Literature Review: Structure, Format, & Writing Tips

If you are a student, you might be asked to write a literature review at some point in your life. But don’t think it’s the same as the book review you had to do in high school! A literature review is a close examination of academic sources on a chosen topic.

What you would need to do to succeed in this task is to find all the relevant articles and analyze them. Your literature review should include an overview of the current knowledge on the topic. You should also focus on the potential gaps in it. Everything you find out goes right into your paper. Want to learn more? Then continue reading this article by Custom-Writing experts.

❓ What Is a Literature Review?

Whenever you are working on a significant paper, a literature review is unavoidable. It gives you an understanding of how your writing fits in the world of the existing knowledge on this topic. Some other aspects that it highlights are:

  • Your knowledge of the context and the issue in general;
  • Methodology and theories to use for your paper;
  • Contrast and comparison of your work to other researches;
  • Your work’s contribution to the field and how it might fill the gaps.

Sometimes, a literature review would be a separate assignment. Yet, in most cases, it’s a part of a more significant task. So you better know how to deal with it anyway.

If it helps your understanding of this task, you can think of the process as building an upside-down triangle. You would narrow down the sources more and more each time until you hit the sweet spot! Look how easy it is to organize your literature review!

A literature review consists of four components: theory, general studies in your field, related studies, and a research puzzle.
  1. Find all the relevant theories and foundational research that characterize your work.
  2. Now, look for studies that are related to your research.
  3. Narrow them down to studies that are similar to yours by the issues highlighted, strategies, and so on.
  4. From those, you can finally see your research gap!

Importance of Literature Review  

So you might still be wondering about the importance of the literature review. As mentioned above, this type of writing allows you to build a strong base for your future research. 

Besides, you can gain even more knowledge on the topic while going through all the previous studies! And you will show it off to the readers so that they have more confidence in your reliability! Moreover, it helps you identify which areas of the field that you chose need some improvement. This way, you know what gap to fill exactly and what issues have already been resolved by other researchers.

Annotated Bibliography vs. Literature Review 

There is a slight difference between an annotated bibliography and a literature review. The first one can only analyze each source depending on its relevance to your topic, and it’s relatively brief. Meanwhile, a literature review is a complex examination of multiple sources and their relations. It contrasts and compares them together in detail.

How Long Should a Literature Review Be? 

In case the length of the literature review is not mentioned in the requirements, there are a few hints to help you understand what to aim for. Generally speaking, one-fifth of the total size of your paper would be enough. However, if it’s a dissertation, the literature review might need to take up as much as twenty-five percent of your whole piece!

💡 Literature Review Topics

Looking for literature review topic ideas and picking the best one is not the step you can skip! Any research needs an issue to develop. The aim of your literature review is closely connected to the topic of your paper since you need to evaluate relevant sources. Choosing the problem, you are passionate about is the best way to go! Try brainstorming some ideas and pick at least three strong ones. After selecting one, check if there is enough material like articles and journals to work with. Narrow it down if it’s too general and put it in the form of a thesis statement.

📑 How to Organize a Literature Review?

So now that you know what you would like to include in your literature review, it’s time to organize it! There are several ways to do it. As you might know, all papers follow the universal scheme: introduction, main body, and conclusion. Let’s move on and discuss the strategies you can use for organizing your review.

The key literature review types are: chronological, thematic, and methodological.
  • Chronological Literature Review. It’s one of the most accessible options since you just follow the chosen topic’s development through time. Yet, you should be careful! Merely presenting the sources is not enough. There should be some analysis done. Look into what turning points and debates affected the field, and give your opinion about it.
  • Thematic Literature Review. While doing research, you might have found some themes that keep recurring. You can dedicate a separate subsection of your literature review for each of them. Those are usually the keywords related to the topic you picked. For instance, while your literature review is about migrant health and inequalities, the main themes would be healthcare policy and cultural perspective.
  • Methodological Literature Review. You might have chosen to collect the sources for your literature review from different fields. In that case, you noticed that they all use distinct research methods. It might be a good idea to compare and contrast the findings and conclusions that appear from various approaches. For instance, look into the differences between the results of qualitative and quantitative research.

⚙️ Literature Review Structure

It’s essential that you don’t mix your literature review structure and include the correct information in each part. There should be your topic and its significance mentioned, background theories, and a brief explanation of your methodology and outline in the introduction. You might as well talk about the gaps in research there. The main body needs to include the discussion of the sources you selected following the organizational strategy you chose. Finally, you would sum up all the key findings in conclusion. In this last part, you can also address the question of your research’s place in the existing knowledge.

Literature Review Introduction

When writing the introduction, you will be presenting the topic of your review to your audience. Keep in mind the tips below as you write.

✔️Establish the focus of your reviewStart your literature review by highlighting the questions or problems you will be addressing.
✔️Present the range of literature under reviewIndicate essential points, such as specific trends, conflicts in the area of research, gaps in the research, or a new approach.
✔️Mention the scope of excluded literatureState any literature that was intentionally excluded from your review and explain why.

Literature Review Body

This is the time to go into detail. Depending on how long your literature review is, you can divide your body into subsections. Do that in accordance with the type of literature review organization that you chose (thematic, chronological, or methodological). 

✔️AnalyzeProvide a critical analysis of each source, including information on the argument, methodology, and concluding statement.
✔️EvaluateDescribe the strengths and weaknesses of your sources. Make sure to include all inconsistencies, mistakes, and omissions of each source. Are the arguments and conclusions the author presents adequately convincing? Does the author’s work contribute significantly to the overall understanding of the subject matter?
✔️SynthesizeProvide a connection between the sources to ensure the reader understands how each is related to the others and how they tie into your overall study area or research.
✔️Be objectiveHas the author given enough information on the topic he has researched? Is there any prejudice?

Literature Review Conclusion

Finally, you need a conclusion that will tie up your review into a neat little package. In your conclusion, you should summarize your review’s findings, describe the common points between the sources, and justify your research proposal if you are making one.

When writing your literature review conclusion, keep in mind the tips below.

✔️Don’t overdo the introductionWrite short and informative sentences that inform your reader without overwhelming them.
✔️Divide the sourcesGroup your sources into two categories: those that support your point of view and those that don’t.
✔️Check your conclusionMake sure that you have provided the right answers to the questions and adequate supporting evidence.

Check out these articles for information on how to provide citations in APA, MLA, Chicago, and Harvard styles.

🏁 Concluding Remarks

A well-written review of literature will be worth every bit of effort it took to write it. It will provide a quick but thorough overview of the literature you used presented in a way that will make your professor very pleased with your work. 

Take the time to work on your review thoroughly. Ensure that it is good not only in terms of the content but also in terms of the formatting. Check out these articles for information on how to provide citations in APA, MLA, Chicago, and Harvard styles.

If you are still having trouble writing your review, then consider watching the following videos.

✏️ Literature Review FAQ

❓ How to write a great literature review?

A nice literature review contains a description and analysis of the text. It should be structured and cohesive. You may create an outline or even use a template to make sure that the structure is flawless. There are countless examples available online and in books.

❓ What makes a good literature review?

A nice literature review is a mix of scientific facts and easy-to-read descriptions. A great review helps its readers understand the book better. It should also be structured and cohesive.

❓ How to write a lit review for a dissertation?

A good literary review on masters or doctoral level should contain an in-depth analysis of the text. It should have background info, explain subtle aspects of the book, etc. Make sure you structure the review appropriately. Perhaps, sketch an outline first.

❓ How to format a literature review?

A great literature review should have a flawless logical cohesiveness. It is vital to structure the paper properly. You can resort to the standard rules:

  1. a high-level overview of the topic in the introduction;
  2. several key points with supporting arguments in the body;
  3. a logical conclusion (connected with the intro).

🔗 References

Comments (4)

Lisa Tissari
Lisa Tissari

A sample of a “generic” review would be helpful. I am a visual learner and would like to see how it is typically formatted.

Custom Writing
Custom Writing

Thanks for the feedback, Lisa!

Kevin Jordan
Kevin Jordan

Definition, guidelines, tips for literature review writing are perfect! These concise but the most important tips helped with my literature review! God bless you!

Lynn Jacobs
Lynn Jacobs

Thanks! This post is going to help me greatly with literature review writing as it contains lots of sound guidances and tips. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!