How to Write a Literature Review: Writing a Literature Review in APA Format
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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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Writing literature reviews in apa format.
By Ranjani Srinivasan
Literature reviews are writing assignments that investigate the research conducted on a particular topic. It summarizes what scientific literature has to say about your particular topic. APA format helps us to organize the references in a standardized form. As such, it is most commonly used while writing literature reviews. Knowledge of writing literature reviews in APA format is very essential, especially for students. Students are often assigned the task of writing literature reviews to get them prepared before they take on primary research assignments. Generally, writing literature reviews in APA format is considered to be a complex process. However, you must remember that though writing it might be a complicated task, it is easy for the reader to understand. A few useful tips for writing literature reviews in APA format are discussed below.
Tips for Writing Literature Reviews in APA Format
- As far as possible, avoid using direct quotes. You can summarize the basic idea in your own words, and give proper author citation for it. In case you have to use a direct quotation, enclose the quoted text in quotation marks, and provide the author name, year of publication, and page number in parentheses.
- Mention the most fundamental studies first. In other words, the most recent studies should be mentioned at last. In that way, the studies will be listed in a sequence. Therefore, the reader can easily understand the research conducted on a particular topic and what conclusions were put forth. Reading about a research and knowing how and why it leads to another research helps you to get a clear understanding of a particular topic.
- Based on your topic, try to include as many relevant references in your literature review as possible. That will help in preventing repetitive research. If some significant studies are omitted, readers might assume that research has not been conducted in that particular area and might take up the same. There is no point in people conducting the same type of research again and again. It is just a waste of time and effort.
- Avoid citing secondary sources as far as possible. It is always advisable to go through the original source yourself and decide whether it is relevant enough to be cited in your literature review.
- While presenting the sources, make it a point to evaluate them in the context of the topic. Present comparisons, point out flaws or loopholes that help in deciding the course of future research.
These are just a few general tips. For knowing more about the technical specifications of writing literature reviews in APA format, you can refer the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition.
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APA In-Text Citations for Research Writing
Why Use In-Text Citations?
When writing a journal article, literature review, convention paper, or any other academic document, authors must include in-text citations whenever they refer to, summarize, paraphrase, or quote from another source. In addition, every time a work is cited within a paper (in APA style, a parenthetical citation), a corresponding entry must be included in the reference list.
How to Cite a Research Paper Using In-Text Citations
The rationale behind citing other people’s publications in your own manuscript is that you want to avoid intellectual dishonesty by giving credit to whoever reported a finding first or invented a specific technique. This is not only an ethical question, as being “sloppy” with your sources can easily be considered plagiarism (and even self-plagiarism , if you fail to refer to your own work), which can have legal consequences and damage your reputation.
General rules for what information should be provided when citing sources in a research paper vary across fields and depend on the type of source (e.g., books, journal articles, patents, conference proceedings, websites, etc.). We are not going into such differences here but will focus on the correct way of referencing other people’s research in your own paper according to one of the most common styles used to cite sources within the social sciences and in several other academic disciplines , that is, APA (American Psychological Association) style .
In research papers, in-text citations are most commonly used in the Introduction and Discussion Results sections. The following guidelines and examples are taken from the APA Publication Manual, 6th edition, 2nd printing , which details rules and application of APA style in research papers, including in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and references. For more information, consult the APA Style Manual website .
This resource provides detailed guidelines for citing sources in your paper and includes examples of in-text citations for reference by research authors. Before submitting your manuscript to a journal or publisher, be sure to use our free APA citation generator for your references and in-text citations.
APA Citation Rules: The Basics
Order and structure of in-text citation content.
When using APA format, follow the “author-date” method of in-text citation. Write the author’s last name and publication year for the source in parentheses and separate these pieces of information with a comma.
When referring to external work or referencing an entire work but not directly quoting the material, you only need to make a reference to the author and year of publication and not the page number in your citation.
The results of the first enzyme study (Chen et al., 2014) revealed several relationships.
If you mention the name of the author of the work in the sentence or earlier in the paragraph, you only need to include the year of publication in the citation.
Chen (2014) discusses several relationships revealed in this study.
Verb tense used in referring to other works
APA style requires authors to use past tense or present perfect tense (NOT present tense) when using signal phrases to refer to or discuss previous research (have a look at this article for more details on the correct tenses for different parts of a research paper ).
Radnitz (1995) found… / Radnitz (1995) has found…
Placement of in-text citations in the sentence (no quotation)
When referring to a specific work or works, place the citation (publication date only) directly after the author of the study referenced.
Klinge and Rogers (2010) found that mirroring is instrumental in developments of performative gender roles.
When giving information that reflects the results or implications of previous work, place the citation (author and publication date) at the end of the sentence.
Mirroring has been found to be instrumental in the development of performative gender roles (Klinge and Rogers, 2010).
Always capitalize author names and initials in in-text citations.
(r. kazinsky, 2014) (R. Kazinsky, 2014)
In-Text Citation Rules for Short Quotations
When quoting directly from a work, include the author, publication year, and page number of the reference (preceded by “p.”).
Method 1 : Introduce the quotation with a signal phrase that includes the author’s last name; the publication year will follow in parentheses. Include the page number in parentheses at the end of the quoted text. Note that the quotation marks surround the text only, and not the parenthetical citation.
According to Khan (1976), “Graduate students tend to apply more diverse methods during their first two years of research” (p. 45). Khan (1976) noted that “graduate students tend to apply more diverse methods during their first two years of research” (p. 45), a fact that has profound implications for research departments.
Method 2 : If the author is absent in the signal phrase, include the author’s last name, the publication year, and the page number together in parentheses after the quoted text.
Researchers noted that “graduate students tend to apply more diverse methods during their first two years of research” (Khan, 1976, p. 45), but they did not offer a suggestion as to the cause.
In-text Citation Rules for Long Quotations
Long direct quotations are those with at least 40 words of quoted text in a row. Long quotes should be placed in a separate block of lines without quotation marks, similar to creating a new paragraph. Begin the quotation on a new line and indent 0.5in/1.27cm from the left margin. Type the entire quotation within these new margins using double-spacing. Include the parenthetical citation after the final punctuation mark.
Khan’s (1976) study found the following: Graduate students tend to apply more diverse methods during their first two years of research, especially when conducting research in teams of three or fewer with no senior researchers present. This tendency could be attributed to either a misunderstanding of correct methodology or to a feeling of freedom to explore different approaches that the researchers have yet to employ. (p. 45)
Summarizing and Paraphrasing Other Works
When paraphrasing another work , you only need to cite the author and year of publication in your in-text citation. It may be a good idea to include the page number as well if the paraphrased information is located on a specific page of the original text. APA guidelines encourage this inclusion but do not require it.
According to Khan (1976), new researchers tend to use more diverse methodologies. New researchers tend to use more diverse methodologies (Khan, 1976, p. 45).
Common Signal Phrases for Introducing External Works
- According to Johnson (publication year)…
- As Johnson (publication year) has noted…
- Johnson and Smith (publication year) contend that…
- As Johnson’s (2011) study revealed…
Citing Works by Multiple Authors/Editors
When making an in-text citation of works by multiple authors, there are specific rules to follow depending on the number of authors of a publication and the number of times you cite the same works.
Citing Multiple Works in One In-text Citation
When citing more than one source in the same in-text citation, list all sources in the standard way and separate them with a semi-colon. List the sources alphabetically (by author’s last name or by title if no author is given) in the order they appear in the reference list.
(Marsh, 1997; Johnson, 2002). (Kazinsky, 2017; “Three Different Roads,” 2013).
Citing Works by the Same Author with the Same Publication Year
When citing two or more sources with the same author and year of publication, assign lowercase letters directly after the year of publication (a, b, c) according to the alphabetical order of titles. You will use the same alphabetical designations in your in-text citations that you do in your reference list.
The incidence of West Nile virus in Florida increased between 2002 and 2004 (Dickens, 2014a). According to Dickens (2014b), “these viral infections were precipitated by record levels of rainfall around the peninsula” (p. 150).
Citing a Work Quoted in another Source
Work quoted or paraphrased in another text is called a “secondary source.” While in your reference list you must cite the primary source as well, in your in-text citation you will add the words “as cited in” followed by the secondary source. For example, if a review article by Franklin you are citing includes a useful quote by Adams that supports your paper, your in-text citation would look like this:
According to a study by Adams (as cited in Franklin, 2016), 25% of all US federal prisoners have been diagnosed with some form of social disorder. Adams (as cited in Franklin) contends that this statistic “reflects the dehumanizing conditions of most federal institutions” (p. 76).
Citing Web Pages
When citing an entire website (with no specific webpage or article given), simply provide the title and web address within the text of your paper. No citation is needed in the References.
The American Psychological Association includes detailed information on how to apply APA citation (http://www.apa.org).
Webpage with author(s)
A webpage with an individual author or authors should be cited in the same way as other texts, with the name or names written first, followed by the publication year.
There were 523 new cases reported in 2011 alone (Kristoff, 2012).
Webpage with a group author
Treat group authors as individual authors in in-text citations, but instead of the author’s last name, include the name of the group.
Claustrophobia afflicts one in five Britons (The Surrey Group, 2003).
Webpage with missing information
Even when some central information is missing from a website (e.g., no author, date, or webpage title), you may still cite it as a source if you use the correct formatting. For information on how to cite a website with missing information, visit the APA Style Blog post on Missing Pieces .
Citing social media sources
For a more comprehensive explanation of social media citation guidelines, visit the APA Style Blog post on How to Cite Social Media in APA Style .
And when submitting your finished AP document to journals or for a class assignment, be sure to get professional English editing services , including academic editing , manuscript editing , and research paper editing services . Professional editors with experience in APA, AMA, MLA, and other popular style guides will make sure that your document’s citations and references conform to the journal of your choice.
Wordvice provides a variety of other articles on topics such as the number of references your manuscript should contain , different citation styles if your target style does not use APA, and how to paraphrase correctly when citing sources in your paper, as well as more general advice on how to write research papers on the Wordvice academic resources website .
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How to Write a Literature Review in APA Format
To complete a literature review, you must decide on your topic, research academic databases, organize your findings and write your review. The American Psychological Association provides specific guidelines for writing your review, from overall organization to minute details in formatting. Once you have organized and analyzed your findings, use APA style to write your review.
Format Your Document
Before you begin writing, ensure that your document is formatted properly. Set your page margins to 1 inch and double your spacing unless otherwise specified. Your font should be 12 point Times New Roman. Your header will contain a running heading and the page number on every page, including the title page. The page number should always be at the top right corner.
The title page will first introduce the running heading with the tag: "Running Heading: AND THE HEADING IN ALL CAPS." The title page should contain the title, the author, your name and your institution, all doubled-spaced and centered in the middle of the page.
Organize Your Sections
The essential sections for a literature review are the:
- body -- organized by main points
An abstract may be included, though it is not required. In your introduction , include a summary of the focus of your review and why it is important. For example, if you are reviewing studies about student motivation, explain that it is important for teachers and parents to be aware of what motivates students to learn, and include if there has been little or a lot of research on the subject.
Organize your body using your main points , with bold, centered headings. For example, after you have researched different studies examining student motivation, organize the body of your review based on motivating factors. In the section about parental approval, discuss studies that measured the effects parental approval had on student motivation. Your final section will be references.
Cite Your Sources
APA style includes specific, detailed instructions for in-text citations . Each time you refer to a study by restating information or findings, include a citation in parentheses. The general format is to list the last name of the author, followed by a comma and the publication year, all enclosed in parentheses. For example:
Fear of failing has been found to motivate some students (Jones, 2010).
If there are two or more authors , list the last names, separated by commas. Include the "&" symbol before the last name. For example, some students reported being afraid of failure (Jones, Smith, & Williams, 2010). If you cite the author in the reference, include only the year. For example: Jones found that some students are motivated by fear of failing (2010). If you are citing multiple studies, list them alphabetically by the first listed author.
Include Your References
Your references should begin on a new piece of paper with a bold, centered heading: References. Organize your studies alphabetically by the last name of the first author. A study by A. Brown and T. Roberts would come before a study by R. Clark and M. Adams, because Brown is alphabetically before Clark. All references are only single-spaced after periods.
The general format is the same for scholarly journals. List the last name, comma and first initial of every author. Put the date the article was published in parentheses. Write the title of the article with only the first word capitalized, followed by a period. Write the publication name in italics, followed by volume number if applicable. Finally, list the page numbers, for example:
Brown, A., & Roberts, T. (2010). Effects of fear of failure on student success in the classroom. Journal of Research, 23, 34-48.
The difference for books is that the title of the book is italicized, and location of the publisher is listed, for example:
Clark, R., & Adams, M.N. (2011). Why children succeed in the classroom. New York: Education Press.
- Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Types of APA Papers: Literature Review
- University of Nebraska at Lincoln: Ordering the Sections of an APA Literature Review
Hannah Richardson has a Master's degree in Special Education from Vanderbilt University and a Bacheor of Arts in English. She has been a writer since 2004 and wrote regularly for the sports and features sections of "The Technician" newspaper, as well as "Coastwach" magazine. Richardson also served as the co-editor-in-chief of "Windhover," an award-winning literary and arts magazine. She is currently teaching at a middle school.
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Citing sources research guide: literature reviews.
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Literature Reviews: Overview
This video from NCSU Libraries gives a helpful overview of literature reviews. Even though it says it's "for graduate students," the principles are the same for undergraduate students too!
Reading a Scholarly Article
- Reading a Scholarly Article or Literature Review Highlights sections of a scholarly article to identify structure of a literature review.
- Anatomy of a Scholarly Article (NCSU Libraries) Interactive tutorial that describes parts of a scholarly article typical of a Sciences or Social Sciences research article.
- Evaluating Information | Reading a Scholarly Article (Brown University Library) Provides examples and tips across disciplines for reading academic articles.
- Reading Academic Articles for Research [LIBRE Project] Gabriel Winer & Elizabeth Wadell (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI))
Literature Review Examples
What is a Literature Review?
The literature review is a written explanation by you, the author, of the research already done on the topic, question or issue at hand. What do we know (or not know) about this issue/topic/question?
- A literature review provides a thorough background of the topic by giving your reader a guided overview of major findings and current gaps in what is known so far about the topic.
- The literature review is not a list (like an annotated bibliography) -- it is a narrative helping your reader understand the topic and where you will "stand" in the debate between scholars regarding the interpretation of meaning and understanding why things happen. Your literature review helps your reader start to see the "camps" or "sides" within a debate, plus who studies the topic and their arguments.
- A good literature review should help the reader sense how you will answer your research question and should highlight the preceding arguments and evidence you think are most helpful in moving the topic forward.
- The purpose of the literature review is to dive into the existing debates on the topic to learn about the various schools of thought and arguments, using your research question as an anchor. If you find something that doesn't help answer your question, you don't have to read (or include) it. That's the power of the question format: it helps you filter what to read and include in your literature review, and what to ignore.
How Do I Start?
Essentially you will need to:
- Identify and evaluate relevant literature (books, journal articles, etc.) on your topic/question.
- Figure out how to classify what you've gathered. You could do this by schools of thought, different answers to a question, the authors' disciplinary approaches, the research methods used, or many other ways.
- Use those groupings to craft a narrative, or story, about the relevant literature on this topic.
- Remember to cite your sources properly!
- Research: Getting Started Visit this guide to learn more about finding and evaluating resources.
- Literature Review: Synthesizing Multiple Sources (IUPUI Writing Center) An in-depth guide on organizing and synthesizing what you've read into a literature review.
- Guide to Using a Synthesis Matrix (NCSU Writing and Speaking Tutorial Service) Overview of using a tool called a Synthesis Matrix to organize your literature review.
- Synthesis Matrix Template (VCU Libraries) A word document from VCU Libraries that will help you create your own Synthesis Matrix.
Additional Tutorials and Resources
- UR Writer's Web: Using Sources Guidance from the UR Writing Center on how to effectively use sources in your writing (which is what you're doing in your literature review!).
- Write a Literature Review (VCU Libraries) "Lit Reviews 101" with links to helpful tools and resources, including powerpoint slides from a literature review workshop.
- Literature Reviews (UNC Writing Center) Overview of the literature review process, including examples of different ways to organize a lit review.
- “Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review.” Pautasso, Marco. “Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review.” PLOS Computational Biology, vol. 9, no. 7, July 2013, p. e1003149.
- Writing the Literature Review Part I (University of Maryland University College) Video that explains more about what a literature review is and is not. Run time: 5:21.
- Writing the Literature Review Part II (University of Maryland University College) Video about organizing your sources and the writing process. Run time: 7:40.
- Writing a Literature Review (OWL @ Purdue)
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APA 7th Referencing
- Reports & Grey Literature
APA 7th Referencing: Reports & Grey Literature
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On this page
What is grey literature, referencing formats.
Grey literature is defined by GreyNet International (2019) as "multiple document types produced on all levels of government, academics, business, and organization in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing i.e. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body" ("GreyNet's business report" section, para. 2).
Grey literature includes a variety of different reports, including government, technical and research reports, as well as press releases, codes of ethics, grants, and policy and issues briefs (American Psychological Association, 2020, p. 329).
The basics of a reference list entry for a report:
- Author or authors. The surname is followed by first initials. The Author may be a government or corporate entity.
- Title of report (In italics . Include the report number in brackets where relevant)
- Publisher information (if the author and the publisher are the same, omit the publisher)
- The first line of each citation is left adjusted. Every subsequent line is indented 5-7 spaces.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Childhood education and care (No. 4402.0). https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/[email protected] /Lookup/4402.0Main+Features1June%202017?OpenDocument
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