How to Write an Literature Review


As every student is aware, academic essays and research papers are required as part of the educational program. You develop a thesis, back it up with credible sources, and develop systematic ideas to go with it. However, not all students are aware that in college, they will be required to complete another type of paper known as a Literature Review.

Literature Review Definition

Because this is a less common type of academic writing, students frequently ask, “What is a literature review?” A literature review, according to the definition, is a body of work that investigates various publications within a specific subject area, and sometimes within a specific timeframe.

This type of writing requires you to read and analyze a variety of sources related to the main subject, as well as present each unique understanding of the publications. Finally, a literature review should include a summary as well as a synthesis of the documents used. A summary is a brief overview of the publication’s important information; a synthesis is a reorganization of the information that gives the writing a new and distinct meaning.

A literature review is typically part of a larger paper, such as a thesis or dissertation. However, it may also be given to you as a stand-alone assignment.

The Purpose

The primary goal of a literature review is to summarize and synthesize previous authors’ ideas without incorporating personal opinions or other additional information.

However, the goal of a literature review is not simply to list out summaries of sources; rather, it is to identify a central trend or principle that can be found in all of the publications. A literature review, like a research paper, has a main organizing principle that keeps it on track (MOP). The purpose of this type of academic writing is to identify the MOP and demonstrate how it appears in all of your supporting documents.

What is the significance of a literature review? The value of such work can be explained by the following objectives:

  • Emphasizes the importance of the main topic within a specific subject area.
  • Exhibits and explains the research background for a specific subject.
  • Assists in identifying key themes, principles, concepts, and researchers within a topic.
  • Aids in the discovery of relationships between existing ideas/studies on a topic.
  • Identifies major points of contention and gaps within a topic.
  • Based on previous research, suggests questions to guide future research.

Here are some examples of literature reviews to give you an idea of what they can be about:

  • Racism is explored in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
  • Isolationism in “Frankenstein,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” and “1984
  • Recognizing Moral Issues in “Crime and Punishment,” “The Scarlet Letter,” and “The Lifeboat”
  • Power Corruption in “Macbeth,” “All the King’s Men,” and “Animal Farm”
  • Emotional and Physical survival in “Lord of the Flies”, “Hatchet”, and “Congo”

How Long Is a Literature Review?

When faced with the task of writing a literature review, many students wonder, “How long should a literature review be?” Your instructor may, in some cases, dictate the length of your paper’s body. Read the guidelines thoroughly to learn what is expected of you.

If you haven’t been given any specific guidelines, it’s best to keep your literature review to 15-30% of your overall paper length. To give you an idea, that is approximately 2-3 pages for a 15-page paper. If you are writing a literature review as a separate assignment, the length should be specified in the instructions.

Literature Review Format: APA, MLA, and Chicago

The citation style preferred by your instructor should be followed in the essay format you use. Seek clarification from your instructor on the following other components in order to create the desired literature review format:

  1. How many sources should you look at, and what types of sources should you look at (published materials, journal articles, or websites)?
  2. In what format should you cite the sources?
  3. What should the length of the review be?
  4. Should your review include a summary, synthesis, or personal criticism?
  5. Should you include subheadings or background information for your sources in your review?

If you want to format your paper in APA format, follow these guidelines:

  • Use one-inch page margins.
  • Unless otherwise instructed, use double-spacing throughout the entire text.
  • Make sure you use a legible font. Times New Roman in 12-point size is the preferred font for APA papers.
  • Add a header to the top of each page (in capital letters). The page header must be a shortened version of your essay title and must be no more than 50 characters long, including spacing and punctuation.
  • Place page numbers in the upper right hand corner of each page.
  • Don’t forget to include a title page when creating your APA literature review outline. The title of the paper, the author’s name, and the institution’s affiliation should all be included on this page. Your title must be typed in upper and lowercase letters and centered in the upper part of the page; it should be no more than 12 words long and free of abbreviations and unnecessary words.

Use the following guidelines for MLA style text:

  • Use one-inch page margins.
  • Increase your spacing throughout the paper by a factor of two.
  • Indent each new paragraph by half inch.
  • Times New Roman in 12-point size is the preferred font for MLA papers.
  • Include a header at the top of the first page of your paper, or on the title page (note that MLA style does not require you to have a title page, but you are allowed to decide to include one). In this format, a header should include your full name, the name of your instructor, the name of the class, course, or section number, and the assignment’s due date.
  • Place a running head in the upper right corner of each page of your paper. Place it one inch from the right margin of the page and half an inch from the top margin. In the running head, only include your last name and the page number separated by a space. Before page numbers, do not use the abbreviation p.

Finally, if you are required to write a literature review in Chicago style, the following are the main guidelines to follow:

  • Make sure the page margins are no less than 1 inch.
  • Use double spacing throughout the text, with the exception of table titles, figure captions, notes, blockquotes, and entries in the bibliography or References.
  • Avoid using spaces between paragraphs.
  • Select a font that is clear and easy to read. Times New Roman and Courier, set to no less than 10-point size, but preferably 12-point size, are the preferred fonts for Chicago papers.
  • Your full name, class information, and the date should appear on the cover (title) page. The cover page should be centered and one-third of the way down the page.
  • Include page numbers in the upper right corner of every page, including the cover page.

Structure of a Literature Review

How to Structure a Literature Review: A literature review, like many other types of academic writing, follows the typical intro-body-conclusion style, with 5 paragraphs in total. Let’s take a closer look at each component of the basic literature review structure:


You should point your reader(s) to the MOP (main organizing principle). This means that your information must begin broad and gradually narrow until it reaches your focal point.

Begin by presenting your overall concept (Corruption, for example). After the initial presentation, narrow the focus of your introduction to the MOP by mentioning the criteria you used to select the literature sources you chose (Macbeth, All the King’s Men, and Animal Farm). Finally, the introduction will conclude with a presentation of your MOP, which should be directly related to all three sources of literature.


Body Paragraphs

In general, each body paragraph will concentrate on a specific piece of literature that was mentioned in the essay’s introduction. Because each source has a different frame of reference for the MOP, it is critical to structure the review in the most logically consistent manner possible. This means that the writing should be organized in one of three ways: chronologically, thematically, or methodologically.


Organizing your sources by publication date is a good way to maintain an accurate historical timeline. When used correctly, it can present the evolution of a concept over time and provide examples in the form of literature. However, there are times when there are better ways to structure the body.


Instead of using the “timeline approach,” consider the relationship between your MOP and your sources. Sometimes the main idea of a piece of literature will just jump out at you. At times, the author may need to look for examples to back up their point. An experienced writer will usually arrange their sources in ascending order of strength. For example, in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” racism was central to the entire novel; in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” racism was just one of many themes.


This type of structuring, as the terminology suggests, focuses on the methods used to present the central concept. In “1984”, for example, George Orwell employs the law-and-order approach to demonstrate the dangers of a dystopia for a social species.

Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” exposes the character’s physical characteristics as repulsive and horrifying, forcing him to suffer in an isolated environment. By displaying the various methods used to depict the MOP, the writer can compare them based on factors such as severity, ethics, and overall impact.


Following the presentation of your findings in the body paragraphs, there are three final objectives to complete in the essay`s conclusion. First, the author should summarize their findings or discoveries, in other words, and provide a brief response to the question, “What have you learned?”

Following the discussion of that information, the next step is to present the significance of the information in relation to our current world. In other words, how can the reader apply the information to today’s society? From there, we finish with a breadcrumb trail.

As the author, you want to leave the readers on a tangent within the actual essay topic. This allows them to conduct further research, implying that the reader can speculate on where the discussion will go next.

Writing an Outline for a Literature Review

Students frequently underestimate the significance of pre-planning the structure of their papers. This, however, is not a wise strategy. A rough APA literature review outline (or other style outlines) will not only help you follow the correct format and structure, but it will also make the writing process easier and ensure that you include all of the important information without leaving anything out.

How to Write a Literature Review Outline: As you can see from the Structure section of this guide, each section of your literature review serves an important purpose. Create your outline with the general introduction-body-conclusion structure in mind, and make sure that each section meets its own objectives. However, it is important to remember that a literature review outline differs from other types of essay outlines in that it does not provide new information. It concentrates on existing studies that are relevant to the main topic.

To assist you, here is an example of a literature review outline on the Ebola virus:

  • Introduction
  1. Introduce the broad topic. Give background information on the Ebola virus, such as its genome, pathogenesis, transmission, epidemiology, and treatment.
  2. Formulate the main research question: What potential role do arthropods (mechanical or biological vectors) play in the spread of the Ebola virus?
  3. Methodology: For example, relevant research articles about the Ebola virus and arthropods’ role in its spread were found by searching X databases. A standardized form was used to extract the data.
  4. Probable outcomes
  5. Overarching trends in the literature on this subject: While the virus’s natural reservoir is still unknown, many researchers believe that arthropods (particularly fruit bats) play an important role in the virus’s spread.
  • Body
  1. Subject 1: A general overview of the specific piece of literature; an analysis of the key aspects of the study; a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and a summary of the strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
  2. Subject 2: A general overview of the specific piece of literature; an analysis of the key aspects of the study; a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and a summary of the strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
  3. Subject 3: A general overview of the specific piece of literature; an analysis of the study’s key aspects; a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and an overview of the study’s strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.


  1. Describe the connections between the works of literature discussed. Highlight major themes, common patterns, and trends. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the authors’/researchers’ various approaches.
  2. Identify which studies appear to be the most influential.
  3. Highlight the major contradictions and points of contention. Define the remaining gaps to be filled (if any).
  4. If applicable, explain how your research will contribute to furthering the topic’s understanding.

Hopefully, this sample outline will assist you in organizing your own paper. However, if you need more guidance on how to organize your review, don’t be afraid to look for more literature review outline examples in APA or other styles on the Internet, or simply ask our writers for assistance.

How to Write a Good Literature Review

Whether you are writing a literature review as part of a larger research project (e.g., thesis, dissertation, or other) or as a stand-alone assignment, the writing approach should be the same.

Now that you understand the general rules and have a basic literature review outline template, let’s define the steps to take in order to complete this task correctly:

Step 1: Identifying the Topic

This is probably the only difference you’ll notice depending on whether your literature review is part of a research paper or a separate assignment entirely. If you are writing a literature review as part of another project, you must look for literature that is relevant to your main research questions and problem. If you are writing it as a stand-alone task, you must select a relevant topic and central question for which you will collect literature. We suggested some interesting topics earlier in this guide to help you narrow down your search.

Step 2: Conducting Research

When you have a clear topic in mind, it is time to begin gathering literature for your review. We recommend beginning by compiling a list of relevant keywords related to your central question—this will simplify the entire research process and help you find relevant publications more quickly.

When you’ve compiled a list of keywords, use them to find credible and relevant sources. At this point, make sure to only use reliable sources, such as those from university libraries, online scientific databases, and so on.

Once you’ve identified some sources, consider whether or not they’re actually relevant to your topic and research question. Instead of reading the entire paper, you can read the abstracts to get a general idea of what the papers are about.

Pro Tip: When you’ve found a few reliable publications, look through their bibliographies to find additional sources.

Step 3: Assess and Prioritize Sources

Throughout your research, you will almost certainly come across a wealth of relevant literature to include in your literature review. Many students make the mistake of attempting to incorporate all of their collected sources into their reviews at this point. We recommend going over what you’ve gathered again, evaluating the available sources, and selecting the most relevant ones. You are unlikely to be able to read everything you come across on a given topic and then synthesize all of the sources into a single literature review. That is why prioritizing them is critical.

Keep the following criteria in mind when deciding which sources to include in your review:

  • Credibility;
  • Influence;
  • Novelty;
  • Innovation;
  • Key insights;
  • Relevancy.

Additionally, as you read the sources, don’t forget to take notes on anything that you can incorporate into the review later. Also, make sure to get your citations in place as soon as possible. If you cite the sources you’ve chosen early on, it will be easier to create your annotated bibliography later on.

Step 4: Identify Relationships, Key Ideas, and Gaps

The final step before moving on to outlining and writing your literature review is to determine the relationships between the existing studies. Identifying the relationships will assist you in organizing existing knowledge, creating a solid literature outline, and indicating your own research contribution to a specific field (if necessary).

Some of the key points to keep an eye out for are:

  • Main themes;
  • Contradictions and debates;
  • Influential studies or theories;
  • Trends and patterns;
  • Gaps.

Here are a couple of examples: Across studies, common trends may include a focus on specific groups of people. Most researchers may be more interested in certain aspects of the topic in terms of key themes. Contradictions can include disagreements about a study’s theories and results. Finally, gaps frequently refer to a lack of research on specific aspects of a topic.

Step 5: Make an Outline

Although students frequently overlook this stage, it is one of the most important steps in writing any academic paper. This is the simplest way to organize the body of your text and ensure that nothing important has been overlooked. Furthermore, having a rough idea of what you’ll write about in the paper will help you get it right faster and easier.

We already discussed the basic structure of a literature review and provided an example of a good outline earlier in this guide. At this point in the workflow, you can use everything you’ve learned from us to create your own outline.

Step 6: Move on to Writing

After you’ve found and created all of your sources, notes, citations, and a detailed outline, you can finally begin writing. At this point, all you need to do is stick to your plan and remember the overall structure and format outlined in your professor’s instructions.

Step 7: Adding the Final Touches

The majority of students make the common error of skipping the final stage of the process, which includes proofreading and editing. We recommend devoting sufficient time to these steps to ensure that your work is worthy of the highest grade. Do not undervalue the importance of proofreading and editing, and make time for them.

Pro Tip: Set aside a day or two for your literature review before moving on to proofreading and editing. This will allow you to divert your attention away from it and return to proofreading with a fresh perspective. This tip will ensure that you don’t overlook any gaps or errors that may exist in your text.

These steps will make it simple for you to create an excellent literature review! Would you like more guidance on how to deal with this body of work?? Here are the top 3 tips you need to keep in mind when writing a literature review:

  1. Good Sources
    The most important thing for any writer to remember when working on a literature review is to find the best possible sources for their MOP. This means that while conducting preliminary research, you should choose and filter through 5-10 different options. The better a piece of literature showcases the central point, the higher the overall quality of the review.
  2. Synthesize The Literature
    Make certain that the review is organized in the most effective way possible, whether chronologically, thematically, or methodologically. Understand exactly what you want to say, and structure the source comparison accordingly.
  3. Avoid Generalizations
    Keep in mind that each piece of literature will approach the MOP from a different perspective. As the author, make sure to clearly present the differences in approaches and avoid including general statements that add no value.

Literature Review Examples

The grade office writing team has provided two well-written literature reviews below. They will assist you in understanding what the ideal final product of a literature review should look like.

The first review of the literature compares monolingual and bilingual language acquisition skills and draws on a variety of sources to prove its point:

Native Language Acquisition in a Bilingual Environment

The second review of literature compares the effects of fear and pain on a protagonist’s overall development in different settings:

“How to Tell a True War Story,” “You Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming,” and “The Train” are all being reviewed.

Both reviews will assist you in honing your skills and providing helpful guidelines for writing high-quality papers.