How To Write a Literature Review

Wondering how to write a literature review? Learn more about summarizing journal articles, novels, research papers, and other literary works effectively. 

Whether you have to write a research paper, summarize a novel, or go through various scholarly articles, you might be asked to write a literature review. It is essential in the hard sciences, humanities, and social sciences. A literature review effectively summarizes the existing research or literature on a particular topic while avoiding plagiarism. 

Even though a literature review could be a sample annotated bibliography with MLA and APA style citations, there is usually a specific organizational pattern. Your literature review could summarize everything you learned from your sources during your research project or present a new way of looking at old material. What do you need to do to write an effective literature review? 

What Are the 3 Parts of a Literature Review?

A literature review aims to synthesize everything you learned during your research. It might be helpful to follow a template you can use as a skeleton while filling out the rest of your literature review. The three parts of a literature review include:

The Introduction

The introduction of your literature review should introduce the topic. For example, you may want to include your research question or thesis statement in this literature review portion. Based on the introduction, the reader should be able to derive the organizational pattern of the literature review itself. 

The Body

The body of your literature should contain a detailed discussion of your sources. While you need to think about what you want to include from each of your sources, you also need to make sure they are organized in a manner that makes sense. Some of the ways you may want to manage your sources include:

  • Consider organizing them chronologically, placing the first sources at the beginning of the list and the most recent sources at the end of the list.
  • Consider organizing them thematically by grouping them by topic, following a theoretical framework.
  • Consider grouping them methodologically, which might mean grouping them in the order they appear in your research paper.

Once you figure out how to order your sources, summarize appropriately and fairly. 

The Conclusion or Recommendations

How to write a literature review?
Presenting your conclusions is an effective way to end your literature review

Finally, the end of the literature review should present your conclusions. What have you learned based on the research you have done so far? What are some of the most important points you feel merit further discussion? If your reader wants to learn more about a specific topic, are there any works you might recommend? This is an effective way to end your literature review. 

With a rough plan in place for your literature review, it is time to put it together. 

How To Write a Literature Review

When writing the literature review, there are several steps to follow. This writing process should be as follows: 

Step 1: Pick Your Topic

The first step is to pick your topic. What area do you want to study? It would help if you thought about what interests you and what interests your readers. A good topic for a literature review should be a topic you are passionate about that is also essential to your field, society, or target reader base. 

A few potential topics for a vital literature review include:

  • What does the current research say about the link between obesity and diabetes?
  • What does the research show about possible racial bias in the criminal justice system?
  • Is there a link between artificial activity and climate change?
  • What is the link between early exposure to pollen and the development of seasonal allergies?
  • What are some of the most significant benefits of introducing reading to children early?

Make sure you select a vital topic. 

Step 2: Conduct a Literature Search

The next step is to conduct your literature search. There are plenty of ways to perform a search. You might want to use Google Scholar, you may want to use an academic online database, or you might want to visit the local library. Make sure you write down basic information about your articles. You may want to limit your search to a specific date range, a specific geographic location, or a specific theme. Remember that you need to include studies that both support your point of view and are against your point of view. That way, you have a fair overview of the topic. 

Step 3: Read Your Articles

Step 3: Read Your Articles
It would help if you took notes on the papers as you went along reading your articles

The next step is actually to read your articles. Keep in mind that you can also expand your literary search by looking at some of the sources used in your research article. As you go through your articles, some of the notes you want to keep in mind include:

  • Are there any assumptions that the paper authors make during the study?
  • What are the methodologies used by the researchers? Do the methods introduce any bias into the study?
  • What are some of the conflicting points of view you notice as you go through the different papers?
  • How have some of the theories introduced by the authors changed over time?

It would help if you took notes on the papers as you went along. 

Step 4: Group the Studies Together

Once you finish reading the papers, it is time to group them into different categories. You might want to group them by other trends you noticed in the article, the other research methods they might have used, and the typical findings that they either uncovered or contested. It would help if you grouped your studies because this will be the grouped format of your literature review. 

Step 5: Develop Your Thesis Statement

After going through all of the different research papers, it is time for you to develop your thesis statement. You do not want to build your thesis statement initially because you do not want to go into the research project with a biased view. You need to develop your thesis statement based on what the research papers show. Your thesis statement should reflect the information you learned during the research project. It should be a fair conclusion based on the information you have uncovered. 

Step 6: Summarize the Individual Sources

Next, you can summarize the individual sources. When you write your literature review, group your sources in the same order as above. Write a fair description of the source. Make sure to credit the author and use the appropriate text citation. Then, describe the content in the source and the impact it had on your research paper. This will make it easier for your reader to place the individual sources in context. After summarizing the sources, place the citations at the bottom.

Step 6: Review and Proofread Your Work

Once you have finished writing your literature review, it is time to go back through and proofread your work. Try to look at the topic sentences of each paragraph during the summary process. Make sure it is an accurate reflection of the work as a whole. You might want to consider reading your literature review aloud to make sure it flows well. It would help double-check your work to ensure you have not unintentionally plagiarized anything by not citing your sources correctly. Of course, do not forget to check for spelling and grammatical errors.

After you are done with the step, you can submit your literature review for final review either by your teacher or a relevant publication. 

Literature Review Examples

It might be helpful to take a look at a sample literature review. Some of the top examples of literature reviews to consider include:

1. Building Customer Loyalty

Here is an interesting literature review was written by Martina Donnelly on how customer loyalty and tourism relate to one another. The research paper focuses on whether there is a relationship between functional clues, mechanical clues, and customer loyalty in the tourism industry. The thesis required a tremendous amount of research. A substantial literature review in the paper summarizes what was learned during the research phase and why it impacted the final version of the thesis submitted for professional review.

2. Critical Thinking and Transferring

Suppose you are looking for a literature review tutorial that will give you a more detailed guide on how to write your review. In that case, you might want to look at this sample literature review by Gwendolyn Reese on Critical Thinking and TransferGwendolyn Reese on Critical Thinking and Transferability. The template in this literature review clearly explains why different topics are covered and what was learned from each source. Furthermore, all sources are correctly cited at the end of the document. 

3. Adolescent Psychology

Here is a brief literature review sample on stress, adolescence, and psychology. This is a substantial literature review because all sources are grouped to make sense. As you go through the literature review, it is easy to see the author flow from one topic to the next and why the author feels specific sources need to be grouped. Then, at the bottom of the review, all sources are cited using appropriate formatting. 

4. Hotel Trends and Innovations

A literature review can also accompany a presentation delivered at a professional conference, which is precisely what happened with this literature review by Gereva Hackett and Detta Melia, who wrote a literature review on hotels as potential vacation destinations. The paper focused on various trends and innovations taking place in the industry. This literature review highlights existing thoughts and research on the topic, explaining the meaning behind the sources and what they might mean for the industry’s future. Then, all of the sources are appropriately cited and credited at the bottom of the review. 

5. Attitudes Toward Disability in Ireland

This literature review, written by Frances Hannon, focuses on the attitudes people in Ireland have toward people with disabilities. This is a lengthy, thorough literature review that opens with a straightforward table of content that clearly explains how different sources will be discussed and covered. Then, the other does a deep dive into the sources, explaining how they reflect changing attitudes toward people with disabilities over time and how Ireland got to where it is today. All of the sources are appropriately credited throughout the paper, and they are organized in a way that makes sense.

6. Communication Styles and Marital Satisfaction

Here is a sample literature review submitted for a class at the University of West Florida. The literature review focuses on communication styles and how they impact marital satisfaction. The author has done a tremendous amount of research to learn about different communication styles. Then, based on the uncovered information, she derived logical conclusions about the impacts different communication styles have on marital satisfaction. The author explains why each source is essential for the literature review, and all sources are correctly cited at the end of the document.

Based on the example literature reviews above, a few critical takeaways include:

  • There is no singular right way to group sources, but they need to be ordered in a way that makes sense.
  • All works have to be cited appropriately using a professional citation method.
  • Lengthy literature reviews may benefit from having a table of contents at the front that explains why the sources are grouped in that specific way.

A literature review is a great way to summarize existing research on an essential topic while learning about common themes, questions, and discussion points in a specific field. 

For more help with your writing, check out our guide on how to write an abstract.

  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.