Skip links

A basic guide to writing a literature review

In this article, we provide a short guide for writing a literature review. If you’re interested in a tool that helps you write & organize your research literature, click here to read more about Avidnote.

A literature review is a type of paper that encompasses a critical summary and analysis of the most important writings on a particular topic. It’s like a report card for your research: it assesses the quality and originality of your work and determines whether you’re on the right track.

Writing a literature review can be a daunting task, but with a little guidance, it doesn’t have to be. In this blog post, we’ll give you a basic overview of how to write a literature review, from brainstorming to editing. By the end, you’ll have all the tools you need to start writing your own literature review.

Figure shows the iterative process of writing a literature review. What this means is that you revisit the different stages of writing your review more than once. Source: Monash University.

What is a literature review?

A literature review surveys academic knowledge on a topic. It is used to create a research question, provide support for a thesis statement, and assistance in answering a research question. Literature reviews are written in APA format.

The purpose of a literature review is to:

-Identify gaps in existing research on a topic
-Provide an overview of existing research on a topic
-Critique existing research on a topic
-Identify areas for further research on a topic

Why write a literature review?

A literature review has three main purposes:

-To find out what is already known about a particular topic or question
-To identify gaps in knowledge
-To inform the reader about the current state of research on a topic

In order to write a good literature review, you must first decide on your topic, then find and read the relevant literature. Once you have done this, you can begin to analyze and synthesize the information you have found. Finally, you can write your literature review, drawing on what you have learned from the relevant literature.

What are the benefits of writing a literature review?

There are many benefits to writing a literature review, from improving your research skills to gaining a better understanding of the field you are studying. A literature review can also be a valuable tool in identifying potential gaps in the existing research.

One of the most important benefits of writing a literature review is that it can help you to identify gaps in the existing research. This is important because it allows you to focus your own research on filling these gaps. It can also help you to avoid duplicating work that has already been done by other researchers.

Another benefit of writing a literature review is that it can help you to improve your research skills. This is because literature reviews require you to search for and critically evaluate existing research. This process can help you to develop your own research skills, including your ability to find and use relevant sources of information.

Writing a literature review can also be beneficial in terms of gaining a better understanding of the field you are studying. This is because literature reviews provide an overview of the latest thinking in a particular subject area. This can be especially useful if you are new to a field, or if you are interested in keeping up with current thinking on a particular topic.

How to write a literature review?

Once you have determined your audience, you can then decide what type of literature review is appropriate. For example, if you are writing for academics or researchers who are familiar with the existing body of work on your topic, you may only need to provide a traditional literature review that sums up what has been previously published. However, if you are writing for practitioners or policy-makers who are less familiar with the existing research on your topic, then you will need to provide more background information and include more detailed summaries of each source in your literature review.

No matter what type of audience you are writing for or what type of literature review you create, there are several key elements that all literature reviews should include:

  • An overview or summary of the field/topic under investigation;
  • An assessment or evaluation of the current state of research on the field/topic;
  • An identification or discussion of significant gaps in current knowledge;
    A critical analysis or synthesis of current research trends;
  • An identification or discussion potential future directions for research;
  • And finally, implications for practice or policy based on your findings.

What are the key elements of a literature review?

While there is no one formula for writing a literature review, most literature reviews include the following key elements:

  • An introduction that provides an overview of the topic under investigation and puts it into context.
  • A description of the research design or general approach used to guide the reading and analysis of the literature (this may be organized chronologically, by subjects, by theoretical framework, etc.).
  • A summary of the main themes or arguments emerging from your critical review of the literature.
  • An evaluation of the current state of research on the topic, including a discussion of any gaps in existing knowledge.
  • A reflection on how the current state of research relates to your own research project.
  • An identification of future directions for research on the topic.

How to structure a literature review?

Your literature review should have a strong structure, and this is where you need to think carefully about your argument. Remember that the main purpose of a literature review is to demonstrate what existing knowledge is out there on your topic, and to evaluate it. This means that you should focus on critical writing, rather than simply providing a summary of what others have written.

The structure of your literature review will depend on the style of writing you are using. For example, if you are writing a traditional overview paper, you might structure your literature review like this:

-Provide an introduction to the topic, and explain why it is important.
-Introduce the existing knowledge on the topic, and identify any gaps in that knowledge.
-Explain how your literature review will fill those gaps.

Body paragraphs:
– each body paragraph should focus on one particular aspect of the existing knowledge on your topic. For example, you might discuss:

  • How different authors have approached the topic
  • What theoretical frameworks have been used
  • What methodologies have been employed
  • What themes or patterns have emerged from the research
  • What unsolved problems or unanswered questions remain in the field

Conclusion: summarise what has been covered in your literature review, and reiterate its importance for further research in the field.

What are the common mistakes to avoid when writing a literature review?

There are several common mistakes that students make when writing a literature review. Here are the most common ones:

1. Not reading the entire work.
When you are assigned a literature review, you should always read the entire work before writing your review. This will give you a better understanding of the author’s argument and what to focus on in your own review.

2. Not critically evaluating the sources.
A literature review is not simply a summary of the sources you have read. You should provide a critical evaluation of each source, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses. Your opinion on the quality of the research is just as important as the facts you include.

3. Relying too heavily on one source.
When writing a literature review, it is important to use a variety of sources. This will help to ensure that your review is well-rounded and comprehensive. If you rely too heavily on one source, you may miss important points that could be made by other authors.

4. Plagiarism
Plagiarism is when you use someone else’s words or ideas without giving them credit. This is a serious academic offense that can result in a failing grade or even expulsion from school. When writing a literature review, be sure to use your own words and cite all of your sources properly to avoid plagiarism

How to get started with writing a literature review?

A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, dissertations, conference proceedings and other resources which are relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory and provides context for a researcher’s own work. The purpose of a literature review is to:

-Demonstrate that you have an understanding of the existing research on your topic;
-Identify any gaps in this research;
-Relate your topic to the broader field of study;
-Provide a theoretical framework for your research;
-Identify any key researchers in your field.

To write a literature review you must first decide:

– What form the review will take – will it be a simple overview of the literature or will it have a more rigid structure?
– How you will organize the review – thematically, chronologically or by methodology?
– What type of sources you will include – primary, secondary or both?

When you have answers to these questions you can begin searching for sources. Once you have found and read some relevant sources you can begin writing your literature review.

✅ Also check out

This post was produced as part of a research guide series by Avidnote which is a free web-based app that helps you to write and organize your academic writing online. Click here to find out more.