Writing a Literature Review

Directions | Examples | Student Resources


A literature review consists of two distinct parts. The first part is the research review. In the first step you will use scholarly articles to read and discover what others are saying about your topic. After you have read and reviewed studies related to your topic you will need to create a narrative description of what you discovered. As you write you will need to remember that the purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Inform the reader of the knowledge and ideas about the topic.
  • Inform the reader of your reason for reviewing the topic.


  • Find a focus- make sure that your work is organized around ideas- not the sources but a direction or position that they will support. 
  • Create a working thesis.  Unlike other types of research papers your thesis does not create an argument or a position.  What it does do is to create a way of looking at the research around your topic.
  • Think about elements of organization- this means that you must consider the way that the information will be presented.  Creating an outline of topics and subtopics is a helpful way to organize.


Introduction: (1 1/2 - 2 Pages)

  • Define the general topic, issue or area of concern.
  • Point out trends in the published research in the area or conflicts in the theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions, or gaps in the research or a new perspective.
  • Detail your reasons for reviewing literature on your topic; explain your stance and organizational structure.

Body: (4-6 Pages)

It’s important to consider how you will present the sources you have found.  You may want to consider the following methods:

    • Chronological- Organize the research in the order it was conducted.
    • By publication- You may group sources by the type of research they present or the area/field of research.
    • Trends- Categorizing your sources this way will present changes in data interpretation over time.
    • Thematic- Organizing your ideas around topics or issues.  This organizational structure presents an emphasis on ideas or themes.
    • Methodological- this approach groups research studies by the way the research was conducted.

Be sure to include:

  • The current situation in regard to the topic or issue.
  • The history or related ideas that have influenced the development of your issue.

Conclusion: (2-3 Pages)

  • Summarize the major parts of significant studies and articles but your attention on the focus of your position.
  • Evaluate the current thinking on your topic.  This may be a place for you to suggest that there are flaws in the research, theories, findings or areas of study.
  • Conclude by providing insight into relationship between the topic and the focus of your area of interest, study or proposed position on the topic.

Composing Tips

Use evidence- Your interpretation of the resources you have chosen must be backed up with evidence that shows a link between what you are saying and information to support it.

Be selective- Choose the most important parts of each source to highlight in your review.

Use quotes sparingly- Most literature reviews do not use direct quotes from the text.  Use short quotes if you need to once in a while, but do not quote large passages of text.  Your goal is to summarize in your own words the studies you have found that provide documentation of your position or serve as background.

Summarize and synthesize- You will summarize the work of others as you create your literature review you’ll also need to synthesize it as a way to relate it to your own work.

Keep your voice- This means that even though you are presenting the ideas of others you will still need to use your ideas and words.

Paraphrase with caution- Retell the ideas of others with caution being sure to watch that the ideas of others are presented as someone else's and your ideas are presented separately.

REVISE, REVISE, REVISE- Take advantage of your mentors and teachers.  Ask them to read your work and help you to make your literature review as well written as possible.



It may be helpful for you to take a look at some literature reviews that have already been created. The links below will give you an opportunity to take a look at some sample literature reviews so that you will have a sense of what your literature review should look like.

student resources