Literature review definition

How to Write a Literature Review

A literature review is a great way to start off your research paper. It allows you to describe the problem that you are going to be exploring and summarize what has already been done on the topic for other people in your field.

Although it may seem like the hardest part of writing a research paper, it can be quite fun when you get started!

In this post, we’ll teach you how to write such reviews and provide some helpful tips for doing so. We’ll cover each step from picking your topic to citing sources effectively. Along the way, we’ll share our favorite writing advice: show don’t tell!

What is Literature Review?

A literature review is an overview of research published in your field that may be relevant to your topic. It includes both primary research and secondary research. A literature review can also include scholarly journal articles from newspapers or magazines written about topics related to your project.

A literature review is different from an annotated Bibliography because it involves some synthesis of the information you found in your research.

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What Are the Components of Literature Review?

You may already be familiar with some of these from other assignments you’ve done in the past, but here is a brief overview of literature review components:  


The scope of a literature review describes the existing research on your particular topic. You may be working on something that was recently studied or something that has been written about only in passing by historians who were not focusing on your main issues.

Make sure to include all of your sources and begin each one with a brief summary so that the reader knows what to look for.

Framing Questions

After taking a broad look at what has already been done in your field, it is time to start focusing on topic-specific information. Framing questions are exactly as they sound. You want to include open-ended questions that you will be able to answer throughout the rest of your paper. 

A good framing question asks something specific about how things currently are but shows a problem or issue with this current state.  You can include additional questions here if they would help establish and focus on your main points.

A simple way to find framing questions is by using the problem-solution method. Start with a clear description of how things are, and then describe the possible solutions that have been proposed so far.  Finally, you can use your own research to create new solutions or refine existing ones.  

Key findings

Organize your findings into a coherent narrative. Ensure you are clear which specific research sources are being used and which ones are more important than others. Include any images or graphs from the primary research you were doing.

Begin critical evaluation of the terms that you will use, and structure the research in a way that is easiest for you to understand. 

Bibliographic or reference section

Include any specific citations used throughout your paper. These should be listed alphabetically by the first author’s last name and then by year of publication.

They can also be labeled as either a direct or indirect source depending on whether they were directly cited or if there is a reference list at the end of the work. 

Please include any other notes that may be helpful for your readers to locate resources themselves. This can include things like a URL or specific books and articles used.


The conclusion is a final wrap-up of what you have learned in your research and how it all fits together into one cohesive narrative. This is also a good place to make suggestions for further research or possible solutions to the problems that you have discovered. 

Writing Literature Reviews Step by Step

Step One: Choose a topic

You will need to have an idea of what you want to be researching before you find information about it.  If you’re having trouble getting started, try brainstorming with friends or family and writing down all of the things that come up in conversation.

Once there is a clear topic in mind, you can start looking for related information.

An alternative approach is to try and find previous research studies or review existing literature that has been done on your topic. Use it as a template for your own academic writing.

This gives you the advantage of having already conducted most of the research necessary to write your paper.  It also lets you see the sort of questions that you will be asked to answer or the narrative that is being supported.

Step Two: Find sources from the literature

This is where you do your literature search. Find primary research materials for your academic research paper. 

The key here is not just finding good information; it’s also about figuring out how credible it is.  This section will also give you some strategies for figuring out how to use the information from your sources in your paper.

When you use other researchers’ work, do your own interpretations and own words to write an original thesis. Do not copy directly from another paper. This could result in an academic integrity violation.

Step Three: Create a connection between the findings

This involves looking at framing questions and key findings. Taking these two approaches together helps you create an overarching structure for organizing your paper.  It will also help you start to think critically about possible solutions to problems that are presented in your research materials.

Step Four: Write a literature review section for each key finding

This is the meat of the project, where you evaluate the information from your sources and create a narrative around it.   Organize your research and frame information in a way that is easy to understand. Please explain how the pieces fit together and relate them to your thesis statement.

Step Five: Start an Introduction for a Literature Review

Writing an introduction for a literature review will depend on your overall topic and what other research has been done before. The two main ways to start an introduction are by providing context or problem framing and a direct statement of purpose.

If you are writing a literature review about an existing topic, you can use the framing approach.  Take an introduction to your paper and provide context for the rest of the information that will follow.

For example, if you were writing a paper about recycling in urban areas, you could start by describing how people are already recycling in urban areas, or you could describe the problems that are involved with recycling.

This way of framing is useful if your topic has multiple stakeholders with conflicting interests, and you want to try to settle some of the conflicts by providing context for what everyone wants.  The other popular approach, which can be used alone or as a combination, is the direct statement of purpose. 

Start off by directly stating why you’re writing your paper.  For example, if your paper is about recycling in urban areas and your goal is to introduce a new kind of recycling program that will significantly reduce costs for people who live in urban areas but does not harm the environment, you could start off by stating that goal. 

This is important because it will allow you to collect all of the information in your paper and relate it to a single point, which will make your paper easier to read overall.

If you are writing about a topic that has no prior research studies, then you can start your introduction with a direct statement of purpose. 

You can either directly state what you want to research or who/what is going to be researched and why (i.e. your goal).  Include a brief description of the background that led you to the topic and the gap in knowledge that exists related to your topic. 

This allows the reader to understand why you picked this topic and gives them an idea of how relevant it is.

Step Six: Create an abstract and list of reference lists

The final step is going to be taking the overall structure that you have created for your paper and creating an abstract.  Ensure that all of the information from your sources is referred to in the list of references.  Then proofread and edit your work.

Step Seven: Edit, proofread and submit your paper

Now it is time to edit your finished document.  Do a final review. Look over what you have written and check for spelling errors, grammar mistakes and the flow of your paper.  Submit your research paper to your instructor by a specific deadline, probably on or before the due date.

5 Things You Need to Know About Writing a Literature Review

1) A literature review is a critical analysis of literature on a particular topic.

2) A literature review provides the framework for your research and provides you with context to understand how other researchers have approached your field of study.

3) A well-written literature review acts as a guide for future research in the area and helps you to develop an original perspective.

4) A literature review should not be a list of references or a summary of sources. It is your analysis of these views in the context of your own research questions and data.

5) Literature reviews are popular with university and college instructors because they take a lot of time to do well. If you have good writing skills, you will be well-positioned to produce a good literature review.

Apart from following the steps above, there are a few more things that you need to know about writing a literature review.  As discussed in the previous section, a literature review usually comes at the beginning of your project or paper.  This is because it provides background information about a topic that you can then use as context for the rest of your paper.

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So why does your reader need to know all that extra information?

We’ve seen so far how you compile the information into a literature review, but what we haven’t discussed is how the information from your literature review should be used.  It’s not all well and good to collect information about a topic if it doesn’t help you develop new ideas or lead you down many interesting paths. 

That’s why your literature review should provide critical analysis of previous work on the topic.  Not only does this help you think about how to approach the topic, but it also helps you think critically about the quality of other people’s research and writing as well.

All of this information is bound together by one thing: Your own perspective.  Your own research questions and your own ideas will determine how you use the information from a literature review in your paper. 

Writing a literature review should reflect what you know about the topic and the perspective you are bringing to bear on your project or paper.


Literature reviews are a common type of assignment in many college courses, especially among students majoring in the humanities or social sciences. You can find literature reviews in everything from psychology and economics to history and English.

As with most writing assignments, there is no one “right” way to write a literature review; however, your instructor will have a specific format or style in mind when he asks you to do one.

One way to determine the format for your literature review is to look at the book or article you are reviewing. Often, there will be instructions on how to include references for that particular work of publication. Another clue as to the preferred standard comes from your professor. If your assignment is to write about a specific book, for example, ask if they have additional guidelines beyond the book’s own instructions.

A general outline for a literature review includes an introduction that describes the purpose of the review and mentions or summarizes any key points discussed in previous research on the topic.

The body section contains a summary of the book, article or other publication you are reviewing. This section should summarize not only the material but also include critical analysis and commentary.

The final sections of a literature review include a conclusion that restates your purpose for the review and any major points uncovered in the research process.

Now that you know what is included in literature reviews, it’s time to pick which one fits your needs and start writing!

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