How to Write a Literature Review

How to Write a Literature Review

Published by on 2021-06-24 10:23:34

When students get a task from a professor to write a research paper, they may want to know everything about it, from the definition to the writing tricks. In case you deal with this college assignment the first time, we know what questions you may have, so check the detailed answers below. After getting the basic info, keep reading the article to know everything about the writing process of a successful paper.

You should remember that literature review writing is nothing to worry about. Composing this type of assignment is much easier than it might seem. Many students believe that this chapter should contain the most relevant information about the topic of your academic assignment. However, this is not 100% true. The fact is that you are expected to provide the analysis of each source of information and data you describe in the literature review. Moreover, it is important to find a gap in the chosen field of study that has not been precisely described by other scientists. This means you need to point out these facts and features:

  • the details about the most relevant sources of information you’ve used;
  • the writers’ and scientists’ intellectual developments regarding the chosen issue;
  • the analysis of each opinion, including its strong and weak sides;
  • old and the newest interpretations of the selected problem;
  • various approaches used for solving the issue;
  • the most relevant data about the research;
  • the informational gap you are planning to fill in your dissertation.

What Is a Literature Review Paper?

This type of academic paper is about picking a particular topic and coming up with a thorough overview of scholarly sources touching it. It’s an assignment perfect for conducting an in-depth study of the chosen topic through getting acquainted with the works of acknowledged experts. A literature review is a way to improve your qualification and expertise by analyzing concepts and methodologies available while simultaneously locating the knowledge gaps to determine your future research direction.

To complete this type of paper well, you need to go through five essential milestones. The way is divided into:

  1. Finding the literature that is suitable and relevant.
  2. Evaluating the revealed and chosen knowledge sources.
  3. Coming up with topics, controversies, and knowledge gaps.
  4. Thinking over the paper structure.
  5. Writing a good review.

The point is a worthy literature review is not focused on summing the existing sources up only. As an author of this paper, you need to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate them all to draw a clear image of the situation with the current knowledge and research state in the chosen field. And, of course, a good paper would be impossible without proper formatting.

Why Is a Literature Review Important: Top 6 Reasons to Craft One

Before you immerse yourself in the writing process, you need to deal with the basics. What is the purpose of the literature review? Generally, there are numerous reasons why this type of academic paper is widely used among college students. If you struggle to find an answer to the question, “Why do literature review writers devote much of their time to this paper type?” Here are the top six reasons people make a significant effort to craft an impeccable and well-structured literature review:

  • It may be your obligatory writing assignment.
  • It provides a basic understanding of the topic.
  • It helps identify certain inconsistencies, such as conflicts in studies, gaps in research, and other issues that may affect the quality of your paper.
  • It simplifies the writer’s task to place the research within the context of the available works, giving grounds for further study.
  • It justifies the necessity of further research.
  • It gives necessary information from previous studies to avoid duplication.

Several other factors contribute to the significance of the literature review. But, what is the primary purpose of the review of literature? It is an opportunity to gain more knowledge on the topic that will help you conduct profound research worth appreciation.

Types of Literature Reviews

Defining the purpose of the literature review writing is beneficial, but there is another important step the writer should take beforehand. As mentioned in scholarly sources, three types of reviews may be used depending on the purpose of the literature study:

  • Simple. This is the basic type of review of relevant literature, the purpose of which is to give a brief overview of the theme using the most popular sources. In most cases, a well-structured literature analysis helps conduct excellent research.
  • Applied. The importance of literature review in professional environments cannot be overestimated. It helps estimate the profitability and efficiency of a specific project.
  • Academic. This may be a stand-alone work or a part of a bigger study that is aimed at a deeper investigation of the topic. Conducting a literature review means analyzing topical materials and studies that will enhance the chances to craft an accurate, consistent, and relevant paper.

Key Parts of the Literature Review

The process of analysis writing is complicated, requiring much attention and concern. Answer basic questions and follow guidelines to get a chance to prosper:

  • What is the review of related literature? Learn the definition and the specifications of this paper. Define literature review in a research paper to better understand the process and advance the quality of your study.
  • What is the purpose of a literature review? Investigate the key reasons why you need to pay due attention to this kind of writing work.
  • What sources of information should be reviewed? All the trusted sources you analyze while composing your paper should be included in the literature review.
  • What does a literature review do? Once you realize the significance of this writing type, you get a chance to succeed with your research much faster and more efficiently.

Where Does the Literature Review Go in a Research Paper?

It is one of the main parts of the research paper that follows after the introduction. As you know, it includes the theoretical information on the chosen topic, so it should lead to your methodology.

How Long Should a Literature Review Be for a Research Paper?

It depends on the length of your entire research paper, so if you have a 15-17 paper, then your literature review should be 3-5 pages long. Moreover, the number of pages may also vary due to the amount of the reviewed literature as all sources have to be presented in 1 or 2 sentences.

Are There Different Types of the Literature Review?

It is usually divided into two main types: experimental and theoretical. As for the first one, you should survey the literature on your topic and find some gaps that should be worked upon. The theoretical literature review format for the project consists of two parts, analyzing the literature and summarizing the discovered information, concepts, facts, etc.

Core Guidelines on Literature Review Writing

The literature review chapter remains an inevitable part of any dissertation. Even in case you’ve already written literature reviews for other types of academic assignments, you will need to know that the one for the dissertation has its particular features. What key factors should be taken into account for the easy and successful writing of this challenging chapter? How to write a literature review for a dissertation? We’ve got the answers to these questions and are ready to share the most up-to-date info about the topic with you.

Prewriting Steps and Tips for Writing a Literature Review

The best solution to create an excellent literature review for your academic paper is to ask your academic advisor for its examples. You can also look for this info online to grasp what and how you are expected to write.

If you decide to search for the solution online, pay attention to academic papers related to your area of study since various subjects might have different requirements for composing a literature review. This simple trick will help you understand the structure and the writing style you should use in your paper better. However, avoid picking too much info from the papers of other students available online. First, they might contain some mistakes or outdated info. Second, this might boost the level of plagiarism in your paper.

Find Examples

When a student gets a new assignment from a professor, the best first step will be to search for some paper samples, as it really helps to understand what is expected and required from him. In case of a literature review and its paper difficulty, it is not a piece of simple advice. Having a good example of a literature review in a research paper is vital, as you may easily get confused or get stuck with the paper during the writing process. But if you follow a good paper sample, you will not face any problems.

Search for Relevant Sources

When you deal with this type of paper, you should devote a great amount of time to do in-depth research. But having found good sources, pay attention to its date of publication and author. It has to be fresh and credible at the same time. Moreover, check the website info where you read the article. Is it a good place to get literature for your paper?

We know that some students ponder about how many sources for a literature review they need. It depends on an academic level and also the number of pages. For example, for a 10-15 page paper, the minimal number of sources is 30-35.

Determine Your Focus

Any type of academic paper is organized around the main idea or ideas, and a literature review is not an exception. So before you go into the writing process, choose an aspect you would like to focus the reader's attention on. Would there be different solutions? Or are there some weak parts in studies?

At the same time, we recommend being selective and providing only essential info related to your topic. What is the most important type of information that should be included in a literature review? The important info is the results of previous studies or research on your paper question.

Be Logical and Follow a Structure

When it comes to academic writing, a student has to be concise and logical. So writing a literature review, you should follow the relevant paper structure that will help a reader perceive the info in the best possible way. There are different strategies for it, and you can choose the most suitable for you based on the gathered sources and facts:

  • The chronological method is the easiest way to write a literature review. You should analyze the sources and provide the key points paying attention to the date of publication.
  • The methodological approach allows delving into different disciplines, analyzing research methods, and comparing the findings.
  • The thematic method is better to use for topics with several central themes. You can also create literature review subheadings covering the topic from different perspectives.
  • The theoretical approach is usually combined with another one, as it helps to present the basic theoretical information, such as definitions, models, etc.

Summarize and Paraphrase

How to write a literature review for a research paper? How should you provide information? In addition to following a specific literature review structure, this paper assumes a summarizing of sources. You should only provide the main ideas and significant information relating to your research. At the same time, paraphrase some essential points not to sound boring, but be careful and avoid plagiarism.

How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper: Step-by-Step Guide

Come Up With an Outline

Writing a literary review outline is a serious job. This work, if done right, should show how committed you were to your topic. The goal of the assignment as such is to analyze, compare, and combine a lot of academic works so that eventually they will make a beautiful and cohesive text. However, to achieve that, you need to outline first. This part of the job is not the easiest one. Though, writing it is surely crucial to the success of your paper.

Often students tend to prioritize research over any other stages. It may be a mistake. Surely, you will need to go through a lot of materials. Though, that’s not all you need to do. It is not enough to have relevant references. You also need to place them well. Hence, you should comprehensively structure your future paper. This is why you need to learn how to write a literature review outline. This is the stage where you map out your future paper.

It should include all the arguments, references, and opinions that you want to see in the final literature review. It can also show you the possible gaps in your narrative.

How to Research for an Outline Literature Review

For this kind of paper, research must be the main course. This procedure is what holds your text together in the first place. Thus, to come up with a full review of the literature outline, you need to dig deep. However, you can follow a few simple tips to ease this process for yourself.

First, you need to form a clear thesis statement and the purpose of your writing. As long as you have it, you are good to start your research. Follow your assignment’s instructions to find the appropriate materials. You can get in trouble if you use journal articles instead of requested books or old pieces instead of recent ones.

Next, be sure that you can find enough resources to complete your review. For example, you may face difficulties if you pick a rather fresh topic. In such a case, there may not be much written about it yet. You also don’t want a paper on issues where you can’t add anything new on your behalf.

Finally, don’t be shy to add some controversy to the mix. You should have only those authors who agree with your opinion on the matter. You should also add some opposite opinions that you can criticize and challenge. This way, you can have a balanced discussion and add more volume to your opinion.

How to Outline for a Literature Review

An outline is a crucial part of any writing assignment. This is the stage where you draw a map of all your future work. Thus, if the map is wrong, you will have to start all over again. If your map is right, you should have no issues with finishing the paper right on schedule and with no surprises.

A perfect example of a literature review outline will consist of the following parts:

  1. Introduction
  2. Research question
  3. Several subjects for the further analysis
  4. Studies (material) to analyze
  5. Comparison of different studies
  6. Conclusion

Your goal here is to provide a full revision of your thesis. Thus, you need to have as many studies as necessary to include every perspective on the matter. Each study that you have in your text must either confirm or challenge your main statement. Be sure that your cases don’t repeat themselves. Each citation you bring should add something new to your paper.

Chicago, MLA, or APA Literature Review Outline

Last but not least, you have to follow the exact formatting style you were assigned to do. Now, for the most part, students write in these three citation styles: APA, MLA, or Chicago. Each of these styles has its own rules and specifics you need to follow. Before you start your work, you can sample literature review outlines in different citation styles, just for practice.

The main difference between Chicago vs. APA and MLA is that the former exists only in footnotes when the latter should be inserted in the body of the text.

With MLA, you cite the author and the page number of your citation. It is convenient in case your readers want to find the given references themselves.

The references in APA style consist of a writer’s name and the year of publication. Writing a lit review outline in APA is particularly convenient when you cite several works by the same author but released in different years.

Create an Introduction

Are you wondering how to start a literature review paper? The first paragraph has to explain the importance of your topic and the paper's purpose. Moreover, you should also define the criteria of searching for literature and give an idea of what paper aspects you will write about.

Any example of a good literature review must have a strong opening clause. This is the stage where you introduce each author that you have chosen for this work. You explain their positions and the logic behind them. You also reflect on why this particular writer is important for your research and how their work can serve your paper’s purpose.

The hardest part here is to organize all your sources and citations in a coherent text. You shouldn’t forget about transitions between the sentences. Also, don’t forget to connect each author’s opinion to the main body of your work.

Write the Main Body

If you have a plan and a good sample literature review for a research paper, then you will write the body without any problems. Remember that each paragraph should be devoted to one idea and include a few analyzed and evaluated sources.

Generally, the main body of the text is for the evaluation of what you have mentioned in the introductory paragraphs. You need to summarize, compare, and interpret the given opinions. Don’t be shy to offer additional opinions on the matter. Any additional example of related literature is necessary for the sake of arguments. You have to show a variety of opinions and thoughts on the issue.

Be sure to have a good strategy on how you want to organize your argumentation. You need to follow structure examples in literature analysis to create a proper academic paper. Most often, students choose either chronological or thematic order. These options allow you to unite all your sources simply and efficiently.

Also, don’t be shy to add your personal analysis and opinions on the issues when needed. You can take a side in a debate as long as your thesis statement allows it.

Finish With a Strong Conclusion

How to end a literature review? For the most part, other authors were speaking on your behalf. Now it is your time to shine. Summarize everything that has been mentioned in the text above. State your position on the matter. Conclude with telling whether your thesis statement was fulfilled and if it happened the way you predicted.

Keep in mind that the good last paragraph consists of two parts. Firstly, you should provide a summary of the general conclusions drawn, indicating gaps, agreements or disagreements, and key findings. After it, you should define your own perspective on the topic and area of research.

Tricks for Writing a Literature Review for a Research Paper: Get an A Grade for Your Paper

Use Different Kinds of Sources

"Successful research is extensive research" is a golden rule of academic writing. So when you go to Google and your college library, try to look through different types of sources. You can use articles from scholarly publications and popular sources, books, reports, web resources, conference proceedings, etc. As you already know, the main rule is to refer to relevant and authoritative sources. Moreover, such in-depth research will be a huge benefit that will add credibility to a paper and present you as a diligent student.

Make Notes While Searching for a Literature

When you search for literature, you can create a separate document and a folder to indicate the used resource links and add downloaded files. We also highly recommend spending a few minutes more to note the main information, such as the author name, title, date, and number of pages. It is not a typical trick, but it will save you tons of time! We are not lying! When it comes to citing the information used in a written paper, these short notes will help you greatly.

Read as Many Literature Review Guidelines as Possible

Sometimes reading one article is not enough. So it is useful to look through a few guides to understand this academic paper better and deal with it without any stress. However, we tried to cover all the important aspects of the writing process and even picked a video for you. So if everything is clear to you, then do not waste time and start writing!

Use Quotes Wisely

The main mistake of many learners is using a large number of quotes. Unfortunately, if you write a literature review, it can have a negative impact on your final grade. Nevertheless, if you find it difficult to paraphrase the author's idea, or if you want to emphasize the importance, then you can use a quote. But control the number of quotes and consult with your instructor when you need it.

Prove Your Words

When you write a literature review, remember that any point of view has to be proven. It means that by interpreting one source and providing the main idea, you must prove that it is valid and worth the attention by providing evidence (a similar viewpoint).

Always Edit and Proofread Literary Review for Research Paper

We decided to highlight this step due to its importance. No matter how attentive you were while writing a paper, it may still contain mistakes and typos that have to be corrected. There are several editing ways, so you can focus on one paragraph or an editing issue rereading the document. As for the last option, it is better to create a research paper editing plan that may include the following steps:

  1. Check the sentences and expressions, rephrase them if necessary.
  2. Look through the terminology and vocabulary, add synonyms to avoid tautology.
  3. Make sure that the literature review is consistent and meets the necessary structure.
  4. Proofread a paper to correct mistakes and typos.

How to Format a Literature Review in APA

APA formatting is about keeping up with multiple nuances and lesser details, such as the font sizes, line spacing, margins, and headers. It is critical for a student to know them all. That knowledge will not only bring you better grades but will come in handy if you decide to continue your career as a scientist and researcher.

APA Style: How to Format a Literature Review Title Page

Obviously, the title page should be your first point of focus. To begin, place the title at the center of the page. Make sure it is not more than 12 words long. Then, hit Enter and add your first and last name. One more Enter and the name of your school should be added in the next line.

The entire document should have double spacing and center page alignment obligately. Additionally, know that titles do not contain intro phrases or abbreviations here.

Headings in APA Literature Review: Running Head

The top of the title page is the place to insert a header. It contains the short paper title (50 symbols with spaces max). This one aligns to the left and goes with all caps.

Headers should apply to every page. On the first page, the header contains the phrase “RUNNING HEAD” before that shortened title. All other pages get only the title itself. The page number should be placed in the top right corner of the header. Again, all pages need to be numbered.


An abstract starts on a new, second page, with a title saying “Abstract” aligned to the center. It consists of 150 to 250 words. It is the short description of your paper providing info about the goal, methods, results, and conclusions that the reader will find there. Make sure you don’t use underlined, italic or bold fonts there.

Main Text

The main text font size is 12, and the font itself is serif. The most popular one here is Times New Roman. Sans serif fonts can be used to type titles and picture subscriptions. Arial will cut it quite well, for instance.

Double spacing applies here as well as for all other elements of the paper including headers and titles, citations, references, and illustration signatures. The first line indent for every paragraph should be set to ½ inch. Left alignment works here, just like we mentioned previously.


A reference list is a must for every academic paper, including literature reviews. So, compose it thoroughly and add it to your work. Make sure your references start with the word “References” on the new page aligned to the center. Press Ctrl + Enter to go to a new document page in Google Docs or Microsoft word if necessary, don’t leave those multiple empty paragraphs. They’re weird.

Type the A-Z list of authors. In case there is no author known for the source, use the first title letter. Text editing software apps mostly have built-in APA templates, including references. You can format them with no problem and unnecessary effort.

Keep in mind that APA formatting may have some variable requirements for citations from different sources. Always consult your supervisor about the most relevant demands.

To Conclude

Academic writing is a common and regular task college students get. While crafting an argumentative or persuasive essay, thesis or report is a usual assignment most learners have no problems with, a literature review may be complicated and overwhelming. Why are literature reviews important? What is the purpose of this writing assignment? How is it possible to succeed with the paper? These are the most typical questions college students ask when they are assigned with the lit review.

If you have never had a chance to work on this type of academic writing, but now you need to submit one, you may face several problems. However, the struggle is real, but it may take some time and effort for you to succeed. So, let’s start with the definition and the purpose of the lit review.

A literature review is a survey of specific scholarly books, articles, dissertations, or other published works on a specified topic. The review of literature is important to the research process because it provides the readers with basic information about the discussed issue. Well-crafted literature analysis can help the audience understand the attitude of the writer towards a particular type of published material and discover new facts on the theme.

What is the main point of a review? The literature analysis may fulfill several functions. Follow the guidelines mentioned above to deepen your knowledge about this type of academic writing and get a chance to prosper with it.