How to Write a Literature Review: The Ultimate Guide

“A literature review is an essential part of academic research that involves the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of existing literature on a specific topic.” If this piece of information is hard to understand, read this post to learn how to write a literature review that checks all the boxes.What is a Literature Review?

Think of a literature review as a recap of the existing knowledge about your research topic. Like a recap at the start of your favorite TV show, it catches the reader up on the existing knowledge. But it does more than that. 

Since it’s academic, it also points out the loopholes or gaps in previous research. Then, it explains how the new research plans to fill those gaps. So, a literature review is like a summary of what’s been studied before, focusing on what’s missing and how the new research aims to contribute.

Elements of a Literature Review

But how does this part of the paper unpack all of that knowledge to the reader? Every literature review has the following elements to help unfold the relevant information to the reader.

An Overview on Existing Knowledge

The overview contains a survey of scholarly sources. A bird’s-eye view of the entire data, including analysis of relevant theories, methods, points of view and gaps in the existing literature. 

Research Question

A research question is a specific problem or inquiry a researcher aims to investigate. It guides the entire research process. The research question shapes the literature review, focusing on relevant studies.

The literature review informs and supports the research question by providing context, theories, methodologies, and empirical findings. Together, they form a symbiotic relationship in the research process.


Discussion entails presenting key findings, methodologies, and theories to substantiate your argument. It establishes the credibility of your research and its contribution to the existing literature. 

By highlighting these, your research can address specific knowledge deficiencies. This discussion strengthens your research rationale by providing supporting evidence, addressing gaps, and situating your study within the academic discourse.

Length of a Literature Review 

For many students, the length of a literature review is a real head-scratcher. But it’s nothing to be worried about. The length of a literature review depends on the length of the research paper itself. 

Suppose you’re working on a 10-page research paper; having around 5 to 7 sources for your literature review is generally recommended. However, the most accurate way to determine the required number of sources is by consulting your instructor or professor or reviewing the guidelines provided in your paper prompt.

Another way to ensure the appropriate length of a literature review is to plan. Use your research paper outline to assign a word count or a number of sources.

Why Is a Solid Literature Review Important for Your Research?

Writing a strong literature review benefits the reader and the writer in several ways. Following is a detailed note on the common advantages of writing a solid literature review in a research. 

Reflects Writer’s Command 

A well-conducted literature review demonstrates the researcher’s command and familiarity with the subject matter. It also helps ensure that their research is grounded in a solid understanding of the current state of knowledge on the topic.

Develops a Theoretical Framework

A solid literature review helps develop a theoretical framework for the research project. These are the foundation upon which the research is built, providing a lens through which the research questions, hypotheses, and methodology are developed and interpreted. 

By identifying the key theories and models in the existing literature, the researcher can establish a coherent and robust theoretical framework that guides their study and informs their analysis and interpretation of the findings.

Depicts Writer’s Position

A literature review allows the researcher to position themselves within the academic community by comparing and contrasting their work with that of other scholars and writers. By critically evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing studies.

 This not only demonstrates the researcher’s awareness of the broader scholarly conversation but also helps situate their work within the context of existing knowledge and debates.

Identifies Repetition

One of the primary goals of a literature review is to ensure that the researcher’s study is original and contributes to the advancement of knowledge in the field. A thorough review of the existing literature, can identify any duplication and avoid unnecessary repetition. 

By investing the time and effort to conduct a comprehensive and insightful literature review, researchers can lay the foundation for a successful research project that advances knowledge in their field.

Types of Literature Review

Like many other parts of a research paper, a literature review also has types. Each of these types has its unique focus and approach. Below we have discussed the 6 main forms of literature review. 

Historical Review 

A historical review focuses on the development of a particular subject or field over time. The aim of a historical review is to; 

  • Provide a chronological account of the evolution of theories, ideas, and research methods in the area of study.
  • Help the researchers understand the historical context of their topic. 
  • Also helps identify trends, gaps, and potential future directions for research

Methodological Review

A methodological review examines the research methodology used in previous studies on a specific topic. The goal of this literature review is to; 

  • Critically analyze the strengths and weaknesses of various research designs, data collection techniques, and analytical approaches.
  • Helps researchers identify the most appropriate methods for their study. 
  • It contributes to improving research practices in their field.

Systematic Review

A systematic review is a structured approach to reviewing the literature on a specific research question. It involves;

  • A comprehensive search of relevant databases
  • Clear set of inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • A thorough assessment of the quality and relevance of the included studies 
  • Findings from the individual studies are synthesized and analyzed to conclude the research question. 

Systematic reviews are often used in evidence-based practice and policy-making, as they provide a full summary of current knowledge on a given topic.

Theoretical Review 

A theoretical review focuses on analyzing and synthesizing existing theories, models, or frameworks related to a specific topic. When learning how to write a literature review, focus on this form as it aims to; 

  • Identify the key concepts, assumptions, and relationships underpinning the subject area’s theoretical landscape. 
  • Help researchers develop a deeper understanding of the theoretical foundations of their topic. 
  • Identify gaps or inconsistencies in the existing literature. 
  • Propose new theoretical perspectives or research directions.

Argumentative Review

An argumentative review critically evaluates the existing literature on a specific topic to support or refute a particular argument or hypothesis. It involves;

  • Careful selection and analysis of relevant studies
  • Highlighting their strengths and weaknesses,
  • Synthesizing the evidence to build a coherent and persuasive argument.

This review is helpful for researchers who want to question widely accepted theories or ideas in their field. It’s also useful for suggesting different explanations for a specific thing happening.

Integrative Review

An integrative review is important to understand when learning how to write a literature review. This form of review aims to;

  • Synthesize the findings from diverse literature sources, including empirical studies, theoretical papers, and methodological reviews.
  • Provide a comprehensive understanding of a specific topic. 
  • Identify common themes, patterns, or relationships across the literature.
  • Integrate different perspectives or approaches to address the research question. 

This type of review is useful for researchers who want to develop a holistic understanding of a complex issue or explore the interconnections between different aspects of a subject.

By choosing the appropriate type of literature review, researchers can effectively address their research question, contribute to advancing knowledge in their field, and inform future research and practice.

How to Write a Literature Review?

Writing a literature review while composing the rest of the paper can become confusing. Experts suggest that before you even start a research paper, learn how to write a literature review properly. Below is a thorough guide on composing a literature review, outlining the key steps and offering practical tips for success.

Step 1. Look for Relevant Literature

The first step in writing a literature review is to search for relevant literature on your topic. Begin by conducting a comprehensive search of electronic databases, such as; 

  • Google Scholar
  • PubMed
  • Web of Science

Look for appropriate journals, books, and articles. You must use relevant keywords and phrases. Consult your library’s catalog and reference lists of related articles to identify additional sources. Keep track of the sources you find, as you will need to reference them in your review.

Step 2. Analyze and Select Sources

Once you have gathered a list of sources, carefully analyze each to determine its relevance and quality. Consider the following criteria when evaluating sources:

  • Relevance to your research question
  • Currency and timeliness of the publication
  • Credibility and authority of the author(s)
  • Methodological rigor and validity of the research
  • Contribution to the existing body of knowledge on the topic

Select the most relevant, authentic, high-quality sources for your literature review. Take detailed notes on their key findings, arguments, and implications. Ideally, focusing on citing a paper at this stage is the most convenient. 

Step 3. Connecting Dots 

Unlike fiction or literary writing, academic paper readers prefer clear and explicit articulation. After analyzing the sources, look for connections and relationships between them. Identify common themes, patterns, or trends in the literature and areas of disagreement or controversy.

Consider how different perspectives or approaches can be integrated to address your research question and how your study can build on or contribute to the existing knowledge on the topic. This will help you in organizing a paper that is digestible for any level of reader. . 

Step 4. Arrange Your Literature Review 

Before you start writing, decide on the structure of your literature review. This will depend on the nature of your research question and the connections you have identified between your sources. Common structures for literature reviews include:

  • Chronological: Organize your review by the publication date of the sources, highlighting the development of ideas and research over time.
  • Thematic: Group your sources by themes or topics, discussing each theme in a separate review section.
  • Methodological: Organize your review by the research methods used in the studies, comparing and contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.

Step 5. Write a Literature Review

With your structure in mind, begin writing your literature review. Start with an introduction that provides an overview of your research question and the purpose of your review. The body of your review must have the following; 

  • Discussion of sources in detail 
  • Synthesized finding of the source 
  • Arguments 
  • Highlights of their connections 
  • Implication for research 

Conclude your review with a summary of the main points, a discussion of the gaps or limitations in the existing literature, and the potential avenues for future research.

Step 6. Touch-ups

Finally, carefully edit and proofread your literature review to ensure it is clear, coherent, and error-free. Check your grammar, punctuation, and spelling, and ensure your writing is well-organized and flows logically. Ensure all sources are properly cited and referenced according to your chosen citation style.

By following these steps and tips on writing a literature review, you can create a comprehensive and insightful review of the existing literature on your topic, demonstrating your understanding of the subject and contributing to advancing knowledge in your field.

Additional Tips on How to Write a Literature Review 

It is always tricky to tackle literature reviews, so our writers have compiled this list of additional tips to help polish your research. Furthermore, you research our experts to get paper writing help for a quick fix.

  • While conducting research, you’d have to go through many research papers. It is wise to read abstracts carefully to single out the paper you require. 
  • Only analyze the most relevant sources to your research question. 
  • Cite while conducting research. 
  • Never forget to revise a research paper before submission.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

A literature review is a crucial academic research component, requiring careful planning, organization, and analysis. However, students often make mistakes during the process that can undermine the quality and effectiveness of their review. Here are ten common mistakes to avoid when writing a literature review:

  1. Insufficient research: Failing to search the relevant literature comprehensively can lead to an incomplete or biased review. Use multiple databases and search strategies to identify all relevant sources.
  2. Lack of organization: A well-structured literature review is easier to read and understand. Organize your review by themes, chronology, or methodology to provide a clear and logical flow of ideas.
  3. Over-reliance on certain sources: Relying too heavily on a small number of sources or only using sources that support your point of view can result in a biased review. Aim for a balanced and diverse selection of sources to ensure a comprehensive and objective analysis.
  4. Ignoring contradictory evidence: Disregarding or dismissing evidence that contradicts your argument can undermine the credibility of your review. Address conflicting evidence and provide a rationale for your interpretation of the findings.
  5. Failure to critically analyze sources: More than merely summarizing the content of your sources is required for a literature review. Critically analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each source, and synthesize their findings to provide a coherent and insightful overview of the topic.
  6. Lack of focus: A literature review should have a clear and specific research question or objective. Avoid discussing unrelated or tangential topics that do not directly contribute to your research question.
  7. Poor citation practices: Failing to cite and reference your sources properly can lead to plagiarism and undermine the credibility of your review. Follow the appropriate citation style and include complete and accurate references for all sources.
  8. Inadequate synthesis of findings: A key goal of a literature review is synthesizing the findings from different sources to understand the topic comprehensively. Avoid merely listing or summarizing individual studies; instead, identify common themes, patterns, or relationships and discuss their implications for your research question.
  9. Neglecting to identify gaps in the literature: Identifying gaps or limitations in the existing literature is essential for justifying your research project and highlighting its potential contribution to the field. Discuss the gaps in your review and how your study aims to address them.
  10. Insufficient proofreading and editing: A poorly written or error-ridden literature review can detract from the quality of your research and undermine your credibility as a researcher. Take the time to carefully proofread and edit your review, checking for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and clarity of expression.

By avoiding these common mistakes, students can improve the quality and effectiveness of their literature review, ensuring that it provides a solid foundation for their research project and contributes to advancing knowledge in their field.


This was one of our takes on literature reviews. If you liked this post, check out our detailed tutorials on research paper writing. However, we understand that learning to write a literature review can take a while.

But you can always find a good platform to get a research paper writer. If you’re dealing with a lot of academic stress due to your research paper, turn your luck around. Experience the power of our unparalleled writing assistance, tailored to meet your needs of striving for academic excellence.


plus-icon What determines the scope of the literature review?
The scope of the literature review is determined by the research topic or question being investigated. It focuses on relevant studies and scholarly works that directly relate to the research topic. The scope can be narrowed or broadened based on the specific research objectives and the depth of coverage required.
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