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Welcome! This guide will assist you as you move through the research process as an undergraduate student. This guide covers the research process in general, so be sure to also check the s ubject specific guides to discover the best information resources for your topic. Questions? Use the chat box below, or contact me - you can find my contact information to the left.
Using This Guide
Use the left navigation panel to explore the various features of the research process:
The Research Process: This section provides you with information on creating a thesis statement or hypothesis and the steps of the research process.
Finding Information : This section explains how to find articles, books, websites, and primary vs. secondary sources.
Evaluating Information: This section explains how to critically evaluation information ,distinguish scholarly vs. popular articles, and differentiate primary vs. secondary sources.
Literature Review: This section explains the guidelines of conducting a literature review.
Citing Your Sources: This section provides citation style guides and clarifies how to avoid plagiarism.
Library Liaison Program: This section provides a directory of library staff and their areas of subject specialization.
Using Resources From Off-Campus
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Site search, sign in access, breadcrumbs, write a literature review: for undergraduates, in this guide:.
- For an Essay or Research report
- For an Annotated Bibliography
- For a Directed Study, Special topic or Dissertation
Finding Resources for Literature Reviews
A literature review means finding, reading and summarising the published research relevant to your question, in other words finding out what is already known about your topic. Once you have read and critically reflected upon the relevant literature, you should be able to identify major themes as well as compare and contrast the various perspectives.
The stages of a literature review are to:
- Define your terms
- Use appropriate search strategies
- Select relevant materials
- Group materials in a way that makes sense for the argument you want to make
- Compare, contrast, analyse and synthesize what you’ve read
- Set the context for your research
An undergraduate literature review may be for an essay, research report, annotated bibliography, or a literature assignment. This may require you to find a small selection of literature, for example ten relevant articles.
If you are asked to write a literature review, check on Moodle or with your tutor for instructions. You may be asked to do an annotated bibliography as a first step.
In all cases, follow these general guidelines.
- Think about your key words! Read your course outline. What have you been asked to do? What are you really searching for? Are there alternative words to express this? Develop a search strategy
- A literature search using high-quality, peer-reviewed academic material (journal articles from Library Search , our subject-specific databases , books (use Library Search ) and theses ) is the next step in your literature review. It will tell you what is available on your topic.
- Read strategically with these guides to Reading at University from Student Learning,
- Read critically: See Sage Research Methods on "reading critically”, or see Reading critically .
- Evaluate your sources . Source Evaluation Checklist .
- Keep a research diary to record what you’ve done, and collect and correct your references as you go.
- Check Moodle or your Course Outline to make sure you are using the correct referencing style .
- See the guide Literature reviews for undergraduates .
- You may find Top 10 tips for writing your dissertation literature review helpful.
- This is a very helpful chapter from Doing your undergraduate project/Denis F. Reardon if you feel you need extra guidance.
- See also Writing a Literature Review .
- Thompson Rivers University has a short Literature Review Template
Literature Reviews for Essays and Research reports
Most university courses will require you to write at least one essay or report. Your first step is to look at your lecturer's instructions on Moodle or on your paper outline. The Library has lots of great books on essay writing: go to Library Search, type "essay writing" into the search box and limit to books.
These web pages offer helpful hints:
- Writing University Essays
- Essay Writing
- Writing a scientific report
- Writing a research report
There is also guidance from Student Learning on Writing scientific reports .
Literature reviews for an Annotated Bibliography
An annotated bibliography is a list of summaries, each prefixed with a full citation in an appropriate referencing style, presented in alphabetical order.
These resources provide information on preparing and writing literature reviews for an annotated bibliography:
What is the difference between annotations and abstracts?
- Literature Review: annotated bibliography (Charles Sturt University)
- Writing an annotated bibliography (University of Melbourne)
- How to write an annotated bibliography (Jennifer King)
- Is this a Descriptive/Summary Annotated Bibliography OR an Evaluative/Critique Annotated Bibliography? Read your assignment instructions carefully
- See also Reading at University (Student Learning)
Literature reviews for a Directed Study, Special topic or Dissertation
Consult your supervisor about your topic.
The literature review often appears near the start of your dissertation, and is a key part of your overall dissertation structure. It is a summary of the current writings in the field you are researching and into which your dissertation will eventually fit (Oxbridge Essays)
These resources provide information on preparing and writing literature reviews for a directed study, special topic or dissertation:
- Top 10 tips for writing your dissertation literature review (Oxbridge Essays)
- Thomson Rivers University Literature Review template
- Writing a Literature Review
A good general call number for print books on dissertation writing.
If you feel you need extra guidance, this is a great chapter on Doing your Undergraduate Project .
- The best place to find good literature is at the Library! If you need help in locating the right material, talk to the helpful staff at the Information Desk on Level 4 of the Library or your Academic Liaison Librarian.
- EndNote is software that helps you to manage your references.
- NVivo can be used to systematically analyse literature. For more information please see the NVivo download pages and Library tutorials , under Research.
1. Read the instructions on Moodle, your Course Outline or class notes
Then read Find information for assignments Use High Demand books Use your Waikato Reading List
2. Think about what you really need to find and your key words
Search strategy - where to look? Library "How to find" guides
All Library Guides Guides to searching Library resources
Tutorials are offered during each trimester Attend any Library tutorials arranged by your lecturer
Level 4 information desk in the Student Centre - We can help you refine your search Use Library Chat
6. Library Search
Library Search find books and articles on your topic Library Search guides Library Search quick guide Video Guides
7. Google Scholar
Use Google Scholar to get an overview of what's available.
8. Subject Databases
Subject Specific Databases
9. Use the references from articles/books to find more information
References show the sources authors have used for their work, and these will often lead you to other great books and articles. Use any live links from reference lists in online articles or check Library Search to find if we have access to the books or journal articles.
10. Subject Portals
Subject portals Your Academic Liaison Librarian can help you find theses, newspaper articles, as well as subject-specific material
- Make sure you are using good sources of information: See the Evaluating Resources .
- And, most importantly, check your Referencing ! Why reference?
The Literature Review: A Guide for Undergraduates
This guide provides undergraduate students with an introduction to writing a literature review. It will explain several things: what a literature review is, what it includes and how you should approach researching and writing it. As you have probably not had to write one before, you may be asking yourself: what is a literature review? Don’t panic! Think of it as a writing task with a specific objective and purpose: to show your tutor or lecturer that you have read, synthesised and understood the scholarly writings on a particular topic. To introduce you to the task, you may be asked to write a literature review as a separate assignment. Developing your skills in this area is an important part of your academic career: if you go on to do an Honours or postgraduate degree, the literature review will form a vital part of your research.
What is a Literature Review?
A literature review outlines and evaluates the available literature that has been produced on a given topic or theme by scholars and researchers. A literature review differs from similar exercises (such as annotated bibliographies or critical analyses of primary and secondary sources) in several ways.
The literature review does not just describe a text or an academic’s body of work: it examines and evaluates that work critically in relation to other works on the same topic. The focus of a literature review is governed and guided by an overarching research question, theme, argument or topic.
By synthesising the body of work that is relevant to a particular topic in this way, the literature review establishes the available knowledge on a topic, defines the strengths and weaknesses of different works, and can help you to identify the main scholarly arguments, debates, research gaps and approaches relevant to the topic.
What Sources Are Included in a Literature Review?
The literature reviewed can include (but is not limited to) academic journal articles, books and book chapters, monographs, conference proceedings, scientific reports and theses (dissertations). For undergraduate literature reviews, you would usually only be expected to read journal articles, books and book chapters. For a literature review assignment, you may be asked to read between three to seven scholarly texts (or more, if you are a third-year student).
It is vital that the literature included in a review is of an academic standard. This means that the text has been written by an academic. The texts you choose to assess normally should have been through a peer-review process , because peer-reviewed academic sources are even higher-quality than other academic sources, and it will have been made available through a reputable academic publisher.
Although many academic journals and digital versions of scholarly books are now available online, information available on general websites and online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia, for example, is not considered appropriate material for academic research.
In some disciplines—such as science or computer technology—it will be important to include only contemporary or relatively recent research; in other disciplines—such as ancient history or philosophy—the relevant literature may encompass much earlier texts.
Researching Your Literature Review
The first step in your research is to determine the specific question, topic or problem that your literature review will focus on (if a topic or question hasn’t been provided to you by your lecturer or tutor). This will help you undertake relevant keyword searches in the databases available through your university’s library or other appropriate sources. You can also use the reference lists in your course readings to locate relevant source material.
An important second step, even before you begin your research, is to write a rough plan, much like you would for a research essay. Identify some key themes or concepts that you can use to structure your review. This might involve writing subheadings ordered in a logical manner. This outline can then be used to structure the review. List each relevant text (including the bibliographic information) under each subheading and write a topic sentence for each group. Some texts may be included under several subheadings. You’ll develop this rough plan as you research and will finalise it before you begin writing.
Research Strategies and Tasks
When you are ready to read the literature you have collected, do so with some specific strategies (different types of academic reading) and questions in mind, and keep notes as you read.
Skim reading is useful for identifying the relevance of an article or book to your research. For an article, read the abstract, introduction and conclusion and then skim over the headings and subheadings to get an impression of the article’s focus. With a book, you may need to read the introductory chapter, as well as skimming over the contents.
Once you have determined that a text is suitable for your literature review, you can then read it more thoroughly—this is focused reading—and take systematic notes (including the bibliographic information) as you do this. This is when you read with particular questions in your mind. What question has the author posed? What issue has the author identified? How has the author established the scope and relevance of their particular work? Does the author have a particular theoretical perspective or research methodology? In what historical and social context is the author writing? What information has the author included or omitted? Is the author’s writing clear and the arguments well structured?
Make sure you take effective notes while reading: information on note-taking strategies is available online, and you will need to use the one you are most comfortable with. We recommend that you always use a research document when making notes, so that your research will be well organised and in an easy-to-use format when you begin writing your literature review. Our guide to essay writing explains how to organise and use a research document .
Writing the Literature Review
Remember that the literature review does not just summarise the texts you have chosen. Instead, it offers a critical analysis of the texts, which is a vital element of academic debate. Writing an effective critical analysis of the scholarly literature involves several steps and academic skills.
Finalise Your Plan
The form of your literature review will depend—to some extent—on why you are writing one. For undergraduates, you may have been asked to write a standalone literature review to establish your knowledge and understanding of a particular topic or field of enquiry. A standalone literature review should be structured like a standard research essay , with an introduction, discussion paragraphs and a conclusion. You can organise the literature review in several ways: chronologically, thematically or from the most to the least important works. When compiling the works to include in your literature review, make sure that you record all the relevant bibliographic information for later reference.
Once you’ve completed your research, you can refine and finalise your rough plan into a full and detailed plan to follow while writing your literature review. Use the plan you have developed to help you write in an organised and methodical way. The plan can operate as a checklist so that you do not omit any important texts or ideas you wish to include.
Where to Begin Writing?
Begin your writing by reviewing your notes, identifying key concepts and any direct quotations that you think are important enough to include. As you review your notes, paraphrase the main ideas and arguments from each text, writing out sentences. List the key concepts, direct quotations and paraphrasing under the subheadings (with topic statements) in your plan. By building up a detailed plan (one that resembles a database), you are actually creating the framework for your writing.
Write up your critical and synthesised analysis of the texts listed under each subheading, incorporating your paraphrasing and direct quotations. Remember to use citations where required. Also remember that this first part of writing is called a ‘draft’. Don’t worry too much about perfect grammar, spelling or sentence structure at this point. This phase of writing needs to flow, and you have already created a framework to scaffold your flow of ideas.
Reviewing, Rewriting and Editing
Once you have written a first draft in the way outlined above, you can then review what you have written (after a short break). Compare the draft to your plan and your notes. Have you discussed everything you wanted to? Is there any unnecessary repetition? Have you engaged in an appropriate level of critical analysis of the texts? Do you need to create more synthesis in your analysis?
At this point, you can rewrite the first draft and focus on your sentence structures, the logical flow of your arguments both within and between paragraphs (and across the review overall), your use of citations and your written expression. Be critical of your own writing and argumentation, and analyse your own strengths and weaknesses. The final step is to edit your literature review, looking at grammar, syntax, spelling, punctuation, the use of tenses and other elements. Remember that this final editing stage is vital for producing written work that is polished, readable and of a high academic standard.
Skills You Will Develop from Undertaking a Literature Review
Producing a literature review will help you to develop some vital academic skills and demonstrate these skills to your tutor or lecturer. These include:
- Searching the literature for relevant material . This is an important skill required across disciplines. The ability to identify and select appropriate texts efficiently and effectively is a sound basis for all research.
- Critical analysis. This is another vital component of academic research. By critically appraising the texts you include in a literature review, you are showing several things: that you can discern an argument’s flaws or strengths, how effectively an author has used the evidence in making his or her arguments and how valid a particular work may be.
- Focused research. This is required for a literature review, as you would normally be reviewing the material related to a specific question or topic. This type of research requires you to determine what literature is relevant to your topic, so that your approach is specific rather than general. By drilling into the particular focus of your topic, you will be able to explore it in depth, gaining a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding as a result.
We hope that this guide has given you a broad understanding of the literature review and how you research and write one. Please see the other resources available on the Capstone Editing website, along with those available through your university’s library or academic skills services.
Other guides you may be interested in
Essay writing: everything you need to know and nothing you don’t—part 1: how to begin.
This guide will explain everything you need to know about how to organise, research and write an argumentative essay.
Essay Writing Part 2: How to Organise Your Research
Organising your research effectively is a crucial and often overlooked step to successful essay writing.
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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 .
- 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 ]
- Writing Research Paper Videos
- UCSD Library Psychology Research Guide: Literature Reviews
- 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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Purdue Online Writing Lab College of Liberal Arts
Writing a Literature Review
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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.
Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?
There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.
A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.
Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.
What are the parts of a lit review?
Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.
- An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
- A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
- Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
- Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.
- Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
- Connect it back to your primary research question
How should I organize my lit review?
Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:
- Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
- Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
- Qualitative versus quantitative research
- Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
- Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.
What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?
Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .
As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.
Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:
- It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
- Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
- Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
- Read more about synthesis here.
The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.
Write a Literature Review
What is a literature review, what is the purpose of a literature review, what are the parts of a literature review, what if i have to write a systematic review.
- Seven Steps to Writing a Literature Review
- Resources for Gathering and Reading the Literature
- Resources for Writing and Revising
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A literature review is both a summary and explanation of the complete and current state of knowledge on a narrowed topic as found in academic books and journal articles.
You might be asked to write one of two broad kinds of literature reviews: a stand-alone assignment for a course, often as part of your training in the research of your ﬁeld, or as a part of an introduction to or preparation for a longer work, usually a thesis or research report. The specific purpose and length of the literature review will vary. One way to understand the differences between these two types is to read published literature reviews or the literature review chapter of theses and dissertations in your own subject area. Analyze the structure of their arguments and note the way they address the issues.
- To summarize, evaluate, and compare articles or studies that are relevant and important to your topic
- To highlight key ﬁndings
- To identify inconsistencies, gaps, and contradictions in the literature
- To provide an analysis of the methodologies and approaches of other researchers
- To provide clues as to where future research is heading or recommend areas on which to focus
- To ensure you do not duplicate work that has already been done
- To explain the focus and establish the importance of the subject
- provide the framework, selection criteria, or parameters of your literature review
- provide background or history
- outline what kind of work has been done on the topic
- briefly identify any controversies within the ﬁeld or any recent research that has raised questions about earlier assumptions
- In a stand-alone literature review, this statement will sum up and evaluate the current state of this ﬁeld of research
- In a review that is an introduction or preparatory to a thesis or research report, it will suggest how the review ﬁndings will lead to the research the writer proposes to undertake.
- To summarize and evaluate the current state of knowledge in the ﬁeld
- To note major themes or topics, the most important trends, and any ﬁndings about which researchers agree or disagree
- Often divided by headings/subheadings
- If the review is preliminary to your own thesis or research project, its purpose is to make an argument that will justify your proposed research. Therefore, the literature review will discuss only that research which leads directly to your own project.
- To summarize the evidence presented and show its significance
- Rather than restating your thesis or purpose statement, explain what your review tells you about the current state of the field
- If the review is an introduction to your own research, the conclusion highlights gaps and indicates how previous research leads to your own research project and chosen methodology.
- If the review is a stand-alone assignment for a course, the conclusion should suggest any practical applications of the research as well as the implications and possibilities for future research.
- Find out what style guide you are required to follow (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago)
- Follow the guidelines to format citations and create a reference list or bibliography
- Cite Your Sources
You might be asked to write another type of literature review called a systematic review. Writers of systematic reviews use clearly defined search parameters to gather literature that will help them answer a focused research question.
If you plan to write a systematic review, you can book an appointment with a librarian to develop a search strategy.
- Conduct a Systematic Review
- Next: Seven Steps to Writing a Literature Review >>
- Last Updated: Nov 8, 2022 9:19 AM
- URL: https://guides.lib.uoguelph.ca/LiteratureReview
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- How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes .
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, 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.
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
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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).
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.
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
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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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 AN EXCELLENT LITERATURE REVIEW
In project writing today, researchers or project writers have had this problem of writing an awesome literature review for their research work, be it undergraduate project or final year research. There are no two ways about the presentation of a good research literature review be it dissertation or MBA/MSC thesis writing , the literature always follow the same format except when the gap in knowledge is required maybe in tabular form by project supervisors.
Research students in Nigerian, Ghana and Togo are always advised to go online and get free research project topics that are still trending and practice on how to write a good literature review.
THE STRUCTURE OF RESEARCH LITERATURE REVIEW
A standard research literature review is expected to follow the format below:
- Conceptual framework
- Theoretical framework
- Empirical review
- Knowledge gap (optional)
- Summary of literature
INTRODUCTION : here undergraduate or final year project students is expected to simply spell out in at least seven (7) what this chapter will contain. As we have it above conceptual framework, theoretical framework, empirical review etc. a good introduction gives the project supervisor a kind confidence in his or her project students.
CONCEPTUAL FRAME WORK : a good conceptual frame work will cover all the research objectives so as to help solve the problem of the research work. This section involves the use of diagrams to explain certain key variables in the research work. The use of diagram is usually high in MBA/MSC thesis research.
THEORITICAL FRAME WORK : this section is very important in research work. Undergraduate project students, post graduate research students are expected to search for theories that are related to their research project topic.
For example, consider the project topic on human resource management: work life balancing and its effect on employee productivity; the theory that are suited for the above research topic are The Segmentation Theory, Spill-Over Theory, Compensation Theory, Resource Drain Theory and Border Theory. A project student is expected to get the theories that are related to their research work/ topic.
The empirical review is simply talking about the various researches done by other researchers concerning your topic or peoples research works that are similar to your research work. The names of various researchers must be attached to their findings or statement.
For example: the use of instructional materials in teaching and learning of geography in senior secondary schools has significant effect on the level of the academic achievement of students (Androameda, 2017)
SUMMARY OF LITERATURE
Here the research or project students are expected to point out their view concerning all what was discussed on each section of the literature review.
RESEARCH STUDENT CAN GET MOST OF THE ACADEMIC JOURNAL FOR THEIR LITERATURE REVIEW FROM :
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Lists _of_academic_ journals
- www.academic journals .org/ journal
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ List_of_economics _ journals
- www. economics -e journal .org
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ List_of_accounting _ journals
If a research student that wishes to carry out research on any project topic, with the above format for literature review such research student will be able to present an awesome literature review.
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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:
- 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.
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
Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review · Define a topic and audience · Search and re-search the literature · Take notes while reading
Literature Reviews · Define your terms · Use appropriate search strategies · Select relevant materials · Group materials in a way that makes sense for the argument
A standalone literature review should be structured like a standard research essay, with an introduction, discussion paragraphs and a conclusion. You can
Writing a Literature Review writing-literature-reviews · 1. Identify and define the topic that you will be reviewing. · 3. Read through the research that you have
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
Write a Literature Review · 1. Narrow your topic and select papers accordingly · 2. Search for literature · 3. Read the selected articles
Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context · Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
Introduction; Conceptual framework; Theoretical framework; Empirical review; Knowledge gap (optional); Summary of literature. INTRODUCTION: here
How do I write a literature review? · Step 1: Define your research scope · Step 2: Identify the literature · Step 3: Critically analyze the literature · Step 4:
Let's write an undergraduate literature review and publish your research! (Step by Step Series).