how your themes 'nest inside' one another, from the broad to the narrow. Picturing your themes as nesting dolls is another way to envision this literature review structure, as you can see in the image below.
As with the funnel, remember that the first layer (or in this case, doll) is largest because it represents the broadest theme. In terms of word count and depth, the tinier dolls will warrant more attention because they are most closely related to the research gap or question(s).
The multi-funnel variation
The example above demonstrates a research project for which one major heading might suffice, in terms of outlining the literature review. However, the themes you identify for your dissertation might not relate to one another in such a linear fashion. If this is the case, you can adapt the funnel approach to match the number of major subheadings you will need.
In the three slides below, for example, a structure is depicted for a project that investigates this (fictional) dissertation research question: does gender influence the efficacy of teacher-led vs. family-led learning interventions for children with ADHD? Rather than nesting all the subtopics or themes in a direct line, the themes fall into three major headings.
The first major heading explores ADHD from clinical and diagnostic perspectives, narrowing ultimately to gender:
- 1.1 ADHD intro
- 1.2 ADHD definitions
- 1.3 ADHD diagnostic criteria
- 1.4 ADHD gender differences
The second major heading explores ADHD within the classroom environment, narrowing to intervention types:
- 2.1 ADHD in educational contexts
- 2.2 Learning interventions for ADHD
- 2.2.1 Teacher-led interventions
- 2.2.2 Family-led interventions
The final major heading articulates the research gap (gender differences in efficacy of teacher-led vs. family-led interventions for ADHD) by connecting the narrowest themes of the prior two sections.
Multi-funnel literature review structure by Academic Skills Service
To create a solid thematic structure in a literature review, the key is thinking carefully and critically about your groupings of literature and how they relate to one another. In some cases, your themes will fit in a single funnel. In other cases, it will make sense to group your broad-to-narrow themes under several major headings, and then arrange those major headings in the most logical order.
Some literature reviews will follow a chronological structure . As the name suggests, a review structured chronologically will arrange sources according to their publication dates, from earliest to most recent.
This approach can work well when your priority is to demonstrate how the research field has evolved over time. For example, a chronological arrangement of articles about artificial intelligence (AI) would allow the writer to highlight how breakthroughs in AI have built upon one another in sequential order.
A chronological structure can also suit literature reviews that need to capture how perceptions or understandings have developed across a period of time (including to the present day). For example, if your dissertation involves the public perception of marijuana in the UK, it could make sense to arrange that discussion chronologically to demonstrate key turning points and changes of majority thought.
The chronological structure can work well in some situations, such as those described above. That being said, a purely chronological structure should be considered with caution. Organising sources according to date alone runs the risk of creating a fragmented reading experience. It can be more difficult in a chronological structure to properly synthesize the literature. For these reasons, the chronological approach is often blended into a thematic structure, as you will read more about, below.
The structures of literature reviews can vary drastically, and for any given dissertation there will be many valid ways to arrange the literature.
For example, many literature reviews will combine the thematic and chronological approaches in different ways. A writer might match their major headings to themes or subtopics, but then arrange literature chronologically within the major themes identified. Another writer might base their major headings on chronology, but then assign thematic subheadings to each of those major headings.
When considering your options, try to imagine your reader or audience. What 'flow' will allow them to best follow the discussion you are crafting? When you are reading articles, what structural approaches do you appreciate in terms of ease and clarity?
Identifying the gap
The bulk of your literature review will explore relevant points of development and scholarly thought in your research field: in other words, 'Here is what has been done so far, thus here is where the conversation now stands'. In that way, you position your project within a wider academic discussion.
Having established that context, the literature review generally culminates in an articulation of what remains to be done: the research gap your project addresses. See the next tab for further explanation and examples.
Demystifying the research gap
The term research gap is intimidating for many students, who might mistakenly believe that every single element of their research needs to be brand new and fully innovative. This isn't the case!
The gap in many projects will be rather niche or specific. You might be helping to update or re-test knowledge rather than starting from scratch. Perhaps you have repeated a study but changed one variable. Maybe you are considering a much discussed research question, but with a lesser used methodological approach.
To demonstrate the wide variety of gaps a project could address, consider the examples below. The categories used and examples included are by no means comprehensive, but they should be helpful if you are struggling to articulate the gap your literature review has identified.
***P lease note that the content of the example statements has been invented for the sake of demonstration. The example statements should not be taken as expressions of factual information.
Gaps related to population or geography
Many dissertation research questions involve the study of a specific population. Those populations can be defined by nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic class, political beliefs, religion, health status, or other factors. Other research questions target a specific geography (e.g. a country, territory, city, or similar). Perhaps your broader research question has been pursued by many prior scholars, but few (or no) scholars have studied the question in relation to your focal population or locale: if so, that's a gap.
- Example 1: As established above, the correlations between [ socioeconomic status ] and sustainable fashion purchases have been widely researched. However, few studies have investigated the potential relationship between [ sexual identity ] and attitudes toward sustainable fashion. Therefore...
- Example 2: Whilst the existing literature has established a clear link between [ political beliefs ] and perceptions of socialized healthcare, the influence of [ religious belief ] is less understood, particularly in regards to [ Religion ABC ].
- Example 3: Available evidence confirms that the widespread adoption of Technology XYZ in [ North America ] has improved manufacturing efficiency and reduced costs in the automotive sector. Using predictive AI models, the present research seeks to explore whether deployment of Technology XYZ could benefit the automotive sector of [ Europe ] in similar ways.
Gaps related to theoretical framework
The original contribution might involve examining something through a new lens. Theoretical framework refers, most simply, to the theory or theories a writer will use to make sense of and shape (i.e., frame ) their discussion. Perhaps your topic has been analysed in great detail through certain theoretical lenses, but you intend to frame your analysis using a theory that fewer scholars have applied to the topic: if so, that's a gap.
- Example 1: Existing discussions of the ongoing revolution in Country XYZ frame the unrest in terms of [ theory A ] and [ theory B ]. The present research will instead analyse the situation using [ theory C ], allowing greater insight into...
- Example 2: In the first section of this literature review, I examined the [ postmodern ], [ Marxist ], and [ pragmatist ] analyses that dominate academic discussion of The World According to Garp. By revisiting this modern classic through the lens of [ queer theory ], I intend to...
Gaps related to methodological approach
The research gap might be defined by differences of methodology (see our Writing the Methodology guide for more). Perhaps your dissertation poses a central question that other scholars have researched, but they have applied different methods to find the answer(s): if so, that's a gap.
- Example 1: Previous studies have relied largely upon the [ qualitative analysis of interview transcripts ] to measure the marketing efficacy of body-positive advertising campaigns. It is problematic that little quantitative data underpins present findings in this area. Therefore, I will address this research gap by [ using algorithm XYZ to quantify and analyse social-media interactions ] to determine whether...
- Example 2: Via [ quantitative and mixed-methods studies ], previous literature has explored how demographic differences influence the probability of a successful match on Dating App XYZ. By instead [ conducting a content analysis of pre-match text interactions ] on Dating App XYZ, I will...
Scarcity as a gap
Absolutes such as never and always rarely apply in academia, but here is an exception: in academia, a single study or analysis is never enough. Thus, the gap you address needn't be a literal void in the discussion. The gap could instead have to do with replicability or depth/scope. In these cases, you are adding value and contributing to the academic process by testing emerging knowledge or expanding underdeveloped discussions.
- Example: Initial research points to the efficacy of Learning Strategy ABC in helping children with dyslexia build their reading confidence. However, as detailed earlier in this review, only four published studies have tested the intervention, and two of those studies were conducted in a laboratory. To expand our growing understanding of how Learning Strategy ABC functions in classroom environments, I will...
Elapsed time as a gap
Academia values up-to-date knowledge and findings, so another valid type of gap relates to elapsed time. Many factors that can influence or shape research findings are ever evolving: technology, popular culture, and political climates, to name just a few. Due to such changes, it's important for scholars in most fields to continually update findings. Perhaps your dissertation adds value by contributing to this process.
For example, imagine if a scholar today were to rely on a handbook of marketing principles published in 1998. As good as that research might have been in 1998, technology (namely, the internet) has advanced drastically since then. The handbook's discussion of online marketing strategies will be laughably outdated when compared to more recent literature.
- Example: A wide array of literature has explored the ways in which perceptions of gender influence professional recruitment practices in the UK. The bulk of said literature, however, was published prior to the #MeToo movement and resultant shifts in discourse around gender, power imbalances and professional advancement. Therefore...
What to avoid
This portion of the guide will cover some common missteps you should try to avoid in writing your literature review. Scroll to continue reading, or click a heading below to jump immediately to that section.
Writing up before you have read up
Trying to write your literature review before you have conducted adequate research is a recipe for panic and frustration. The literature review, more than any other chapter in your dissertation, depends upon your critical understanding of a range of relevant literature. If you have only dipped your toe into the pool of literature (rather than diving in!), you will naturally struggle to develop this section of the writing. Focus on developing your relevant bases of knowledge before you commit too much time to drafting.
Tip: If you sit down to start writing your literature review and feel like you have no idea what to say, this is probably a sign that you need to slow down and conduct more research/reading. If, on the other hand, you sit down and feel like you have no idea where to begin (i.e., you have so much to say), this suggests you have done enough research to start, but may need to slow down and develop a mind map or outline to help you plan.
Believing you need to read everything
As established above, a literature review does require a significant amount of reading. However, you aren't expected to review everything ever written about your topic. Instead, aim to develop a more strategic approach to your research. A strategic approach to research looks different from one project to the next, but here are some questions to help you prioritise:
- If your field values up-to-date research and discoveries, carefully consider the 'how' and 'what' before investing time reading older sources: how will the source function in your dissertation, and what will it add to your writing?
- Try to break your research question(s) down into component parts. Then, map out where your literature review will need to provide extensive detail and where it can instead present quicker background. Allocate your research time and effort accordingly.
Omitting dissenting views or findings
While reviewing the literature, you might discover authors who disagree with your central argument or whose own findings contradict your hypothesis. Don't omit those sources: embrace them! Remember, the literature review aims to explore the academic dialogue around your topic: disagreements or conflicting findings are often part of that dialogue, and including them in your writing will create a sense of rich, critical engagement. In fact, highlighting any disagreements amongst scholars is a great way to emphasise the relevance of, and need for, your own research.
Miscalculating the scope
As shown in the funnel structure (see 'Structure' tab for more), a literature review often starts broadly and then narrows the dialogue as it progresses, ultimately bringing the reader to the dissertation's specific research topic (e.g. the funnel's narrowest point).
Within that structure, it's common for writers to miscalculate the scope required. They might open the literature review far too broadly, dedicating disproportionate space to developing background information or general theory; alternately, they might rush into the narrowest part of the discussion, failing to develop any sense of surrounding context or background, first.
It takes trial and error to determine the appropriate scope for your literature review. To help with this...
- Imagine your literature review subtopics cascading down a stairwell, as in the illustration below.
- Place the broadest concepts on the highest steps, then narrow down to the most specific concepts on the lowest steps: the scope 'zooms in' as you move down the stairwell.
- Now, consider which step is the most logical starting place for your readers. Do they need to start all the way at the top, or should you 'zoom in'?
The illustration above shows a stairwell diagram of a dissertation that aims to analyse Stephen King's horror novel The Stand through the lens of a specific feminist literary theory.
- If the literature review began on one of the bottom two steps, this would feel rushed and inadequate. The writer needs to explore and define the relevant theoretical lens before they discuss how it has been applied by other scholars.
- If the literature review began on the very top step, this would feel comically broad in terms of scope: in this writing context, the reader doesn't require a detailed account of the entire history of feminism!
The third step, therefore, represents a promising starting point: not too narrow, not too broad.
The 'islands' structure
Above all else, a literature review needs to synthesize a range of sources in a logical fashion. In this context, to synthesize means to bring together, connect, weave, and/or relate. A common mistake writers make is failing to conduct such synthesis, and instead discussing each source in isolation. This leads to a disconnected structure, with each source treated like its own little 'island'. The island approach works for very few projects.
Some writers end up with this island structure because they confuse the nature of the literature review with the nature of an annotated bibliography . The latter is a tool you can use to analyse and keep track of individual sources, and most annotated bibliographies will indeed be arranged in a source-by-source structure. That's fine for pre-writing and notetaking, but to structure the literature review, you need to think about connections and overlaps between sources rather than considering them as stand-alone works.
If you are struggling to forge connections between your sources, break down the process into tiny steps:
- e.g. Air pollution from wood-burning stoves in homes.
- e.g. Bryant and Dao (2022) found that X% of small particle pollution in the United Kingdom can be attributed to the use of wood-burning stoves.
- e.g. A study by Williams (2023) reinforced those findings, indicating that small particle pollution has...
- e.g. However, Landers (2023) cautions that factor ABC and factor XYZ may contribute equally to poor air quality, suggesting that further research...
The above exercise is not meant to suggest that you can only write one sentence per source: you can write more than that, of course! The exercise is simply designed to help you start synthesizing the literature rather than giving each source the island treatment.
Q: I still don't get it - what's the point of a literature review?
A: Let's boil it down to three key points...
- The literature review provides a platform for you, as a scholar, to demonstrate your understanding of how your research area has evolved. By engaging with seminal texts or the most up-to-date findings in your field, you can situate your own research within the relevant academic context(s) or conversation(s).
- The literature review allows you to identify the research gap your project addresses: in other words, what you will add to discussions in your academic field.
- Finally, the literature review justifies the reason for your research. By exploring existing literature, you can highlight the relevance and purpose of your own research.
Q: What if I don't have a gap?
A: It's normal to struggle with identifying a research gap. This can be particularly true if you are working in a highly saturated research area, broadly speaking: for example, if you are studying the links between nutrition and diabetes, or if you are studying Shakespeare.
The 'What to Avoid' tab explained that miscalculating the scope is a common mistake in literature reviews. If you are struggling to identify your gap, scope might be the culprit, particularly if you are working in a saturated field. Remember that the gap is the narrowest part of the funnel, the smallest nesting doll, the lowest step: this means your contribution in that giant academic conversation will need to be quite 'zoomed in':
This is not a valid gap → Analysing Shakespeare's sonnets.
This might be a valid gap → Conducting an ecocritical analysis of the visual motifs of Shakespeare's final five procreation sonnets (e.g. sonnets number thirteen to seventeen).
In the above example, the revised attempt to articulate a gap 'zooms in' by identifying a particular theoretical lens (e.g. ecocriticism), a specific convention to analyse (e.g. use of visual motifs), and a narrower object (e.g. five sonnets rather than all 150+). The field of Shakespeare studies might be crowded, but there is nonetheless room to make an original contribution.
Conversely, it might be difficult to identify the gap if you are working not in a saturated field, but in a brand new or niche research area. How can you situate your work within a relevant academic conversation if it seems like the 'conversation' is just you talking to yourself?
In these cases, rather than 'zooming in', you might find it helpful to 'zoom out'. If your topic is niche, think creatively about who will be interested in your results. Who would benefit from understanding your findings? Who could potentially apply them or build upon them? Thinking of this in interdisciplinary terms is helpful for some projects.
Tip: Venn diagrams and mind maps are great ways to explore how your research connects to, and diverges from, the existing literature.
Q: How many references should I use in my literature review?
A: This question is risky to answer because the variations between individual projects and disciplines make it impossible to provide a universal answer. The fact is that one dissertation might have 50 more references than another, yet the two projects could be equally rigorous and successful in fulfilling their research aims.
With that warning in mind, let's consider a 'standard' dissertation of around 10K words. In that context, referencing 30 to 40 sources in your literature review tends to work well. Again, this is not a universally accurate rule, but a ballpark figure for you to contemplate. If the 30 to 40 estimate seems frighteningly high to you, do remember that many sources will be used sparingly rather than being mulled over at length. Consider this example:
In British GP practices, pharmaceutical treatment is most often prescribed for Health Condition XYZ ( Carlos, 2019; Jones, 2020 ; Li, 2022 ). Lifestyle modifications, such as physical exercise or meditation practices, have only recently...
When writing critically, it's important to validate findings across studies rather than trusting only one source. Therefore, this writer has cited three recent studies that agree about the claim being made. The writer will delve into other sources at more length, but here, it makes sense to cite the literature and move quickly along.
As you search the databases and start following the relevant trails of 'research bread crumbs', you will be surprised how quickly your reference list grows.
Tip: When you find one good source, use database features to check which other articles have cited that source. Also check that source's own references page. You will likely find relevant literature that can help you flesh out key concepts using multiple sources rather than just one.
Q: What if there isn't enough relevant literature on my topic?
A: Think creatively about the literature you are using and engaging with. A good start is panning out to consider your topic more broadly: you might not identify articles that discuss your exact topic, but what can you discover if you shift your focus up one level?
Imagine, for example, that Norah is researching how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to provide dance instruction. She discovers that no one has written about this topic. Rather than panicking, she breaks down her research question into its component parts to consider what research might exist.
- First, dance instruction: literature on how dance has traditionally been taught (i.e., not with AI) is still relevant because it will provide background and context. To appreciate the challenges or opportunities that transition to AI instruction might bring, we need to understand the status quo. Norah might also search for articles that analyse how other technological shifts have affected dance instruction: for example, how YouTube popularized at-home dance study, or how live video services like Zoom enabled real-time interaction between dance pupils and teachers despite physical distance.
- Next, artificial intelligence used for instruction: Norah can seek out research on, and examples of, the application of AI for instructive purposes. Even if those purposes don't involve dance, such literature can contribute to illustrating the broader context around Norah's project.
- Could it be relevant to discuss the technologies used to track an actor's real-life movements and convert them into the motions of a video game character? Perhaps there are parallels!
- Could it be relevant to explore research on applications of AI in creative writing and visual art? Could be relevant since dance is also a creative field!
In summary, don't panic if you can't find research on your exact question or topic. Think through the broader context and parallel ideas, and you will soon find what you need.
Q: What if my discipline doesn't require a literature review chapter?
A: This is a great question. Whilst many disciplines dictate that your dissertation should include a chapter called Literature Review , not all subjects follow this convention. Those subjects will still expect you to incorporate a range of external literature, but you will nest the sources under different headings.
For example, some disciplines dictate an introductory chapter that is longer than average, and you essentially nest a miniature literature review inside the introduction, itself. Although the writing is more condensed and falls under a subheading of the introduction, the techniques and principles of writing a literature review (for example, moving from the broad to the narrow) will still prove relevant.
Some disciplines include chapters with names like Background , History , Theoretical Framework , etc. The exact functions of such chapters differ, but they have this in common: reviewing literature. You can't provide a critical background or history without synthesizing external sources. To illustrate your theoretical framework, you need to synthesize a range of literature that defines the theory or theories you intend to use.
Therefore, as stated earlier in this guide, you should be prepared to review and synthesize a range of literature regardless of your discipline. You can tailor the purpose of that synthesis to the structure and demands of writing in your subject area.
Q: Does my literature review need to include every source I plan to use in my discussion chapter?
A: The short answer is 'no' - there are some situations in which it is okay to use a source in your discussion chapter that you didn't integrate into your literature review chapter.
Imagine, for example, that your study produced a surprising result: a finding that you didn't anticipate. To make sense of that result, you might need to conduct additional research. That new research will help you explain the unexpected result in your discussion chapter.
More often, however, your discussion will draw on, or return to, sources from your literature review. After all, the literature review is where you paint a detailed picture of the conversation surrounding your research topic. Thus, it makes sense for you to relate your own work to that conversation in the discussion.
Note: Remember that you can edit your literature review after writing your discussion chapter, if needed. It's common when writing a dissertation to 'bounce between' sections as the work progresses, editing one chapter as a result of developments in a different chapter.
The literature review provides you an opportunity to engage with a rich range of published work and, perhaps for the first time, critically consider how your own research fits within and responds to your academic community. This can be a very invigorating process!
At the same time, it's likely that you will be juggling more academic sources than you have ever used in a single writing project. Additionally, you will need to think strategically about the focus and scope of your work: figuring out the best structure for your literature review might require several rounds of re-drafting and significant edits.
If you are usually a 'dive in without a plan and just get drafting' kind of writer, be prepared to modify your approach if you start to feel overwhelmed. Mind mapping, organising your ideas on a marker board, or creating a bullet-pointed reverse outline can help if you start to feel lost.
Alternately, if you are usually a 'create a strict, detailed outline and stick to it at all costs' kind of writer, keep in mind that long-form writing often calls for writers to modify their plans for content and structure as their work progresses and evolves. It can help such writers to schedule periodic 'audits' of their outlines, with the aim being to assess what is still working and what else needs to be added, deleted or modified.
Here’s a final checklist for writing your literature review. Remember that not all of these points will be relevant for your literature review, so make sure you cover whatever’s appropriate for your dissertation. The asterisk (*) indicates any content that might not be relevant for your dissertation. You can save your own copy of the checklist to edit using the Word document, below.
- Literature review self-evaluation checklist
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How to Write a Literature Review: Subject Headings and Keywords
- Step #1: Build a Search Question This link opens in a new window
- Boolean Operators
- Subject Headings and Keywords
- Did you get what you need?
- Step #3: Reading & Analyzing
- Step #4: Writing
- Step #5: Citation Management This link opens in a new window
What are "Subject Headings" and "Keywords"?
Subject headings are specific terms or phrases that describe the content of each item in a database. These headings are used to find relevant articles on the same topic. Searching by subject headings (a.k.a. MeSH or descriptors) is the most precise way to search article databases.
It is not easy to guess which subject headings are used in a given database. You might have to find what term is used for a subject first before using it, for example do you use "Stroke" or "Cerebrovascular Accident?"
Another way to look at subject headings, and how precise they are, is that they are like headings found in a phone book's Yellow Pages. If you look for "Movie Theaters" you will find nothing, as they are listed under the subject heading "Theaters - Movies."
Keyword searching is how you typically search web search engines. Think of important words or phrases and type them in to get results.
Here are some key points about each type of search:
How to search using subject headings
To find subject headings for your topic:
- PubMed & Medline = MeSH
- EMBASE = EMTREE Thesaurus
- CINAHL = CINAHL Headings
- Check the Help pages for how to search for and use subject headings in your database
- Search Google for video tutorials on how to use subject headings in your database
Another way to find subject headings:
- Start with a keyword search, using words/phrases that describe your topic.
- Browse the results; choose 2 or 3 that are relevant.
- Look at the Subject or Descriptor field and note the terms used (write them down).
- Redo your search using those terms.
- Your results will be more precise than your initial keyword search.
- Create a Searchable Question
- Search Strategy
Consult a health sciences librarian, bottom-njmhsl-sig.
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- Last Updated: Sep 13, 2023 10:35 AM
- URL: https://libguides.lib.umanitoba.ca/literaturereview
Outline Literature Review Template
Dissertation Literature Review Example
Short Research Literature Review Example
Literature Review Examples
- The title of your thesis.
- Introduction to your thesis. You can elaborate more on the topic of your thesis.
- The theoretical framework of your study. The literature review of your study should contain the theoretical frameworks you are following in your research study.
Project Management Literature Review Example
Traditional or Narrative Literature Review Example
Systematic Student Literature Review Example
Theoretical Literature Review with Introduction
Methodological Literature Critical Review Example
Historical Literature Review Report Example
Health Integrative Literature Review Example
Argumentative Literature To D0 Review Example
Sample APA Literature Review
Literature Review with Itinerary Charts
Literature Summary Tables for Review
Why do a Literature Review?
How to write a literature review.
- A ball-park figure for an average review would be around 10,000 words
- Make sure that your review is unbiased
- Your review should try to motivate the next part of the research
- Make sure that the content moves logically from one topic to another and all the paragraphs are linked together
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