A Complete Guide on How to Write a Literature Review
Research Writing

A Complete Guide on How to Write a Literature Review

Deeptanshu D
Deeptanshu D

Table of Contents

how to write literature review for a research paper

Piles of research work exist on how to write a literature review. It is often considered the most intricate and complicated stage while writing a research paper. Besides, it is a fact that you may have to write it as a separate task.

Curating and drafting a solid literature review functions like the foundation stone of any research. It allows you to assess previously done research works and, simultaneously, inform others how your research resonates with the respective field. Moreover, your literature review also brings out the new findings that will contribute to the subject domain.

Therefore, as a scholar, researcher, or writer, you must be well prepared to dive into multiple scholarly sources to obtain relevant research material. To keep your efforts simple yet effective, you must develop an organizational plan to merge past literature summary and synthesis.

Before hopping onto the steps of how to write a literature review, it is very quintessential for you to, first, understand it.

What is a Literature Review?

In terms of precise definition, a literature review is a collation of survey, research, evaluation, and assessment of the already present literature in your preferred domain. It includes a thorough cross-examination of scholarly resources. The purpose behind this is to bring forth a compendium of available research along with sufficient data and figures.

Anything that sounds relevant to your research question should be investigated. These can include books, research papers, journals, or sometimes, even newspapers.

Now, you must have understood that a Literature review is like a summary of sources.

Nevertheless, in reality, there lies more to it. A literature review does function as a summary of sources, but it also allows you to analyze further, interpret, and examine the stated theories, methods, viewpoints, and, of course, the gaps in the existing content.

However, this does not signify that a literature review is based on previous research only. As an author, you are bound to discuss and interpret the research question, its various aspects and debate your adopted methods to support the claim.

What is the importance of a  Literature Review?

To get your work published or presented, you may be tempted to save time and process tasks faster. Thus, you may choose to limit the research required to prepare the literature review to the past few years only. However, this can become a critical failure point.

The whole point behind writing a good literature review is to establish your authority in your subject domain. In the absence of established credibility, it is possible that your research paper may get dismissed as nothing but your opinions based on some preliminary investigation.

There are plenty of advantages on why you should focus on writing a good literature review. That includes:

  1. A good Literature review reflects your familiarity and knowledge depth of the subject domain.
  2. A robust theoretical framework and methodology can be developed through it.
  3. It provides you with a podium where you stand equal to other researchers and scholars.
  4. Any past conflicts or contradictions can be resolved, provided you write a good literature review.
  5. It lets you expose the gap in the previous research works and your contributions to plugging those gaps.

What should be the ideal length of a literature review?

The ideal length of a literature review for a research paper varies for every subject domain.

It is not something that fits under the word limit. The ideal length of a research paper directly depends upon the scope of research, purpose, and finally, its audience.

For example: if you are writing a research paper of 20 pages, you must include 7-8 sources in your literature review.

Types of Literature Review

Depending upon the structure and formulation, it is classified as:

  1. Argumentative Review
  2. Integrative Review
  3. Historical Review
  4. Methodological Review
  5. Systematic Review
  6. Theoretical review
types of literature review

6 Quick Tips on How To Write a Literature Review

In order to know how to write a  literature review, you must have a clear understanding of its impact and its role in establishing your work as substantive research material.

You need to follow the below-mentioned steps, to write a literature review:

  1. Outline the purpose behind the literature review.
  2. Search Relevant Literature
  3. Examine and assess the relevant resources
  4. Discover connections drawing deep insights from the resources.
  5. Structure Planning.
  6. Write a good literature review.

1. Outline and identify the purpose of  a Literature Review

As a first step on how to write a literature review, you must know what the research question or topic is and what shape you want your literature review to take. Make sure you understand the research topic inside out or else seek clarifications. You must be able to the answer below questions before  you start:

  1. How many sources do I need to include?
  2. What kind of sources should I analyze?
  3. How much should I evaluate each source?
  4. Should I summarize, synthesize or criticize the sources?
  5. Do I need to include any background information or definitions?

Additionally, you should know that the narrower your research topic is, the swifter it will be for you to restrict the number of sources to be analyzed.

2. Search Relevant Literature

As a second step on how to write a literature review, you need to dig deeper into search engines to discover what has already been published in your chosen domain. Make sure you thoroughly go through appropriate reference sources like books, reports, journal articles, government docs, and web-based resources.

You must prepare a list of keywords and their different variations. You can start your search from any library’s catalog, provided you are an active member of that institution. The exact keywords can be extended to widen your research over other databases and academic search engines like:

  1. Google Scholar
  2. Microsoft Academic
  3. JSTOR
  4. CORE
  5. Science.gov

Besides, it is not advisable to go through every resource word by word. Alternatively, what you can do is you can start by reading the abstract and then decide whether that source is relevant to your research or not.

Additionally, you must spend surplus time assessing the quality and relevance of resources. Also, you should try preparing a list of citations to ensure that there lies no repetition of authors, publications, or articles in the literature review.

3. Examine and Assess the Sources

It is nearly impossible for you to go through every detail that is written in the research article. So rather than trying to fetch every single detail, you have to analyze and decide which research sources resemble closest and appear relevant to your chosen domain.

While analyzing the sources, you should look to find out answers to questions like:

  1. What is the question or problem that the author has been describing and debating?
  2. What is the definition for critical aspects?
  3. How well the theories, approach, and methodology have been described?
  4. Whether the research theory has used some conventional or new innovative approach?
  5. How relevant are the key findings of the work?
  6. In what ways does it bear any relation with other sources of the same topic?
  7. What challenges does this paper pose to the existing theory
  8. What are the possible contributions or benefits it adds to the subject domain?

Be always mindful that you refer only to credible and authentic resources. Moreover, it would be best if you always take references from different publications to validate your theory.

Besides, it is the topic and the subject domain over which the scope of literature review hinges upon. Therefore, you should carry out the process of writing and search for relevant resources simultaneously. Always try to keep a note of important information or data that you can present in your literature review.

In order to steer your path off from any threats of plagiarism, you should start citing sources at this stage itself. Besides, it can even help in curating an annotated bibliography.

4. Discover Connections

At this stage, you must start deciding over the argument and structure of your literature review. To accomplish this, you must discover and identify the relations and connections between various resources while drafting your abstract.

A few aspects that you should be aware of while writing a literature review include:

  1. Patterns or Trends - Theories and methods that have gained repute and audience following over time
  2. The subject topic or Research Question - Concepts or theories that repeatedly went under examination
  3. Contradictions & Conflicts – Explore all theories, both the supporting and the contradictory ones, for the research topic
  4. Gaps – What exactly does it fail to address, and how to fill that missing portion with further additions?
  5. Influential Resources – Are there any influential research work available that has been called a milestone or perhaps, something that can modify the current domain trends

Once you join the dots between various past research works, it will be easier for you to draw the conclusion and identify your contribution to the existing knowledge base.

5. Structure Planning for a Literature Review

There exist different ways towards planning and executing the structure of a literature review. The format of a literature review varies and depends upon the length of the research.

Nevertheless, a good literature review can be structured according to the chronological, thematic, methodological, or theoretical framework approach. Brief details for these methods to decide over the format of a literature review are provided below:

a) Chronological

The chronological approach to build the structure of a literature review has been described as one of the most straightforward approaches. However, do not just make a list or summarize the reference resources. Instead, try to put in a brief discussion and analysis of the critical arguments, research, and trends that have shaped the current status of your subject domain. Additionally, you must provide an interpretation of these events in your curated version.

b) Thematic

Unlike chronological, this approach primarily focuses on a topic or issue rather than the progression of time of events. The format of a literature review is structured in sections and sub-sections. Every part stays dedicated to presenting a different aspect of your chosen topic.

c) Methodological

You can present your structure in a form by showing a comparison between crucial findings, gatherings, and outcomes from different research methods. These portions may include drawing insights and analysis of:

  1. Gatherings extracted from qualitative vs quantitative methods.
  2. Leveraging both the empirical and theoretical methods towards validating your key findings and results.
  3. Classification of resources based upon the context of history, culture, and economy.

d) Theoretical

Very often, literature reviews are used to discuss and analyze various vital concepts and theories. Adopting this approach, you can significantly put forth the relevance and critical findings of a particular theoretical method. Proceeding in the same way, you can also outline an entirely new framework of your research.

6. Write a good literature review

Like any other research paper, the format of a literature review must contain three sections: introduction, body, and conclusion. The goals and objectives of the research question determine what goes inside these three sections.

a) Introduction for a good literature review

Since it happens to be the first paragraph, you must include and define the purpose and critical aspects of it.

In case you are writing the literature review for your thesis or dissertation, you should restate the research question. Likewise, you can even go towards presenting a brief summary about the whole context and, specifically, highlight the gaps existing within.

Besides, if you are writing the literature review as a separate assignment, you must choose to provide a piece of background information. Additionally, you must state the scope and objectives of it. However, in any case, do not skip mentioning results that you intend to draw from the literature.

b) Body of the Literature review

In order to write a good literature review, the format and structure of the central body part play a pivotal role. Thus, you must use sections and subsections to divide the body for each methodological approach or theme aspect.

While writing the literature review, you can choose to adopt either or all of the following measures:

  1. A general overview or summary must be provided focusing on the key points of each source and coherent sync among all the sources.
  2. It would be best to always put your own interpretations towards every source you opted to include. Paraphrasing other’s work is something you should avoid altogether.
  3. Justify and validate your results in accordance with your research.
  4. Be specific about the strengths and weaknesses of specified sources.
  5. Transitions and topic sentences can be advantageous while writing nicely oriented body paragraphs.

c) Conclusion for the literature review

The conclusion of your literature review must be focussed on your key findings, their results, and an elaborated emphasis on the significance of all aspects.

Describing the research gaps and your contributions can be helpful in case you are writing for a dissertation or thesis. Moreover, you must specify the procedure and methodology towards developing the framework for your research topic theoretically.

Additionally, if the literature review is a standalone assignment for you, present the conclusion centered on the implications and suggestions for future references.

Lastly, you must ensure that your paper does not miss any important aspects and must not contain any grammatical or spelling mistakes. For this, you must proofread and edit it to perfection.

Final tips on how to write a literature review

A massive chunk of time and effort is required to write a good literature review. Whether you are an academic, scholar, researcher, or journal writer, to attain the knowledge on how to write a literature review, you must gather the understanding of your topic and then proceed onto the further steps of carrying out the research and its relevance.

5 tips on how to write a literature review for scientific or academic paper or research paper

Moreover, some mistakes are often committed while writing a literature review. Therefore, you must keep the knowledge and be careful of that. Some usual don’ts that you must dodge while writing include:

  1. Not spending enough time evaluating the relevance of resources.
  2. Depending on the excess over secondary sources while neglecting the relevant primary data.
  3. Adopting any research result as valid & justified rather than critically analyzing its overall aspect.
  4. Negligence towards research findings and interpretations specified in the literature.
  5. No detailed explanation over the procedure to discover and identify an appropriate literature review.

Besides, writing a literature review is just a mundane task and quite a few authors lack good writing skills. In such a case, they try to look out for some detailed guides to manage and complete this complex assignment.

This guide has been comprehensively curated to help you write your research review in no time.

But before you go,