How to Write a Literature Review: Actionable Tips & Links

So you have to write a literature review. You find your favorite novel and then start analyzing it. This is how it’s usually done, right? It’s not. You have to learn the elements of literature review and how to deal with them.

For the starters:

Literature can be anything from a set of poems about love to serious scholarly articles about pneumonia treatment. And the word review does not mean that you have to provide a conceptual framework about these sources.

For you to find out about every crucial detail, our team created this guide on how to write a literature review. In the article, you’ll see the definition and instructions on writing the paper.

📖 What Is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a thorough review and analysis of the literature available in a chosen or given subject area. It shouldn’t just look like a chronological catalog of the sources you have found or the quotes you might find relevant.

Instead, a literature review definition shows that it:

  • Locates your research focus within the context of the existing literature in the field.
  • Presents your critical review of the relevant literature.
  • Explains all sides of the argument.
  • Evaluates the research findings and their quality.

🎯 What Is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

When answering what the purpose of a literature review is, one needs to remember a few objectives of a literature review:

  • It identifies and narrows down the problem you are studying.
  • It synthesizes the information from your literature survey into a summary.
  • It presents the literature in an organized way.
  • It critically evaluates the available information by:
    • Finding gaps in current studies.
    • Showing limitations of the proposed points of view and theories.
  • It provides suggestions for further research and reviews controversial areas.

What is a literature review in a research paper? It’s an overview and evaluation of what has been found, explored, and written on the topic of a given research paper.

Creating a literature review might be a part of a graduate or post-graduate work, such as a thesis or dissertation. Additionally, it can be a part of smaller academic writing pieces and research proposals.

📌 Literature Review Elements

So, what are the main features of a good literature review? You have to learn about them to write a flawless paper.

Five key elements of a literature review play an essential role:

Elements Purposes
1. General statements Give an overview of the research, the given topic, and the review’s objectives.
2. References to previous studies Identify what has been done and studied in the area. Divide the reviewed works into categories:
  • in support or against a specific position,
  • presenting alternative positions, etc.
3. Main features of the studies Present the similarities and differences between the works under evaluation. Highlight the most convincing and crucial parts of the studies.
4. Gaps in the research List the issues that are missing from the previous studies. Define the reason for your project.
5. Conclusion and restatement of the objectives Outline what your study is planning to achieve and give suggestions for future research.

This video will help you get more closely acquainted with the parts of the literature review:

✍️ How to Write a Literature Review

Now that you are familiar with the elements, it’s time to figure out how to write a literature review for a research paper.

Below, you will find a list of useful tips to ease your studies. And don’t forget to check out valuable links at the end of the article!

Check the Format

Before you start your paper, you need to get acquainted with the required citation style guidelines to format your literature review correctly. Here are several reasons why you need to do this first:

  • To recognize the author(s) of the materials you’re using in your research.
  • To give context to your study and show that your paper is properly researched.
  • To enable your readers to find the sources for more detailed information if needed.
  • To allow for further research by informing others about what has already been studied on a given topic.

Be sure to cite other authors’ ideas and words whenever you:

  • Paraphrase.
  • Make a summary.
  • Quote directly.
  • Use relatively unknown facts.
  • Incorporate evidence that directly relates to your argument.

Choose a Topic

Selecting the right topic for your literature review is a vital step towards writing an effective paper.

The best tips for the issue are as follows:

  • Look for a topic that you find interesting. The right choice will make the researching and writing process more pleasurable and rewarding in the end.
  • Brainstorm your ideas. Try this method to make your ideas flow more freely. Keep refining your ideas until you find something that will pique your curiosity.
  • Skim through the sources. You won’t write a literature review on this topic correctly if it hasn’t been researched by others yet. Make sure that there is enough related literature available for your review.
  • Make it neither too general nor too specific. Too broad of a topic will spread your and your readers’ attention thin, and it will be challenging to study. Too narrow of an idea might be detrimental for a literature review, meaning one might not have enough supporting articles. However, if you find enough studies on a specific idea, that would be ideal.

Find Core Materials

By now, you have defined the topic and scope of your literature review. Your next step is to start identifying specific resources. Thorough academic research will undoubtedly take some time.

The good news is this:

Once it’s done the way it should be, the research almost writes the literature review for you.

Finding sources for a literature review.

Here are some tips:

Write down any keywords that describe your topic. Use a reference tool or a thesaurus to generate this list. Then use these keywords to research scholarly databases. These search terms will help you find useful sources.

Choosing incorrect or non-descriptive keywords will return results that are too shallow.

Here are some suggestions for online multidisciplinary databases that you might use:

Evaluate the Sources

Before deciding whether you should include the material you’ve found, you should engage in a critical literature evaluation.

Why?

Some of the materials retrieved from the Internet may end up not being credible or not valuable enough for your project. Peer-reviewed journals are more likely to be scientifically valid.

You can use this table as a checklist for evaluating your sources:

✔️ Accuracy
  • Are there any errors in the information?
  • Is it grounded on proved facts?
  • Can you verify the data against other trusted sources?
✔️ Reliability
  • Does the information seem reliable?
  • Does it come from a reliable source (i.e., scholarly journal)?
✔️ Authority
  • Who is/are the author(s)?
  • What are their credentials?
  • Do they have enough qualifications and experience to speak on the topic?
  • Is the author affiliated with a reputable university or organization in the field?
✔️ Usefulness
  • Is the source closely related to your topic?
  • Will it be useful for your study?
✔️ Objectivity
  • What is the purpose of the data?
  • Is the information biased?Does it include facts, statistics, and references?
✔️ Currency
  • When was the information issued?
  • Is the data up-to-date?
✔️ Coverage
  • Does the material meet your information needs?
  • Is the topic covered superficially or deeply?
  • Are there other sources that provide more in-depth coverage?

Analyze the Websites

Before you use or cite any information you find on a website, you should carefully evaluate the source in a few ways:

  • Search for information about the author: “About Us,” “About This Site,” etc.
  • Make sure you can reach the website’s author/webmaster by e-mail or some other means.
  • Assess the authority of the URL (site’s web address).

Pay special attention to top-level domains:
.com – most likely a commercial site (maybe selling products or services).
.edu – an educational institution (mostly reliable, but still may be a personal web page of an institution’s member).
.gov – highly reliable, representing a government department or agent.
.net – network access provider.
.org – a non-profit organization (reliability level may vary).

Make a Summary

The summaries of your findings in the format of a table or concept map will help you review, manage, and summarize the literature you’ve dug up.

  • If you use tables for your review, they must include an analysis to summarize, explain, and synthesize the material that you’re reviewing.

What’s the best way to create tables?

You can use Microsoft Word’s table functionality, or you can create the table in Excel first and then copy→paste/import the completed Excel sheet into Word. Using Excel will let you incorporate some useful functions like sorting your findings (e.g., by date, by author, by method, and then by date, etc.)

Mind Meister website screenshot.
  1. You can plan your table or do the entire summary chart of your literature using a concept map. Use these services to create your maps:
  2. As a starting point, try organizing the following data for your literature review into tables or maps:
    • Keywords and concepts.
    • Points of view.
    • Facts and statistics.
    • Research methods.
    • Research results summary, etc.

Outline and Write

Do you still think you can do without a literature review outline when translating your research into writing? You might end up having to spend too much time writing without one!

Go ahead and create an outline before you start writing your paper.

The literature review structure contains the same elements as a regular essay would:

Part of the Paper What to include in this part
Introduction
  • The topics you are going to discuss.
  • What the topic will include and exclude.
  • The criteria/grounding for choosing the literature you’ve included.
Body
  • Background of the issue.
  • Definitions to be used in the research.
  • Current trends vs. alternative theoretical assumptions, political outlooks, or other conflicting viewpoints.
  • Various approaches to the subject (historical, empirical, philosophical, etc.).
  • Ongoing studies and discoveries regarding the problem.
  • Questions being asked, methods used for research, and relevant conclusions draw.
Conclusion
  • Significant agreements and disagreements in the literature.
  • General conclusions about the study.
  • The importance of your research and its place in the existing literature on the subject.

How do you write a literature review for a research paper?

Pay special attention to these important details as well:

  • Define the general problem you’re studying without making global statements.
  • Somewhere at the beginning of the paper, mention why your topic is crucial.
  • Make sure to highlight only the essential points from each source. And these points should refer directly to the focus of your review.
  • Explain the difference between your research and that of other sources.
  • Break your findings up by concepts and categories (in defense of or opposition to a particular position).
  • Synthesize the materials under consideration: compare the studies, reveal their strengths and weaknesses, highlight gaps and trends in the research, etc.
  • Describe the timeframe if you’re going to comment on the topic’s timeliness.
  • If you need to cite a classic or landmark study, define it as it is.
  • If you replicate some landmark study, point it out.
  • Keep your voice front and center. Even though a literature review describes ideas from other authors, you should maintain your voice. Try to start and end the paragraph with your statements and words.
  • Like any other academic paper, you should reference a few other resources when you make a point. Always back up your explanations with evidence to confirm the validity of your words.
  • Comments like “no studies were found” should always be justified.
  • Always give credit to authors whenever you use their ideas. And quote reasonably. Use quotes only to highlight a specific idea or fact that exemplifies your research.
  • Draw conclusions about the literature that made the most significant contributions to your study area.

Now that you’ve read tips on literature review conducting and writing will be more manageable.

Helpful Links

The links below will provide you with useful literature review guidelines in different study areas. And you’ll find examples of literature reviews below!

Science

Medicine

Sociology

Psychology literature review

Business and economics

Thanks for reading the article! Now you can nail your literature review without a struggle. Share the page with peers who may need our advice.

🔗 References

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