How to write a literature review

How to write a literature review

If you are a student or a researcher who wants to write a publication, you must know how to write a literature review. A literature review is a summary of knowledge about a certain topic from different academic resources such as books and journals. You search information from sources that have some points regarding the topic. You then compile showing how that information relates to your work or study. There are two types of literature reviews that you can write. The first type is the stand alone one whereby your instructors ask you to submit as part of the assignment. The second type is the one required in a research report. This one can be quite long as it helps to explain to the reader the different perspectives about the topic.

literature review format
what is a literature review
literature review sample
importance of literature review

For you to understand what is a literature review, Keep scrolling onto this article and get to learn the different types of literature reviews and how to write them

What is the importance of literature review?

Literature reviews play important roles as described below;

1. They make a research study accessible and understandable. This is because only meaningful and relevant scholarly sources are used as sources of information and insights. These sources too are usually valid thus making the information credible.

2. A literature review also makes it easy for a researcher to understand their topic. By reading several studies, they are able to know the areas of concerns, the arguments made and they also learn new insights. When carrying out their study, it becomes easy to know the areas to focus on.

3. A literature review also reduces duplication of work. Duplication of work is highly forbidden in the academic field. A research has to write their original points even though they summarize other sources.

4. By reading and summarizing several sources, a researcher is able to identify inconsistencies and gaps in the previous studies.

Literature review format

A literature review usually has three parts; the introduction body and conclusion.


This is the part a writer usually explains the focus of their study and why it is important. It examines previous work, controversies or any assumptions that have been made regarding the topic. At the very end of the introduction, is a thesis statement. If the review is an introduction to a thesis, it will outline how the findings will lead to the research.


This section usually contains headings and subheadings. It usually discusses the major themes and trends. It also outlines the differences of the arguments between authors. If your review is purposely to support your argument, you should make justifications that support it.


This is the last part of the literature review. It contains a summary of the arguments and evidence collected in the review. If the review is a stand-alone, the conclusion should contain applications and implications of the study.

How to write a literature review

literature review format
what is a literature review
literature review sample
importance of literature review

1. Identify the topic

If you have not been assigned a topic by your lecturer to work on, then you must find a topic. Think about the area that interests you, what you want to learn about and why it is important that you take up the study. You can read literature review samples to have an idea of how topics are chosen and outlined.

2. Review the existing literature

If you want to write an excellent theoretical literature review, then you must search thoroughly. When searching online, type the keyword that is related to your field. Several journal articles and books are there to help you. Go through several as you determine the one that contains the information that you need. Also, do not dismiss articles that are contrary to your argument. Choose them so that you can get more and better insights.

3. Narrow down your topic

Your topic should not be very broad. For instance, you cannot have a topic titled ‘Nursing’. There are several things that can be discussed under that title. Therefore narrow down until you find a specific aspect that interests you. For example you can have a topic like this; ‘Factors that lead to nursing shortage.’ By having a good topic, you make it easy for the users of information to know what to expect. If you are adventurous enough, you can focus in an area where there is limited research.

4. Read the articles and evaluate them

A good literature review requires a person to read thoroughly. Once you have selected the articles, read each of them. Note the assumptions that have been made, methodologies, testing procedures, subjects used and the materials used. Also identify the research findings from each of these studies and the conclusions that have been made. As you go about reading, identify the famous studies, expert inputs and even labs that were used. Evaluate all these information to determine the conflicts that exist within the studies and the theories that have been used. The process of reading and evaluating may take quite some time but it is very enlightening.

5. Organize the sources

After reading, identify the papers that have similar arguments and group them together. Next look for patterns in the studies. Create subtopics as guided by the trends and common theories identified in the research.

6. Develop a thesis

A thesis usually focuses on the ideas and the argument that you have regarding the topic. You should state your position and how it relates to the topic that you have chosen. Just by reading the thesis, a reader should be in a position to know what your study will be trying to prove. The thesis statement can be in one or two sentences. Creating one should not be difficult especially after you have reviewed several academic books and journal articles.

7. Organize your paper

Now that you have read the articles, noted the trends, assumptions, methodologies and conclusion, it is time you developed the outline of your paper. Come up with headings and subheadings. This is especially important if you are dealing with an extensive research. List down all your findings from the different sources. Determine whether you should write them under one heading or as different headings. You should also determine if you require other topic headings depending on what your study entails.

8. Write the body

Now that you have a good outline of your paper, you can now come up with the body. It should not be hard to do this as you already established the studies with the similar findings. As you do so, ensure to relate it to the topic. Do not just write an argument from the sources without explaining how the insights of the author with your work.

9. Do not just describe, analyze

literature review format
what is a literature review
literature review sample
importance of literature review

After writing the body, go back and look at what you have written. Do the sentences make sense? If you were the reader, would you connect from one paragraph to the other? One of the most common mistakes that many people make is to state what the other researchers did in their studies. However, this is not the main idea behind a literature review. It should not just contain a description of their studies. Instead, analyze what the findings from other researchers mean. How does it support or defer from your main argument? If you discover such mistakes in your literature review, go back and have an outline again. If you are a student, you might risk getting a bad grade for a poorly written literature review.

10. Final touches to make your literature review excellent

  • Once you are done writing the literature review, read it loud. This way, you will be in a position to know how the information flows and that the review is not merely a description of what other researchers did.
  • Ensure that you have covered all the important and valid points. Your instructor or the readers want a professional overview of the topic that you have written. Focus on providing a recent analysis of your work.
  • There are certain writing styles such as MLA, APA, Chicago and Harvard. You lecture might require you to follow a certain format. Be sure to cite and reference your sources in the correct manner. You can even consult your lecturer about the same.
  • Avoid plagiarizing work. When you copy a certain piece of information from another source, cite it to acknowledge that it is a borrowed concept. Also avoid copying words directly. To avoid this, read first, understand and then write that information in your own works. Plagiarism is a major crime in the academic sector.
  • Maintain a professional and academic tone.
  • Avoid grammatical errors. Such errors can make your work very hard to read. Also, you can lose marks because of such errors. Read your work at least three times before submitting to ensure that such errors are not present.
  • Make sure to organize your paper in subheadings. This will make it easy for the ready to follow through. Proper organization of work also makes it easy for the instructor to award you marks.

Writing a literature review should not be very difficult if you follow the instructions outlined above on how to write a literature review.

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Source: Yen Ghana

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