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How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

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.

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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, other interesting articles, 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.

Literature review guide

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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

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.

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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).

Chronological

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.

Methodological

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

Theoretical

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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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

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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Literature Review: Conducting & Writing

  • Sample Literature Reviews
  • Steps for Conducting a Lit Review
  • Finding "The Literature"
  • Organizing/Writing
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Sample Lit Reviews from Communication Arts

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What’s Included: Literature Review Template

This template is structure is based on the tried and trusted best-practice format for formal academic research projects such as dissertations and theses. The literature review template includes the following sections:

  • Before you start – essential groundwork to ensure you’re ready
  • The introduction section
  • The core/body section
  • The conclusion /summary
  • Extra free resources

Each section is explained in plain, straightforward language , followed by an overview of the key elements that you need to cover. We’ve also included practical examples and links to more free videos and guides to help you understand exactly what’s required in each section.

The cleanly-formatted Google Doc can be downloaded as a fully editable MS Word Document (DOCX format), so you can use it as-is or convert it to LaTeX.

PS – if you’d like a high-level template for the entire thesis, you can we’ve got that too .

FAQs: Literature Review Template

What format is the template (doc, pdf, ppt, etc.).

The literature review chapter template is provided as a Google Doc. You can download it in MS Word format or make a copy to your Google Drive. You’re also welcome to convert it to whatever format works best for you, such as LaTeX or PDF.

What types of literature reviews can this template be used for?

The template follows the standard format for academic literature reviews, which means it will be suitable for the vast majority of academic research projects (especially those within the sciences), whether they are qualitative or quantitative in terms of design.

Keep in mind that the exact requirements for the literature review chapter will vary between universities and degree programs. These are typically minor, but it’s always a good idea to double-check your university’s requirements before you finalize your structure.

Is this template for an undergrad, Master or PhD-level thesis?

This template can be used for a literature review at any level of study. Doctoral-level projects typically require the literature review to be more extensive/comprehensive, but the structure will typically remain the same.

Can I modify the template to suit my topic/area?

Absolutely. While the template provides a general structure, you should adapt it to fit the specific requirements and focus of your literature review.

What structural style does this literature review template use?

The template assumes a thematic structure (as opposed to a chronological or methodological structure), as this is the most common approach. However, this is only one dimension of the template, so it will still be useful if you are adopting a different structure.

Does this template include the Excel literature catalog?

No, that is a separate template, which you can download for free here . This template is for the write-up of the actual literature review chapter, whereas the catalog is for use during the literature sourcing and sorting phase.

How long should the literature review chapter be?

This depends on your university’s specific requirements, so it’s best to check with them. As a general ballpark, literature reviews for Masters-level projects are usually 2,000 – 3,000 words in length, while Doctoral-level projects can reach multiples of this.

Can I include literature that contradicts my hypothesis?

Yes, it’s important to acknowledge and discuss literature that presents different viewpoints or contradicts your hypothesis. So, don’t shy away from existing research that takes an opposing view to yours.

How do I avoid plagiarism in my literature review?

Always cite your sources correctly and paraphrase ideas in your own words while maintaining the original meaning. You can always check our plagiarism score before submitting your work to help ease your mind. 

Do you have an example of a populated template?

We provide a walkthrough of the template and review an example of a high-quality literature research chapter here .

Can I share this literature review template with my friends/colleagues?

Yes, you’re welcome to share this template in its original format (no editing allowed). If you want to post about it on your blog or social media, all we ask is that you reference this page as your source.

Do you have templates for the other dissertation/thesis chapters?

Yes, we do. You can find our full collection of templates here .

Can Grad Coach help me with my literature review?

Yes, you’re welcome to get in touch with us to discuss our private coaching services , where we can help you work through the literature review chapter (and any other chapters).

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  3. Literature Review Example (PDF + Template)

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  6. PDF LITERATURE REVIEWS

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  7. How to Write 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.

  8. PDF How to Write a Literature Review

    A literature review is a review or discussion of the current published material available on a particular topic. It attempts to synthesizeand evaluatethe material and information according to the research question(s), thesis, and central theme(s). In other words, instead of supporting an argument, or simply making a list of summarized research ...

  9. PDF Sample Chapter: Writing the Literature Review: A Practical Guide

    7. There are s ix major steps (CLAS-WE) in developing and conducting a literature review: (a) choosing a literature review topic, (b) locating literature review sources, (c) ana- lyzing and evaluating the literature review sources, (d) synthesizing the literature, (e) writing the literature review, and (f) editing and refining the literature ...

  10. PDF Literature Review

    Literature Review The purpose of a literature review is to look at what has been done and use that information to design new research on the 'blank spots or blind spots' - the things that might be missing or the things we don't see. Below is some extracts from an example of a very short literature review for an undergraduate assignment.

  11. PDF Conducting Your Literature Review

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  13. (PDF) Writing a Literature Review Research Paper: A step-by-step approach

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  18. Literature Review: Conducting & Writing

    Steps for Conducting a Lit Review; Finding "The Literature" Organizing/Writing; APA Style This link opens in a new window; Chicago: Notes Bibliography This link opens in a new window; MLA Style This link opens in a new window; Sample Literature Reviews. Sample Lit Reviews from Communication Arts; Have an exemplary literature review? Get Help!

  19. PDF Literature Reviews

    Literature Reviews What this handout is about This handout will explain what a literature review is and offer insights into the form and construction of a literature review in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. Introduction OK. You've got to write a literature review. You dust off a novel and a book of poetry, settle

  20. Free Literature Review Template (Word Doc & PDF)

    The literature review template includes the following sections: Each section is explained in plain, straightforward language, followed by an overview of the key elements that you need to cover. We've also included practical examples and links to more free videos and guides to help you understand exactly what's required in each section.

  21. PDF Conducting a Literature Review

    Literature Review A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources that provides an overview of a particular topic. Literature reviews are a collection of the most relevant and significant publications regarding that topic in order to provide a comprehensive look at what has been said on the topic and by whom.

  22. PDF Writing an Effective Literature Review

    begin by clearing up some misconceptions about what a literature review is and what it is not. Then, I will break the process down into a series of simple steps, looking at examples along the way. In the end, I hope you will have a simple, practical strategy to write an effective literature review.

  23. (PDF) The Literature Review

    The Literature Review. September 2015. DOI: 10.23912/978-1-910158-51-7-2790. In book: Research Methods for Business and Management. Publisher: Goodfellow Publishers Limited. Editors: Robert ...

  24. APA Sample Paper

    Media Files: APA Sample Student Paper , APA Sample Professional Paper This resource is enhanced by Acrobat PDF files. Download the free Acrobat Reader. Note: The APA Publication Manual, 7 th Edition specifies different formatting conventions for student and professional papers (i.e., papers written for credit in a course and papers intended for scholarly publication).

  25. Reference examples

    More than 100 reference examples and their corresponding in-text citations are presented in the seventh edition Publication Manual.Examples of the most common works that writers cite are provided on this page; additional examples are available in the Publication Manual.. To find the reference example you need, first select a category (e.g., periodicals) and then choose the appropriate type of ...

  26. Scholarly Resources for Learning and Research

    Provide guidance for your patrons' goals with an intuitive landing page that directs users to the right resource based on learning goals and styles. This is a free add-on feature when a library subscribes to two or more resources in the Gale Online Learning Suite. See how easy it can be to offer education for everyone!

  27. PDF The SAT® Practice Test #1

    Reading and Writing, Module 1 : 39 minutes Reading and Writing, Module 2: 39 minutes 10-minute break Math, Module 1: 43 minutes Math, Module 2: 43 minutes The above are standard times. If you are approved for accommodations involving additional time, you should give yourself that time when you practice.

  28. 2024 Top Trends in Academic Libraries: A Review of the Trends and

    The PDF file you selected should load here if your Web browser has a PDF reader plug-in installed (for example, a recent version of Adobe Acrobat Reader).. If you would like more information about how to print, save, and work with PDFs, Highwire Press provides a helpful Frequently Asked Questions about PDFs.. Alternatively, you can download the PDF file directly to your computer, from where it ...