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What is a Literature Review and How Do I Write One?

What is a Literature Review and How Do I Write One?

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Writing academic essays and research papers is an important aspect of any student’s educational program. You develop a thesis, back it up with credible sources, and come up with a framework of supporting ideas. However, not all pupils are aware that they will also be required to do a Literature Review in college.
Definition of a Literature Review

Students frequently question, “What is a literature review?” because it is a less typical sort of academic writing. A literature review, according to the definition, is a body of work that examines multiple publications within a given topic area and, in some cases, within a specific timeframe.

This form of writing necessitates reading and analyzing a variety of materials related to the main topic, as well as presenting each individual interpretation of the publications. Finally, a literature review should include a summary as well as a synthesis of the papers consulted. A summary is a concise summary of the publication’s most essential information; a synthesis is a reorganization of the material that provides the writing a new and distinct meaning.

A literature review is typically included as part of a bigger paper, such as a thesis or dissertation. It could, however, be provided to you as a stand-alone project.
The Objective

The fundamental goal of a literature review is to summarize and synthesize previous authors’ ideas without including personal comments or other material.

However, the goal of a literature review isn’t just to compile a list of source summaries; it’s to identify a common theme or principle that runs across all of the articles. A literature review, like a research article, has a fundamental organizational principle that keeps it on track (MOP). This form of academic writing is to find the MOP and demonstrate how it appears in all of your supporting sources.

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

The importance of the major issue within a certain subject area is highlighted.
Demonstrates and describes the research basis for a specific subject.
It aids in the discovery of essential topics, principles, concepts, and researchers within a field.
Aids in the discovery of connections between current ideas/studies on a topic.
Identifies the main points of contention and gaps in an issue.
Based on prior studies, suggests questions to guide future study.

To give you a sense of what a literature review can be about, here are some examples:

In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” we look at racism.
Isolationism in “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Frankenstein,” and “1984” are all examples of isolationism.
Moral Conundrums in “Crime and Punishment,” “The Scarlet Letter,” and “The Lifeboat”
Power Corruption in “Macbeth,” “All the King’s Men,” and “Animal Farm”
“Lord of the Flies,” “Hatchet,” and “Congo” all deal with emotional and physical survival.

What Is the Average Length of a Literature Review?

Students often wonder, “How long should a literature review be?” when faced with the task of writing one. Your instructor may decide on the length of the body of your paper in various situations. Make sure you read the instructions thoroughly to understand what is required of you.

If you haven’t been given any explicit instructions, it’s best to confine your literature review to 15-30% of the total length of your work. To give you an idea, for a 15-page paper, that’s around 2-3 pages. If you’re writing a literature review as a stand-alone task, you should specify the length in the directions.
Formats for Literature Reviews include APA, MLA, and Chicago.

The citation style used by your instructor will dictate the essay type you choose. To construct a desired literature review format, seek confirmation from your instructor on several additional components as well:

How many sources should you look at, and what types of sources (published materials, journal articles, or websites) should you look at?
What citation format should you use for your sources?
What should the length of the review be?
Should you provide a summary, synthesis, or personal critique in your review?
Is it necessary to provide subheadings or background information for your sources in your review?

Follow these guidelines if you want to format your paper in APA style:

Page margins should be 1 inch.
Unless otherwise specified, double-spacing should be used throughout the text.
Make sure the font you chose is readable. Times New Roman in 12-point size is the preferred typeface for APA papers.
At the top of each page, include a heading (in capital letters). The page header should be a condensed form of your essay title that is no more than 50 characters long, including spaces and punctuation.
Every page should have a page number in the upper right corner.
Remember to include a title page while creating your APA literature review outline. This page should include the title of the article, the author’s name, and the affiliation of the institution. Your title must be typed in capital and lowercase letters, centered in the upper portion of the page, and contain no more than 12 words without abbreviations or unnecessary terms.

Apply the following guidelines to MLA-style text:

Page margins should be 1 inch.
Across the entire paper, double the spacing.
Each new paragraph should have a 12-inch indentation.
Times New Roman in 12-point size is the preferred typeface for MLA papers.
Include a header on the first page of your document, 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). Your full name, the name of your teacher, the name of the class, course, or section number, and the due date of the assignment should all be included in the header.
Each page of your document should have a running head in the upper right corner. It should be one inch from the right edge of the page and half an inch from the top margin. In the running head, only mention your last name and the page number, separated by a space. Before page numbers, do not use the abbreviation p.

Finally, if you’re writing a literature review in Chicago style, remember the following guidelines:

Set the page margins to a minimum of 1 inch.
Except for table headings, figure captions, notes, blockquotes, and entries in the bibliography or References, use double spacing throughout the text.
There should be no spaces between paragraphs.
Make sure you use a typeface that is clear and easy to read. Times New Roman and Courier are the preferred typefaces for Chicago papers, which should be set to at least 10-point size but preferable 12-point size.
Your whole name, class information, and the date should all appear on the cover (title) page. The cover page should be centered and one-third below the top of the page.
Each page, including the cover page, should include a page number in the upper right corner.

A Literature Review’s Structure

How to organize a literature review: A literature review, like many other types of academic writing, follows a standard intro-body-conclusion format with five paragraphs in total. Let’s take a closer look at each component of the basic literature review structure:

Your reader(s) should be directed to the MOP (main organizing principle). This means that you should begin with a broad perspective and focus it down until you reach your main point.

Begin by outlining your overall concept (Corruption, for example). After the initial presentation, focus your introduction on the MOP by describing the criteria you used to choose your literature sources (Macbeth, All the King’s Men, and Animal Farm). Finally, the introduction will conclude with a presentation of your MOP, which should include direct references to all three sources of information.
Paragraphs in the body

Each body paragraph will generally focus on one of the sources of literature listed in the essay’s opening. Because each source has their own frame of reference for the MOP, it’s critical to organize the review as rationally as feasible. This means that the writing should follow a chronological, thematic, or methodological structure.


Organizing your materials by publication date is a good method to maintain a consistent historical timeline. It can demonstrate the evolution of a notion across time and provide instances in the form of literature if used correctly. However, there are situations when there are better ways to structure the body.


An alternative to using the “timeline technique” is to examine the link between your MOP and your sources. Sometimes the main concept of a piece of literature may just jump out at you. Other times, the author may have to go out of their way to find examples to back up their claims. In most cases, a seasoned writer will list their sources in order of strength. For example, racism was a key issue in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and racism was one of many themes in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

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Methodology: For example, relevant research publications about the Ebola virus and arthropods’ role in its propagation were found by searching X databases. A standardized form was used to extract the data.
Expected results
The following are some general tendencies in the literature on this subject: While the virus’s natural reservoir is still unknown, many researchers assume that arthropods (particularly fruit bats) play an important role in the virus’s spread.


Subject 1: A general overview of the piece of literature; an examination of the study’s major aspects; a review of the research questions, techniques, procedures, and results; and an evaluation of the study’s strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
Subject 2: A general summary of the piece of literature; an examination of the study’s major aspects; a review of the research questions, techniques, procedures, and results; and an evaluation of the study’s strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
Subject 3: A general summary of the piece of literature; an examination of the study’s major aspects; a review of the research questions, techniques, procedures, and results; and an evaluation of the study’s strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.


Make a list of the connections between the works of literature discussed. Highlight important themes, patterns, and trends. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the authors’/researchers’ various approaches.
Indicate which research appear to have the most sway.
Emphasize the significant inconsistencies and issues of contention. Define the holes that need to be filled (if any).
Define how your own research will add to the topic’s further disclosure, if applicable.

This sample outline should assist you in structuring your own work. If you need more help organizing your review, don’t hesitate to look up more literature review outline examples in APA or other styles on the Internet, or simply ask one of our writers for assistance.
What Makes a Great Literature Review?

Whether you’re writing a literature review as part of a larger research project (e.g., a thesis, dissertation, or other), or as a stand-alone assignment, the method to writing should be similar.

Let’s identify the actions to take to properly handle this assignment now that you know the fundamental rules and have a basic literature review overview template:
Step 1: Decide on a topic

This is probably the only aspect of your literature review that will alter depending on whether it is part of a research paper or a separate assignment. If you’re writing a literature review as part of a larger project, you’ll want to look for literature that’s relevant to your major research questions and topic. If you’re writing it as a stand-alone task, you’ll need to choose a relevant topic and key question for which you’ll be gathering information. We provided some interesting themes earlier in this article to help you narrow down your search.
Step 2: Gathering Information

It’s time to start collecting material for your review once you’ve decided on a topic. To make the entire research process much easier and help you identify relevant publications faster, we recommend starting by generating a list of important keywords connected to your fundamental topic.

When you’ve compiled a list of keywords, use them to look for sources that are both valid and relevant. Use only reliable sources at this point, such as those from university libraries, online scientific databases, and so on.

Once you’ve located some sources, make sure to determine whether or not they’re relevant to your research topic and inquiry. Instead of reading the entire document, you can skim the abstracts to get a rough understanding of what it’s about.

Pro Tip: Once you’ve found a few good publications, check through their bibliographies to see if there are any other related sources.

Step 3: Evaluate and Prioritize Your Resources

You’ll probably uncover plenty of relevant literature to include in your literature review as you go through your study. Many students make the mistake of trying to include all of their sources into their reviews at this time. We recommend going over what you’ve gathered again, evaluating the various sources, and selecting the most relevant ones. You won’t be able to read everything you come across on a topic and then combine all of the information into a single literature review. That is why it is critical to prioritize them.

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

Credibility, influence, novelty, innovation, key insights, and relevance are all factors to consider.

Furthermore, take notes on everything you can incorporate into the evaluation later as you study the sources. Also, get your citations in place as soon as possible. It will be easier to write your annotated bibliography later if you cite the selected sources at the start.
Step 4: Look for connections, key ideas, and gaps.

The penultimate stage before moving on to outlining and writing your literature review is to determine the linkages between the existing studies. Identifying the connections can aid you in organizing current knowledge, creating a good literature summary, and (if appropriate) indicating your own study contribution to a certain topic.

The following are some crucial considerations to keep in mind:

Themes; Contradictions and disputes; Important research or views;
Gaps; Trends and patterns

Listed below are a few examples: Across research, common trends may include a focus on specific categories of people. Most scholars may be more interested in particular parts of the topic in terms of main topics. Some disagreements over a study’s theories and conclusions are examples of contradictions. Finally, gaps usually allude to a lack of research on particular parts of a subject.
Step 5: Create a Plan

Outlining is one of the most critical tasks in writing any academic paper, despite the fact that students often overlook it. This is the simplest approach to organize the body of your work and guarantee that nothing crucial has been overlooked. Furthermore, having a general notion of what you’ll write about in the paper will make it easier and faster to get it right.

We already reviewed the basic structure of a literature review and provided an example of a solid outline earlier in this book. At this point in the process, you can take all you’ve learned from us to create your own outline.
Step 6: Now it’s time to write.

You can now go on to the writing stage of the process after you’ve found and created all of your sources, notes, citations, and a complete plan. All you have to do now is stick to the strategy you’ve made and remember the overall structure and format specified in your professor’s directions.
Step 7: Putting the Finishing Touches on It

Most students make the typical error of skipping the proofreading and editing stages of the procedure. We recommend devoting adequate time to these stages in order to ensure that your work is of the best quality. Don’t overlook the importance of proofreading and editing, and set aside enough time to do these tasks.

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

These techniques will make writing a high-quality literature review a breeze! Do you want further tips on how to deal with this body of work? The following are the top three things to remember when writing a literature review:

Sources of Information
The most crucial thing for any writer to remember while writing a literary review is to discover the greatest potential sources for their MOP. This means you should choose and filter through roughly 5-10 various possibilities during your initial study. The better a piece of literature does at highlighting the essential topic, the higher the overall quality of the review will be.
Synthesize the works of literature
Ensure that the review is organized in the most efficient manner feasible, whether chronologically, topically, or methodologically. Determine exactly what you want to communicate and build the source comparison accordingly.
Avoid making broad generalizations.
Remember that each piece of literature will take a different approach to the MOP. As the author, make sure to clearly present the differences in techniques and avoid making generic remarks that aren’t useful.

Examples of Literature Reviews

Below are two excellent literature reviews done by the ProEssayTutor writing team. They will assist you in determining how a literature review’s ultimate product should ideally seem.

The first review contrasts monolingual and bilingual language acquisition skills and draws on a variety of sources to support its argument:

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