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

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

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

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

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

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

Table of contents

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

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

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

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

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

Literature review guide

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

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

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

Download Word doc Download Google doc

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

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

Make a list of keywords

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

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

Search for relevant sources

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

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

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

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

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

For each publication, ask yourself:

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

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

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

Take notes and cite your sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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

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

 Statistics

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

Research bias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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how to write review of related literature in research

How to write review of related literature (RRL) in research

how to do review of related literature in research

A review of related literature (a.k.a RRL in research) is a comprehensive review of the existing literature pertaining to a specific topic or research question. An effective review provides the reader with an organized analysis and synthesis of the existing knowledge about a subject. With the increasing amount of new information being disseminated every day, conducting a review of related literature is becoming more difficult and the purpose of review of related literature is clearer than ever.  

All new knowledge is necessarily based on previously known information, and every new scientific study must be conducted and reported in the context of previous studies. This makes a review of related literature essential for research, and although it may be tedious work at times , most researchers will complete many such reviews of varying depths during their career. So, why exactly is a review of related literature important?    

Table of Contents

Why a review of related literature in research is important  

Before thinking how to do reviews of related literature , it is necessary to understand its importance. Although the purpose of a review of related literature varies depending on the discipline and how it will be used, its importance is never in question. Here are some ways in which a review can be crucial.  

  • Identify gaps in the knowledge – This is the primary purpose of a review of related literature (often called RRL in research ). To create new knowledge, you must first determine what knowledge may be missing. This also helps to identify the scope of your study.  
  • Avoid duplication of research efforts – Not only will a review of related literature indicate gaps in the existing research, but it will also lead you away from duplicating research that has already been done and thus save precious resources.  
  • Provide an overview of disparate and interdisciplinary research areas – Researchers cannot possibly know everything related to their disciplines. Therefore, it is very helpful to have access to a review of related literature already written and published.  
  • Highlight researcher’s familiarity with their topic 1  – A strong review of related literature in a study strengthens readers’ confidence in that study and that researcher.

how to do review of related literature in research

Tips on how to write a review of related literature in research

Given that you will probably need to produce a number of these at some point, here are a few general tips on how to write an effective review of related literature 2 .

  • Define your topic, audience, and purpose: You will be spending a lot of time with this review, so choose a topic that is interesting to you. While deciding what to write in a review of related literature , think about who you expect to read the review – researchers in your discipline, other scientists, the general public – and tailor the language to the audience. Also, think about the purpose of your review of related literature .  
  • Conduct a comprehensive literature search: While writing your review of related literature , emphasize more recent works but don’t forget to include some older publications as well. Cast a wide net, as you may find some interesting and relevant literature in unexpected databases or library corners. Don’t forget to search for recent conference papers.
  • Review the identified articles and take notes: It is a good idea to take notes in a way such that individual items in your notes can be moved around when you organize them. For example, index cards are great tools for this. Write each individual idea on a separate card along with the source. The cards can then be easily grouped and organized.  
  • Determine how to organize your review: A review of related literature should not be merely a listing of descriptions. It should be organized by some criterion, such as chronologically or thematically.  
  • Be critical and objective: Don’t just report the findings of other studies in your review of related literature . Challenge the methodology, find errors in the analysis, question the conclusions. Use what you find to improve your research. However, do not insert your opinions into the review of related literature. Remain objective and open-minded.  
  • Structure your review logically: Guide the reader through the information. The structure will depend on the function of the review of related literature. Creating an outline prior to writing the RRL in research is a good way to ensure the presented information flows well.  

As you read more extensively in your discipline, you will notice that the review of related literature appears in various forms in different places. For example, when you read an article about an experimental study, you will typically see a literature review or a RRL in research , in the introduction that includes brief descriptions of similar studies. In longer research studies and dissertations, especially in the social sciences, the review of related literature will typically be a separate chapter and include more information on methodologies and theory building. In addition, stand-alone review articles will be published that are extremely useful to researchers.  

The review of relevant literature or often abbreviated as, RRL in research , is an important communication tool that can be used in many forms for many purposes. It is a tool that all researchers should befriend.  

  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center. Literature Reviews.  https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/literature-reviews/  [Accessed September 8, 2022]
  • Pautasso M. Ten simple rules for writing a literature review. PLoS Comput Biol. 2013, 9. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149.

Q:  Is research complete without a review of related literature?

A research project is usually considered incomplete without a proper review of related literature. The review of related literature is a crucial component of any research project as it provides context for the research question, identifies gaps in existing literature, and ensures novelty by avoiding duplication. It also helps inform research design and supports arguments, highlights the significance of a study, and demonstrates your knowledge an expertise.

Q: What is difference between RRL and RRS?

The key difference between an RRL and an RRS lies in their focus and scope. An RRL or review of related literature examines a broad range of literature, including theoretical frameworks, concepts, and empirical studies, to establish the context and significance of the research topic. On the other hand, an RRS or review of research studies specifically focuses on analyzing and summarizing previous research studies within a specific research domain to gain insights into methodologies, findings, and gaps in the existing body of knowledge. While there may be some overlap between the two, they serve distinct purposes and cover different aspects of the research process.

Q: Does review of related literature improve accuracy and validity of research?

Yes, a comprehensive review of related literature (RRL) plays a vital role in improving the accuracy and validity of research. It helps authors gain a deeper understanding and offers different perspectives on the research topic. RRL can help you identify research gaps, dictate the selection of appropriate research methodologies, enhance theoretical frameworks, avoid biases and errors, and even provide support for research design and interpretation. By building upon and critically engaging with existing related literature, researchers can ensure their work is rigorous, reliable, and contributes meaningfully to their field of study.

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Review of Related Literature: What Is RRL & How to Write It + Examples

A review of related literature is a separate paper or a part of an article that collects and synthesizes discussion on a topic. Its purpose is to show the current state of research on the issue and highlight gaps in existing knowledge. A literature review can be included in a research paper or scholarly article, typically following the introduction and before the research methods section.

The picture provides introductory definition of a review of related literature.

This article will clarify the definition, significance, and structure of a review of related literature. You’ll also learn how to organize your literature review and discover ideas for an RRL in different subjects.

🔤 What Is RRL?

  • ❗ Significance of Literature Review
  • 🔎 How to Search for Literature
  • 🧩 Literature Review Structure
  • ✍️ How to Write an RRL
  • 📚 Examples of RRL

🔗 References

A review of related literature (RRL) is a part of the research report that examines significant studies, theories, and concepts published in scholarly sources on a particular topic. An RRL includes 3 main components:

  • A short overview and critique of the previous research.
  • Similarities and differences between past studies and the current one.
  • An explanation of the theoretical frameworks underpinning the research.

❗ Significance of Review of Related Literature

Although the goal of a review of related literature differs depending on the discipline and its intended use, its significance cannot be overstated. Here are some examples of how a review might be beneficial:

  • It helps determine knowledge gaps .
  • It saves from duplicating research that has already been conducted.
  • It provides an overview of various research areas within the discipline.
  • It demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with the topic.

🔎 How to Perform a Literature Search

Including a description of your search strategy in the literature review section can significantly increase your grade. You can search sources with the following steps:

🧩 Literature Review Structure Example

The majority of literature reviews follow a standard introduction-body-conclusion structure. Let’s look at the RRL structure in detail.

This image shows the literature review structure.

Introduction of Review of Related Literature: Sample

An introduction should clarify the study topic and the depth of the information to be delivered. It should also explain the types of sources used. If your lit. review is part of a larger research proposal or project, you can combine its introductory paragraph with the introduction of your paper.

Here is a sample introduction to an RRL about cyberbullying:

Bullying has troubled people since the beginning of time. However, with modern technological advancements, especially social media, bullying has evolved into cyberbullying. As a result, nowadays, teenagers and adults cannot flee their bullies, which makes them feel lonely and helpless. This literature review will examine recent studies on cyberbullying.

Sample Review of Related Literature Thesis

A thesis statement should include the central idea of your literature review and the primary supporting elements you discovered in the literature. Thesis statements are typically put at the end of the introductory paragraph.

Look at a sample thesis of a review of related literature:

This literature review shows that scholars have recently covered the issues of bullies’ motivation, the impact of bullying on victims and aggressors, common cyberbullying techniques, and victims’ coping strategies. However, there is still no agreement on the best practices to address cyberbullying.

Literature Review Body Paragraph Example

The main body of a literature review should provide an overview of the existing research on the issue. Body paragraphs should not just summarize each source but analyze them. You can organize your paragraphs with these 3 elements:

  • Claim . Start with a topic sentence linked to your literature review purpose.
  • Evidence . Cite relevant information from your chosen sources.
  • Discussion . Explain how the cited data supports your claim.

Here’s a literature review body paragraph example:

Scholars have examined the link between the aggressor and the victim. Beran et al. (2007) state that students bullied online often become cyberbullies themselves. Faucher et al. (2014) confirm this with their findings: they discovered that male and female students began engaging in cyberbullying after being subject to bullying. Hence, one can conclude that being a victim of bullying increases one’s likelihood of becoming a cyberbully.

Review of Related Literature: Conclusion

A conclusion presents a general consensus on the topic. Depending on your literature review purpose, it might include the following:

  • Introduction to further research . If you write a literature review as part of a larger research project, you can present your research question in your conclusion .
  • Overview of theories . You can summarize critical theories and concepts to help your reader understand the topic better.
  • Discussion of the gap . If you identified a research gap in the reviewed literature, your conclusion could explain why that gap is significant.

Check out a conclusion example that discusses a research gap:

There is extensive research into bullies’ motivation, the consequences of bullying for victims and aggressors, strategies for bullying, and coping with it. Yet, scholars still have not reached a consensus on what to consider the best practices to combat cyberbullying. This question is of great importance because of the significant adverse effects of cyberbullying on victims and bullies.

✍️ How to Write Review of Related Literature – Sample

Literature reviews can be organized in many ways depending on what you want to achieve with them. In this section, we will look at 3 examples of how you can write your RRL.

This image shows the organizational patterns of a literature review.

Thematic Literature Review

A thematic literature review is arranged around central themes or issues discussed in the sources. If you have identified some recurring themes in the literature, you can divide your RRL into sections that address various aspects of the topic. For example, if you examine studies on e-learning, you can distinguish such themes as the cost-effectiveness of online learning, the technologies used, and its effectiveness compared to traditional education.

Chronological Literature Review

A chronological literature review is a way to track the development of the topic over time. If you use this method, avoid merely listing and summarizing sources in chronological order. Instead, try to analyze the trends, turning moments, and critical debates that have shaped the field’s path. Also, you can give your interpretation of how and why specific advances occurred.

Methodological Literature Review

A methodological literature review differs from the preceding ones in that it usually doesn’t focus on the sources’ content. Instead, it is concerned with the research methods . So, if your references come from several disciplines or fields employing various research techniques, you can compare the findings and conclusions of different methodologies, for instance:

  • empirical vs. theoretical studies;
  • qualitative vs. quantitative research.

📚 Examples of Review of Related Literature and Studies

Have you ever struggled with finding the topic for an RRL in different subjects? Read the following paragraphs to get some ideas!

Nursing Literature Review Example

Many topics in the nursing field require research. For example, you can write a review of literature related to dengue fever . Give a general overview of dengue virus infections, including its clinical symptoms, diagnosis, prevention, and therapy.

Another good idea is to review related literature and studies about teenage pregnancy . This review can describe the effectiveness of specific programs for adolescent mothers and their children and summarize recommendations for preventing early pregnancy.

📝 Check out some more valuable examples below:

  • Hospital Readmissions: Literature Review .
  • Literature Review: Lower Sepsis Mortality Rates .
  • Breast Cancer: Literature Review .
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Literature Review .
  • PICO for Pressure Ulcers: Literature Review .
  • COVID-19 Spread Prevention: Literature Review .
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Literature Review .
  • Hypertension Treatment Adherence: Literature Review .
  • Neonatal Sepsis Prevention: Literature Review .
  • Healthcare-Associated Infections: Literature Review .
  • Understaffing in Nursing: Literature Review .

Psychology Literature Review Example

If you look for an RRL topic in psychology , you can write a review of related literature about stress . Summarize scientific evidence about stress stages, side effects, types, or reduction strategies. Or you can write a review of related literature about computer game addiction . In this case, you may concentrate on the neural mechanisms underlying the internet gaming disorder, compare it to other addictions, or evaluate treatment strategies.

A review of related literature about cyberbullying is another interesting option. You can highlight the impact of cyberbullying on undergraduate students’ academic, social, and emotional development.

📝 Look at the examples that we have prepared for you to come up with some more ideas:

  • Mindfulness in Counseling: A Literature Review .
  • Team-Building Across Cultures: Literature Review .
  • Anxiety and Decision Making: Literature Review .
  • Literature Review on Depression .
  • Literature Review on Narcissism .
  • Effects of Depression Among Adolescents .
  • Causes and Effects of Anxiety in Children .

Literature Review — Sociology Example

Sociological research poses critical questions about social structures and phenomena. For example, you can write a review of related literature about child labor , exploring cultural beliefs and social norms that normalize the exploitation of children. Or you can create a review of related literature about social media . It can investigate the impact of social media on relationships between adolescents or the role of social networks on immigrants’ acculturation .

📝 You can find some more ideas below!

  • Single Mothers’ Experiences of Relationships with Their Adolescent Sons .
  • Teachers and Students’ Gender-Based Interactions .
  • Gender Identity: Biological Perspective and Social Cognitive Theory .
  • Gender: Culturally-Prescribed Role or Biological Sex .
  • The Influence of Opioid Misuse on Academic Achievement of Veteran Students .
  • The Importance of Ethics in Research .
  • The Role of Family and Social Network Support in Mental Health .

Education Literature Review Example

For your education studies , you can write a review of related literature about academic performance to determine factors that affect student achievement and highlight research gaps. One more idea is to create a review of related literature on study habits , considering their role in the student’s life and academic outcomes.

You can also evaluate a computerized grading system in a review of related literature to single out its advantages and barriers to implementation. Or you can complete a review of related literature on instructional materials to identify their most common types and effects on student achievement.

📝 Find some inspiration in the examples below:

  • Literature Review on Online Learning Challenges From COVID-19 .
  • Education, Leadership, and Management: Literature Review .
  • Literature Review: Standardized Testing Bias .
  • Bullying of Disabled Children in School .
  • Interventions and Letter & Sound Recognition: A Literature Review .
  • Social-Emotional Skills Program for Preschoolers .
  • Effectiveness of Educational Leadership Management Skills .

Business Research Literature Review

If you’re a business student, you can focus on customer satisfaction in your review of related literature. Discuss specific customer satisfaction features and how it is affected by service quality and prices. You can also create a theoretical literature review about consumer buying behavior to evaluate theories that have significantly contributed to understanding how consumers make purchasing decisions.

📝 Look at the examples to get more exciting ideas:

  • Leadership and Communication: Literature Review .
  • Human Resource Development: Literature Review .
  • Project Management. Literature Review .
  • Strategic HRM: A Literature Review .
  • Customer Relationship Management: Literature Review .
  • Literature Review on International Financial Reporting Standards .
  • Cultures of Management: Literature Review .

To conclude, a review of related literature is a significant genre of scholarly works that can be applied in various disciplines and for multiple goals. The sources examined in an RRL provide theoretical frameworks for future studies and help create original research questions and hypotheses.

When you finish your outstanding literature review, don’t forget to check whether it sounds logical and coherent. Our text-to-speech tool can help you with that!

  • Literature Reviews | University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Writing a Literature Review | Purdue Online Writing Lab
  • Learn How to Write a Review of Literature | University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • The Literature Review: A Few Tips on Conducting It | University of Toronto
  • Writing a Literature Review | UC San Diego
  • Conduct a Literature Review | The University of Arizona
  • Methods for Literature Reviews | National Library of Medicine
  • Literature Reviews: 5. Write the Review | Georgia State University

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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.

Introduction:

  • 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.

Conclusion:

  • 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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What is a literature review?

A literature review is an integrated analysis -- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings and other relevant evidence related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents a synthesis of the evidence that provides background information on your topic and shows a association between the evidence 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.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
  • Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.

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1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.

Your literature review should be guided by your central research question.  The literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

  • Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow.  Is it manageable?
  • Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.
  • If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor and your class mates.

2. Decide on the scope of your review

How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

  • This may depend on your assignment.  How many sources does the assignment require?

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.

Make a list of the databases you will search. 

Where to find databases:

  • use the tabs on this guide
  • Find other databases in the Nursing Information Resources web page
  • More on the Medical Library web page
  • ... and more on the Yale University Library web page

4. Conduct your searches to find the evidence. Keep track of your searches.

  • Use the key words in your question, as well as synonyms for those words, as terms in your search. Use the database tutorials for help.
  • Save the searches in the databases. This saves time when you want to redo, or modify, the searches. It is also helpful to use as a guide is the searches are not finding any useful results.
  • Review the abstracts of research studies carefully. This will save you time.
  • Use the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
  • Check with your professor, or a subject expert in the field, if you are missing any key works in the field.
  • Ask your librarian for help at any time.
  • Use a citation manager, such as EndNote as the repository for your citations. See the EndNote tutorials for help.

Review the literature

Some questions to help you analyze the research:

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions.
  • Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited? If so, how has it been analyzed?

Tips: 

  • Review the abstracts carefully.  
  • Keep careful notes so that you may track your thought processes during the research process.
  • Create a matrix of the studies for easy analysis, and synthesis, across all of the studies.
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Intro to creating a literature review.

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  • 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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Conduct a literature review

What is a literature review.

A literature review is a summary of the published work in a field of study. This can be a section of a larger paper or article, or can be the focus of an entire paper. Literature reviews show that you have examined the breadth of knowledge and can justify your thesis or research questions. They are also valuable tools for other researchers who need to find a summary of that field of knowledge.

Unlike an annotated bibliography, which is a list of sources with short descriptions, a literature review synthesizes sources into a summary that has a thesis or statement of purpose—stated or implied—at its core.

How do I write a literature review?

Step 1: define your research scope.

  • What is the specific research question that your literature review helps to define?
  • Are there a maximum or minimum number of sources that your review should include?

Ask us if you have questions about refining your topic, search methods, writing tips, or citation management.

Step 2: Identify the literature

Start by searching broadly. Literature for your review will typically be acquired through scholarly books, journal articles, and/or dissertations. Develop an understanding of what is out there, what terms are accurate and helpful, etc., and keep track of all of it with citation management tools . If you need help figuring out key terms and where to search, ask us .

Use citation searching to track how scholars interact with, and build upon, previous research:

  • Mine the references cited section of each relevant source for additional key sources
  • Use Google Scholar or Scopus to find other sources that have cited a particular work

Step 3: Critically analyze the literature

Key to your literature review is a critical analysis of the literature collected around your topic. The analysis will explore relationships, major themes, and any critical gaps in the research expressed in the work. Read and summarize each source with an eye toward analyzing authority, currency, coverage, methodology, and relationship to other works. The University of Toronto's Writing Center provides a comprehensive list of questions you can use to analyze your sources.

Step 4: Categorize your resources

Divide the available resources that pertain to your research into categories reflecting their roles in addressing your research question. Possible ways to categorize resources include organization by:

  • methodology
  • theoretical/philosophical approach

Regardless of the division, each category should be accompanied by thorough discussions and explanations of strengths and weaknesses, value to the overall survey, and comparisons with similar sources. You may have enough resources when:

  • You've used multiple databases and other resources (web portals, repositories, etc.) to get a variety of perspectives on the research topic.
  • The same citations are showing up in a variety of databases.

Additional resources

Undergraduate student resources.

  • Literature Review Handout (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
  • Learn how to write a review of literature (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Graduate student and faculty resources

  • Information Research Strategies (University of Arizona)
  • Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students (NC State University)
  • Oliver, P. (2012). Succeeding with Your Literature Review: A Handbook for Students [ebook]
  • Machi, L. A. & McEvoy, B. T. (2016). The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success

Graustein, J. S. (2012). How to Write an Exceptional Thesis or Dissertation: A Step-by-Step Guide from Proposal to Successful Defense [ebook]

Thomas, R. M. & Brubaker, D. L. (2008). Theses and Dissertations: A Guide to Planning, Research, and Writing

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Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

Marco pautasso.

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

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

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

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

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

Rule 1: Define a Topic and Audience

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

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

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

Rule 2: Search and Re-search the Literature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rule 3: Take Notes While Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rule 6: Be Critical and Consistent

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

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

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

Rule 7: Find a Logical Structure

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

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

Rule 8: Make Use of Feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments

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

Funding Statement

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

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how to do review of related literature in research

Organize the literature review into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theory. You are not trying to list all the material published, but to synthesize and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your thesis or research question.  

What is a literature review?

A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. Occasionally you will be asked to write one as a separate assignment, but more often it is part of the introduction to an essay, research report, or thesis. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries

A literature review must do these things:

  • be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you are developing
  • synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known
  • identify areas of controversy in the literature
  • formulate questions that need further research

Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What is the specific thesis, problem, or research question that my literature review helps to define?
  • What type of literature review am I conducting? Am I looking at issues of theory? methodology? policy? quantitative research (e.g. on the effectiveness of a new procedure)? qualitative research (e.g., studies of loneliness among migrant workers)?
  • What is the scope of my literature review? What types of publications am I using (e.g., journals, books, government documents, popular media)? What discipline am I working in (e.g., nursing psychology, sociology, medicine)?
  • How good was my information seeking? Has my search been wide enough to ensure I've found all the relevant material? Has it been narrow enough to exclude irrelevant material? Is the number of sources I've used appropriate for the length of my paper?
  • Have I critically analyzed the literature I use? Do I follow through a set of concepts and questions, comparing items to each other in the ways they deal with them? Instead of just listing and summarizing items, do I assess them, discussing strengths and weaknesses?
  • Have I cited and discussed studies contrary to my perspective?
  • Will the reader find my literature review relevant, appropriate, and useful?

Ask yourself questions like these about each book or article you include:

  • Has the author formulated a problem/issue?
  • Is it clearly defined? Is its significance (scope, severity, relevance) clearly established?
  • Could the problem have been approached more effectively from another perspective?
  • What is the author's research orientation (e.g., interpretive, critical science, combination)?
  • What is the author's theoretical framework (e.g., psychological, developmental, feminist)?
  • What is the relationship between the theoretical and research perspectives?
  • Has the author evaluated the literature relevant to the problem/issue? Does the author include literature taking positions she or he does not agree with?
  • In a research study, how good are the basic components of the study design (e.g., population, intervention, outcome)? How accurate and valid are the measurements? Is the analysis of the data accurate and relevant to the research question? Are the conclusions validly based upon the data and analysis?
  • In material written for a popular readership, does the author use appeals to emotion, one-sided examples, or rhetorically-charged language and tone? Is there an objective basis to the reasoning, or is the author merely "proving" what he or she already believes?
  • How does the author structure the argument? Can you "deconstruct" the flow of the argument to see whether or where it breaks down logically (e.g., in establishing cause-effect relationships)?
  • In what ways does this book or article contribute to our understanding of the problem under study, and in what ways is it useful for practice? What are the strengths and limitations?
  • How does this book or article relate to the specific thesis or question I am developing?

Text written by Dena Taylor, Health Sciences Writing Centre, University of Toronto

http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/specific-types-of-writing/literature-review

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Literature Reviews

Steps in the literature review process.

  • What is a literature review?
  • Define your research question
  • Determine inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Choose databases and search
  • Review Results
  • Synthesize Results
  • Analyze Results
  • Librarian Support
  • You may need to some exploratory searching of the literature to get a sense of scope, to determine whether you need to narrow or broaden your focus
  • Identify databases that provide the most relevant sources, and identify relevant terms (controlled vocabularies) to add to your search strategy
  • Finalize your research question
  • Think about relevant dates, geographies (and languages), methods, and conflicting points of view
  • Conduct searches in the published literature via the identified databases
  • Check to see if this topic has been covered in other discipline's databases
  • Examine the citations of on-point articles for keywords, authors, and previous research (via references) and cited reference searching.
  • Save your search results in a citation management tool (such as Zotero, Mendeley or EndNote)
  • De-duplicate your search results
  • Make sure that you've found the seminal pieces -- they have been cited many times, and their work is considered foundational 
  • Check with your professor or a librarian to make sure your search has been comprehensive
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of individual sources and evaluate for bias, methodologies, and thoroughness
  • Group your results in to an organizational structure that will support why your research needs to be done, or that provides the answer to your research question  
  • Develop your conclusions
  • Are there gaps in the literature?
  • Where has significant research taken place, and who has done it?
  • Is there consensus or debate on this topic?
  • Which methodological approaches work best?
  • For example: Background, Current Practices, Critics and Proponents, Where/How this study will fit in 
  • Organize your citations and focus on your research question and pertinent studies
  • Compile your bibliography

Note: The first four steps are the best points at which to contact a librarian. Your librarian can help you determine the best databases to use for your topic, assess scope, and formulate a search strategy.

Videos Tutorials about Literature Reviews

This 4.5 minute video from Academic Education Materials has a Creative Commons License and a British narrator.

Recommended Reading

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

  • 5. The Literature Review
  • Purpose of Guide
  • Design Flaws to Avoid
  • Independent and Dependent Variables
  • Glossary of Research Terms
  • Reading Research Effectively
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
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  • Tiertiary Sources
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  • Bibliography

A literature review surveys prior research published in books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have used in researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within existing scholarship about the topic.

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.

Importance of a Good Literature Review

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:

  • Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
  • Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
  • Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.

Given this, the purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
  • Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2011; Knopf, Jeffrey W. "Doing a Literature Review." PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January 2006): 127-132; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012.

Types of Literature Reviews

It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally among scholars that become part of the body of epistemological traditions within the field.

In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.

Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].

Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.

Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.

Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem . Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?" This type of literature review is primarily applied to examining prior research studies in clinical medicine and allied health fields, but it is increasingly being used in the social sciences.

Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

NOTE : Most often the literature review will incorporate some combination of types. For example, a review that examines literature supporting or refuting an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem related to the research problem will also need to include writing supported by sources that establish the history of these arguments in the literature.

Baumeister, Roy F. and Mark R. Leary. "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews."  Review of General Psychology 1 (September 1997): 311-320; Mark R. Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147; Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2006; Torracro, Richard. "Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples." Human Resource Development Review 4 (September 2005): 356-367; Rocco, Tonette S. and Maria S. Plakhotnik. "Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks: Terms, Functions, and Distinctions." Human Ressource Development Review 8 (March 2008): 120-130; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Thinking About Your Literature Review

The structure of a literature review should include the following in support of understanding the research problem :

  • An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
  • Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
  • An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.

The critical evaluation of each work should consider :

  • Provenance -- what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
  • Methodology -- were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
  • Objectivity -- is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness -- which of the author's theses are most convincing or least convincing?
  • Validity -- are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

II.  Development of the Literature Review

Four Basic Stages of Writing 1.  Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? 2.  Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. 3.  Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. 4.  Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.

Consider the following issues before writing the literature review: Clarify If your assignment is not specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1.  Roughly how many sources would be appropriate to include? 2.  What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? 3.  Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? 4.  Should I evaluate the sources in any way beyond evaluating how they relate to understanding the research problem? 5.  Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history? Find Models Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read, such as required readings in the course syllabus, are also excellent entry points into your own research. Narrow the Topic The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that's available about the topic, but you'll make the act of reviewing easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the USC Libraries Catalog for recent books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research. For example, a book surveying the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may include a chapter on the role Egypt has played in mediating the conflict, or look in the index for the pages where Egypt is mentioned in the text. Consider Whether Your Sources are Current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.

III.  Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

Chronology of Events If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. For example, a literature review that focuses on continuing research about the emergence of German economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union. By Publication Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on environmental studies of brown fields if the progression revealed, for example, a change in the soil collection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies. Thematic [“conceptual categories”] A thematic literature review is the most common approach to summarizing prior research in the social and behavioral sciences. Thematic reviews are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time, although the progression of time may still be incorporated into a thematic review. For example, a review of the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics could focus on the development of online political satire. While the study focuses on one topic, the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics, it would still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The difference in this example between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: themes related to the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point being made. Methodological A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. For the Internet in American presidential politics project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of American presidents on American, British, and French websites. Or the review might focus on the fundraising impact of the Internet on a particular political party. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. However, only include what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship about the research problem.

Here are examples of other sections, usually in the form of a single paragraph, you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:

  • Current Situation : Information necessary to understand the current topic or focus of the literature review.
  • Sources Used : Describes the methods and resources [e.g., databases] you used to identify the literature you reviewed.
  • History : The chronological progression of the field, the research literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Selection Methods : Criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed [i.e., scholarly] sources.
  • Standards : Description of the way in which you present your information.
  • Questions for Further Research : What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

IV.  Writing Your Literature Review

Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.

Use Evidence A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid. Be Selective Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information, but that are not key to understanding the research problem, can be included in a list of further readings . Use Quotes Sparingly Some short quotes are appropriate if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, is not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for using your own words in reviewing the literature. Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work and the work of others. Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.

V.  Common Mistakes to Avoid

These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.

  • Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
  • You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
  • Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
  • Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
  • Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
  • Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
  • Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.

Cook, Kathleen E. and Elise Murowchick. “Do Literature Review Skills Transfer from One Course to Another?” Psychology Learning and Teaching 13 (March 2014): 3-11; Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . London: SAGE, 2011; Literature Review Handout. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012; Randolph, Justus J. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review." Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. vol. 14, June 2009; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.

Writing Tip

Break Out of Your Disciplinary Box!

Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue? You don’t want to substitute a thorough review of core research literature in your discipline for studies conducted in other fields of study. However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.

Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Just Review for Content!

While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating. Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:

  • How are they organizing their ideas?
  • What methods have they used to study the problem?
  • What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
  • What sources have they cited to support their conclusions?
  • How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?

When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem.

Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1 998.

Yet Another Writing Tip

When Do I Know I Can Stop Looking and Move On?

Here are several strategies you can utilize to assess whether you've thoroughly reviewed the literature:

  • Look for repeating patterns in the research findings . If the same thing is being said, just by different people, then this likely demonstrates that the research problem has hit a conceptual dead end. At this point consider: Does your study extend current research?  Does it forge a new path? Or, does is merely add more of the same thing being said?
  • Look at sources the authors cite to in their work . If you begin to see the same researchers cited again and again, then this is often an indication that no new ideas have been generated to address the research problem.
  • Search Google Scholar to identify who has subsequently cited leading scholars already identified in your literature review [see next sub-tab]. This is called citation tracking and there are a number of sources that can help you identify who has cited whom, particularly scholars from outside of your discipline. Here again, if the same authors are being cited again and again, this may indicate no new literature has been written on the topic.

Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2016; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

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Research Methods

  • Getting Started
  • Literature Review Research
  • Research Design
  • Research Design By Discipline
  • SAGE Research Methods
  • Teaching with SAGE Research Methods

Literature Review

  • What is a Literature Review?
  • What is NOT a Literature Review?
  • Purposes of a Literature Review
  • Types of Literature Reviews
  • Literature Reviews vs. Systematic Reviews
  • Systematic vs. Meta-Analysis

Literature Review  is a comprehensive survey of the works published in a particular field of study or line of research, usually over a specific period of time, in the form of an in-depth, critical bibliographic essay or annotated list in which attention is drawn to the most significant works.

Also, we can define a literature review as the collected body of scholarly works related to a topic:

  • Summarizes and analyzes previous research relevant to a topic
  • Includes scholarly books and articles published in academic journals
  • Can be an specific scholarly paper or a section in a research paper

The objective of a Literature Review is to find previous published scholarly works relevant to an specific topic

  • Help gather ideas or information
  • Keep up to date in current trends and findings
  • Help develop new questions

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Helps focus your own research questions or problems
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Suggests unexplored ideas or populations
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.
  • Identifies critical gaps, points of disagreement, or potentially flawed methodology or theoretical approaches.
  • Indicates potential directions for future research.

All content in this section is from Literature Review Research from Old Dominion University 

Keep in mind the following, a literature review is NOT:

Not an essay 

Not an annotated bibliography  in which you summarize each article that you have reviewed.  A literature review goes beyond basic summarizing to focus on the critical analysis of the reviewed works and their relationship to your research question.

Not a research paper   where you select resources to support one side of an issue versus another.  A lit review should explain and consider all sides of an argument in order to avoid bias, and areas of agreement and disagreement should be highlighted.

A literature review serves several purposes. For example, it

  • provides thorough knowledge of previous studies; introduces seminal works.
  • helps focus one’s own research topic.
  • identifies a conceptual framework for one’s own research questions or problems; indicates potential directions for future research.
  • suggests previously unused or underused methodologies, designs, quantitative and qualitative strategies.
  • identifies gaps in previous studies; identifies flawed methodologies and/or theoretical approaches; avoids replication of mistakes.
  • helps the researcher avoid repetition of earlier research.
  • suggests unexplored populations.
  • determines whether past studies agree or disagree; identifies controversy in the literature.
  • tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.

As Kennedy (2007) notes*, it is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the original studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally that become part of the lore of field. In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews.

Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are several approaches to how they can be done, depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study. Listed below are definitions of types of literature reviews:

Argumentative Review      This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply imbedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews.

Integrative Review      Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication.

Historical Review      Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical reviews are focused on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review      A review does not always focus on what someone said [content], but how they said it [method of analysis]. This approach provides a framework of understanding at different levels (i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches and data collection and analysis techniques), enables researchers to draw on a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection and data analysis, and helps highlight many ethical issues which we should be aware of and consider as we go through our study.

Systematic Review      This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyse data from the studies that are included in the review. Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?"

Theoretical Review      The purpose of this form is to concretely examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review help establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

* Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature."  Educational Researcher  36 (April 2007): 139-147.

All content in this section is from The Literature Review created by Dr. Robert Larabee USC

Robinson, P. and Lowe, J. (2015),  Literature reviews vs systematic reviews.  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 39: 103-103. doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12393

how to do review of related literature in research

What's in the name? The difference between a Systematic Review and a Literature Review, and why it matters . By Lynn Kysh from University of Southern California

how to do review of related literature in research

Systematic review or meta-analysis?

A  systematic review  answers a defined research question by collecting and summarizing all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria.

A  meta-analysis  is the use of statistical methods to summarize the results of these studies.

Systematic reviews, just like other research articles, can be of varying quality. They are a significant piece of work (the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at York estimates that a team will take 9-24 months), and to be useful to other researchers and practitioners they should have:

  • clearly stated objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies
  • explicit, reproducible methodology
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies
  • assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies (e.g. risk of bias)
  • systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies

Not all systematic reviews contain meta-analysis. 

Meta-analysis is the use of statistical methods to summarize the results of independent studies. By combining information from all relevant studies, meta-analysis can provide more precise estimates of the effects of health care than those derived from the individual studies included within a review.  More information on meta-analyses can be found in  Cochrane Handbook, Chapter 9 .

A meta-analysis goes beyond critique and integration and conducts secondary statistical analysis on the outcomes of similar studies.  It is a systematic review that uses quantitative methods to synthesize and summarize the results.

An advantage of a meta-analysis is the ability to be completely objective in evaluating research findings.  Not all topics, however, have sufficient research evidence to allow a meta-analysis to be conducted.  In that case, an integrative review is an appropriate strategy. 

Some of the content in this section is from Systematic reviews and meta-analyses: step by step guide created by Kate McAllister.

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Writing Research Papers

  • Writing a Literature Review

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

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

Different Types of Literature Reviews

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

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

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

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

How to Write a Literature Review

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

Steps for Writing a Literature Review

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

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

2. Conduct a literature search.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Tips for Writing a Literature Review

Full-length literature reviews

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

Literature reviews as part of a larger paper

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

Benefits of Literature Reviews

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

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

Downloadable Resources

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

Further Resources

How-To Videos     

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

External Resources

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

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

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

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Why do we write literature reviews?

 Literature reviews provide you with a handy guide to a particular topic. If you have limited time to conduct research, literature reviews can give you an overview or act as a stepping stone.

When preparing your grant application, and developing a literature review outside of your discipline.

For professionals, they are useful reports that keep them up to date with what is current in the field.

For scholars, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the writer in his or her field. Literature reviews also provide a solid background for a research paper's investigation.

Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of a discipline or subject

is an essential component of most research assignments.

What is a literature review?

A literature review discusses and analyzes published information in a particular subject area. Sometimes the information covers a certain time period.

A literature review is more than a summary of the sources, it has an organizational pattern that combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.

But how is a literature review different from an academic research paper?

While the main focus of an academic research paper is to support your own argument, the focus of a literature review is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others. The academic research paper also covers a range of sources, but it is usually a select number of sources, because the emphasis is on the argument. Likewise, a literature review can also have an "argument," but it is not as important as covering a number of sources. In short, an academic research paper and a literature review contain some of the same elements. In fact, many academic research papers will contain a literature review section. What aspect of the study (either the argument or the sources) that is emphasized determines what type of document it is.

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Research Paper Guide

How To Write A Literature Review

Nova A.

Learn How To Write A Literature Review In Simple Steps

Published on: Dec 21, 2017

Last updated on: Nov 6, 2023

how to write a literature review

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Finding yourself in a daunting struggle when it comes to writing a literature review? 

You're not alone. It's often considered one of the most challenging aspects of academic writing. 

But fear not! Our comprehensive guide is here to walk you through the essential steps and strategies to conquer this formidable task with confidence.

On This Page On This Page

What Is A Literature Review

A literature review is a comprehensive examination and analysis of existing literature and scholarly works on a specific subject or research topic.

Though not included in all types of research papers , it serves as a critical component in academic research. 

It goes beyond a mere annotated bibliography . Instead of simply listing sources, a literature review summarizes and synthesizes sources for deeper evaluation. It uncovers the strengths and weaknesses within various sources. This evaluation helps in understanding their central theme and relevance to the topic at hand.

The Significance of an Effective Literature Review

A robust review plays a crucial role in research papers , offering several key advantages:

  • Serves Context and Relevance: It provides background and context for your research, showing its importance within existing knowledge.
  • Addresses Research Gaps: Identifies areas where more knowledge is needed, guiding your contributions.
  • Aids in Forming Research Questions: Helps shape precise and meaningful research questions, building on existing theories.
  • Offers Methodological Guidance: Helps choose appropriate research methods for quality outcomes.
  • Utilizes Evidence: Enhances credibility by citing expert findings and theories.
  • Promotes Theory Development: Evaluates and combines existing theories, possibly leading to new ones.
  • Encourages Scholarly Dialogue: Integrates your work into ongoing academic discussions, influencing future research.

In essence, a well-crafted literature review informs and elevates your research, ensuring its relevance and impact within your academic field.

Types of Literature Review

Here are the types of literature review.

Types of Literature Review - MyPerfectWords.com

How to Write a Literature Review

Crafting a literature review is a strategic process encompassing various vital steps to ensure a comprehensive and coherent review. 

Here is how to write a good literature review:

Search Relevant Literature

Start by searching for scholarly sources that you will cite in your paper that are closely related to your research topic. Utilize reputable academic databases for literature search like Google Scholar or your university's library resources.

Using relevant keywords and phrases in your search is essential, experimenting with diverse combinations for a thorough collection of relevant sources. 

To maintain a track of the scholar articles and sources, using a bibliography or reference management software like EndNote or Zotero.

Analyze and Select Sources

Evaluate the collected sources critically. Assess their credibility, relevance, and diversity. 

Check their origins from respected journals or publishers, and the expertise of the authors in the field. 

Ensure that chosen sources align precisely with your research objectives, aiming for diversity in perspectives to enrich your review's depth.

Identify Connections

Synthesize information from selected sources, identifying common themes, patterns, and trends. 

Uncover connections and relationships among diverse research pieces to construct a cohesive narrative within your literature review.

Create An Outline

In this step, determine  the structure of your review. Decide whether a chronological, thematic, or methodological approach best suits your topic. 

Create a clear outline to organize the sections or themes your review will cover, providing a roadmap for your writing.

Begin The Writing Process

Upon gathering and organizing sources, begin the writing phase:

  • Introduction: Set the stage by stating your research question or objective and explaining the review's significance.
  • Main Body: Present findings from your sources, categorizing them based on the chosen structure. Discuss key insights, critical evaluation, and gaps in the literature.
  • Conclusion: Summarize findings, highlight contributions, and address future research areas.

Edit and Proofread

In the final phase, conduct a thorough review, focusing on clarity and coherence. Carefully edit to ensure logical argument flow and concise writing. 

Additionally, verify the accuracy and consistency of citations and references based on the chosen citation style (e.g., APA, MLA). This comprehensive revision process guarantees a polished and well-structured literature review.

Following these steps results in a structured and informative literature review that adeptly synthesizes existing research on your chosen topic.

How to Write a Literature Review For a Research Paper PDF

How to Write A Literature Review Example

The above guide will definitely help you understand what a literature review is and how to write one. 

Here are some how to write a literature review samples:

How to Write A Literature Review For Dissertation

How to Write A Literature Review In APA Format

How to Write A Literature Review In Research

How to Write A Literature Review In Thesis

How to Write A Literature Review For A Research Paper

Common Mistakes to Avoid

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

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

Now equipped with the essential steps to start your literature review, you're set on the right path. 

Yet, if you find yourself facing challenges or needing additional support, our expert essay writing service is here for you. Our team is ready to provide expert guidance, ensuring you craft a strong and effective literature review. 

So, whatever part of the research paper you need help with, we will deliver! Just say ‘ write my research paper ’ and let us take care of the rest.

Nova A. (Literature, Marketing)

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

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Literature Reviews

A literature review is a survey of information found in scholarly articles, books, and other literature related to your area of study. The goal of a literature review is to describe, summarize, evaluate and clarify the prior research on your topic. A literature review goes beyond summing up the research of others and explores the relationships within the literature. It determines what has already been investigated, identifies potential relationships between concepts, defines and measures key concepts and relates to research already completed in the field of study.

A literature review:

  • Describes, summarizes, evaluates, clarifies and integrates information on your project 
  • Surveys scholarly articles, books and other sources relevant to your area of research
  • Provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of significant works 

Why do a literature review?

  • To identify methods, information, and/or ideas that could be relevant to your project
  • To identify seminal works in your area
  • To place your project into the context of established work 

What types of questions will help guide your literature review?

  • Facts about your sponsor
  • Facts about your topic
  • Information about your geographic area - culture, demographics, language, economy, climate, etc.
  • What research has already been done on your topic?
  • What solutions or ideas have already been tried? 
  • How do the previous solutions, ideas, and research relate to each other?

Websites & Guides

  • Literature Reviews (Australian National University) Goes over the purpose, structure and language of a literature review, as well as the different types of reviews.
  • Literature Reviews University of North Carolina Writing Center
  • Literature Review Tutorial (American University) This tutorial provides a comprehensive discussion of literature reviews, and includes numerous links to additional resources.
  • Review of Literature UW Madison
  • Learn How to Write a Review of Literature (Univ. of Wisconsin) This brief guide includes several examples of literature reviews.
  • 10 Simple Rules for Literature Reviews
  • How do I write my literature review? (Sage ResearchMethods)
  • The Literature Review (Sage ResearchMethods)
  • Literature Reviews (Sage ResearchMethods)
  • Reviewing the Literature (Sage ResearchMethods)
  • Strategies for Literature Reviews (Sage ResearchMethods)
  • What is a Literature Review? A short guide created by the WPI librarians.

Research Tip

When completing a literature review it is important to consider how your project may be considered within different disciplines.  For example, if you are attempting to create an effective children's program for a museum, within your literature review you would want to consider research in museum studies, early childhood education, marketing, and cultural studies in the locale where you will be working.

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How to Do a Literature Review

Last Updated: March 27, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed. . Alexander Ruiz is an Educational Consultant and the Educational Director of Link Educational Institute, a tutoring business based in Claremont, California that provides customizable educational plans, subject and test prep tutoring, and college application consulting. With over a decade and a half of experience in the education industry, Alexander coaches students to increase their self-awareness and emotional intelligence while achieving skills and the goal of achieving skills and higher education. He holds a BA in Psychology from Florida International University and an MA in Education from Georgia Southern University. There are 13 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 318,038 times.

Some people might think of a literature review as reading a book and then giving it a thumbs up or thumbs down. Nope, not so. A literature review is a review of various pieces of literature on one topic, ranging from series of books to shorter pieces like pamphlets. Sometimes, the literary review is a part of a larger research paper. Its purpose is to prevent duplication of efforts, resolve conflicts, and point the way for further research.

Before Writing

Step 1 Clarify your professor's requirements.

  • How many sources should you include? Does he/she want a specific number of each type? Do they have to be at least semi-current?
  • In discussing your themes, are you just summarizing or critiquing? Some reviews require a thesis, some may not.
  • Should you offer your opinion on your sources?
  • Do you need to provide background information, such as definitions or histories, to aid in your audience's understanding?
  • Is there a page or word requirement?

Step 2 Narrow your topic.

  • Get current. If you are writing a review in the humanities, history, or social sciences, you can afford to be less concerned with timing (in fact, changing opinions throughout history may be an aspect of your paper). But if you are writing a literary review for the sciences, say, on treating diabetes, information from 5 years ago could already be obsolete. Sort through current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. [2] X Trustworthy Source University of North Carolina Writing Center UNC's on-campus and online instructional service that provides assistance to students, faculty, and others during the writing process Go to source

Step 3 Find a focus.

  • Read between the lines. You're not necessarily looking for explicit content. Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? Are your sources all prescribing to one specific theory? Do you see trends being revealed? This will help you structure your paper immensely, zeroing in on what will give your paper purpose.

Step 4 Construct your thesis.

  • For example, "Current trends in [topic] are A, B, and C," or "The X Theory is assumed by most sources from 1985 on." Stating something like this begs a few questions, making your review more interesting and meaningful: How will trends change in the future? What if the assumed theories are wrong?
  • Again, this is not new information. You are not analyzing the material and coming up with your own, fresh perspective on it. You are simply acting like a computer--noting patterns, holes, and assumptions all your sources are taking.

Step 5 Assess your sources.

  • What are the author's credentials? How are their arguments supported (narratives, statistics, historical findings, etc.)?
  • Is the author's perspective unbiased and objective? Are they ignoring any data to make their points seem stronger?
  • How persuasive are they? Do any of their points leave a bit to be desired?
  • Does their work lead to a greater understanding of the subject? [5] X Research source

Constructing Your Paper

Step 1 Start with a solid introduction.

  • Help the reader along by letting them know what kind of ride they're in for. If you are employing a thesis statement, place it toward the end of your introductory paragraph. At the end, your reader should be anticipating getting into the evidence and bulk of your paper.

Step 2 Organize the body.

  • Arrange it chronologically. If you are dealing with varying opinions by era or changing trends over time, chronological organization may make the most sense.
  • Arrange it by publication. This organizational method fares well if each publication has a different stance. If there is a natural progression (radical to conservative, for example) between the sources, this works swimmingly.
  • Arrange it by trend. If you are noticing patterns in your sources, arranging them by the trends they suggest may be the most obvious structure. Certain sources may, together, suggest one pattern that shifts over time, region, or other variable.
  • Arrange it thematically. This highly depends on your thesis statement and what sources you have chosen. If you are choosing a focus that is more abstract ("Colonialism is depicted as evil," for example), the subsections may be arranged on the different methods employed to put the theme across.

Step 3 Come to a clear conclusion.

  • You may make your conclusion suggestive. Where might the discussion proceed if someone else picked it up where you left off? What are the consequences of the patterns and holes in today's sources?

Step 4 Use evidence.

  • However, use quotes sparingly. The survey nature of the literature review does not allow for in-depth discussion or detailed quotes from the text. [10] X Trustworthy Source University of North Carolina Writing Center UNC's on-campus and online instructional service that provides assistance to students, faculty, and others during the writing process Go to source Some short ones are fine, sure, but all in all, it should be written by you.

Step 5 Keep your own voice.

  • When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author’s information or opinions accurately and in your own words. [12] X Trustworthy Source University of North Carolina Writing Center UNC's on-campus and online instructional service that provides assistance to students, faculty, and others during the writing process Go to source Then, relate it to the context of your review.
  • Some professors may require that you evaluate the sources and conclude which pieces add the greatest contribution to the field. If yours is keen on this, determine your take in the introduction and string it throughout your paper.

Revising Your Work

Step 1 Review the guidelines.

  • Does your instructor require APA formatting? What should your margins be? Headers, footers, footnotes, and page numbers? How do they want your name, headings, and subheadings? How do they want your works cited page?

Step 2 Check for coherent flow and transitions.

  • With everything said as clear as day, does it flow together? Do you transition well not only from paragraph to paragraph, but from sentence to sentence? Be sure your evidence lines up with the support and your arrangement of sources flows logically.
  • Eliminate useless jargon or slang. You may have grown an entirely new vocabulary during this endeavor, but your professor has not. Write a paper that can be read by the masses. Don't make it overly esoteric.

Step 3 Proofread your work.

  • It's best to have someone else go over your work, too. You may have read it so many times you can no longer see you lapsed into Portuguese absent-mindedly. A different set of eyes can locate mistakes you may not have seen, ask questions you didn't realize were left unaddressed, or seek clarification on the foggier points.

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • Use correct citations. Your assignment will likely specify what kinds of formats you should use for citations within the text. Often, professors are looking for strict use of these formats as part of the grade. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Outline your literature review. It will help you order your thoughts into an organized presentation, making the paper ultimately easier to write. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

how to do review of related literature in research

  • Avoid plagiarism. Using your own words will help you avoid plagiarism, which many academic departments take very seriously. Evidence of plagiarism can get students suspended or otherwise disciplined (this includes a failing paper). Make sure to correctly attribute any direct quotes. Thanks Helpful 13 Not Helpful 3

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  • ↑ https://guides.lib.uoguelph.ca/c.php?g=130964&p=5000948
  • ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/literature-reviews/
  • ↑ https://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149
  • ↑ https://library.concordia.ca/help/writing/literature-review.php
  • ↑ http://guides.library.ucsc.edu/content.php?pid=364099&sid=2979684
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/conducting_research/writing_a_literature_review.html
  • ↑ https://www.ed.ac.uk/institute-academic-development/study-hub/learning-resources/literature-review
  • ↑ https://www.unr.edu/writing-speaking-center/student-resources/writing-speaking-resources/editing-and-proofreading-techniques
  • How to Conduct Academic Research
  • How to Create a Successful Project (for School)
  • How to Begin Writing a Research Paper
  • How to Be More Analytical
  • How to Find Primary Source Documents
  • How to Complete a Project on Time

About This Article

Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed.

To do a literature review, start by finding a variety of reliable sources that all relate to one topic or theme. Then, read through the sources and come up with a thesis statement for your paper. Once you have your thesis, explain how the sources you used back up your thesis in the body of your literature review. You can arrange the sources chronologically, by publication, or even thematically. For help writing an introduction and conclusion for a literature review, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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IMAGES

  1. How To Write A Literature Review

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  4. Developing a Literature Review

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  1. Reviews of Related Literature : Research Topic

  2. How to Write Research Papers on Systematic Literature Review?

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COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Literature Review

    A literature review is a survey of on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or. There are five key steps to writing a literature review: themes, debates, and gaps.

  2. How to write review of related literature (RRL) in research

    September 16, 2022 Jennifer Ulz Photo by cottonbro from Pexels A review of related literature (a.k.a RRL in research) is a comprehensive review of the existing literature pertaining to a specific topic or research question. An effective review provides the reader with an organized analysis and synthesis of the existing knowledge about a subject.

  3. Review of Related Literature: What Is RRL & How to Write It + Examples

    An RRL includes 3 main components: A short overview and critique of the previous research. Similarities and differences between past studies and the current one. An explanation of the theoretical frameworks underpinning the research. Significance of Review of Related Literature

  4. Writing a Literature Review

    Using citation machines responsibly Powered by 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.

  5. Steps in Conducting a Literature Review

    1. Choose a topic. Define your research question. Your literature review should be guided by your central research question. The literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

  6. A quick guide to conducting an effective review of related literature (RRL)

    Identify relevant literature: The first and foremost step to conduct an RRL is to identify relevant literature. You can do this through various sources, online and offline. When going through the resources, make notes and identify key concepts of each resource to describe in the review. Discovering relevant work is highly important.

  7. How to Write a Literature Review: Six Steps to Get You from ...

    Step One: Decide on your areas of research: Before you begin to search for articles or books, decide beforehand what areas you are going to research. Make sure that you only get articles and books in those areas, even if you come across fascinating books in other areas. A literature review I am currently working on, for example, explores ...

  8. Steps for Conducting a Lit Review

    1. Choose a topic. Define your research question. Your literature review should be guided by a central research question. Remember, it is not a collection of loosely related studies in a field but instead represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

  9. Literature Review: Conducting & Writing

    This guide will provide research and writing tips to help students complete a literature review assignment.

  10. Creating 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 ...

  11. Comprehensive Literature Review: A Guide

    Literature Reviews that are organized methodologically consist of paragraphs/sections that are based on the methods used in the literature found.This approach is most appropriate when you are using new methods on a research question that has already been explored.Since literature review structures are not mutually exclusive, you can organize the use of these methods in chronological order.

  12. Conduct a literature review

    How do I write a literature review? Step 1: Define your research scope What is the specific research question that your literature review helps to define? Are there a maximum or minimum number of sources that your review should include? Ask us if you have questions about refining your topic, search methods, writing tips, or citation management.

  13. Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

    Go to: Rule 1: Define a Topic and Audience How to choose which topic to review? There are so many issues in contemporary science that you could spend a lifetime of attending conferences and reading the literature just pondering what to review.

  14. Literature Review

    A literature review must do these things: be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you are developing; synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known; identify areas of controversy in the literature; formulate questions that need further research

  15. Steps in the Literature Review Process

    Literature Review and Research Design by Dave Harris This book looks at literature review in the process of research design, and how to develop a research practice that will build skills in reading and writing about research literature--skills that remain valuable in both academic and professional careers. Literature review is approached as a process of engaging with the discourse of scholarly ...

  16. Q: How do I do a review of related literature (RRL)?

    Answer: A review of related literature (RRL) is a detailed review of existing literature related to the topic of a thesis or dissertation. In an RRL, you talk about knowledge and findings from existing literature relevant to your topic.

  17. 5. The Literature Review

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

  18. Literature Review Research

    Literature Review is a comprehensive survey of the works published in a particular field of study or line of research, usually over a specific period of time, in the form of an in-depth, critical bibliographic essay or annotated list in which attention is drawn to the most significant works.. Also, we can define a literature review as the collected body of scholarly works related to a topic:

  19. How to write the literature review of your research paper

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

  20. Writing a Literature Review

    Steps for Writing a Literature Review 1. Identify and define the topic that you will be reviewing. The topic, which is commonly a research question (or problem) of some kind, needs to be identified and defined as clearly as possible.

  21. Research & Subject Guides: Literature Reviews: Home

    A literature review discusses and analyzes published information in a particular subject area. Sometimes the information covers a certain time period. A literature review is more than a summary of the sources, it has an organizational pattern that combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the ...

  22. How To Write A Literature Review

    How to Write a Literature Review 3. How to Write A Literature Review Example 4. Common Mistakes to Avoid What Is A Literature Review A literature review is a comprehensive examination and analysis of existing literature and scholarly works on a specific subject or research topic.

  23. IQP Research Guide: Background Chapter / Literature Review

    A literature review is a survey of information found in scholarly articles, books, and other literature related to your area of study. The goal of a literature review is to describe, summarize, evaluate and clarify the prior research on your topic. A literature review goes beyond summing up the research of others and explores the relationships ...

  24. How to Do a Literature Review: 13 Steps (with Pictures)

    1 Clarify your professor's requirements. Some instructors may ask you to do a literature review and not get more specific than that. Or, maybe they did and you were playing Plants vs Zombies. Either way, knowing precisely what your professor is looking for is the first step to getting that A. [1] How many sources should you include?

  25. The Principles of Digital Transformation for Development (DX4D ...

    This paper presents general features of the literature and the research designs used. The main analysis consists of 13 principles that can be used as a starting point to guide a better understanding and operationalisation of digital-transformation-for-development research and consulting.