Writing a Literature Review: Step-by-step Instructions

By Editorial Team Last updated: Oct 12, 2023

Writing a Literature Review: Step-by-step Instructions

The Royal Literary Fund defines a literature review as a document (or section of a document) that gathers relevant sources on a topic and talks about them (also called synthesis). The lit review is a popular genre in a variety of fields, not simply literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say "literature review" or "the literature," we're referring to the research (scholarship) that has been done in a certain topic. The terms "research," "scholarship," and "literature" are frequently used interchangeably in academic circles.

Related: Best Literature Review Writing Service Online

Where, When, and Why Would a do a Literature Review?

There are a variety of settings in which you might write a literature review, each with its own set of expectations; other disciplines, too, have their own set of expectations for what a literature review is and does. In the humanities, for example, authors may include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results; these differences reflect the purposes and conventions of scholarship in these disciplines. For literature reviews, as well as any other genre, you should always look at samples from your own profession and speak with professors or mentors in your field to ensure you understand your discipline's traditions.

A literature review is usually found after the introduction and before the research methods sections of a research paper or scholarly article. In these situations, the lit review just needs to contain literature relevant to the topic of your paper; it may also include crucial sources that influenced your research technique.

Lit reviews can also be used as stand-alone pieces, either as part of a class project or as a publication. A lit review may be assigned in class to help students become more familiar with a topic and scholarship in their field, gain an understanding of the other researchers working on the topic they're interested in, identify gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for future research. A lit review is a type of publication that collects and summarizes, synthesizes, and analyzes previous research on a topic in order to make other scholars' jobs simpler. This is especially useful for students or scholars who are new to a field of study, or for steering an entire community of researchers toward unanswered problems.

Read also: Step-by-Step Literary Analysis Instructions

What Makes up a Literature Review?

Most lit reviews follow a basic structure of introduction-body-conclusion; if your lit review is part of a bigger paper, the introduction and conclusion sections may be as short as a few phrases, with the body receiving the most of your attention. If your lit review is a stand-alone work, the introduction and conclusion take up more room and give you a platform to talk about your objectives, research methods, and findings apart from the literature.


  • An introductory paragraph describing your working topic and thesis.
  • A forewarning of important issues or books that will be discussed in the review
  • A description of how you found materials and analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review could be useful (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)


  • Summarize and synthesize: Provide a summary of each source's important ideas and blend them into a logical whole.
  • Analyze and interpret: Don't merely repeat what other researchers have said; add your own interpretations where you can, and analyze the relevance of findings in the context of the entire literature.
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the sources' merits and faults.
  • Paragraphs should be well-structured: To make links, comparisons, and contrasts, use transition words and the topic phrase.


  • Summarize and stress the significance of the important results you gleaned from the literature.
  • Relate it to your central research question.

Related: The structure of a literature review

What is the best Way to Organize my Literatire Review?

Depending on what you want to accomplish with the review, it can take many different organizational forms. Some instances are as follows:

  1. Chronological: The simplest technique is to track the evolution of the topic across time, which helps the audience become familiar with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you use this method, be wary of merely listing and summarizing sources in chronological order. Analyze the trends, turning points, and major disputes that have shaped the field's path. Give your opinion on how and why specific events occurred (as previously said, this may or may not be suitable in your discipline; if in doubt, see a teacher or mentor).
  2. Thematic: You can divide your literature study into subsections that address different areas of the topic if you have found some repeating primary themes that you will continue to work with throughout your essay. If you're reading about women and religion, for example, major issues could be the position of women in churches and religious attitudes toward women.
  3. Theoretical: The literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework in many humanities articles. It can be used to discuss various theories, models, and important concept definitions. To develop a framework for your research, you can argue for the significance of a single theoretical approach or mix multiple theoretical concepts.
  4. Methodological: You can compare the results and conclusions that arise from different techniques if you take your sources from diverse disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methodologies.

           Consider the following scenario:

  • Qualitative versus quantitative research 
  • Theoretical versus empirical scholarship
  • Divide your study into three categories: sociological, historical, and cultural sources.

What are some of the strategies or tips for writing a Literature Review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it examines, so choose your sources carefully and conduct comprehensive research. If you discover a new thread while writing, don't be scared to undertake extra study. Our "Conducting Research" resources have more information on the research process.

Create an annotated bibliography as you conduct your study (see our page on the this type of document). Because much of the information in an annotated bibliography can also be used in a literature review, you'll be partially drafting your lit review while researching, as well as developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and other stakeholders in your topic.

Rather than simply summarizing findings, you will most likely need to synthesize it. Drawing linkages between sources to build a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time is what this entails. Many student writers find it difficult to synthesis because they believe they have nothing to contribute to the experts they are citing; here are some techniques to help:

  • It's helpful to keep in mind that the goal of these types of syntheses is to show your readers how well you understand your research and to encourage them to read the rest of your article.
  • Synthesis, according to many writing instructors, is similar to throwing a dinner party: image all of your sources gathered in one room, debating your issue. What exactly are they saying to one another?
  • In each paragraph, look at the in-text citations. Are you only mentioning one source every paragraph? This usually denotes a brief summary. When numerous sources are cited in a paragraph, you're more likely to synthesize them (not always, but frequently).

The most engaging literature evaluations are frequently written as arguments (as stated at the top of the page, this is discipline-specific and does not work in all contexts). The literature review is frequently where you may prove that your research fills a specific gap or is important in a certain way. In an article, you get a chance to accomplish this in the opening, but the literature review section provides you a chance to set the dialogue in the way you want your readers to see it. You can pick whose intellectual lineage you want to be a part of and which definitions are most important to your way of thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). You advocate for your place in the debate by addressing these topics, which makes the litertaure review more engaging than a straightforward summary of other sources.

Related: Seven Steps to Writing a Literature Review

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