How to write a literature review. Guidelines, tips, samples

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by Will Martins / Updated April 11, 2024

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A literature review is an independent academic piece or a part of a research paper, thesis, or dissertation that provides an overview of pre-existing knowledge on the topic. Although it may seem like a frivolous waste of time, a solid review is an integral part of any scientific or academic work, and its quality will directly impact how your project is received. So, in this post, we’ll go over the major steps of writing the literature review, provide outlining recommendations, and share a few samples.

What is the purpose of a literature review?

Now that we’ve covered the answer to “What is a literature review?” let’s go over the goal of a literature review. If you play your cards right, it can serve multiple purposes:

  • Demonstrate your understanding of the problem matter
  • Outline the biggest contradictions and knowledge gaps in existing knowledge
  • Showcase the relevance of your research and its place within the current framework

Long story short, the goal of a literature review is to answer all the “Why” questions:

  • Why did you decide to work on this particular issue?
  • Why do you think it’s important?
  • Why should anyone besides you care about it?

So, if you were wondering what to write in review, start by answering these questions, and you should be well on your way to writing a literature review.

Leverage examples of literature reviews

Unfortunately, there’s no universal solution for how to do a lit review for every class, assignment, or major. Still, most students will benefit from reading several literature review examples before tackling the task. Of course, this post is too short to include even a single full-length critical literature review example, so instead, let us share a few links that can be helpful:

It can be easy to fall into the procrastination trap of reading samples instead of writing the literature review. We suggest setting a maximum limit at three to five samples. After you’re done with them, go back to working on your review.

How to write a literature review | Step-by-step guide

With a firm grasp of its significance and value, let’s now go over the key steps to writing a literature review. You’ll notice each of the following stages is relatively time-consuming and complex, so you can split them into smaller chunks. Moreover, the majority of the work on a lit review paper takes place well before you start writing. So you shouldn’t underestimate the time it will take. Instead of putting it off as you do with most papers, start working on it immediately or consider getting help from professionals with good essay writing service reviews.

1. Find and evaluate relevant literature

First, you need to have a firm grasp of your topic and the search keywords you can use. Assuming you have a draft title for your literature review paper, create a list of key phrases to look for. Remember to include synonyms and related terms to make identifying relevant sources and literature easier. For instance, if you’re researching the influence of social media on depression, remember to include Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter (X), and other social media platforms in your search. After all, some sources would likely hold data for one or two of them instead of the whole range of platforms.

Skip Wikipedia and Google and use niche platforms to search for references for your literature guide. Check out Google Scholar, Inspec, Scopus, JSTOR, Web of Science, Project Muse, ResearchGate, EBSCO, EconLit, Medline, Pubmed, etc., to find credible and relevant research for humanities and hard sciences. To make finding usable data and writing literature reviews faster, skim the title and abstract of each article first. Discard the ones that don’t match your topic, and then dive into the conclusions, figures, and tables, as they will hold the most critical data. This approach will help you sort through the sources and move on to the evaluation and critique in no time.

2. Sort through information and take notes

Before you can start analyzing and synthesizing the literature as a reviewer, you’ll need to read the publications you’ve screened on step one and focus on finding the following:

  • Core publications that shape the field of research
  • Major themes repeated across different sources
  • Changes and trends over time
  • Controversies and inconsistencies in current understanding
  • Gaps in pre-existing knowledge of the issue

These points will shape your literature review help writing it faster, and protect you from missing important points. You can choose any approach to note-taking, from pen-and-paper to automated citation-tracking software, but always remember to include reference information for every data point or idea. Otherwise, you may get in trouble when your paper goes through a plagiarism checker.

3. Outline your literature review

A careful outline is critical for writing a coherent and well-organized review, as it provides a roadmap to follow and keeps you from staying off topic, repeating yourself, or missing important evidence or arguments. Besides, like most academic papers, a graduate literature review relies on the familiar three-part structure of an introduction, body, and conclusion. However, their purpose may differ slightly from what you’re used to, especially if the review is a part of a bigger project.

So, how should a literature review be structured?

The introduction is typically only a couple of passages long, presenting your topic and providing basic context for the audience. It can also hold a brief overview of the chapter’s structure to help prepare the readers for what’s to come.

The body of a literature review is often the most challenging to outline and write, as you need to process information from multiple sources and synthesize a cohesive argument. To make things easier, you can choose one of the following approaches (or combine a couple):

  • A chronological structure is often the easiest, as it merely requires you to go from the oldest to the newest data you can find. With this approach, it’s important to identify the major changes throughout the timeline, their causes and consequences.
  • A thematic outline works best if you can identify several major trends of themes across your sources. In this case, each subsection should cover one of the major themes, but remember to point out connections and relationships among them.
  • A methodological literature review structure is best suited for projects that focus on research design. In this case, you can concentrate subsections of the review on qualitative and quantitative methods, sampling techniques, and sample sizes.
  • A theoretical approach focuses on existing theoretical frameworks, their benefits and shortcomings concerning your research.

The conclusion of a literature review can briefly summarize the major points, focusing on inconsistencies, shortcomings, and knowledge gaps. The final section should lead the readers to research objectives or research questions your project will answer.

Unless your professor requires you to submit a formal outline for grading, you don’t need to worry about how to format a lit review structure. You can use a bulleted or numbered list, different subheading styles, or any other approach that will help you navigate the structure and find relevant information at a glance.

4. Write, edit, and proofread the literature review

With detailed reference data and a clear outline, writing the review shouldn’t cause you much trouble. Still, as you work on it section by section, consider these recommendations:

  • Do not stop at summarizing your sources. Paraphrase the main ideas and provide critique or analysis.
  • Remain objective in your analysis. Even if you do not agree with the author, avoid emotional language and build a counterargument supported by proof.
  • Do not turn a review into an annotated bibliography. Instead of a list of facts, create a compelling argument supported by evidence.
  • Be selective with the sources and data you use. At some point, adding extra information stops being helpful and turns your review into a disjointed mess, so focus on the most salient points.
  • Avoid the perfectionism trap when writing the first draft. You won’t get everything right on the first try, so focus on getting words on paper as fast as you can and let yourself be sloppy. You can correct all your mistakes during the editing stage.

Editing and proofreading are often the most overlooked steps to write a literature review. Although you can put it off until the rest of your piece is ready, you should always revise the review before submitting it to your professor or academic advisor. Small mistakes and typos will detract from your flawless methodology and strong argument, so go over the draft carefully to ensure there are no inconsistencies and illogicalities. Use an advanced spellchecker like Grammarly to catch errors and make your review look polished and professional.

If your project is critical to your academic record or career, consider getting professional help with literature review editing and proofreading. As our EssayMarket review suggests, it’s among the top companies specializing in research, writing, and editing.

As a final step before submitting your paper for grading, take care of citing sources and creating a bibliography. You can use an automatic citation generator as long as you double-check the entries to prevent avoidable mistakes. Remember to add the list you come up with to the final reference list once your research paper or thesis is done.

Finally, check the APA or MLA guidelines to brush up on how to format a lit review. Although most formatting styles have similar requirements, such as legible font size, one-inch margins, and double-spacing, there are also plenty of differences, including heading formatting, title page, etc.

Sample literature review topics

The topic of your literature review should align with the rest of your research manuscript. Remember to balance the scope of the issue against the word count limits on your piece and choose a relevant problem that gets you excited to ensure you always have the motivation to keep working on it. Here are a few examples you can use to brainstorm more ideas:

  1. The impact of generative AI on the graphic designer job market
  2. The evolution of social media platforms through the lens of Gen X, Millenials, and Gen Z
  3. The evaluation of the long-term effect of electronics consumerism on environment and natural resources reserves
  4. The psychological and social impact of platforms such as OnlyFans
  5. The failings of the American election system and its long-term geopolitical repercussions
  6. Historical implications of unresolved territorial conflicts
  7. An overview of the least efficient green technologies adoption
  8. The long-term effects of smartphone addiction among children and teenagers
  9. The relationship between social distancing during the pandemic and the rise in suicide numbers
  10. Economic and psychological effects of daytime savings across different countries

If you have trouble writing a literature review or even coming up with an exciting topic for your research, consider getting help from a reliable academic writing service, such as

Final thoughts

Although this post is by no means a full guide on how to create a literature review, we hope it helps you make sense of this complex task and beat writer’s block. And if our tips aren’t enough, consider getting help with writing a literature review from professionals at one of the paper writing services we review.

If our guide on how to write a literature review isn’t enough, get help from professional paper writing services.


A literature review is a critical analysis of existing research and literature on a specific topic. It helps establish the context for your own research by identifying gaps, trends, and debates in the field. By conducting a thorough literature review, you demonstrate your understanding of the subject matter and contribute to the scholarly conversation in your field.

A literature review typically includes an introduction, where you outline the scope and purpose of your review; a body, where you organize and analyze the literature thematically or chronologically; and a conclusion, where you summarize your findings and discuss their implications. Within the body, you should critically evaluate each source, comparing and contrasting their methodologies, findings, and conclusions.

Begin by clearly defining your research question or thesis statement. Utilize diverse sources, including peer-reviewed journals and reputable websites, for comprehensive coverage. Organize your review logically, grouping similar studies and highlighting key themes. Remember to cite your sources properly in the appropriate citation style to avoid plagiarism and give credit to the original authors.

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