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How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Project

How to Write a Literature Review

Learning to conduct and compose a literature review is significant for developing a strong research paper. It is important to draw out the main ideas and structure correctly and study the relationships between differing views. Having the ability to summarize and synthesize sources not only depicts a strong grasp on the available information but also helps in the learning process. This article is intended to guide students on how to write a literature review by focusing on the structure, the steps, and the art of composing a literature review.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review essentially refers to an integrated analysis of the works already published on a specific topic or in a particular field. A literature review may refer to a section in a research paper or an entire scholarly paper that collects major sources on a topic and discusses them. It is a piece of academic writing showing the understanding and knowledge of the available literature on a specific subject placed in context.  A literature review as the name suggests encompasses a critical examination of the related literature.

Conducting or carrying out a literature review involves an extensive search and study of the available literature on a particular subject. The reason why it is called a literature review is that, firstly, it involves research of existing literature, theories, facts, and evidence; and secondly because you have to carry out a critical evaluation of the literature and discuss them.

A literature review requires the researcher to perform a comprehensive study on the works already published in a particular field to explain how his work fits into the broader conversation. This task requires the author to spend time studying, understanding, analyzing, evaluating, and then conveying the information. The complexity of literature reviews can make it one of the most challenging parts of writing about one’s research and thus PenMyPaper suggests going through some research paper examples to obtain a better understanding of how to write a literature review.

Purposes of a Literature Review

A literature review shows that you understand where your research fits and lets your readers know that you have extensive knowledge of your subject. It situates the current study within the relevant literature and provides context for your readers.  Following are the purposes of a literature review:

  • It summarizes and evaluates prior studies and theories.
  • It demonstrates your familiarity with the subject matter and its scholarly context.
  • It critically evaluates the information collected by identifying the gaps in the existing knowledge; demonstrating limitations of theories and differing views, and articulating areas for further research and studying areas of controversy.
  • It helps in developing a theoretical framework and research methodology.
  • It establishes the credibility of your work.

Literature Review – Conducting and Writing

Steps for Conducting a Literature Review

Following are the steps to carry out a literature review:

  1. Narrow down a good research paper topic: Choose a topic that can be managed within a given timeframe. Your literature review must be directed by a fundamental research question. Bear in mind, that it is not a compilation of loosely related studies in a particular field rather it represents the background and developments in research concerning an explicit research question that is evaluated and inferred by you in a synthesized manner.
  2. Define the scope of the review: Decide the research studies you need to look at and how panoptic they should be. Decide the number of sources your assignment requires and how many years it should cover.
  3. Search for literature: When searching for literature try to be as comprehensive as possible. It is important to know exactly where to search for the information. Start by defining the source selection criteria- articles and journals published between a specific range of dates, using a particular methodology, or focusing on a particular geographic region. There are many research databases and other library databases that you can start with to conduct your research and you may use specific keywords. You may also include studies that are contrary to your viewpoint. Make sure to keep a track of the sources you collect.
  4. Read the articles thoroughly and analyze them: Review and synthesize the findings and conclusions of the selected articles. Go through research paper abstracts and consider the issues and the themes that connect your sources as you go through them comprehensively but selectively in the area of your topic.
  • The research question of the studies you are analyzing.
  • The writer’s expertise in this field of study.
  • Whether the author’s arguments are supported by experiential evidence (quantitative/qualitative studies).
  • The methodologies used in the research and analyze the samples, variables, testing procedures, results, and the outcomes.
  • Whether the selected sources contribute to a further profound understanding of the topic.
  • Conflicting theories, methodologies, and results.
  • whether the research seems to be complete or whether it could have been performed more soundly.
  • The further questions it raises.

Organizing a Literature Review

Literature reviews can take various organizational patterns based on what you are aiming to accomplish with your review. Given below are some examples:

  1. Chronological: One simple approach is tracing the development of the subject matter over time, which helps in familiarizing the readers with the topic. For example, you are introducing something which is not commonly known in the specific field. When choosing this strategy, don’t simply list and summarize the sources instead try to analyze the turning points, traits, patterns, and key arguments.
  2. Methodological: In case you are trying to draw your sources from varying disciplines or fields that use a diversity of research methods then you can compare the findings and conclusions that develop from different approaches.
  3. Thematic: In case you have discovered some repeated central themes with which you will continue working with throughout the study, you may organize your literature review into themes and sub-sections which will address various aspects of the topic.
  4. Theoretical: The literature reviews in many humanities articles form the groundwork for the theoretical framework. It can be used to discuss various models, theories, and definitions of key ideas and perceptions. You can make arguments for the relevance of a definite theoretical approach or even combine different theoretical concepts to develop a framework for your study.

Composing a Literature Review

Once you have settled on a specific pattern of organization, it’s time to compose the literature review. If your literature review is a part of a research paper, then it will have a general three-paragraph structure- introduction, body, and conclusion. In that case, the focus would go to the body part while the introduction and conclusion section will be concise. If your literature review forms a standalone piece then the introduction and conclusion section will be detailed where you will discuss the research objectives, research methodology, and conclusions separately. According to PenMyPaper, you may follow the format given below to write a literature review:


  • A paragraph that describes what your topic and thesis is.
  • A conjecture of key topics and texts that will be reviewed in the later part.
  • A description of the methods of collection of sources and how you have analyzed them for discussion in the review (often found in published and standalone literature reviews rather than in the literature review section of a research paper article)


  • Précis and synthesize: Describe the key points of each source and integrate them into a coherent piece.
  • Analyze and interpret: Avoid paraphrasing other researchers instead state your understandings where possible, and discuss the importance of the results in relation to the literature.
  • Critically Analyze: Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the sources.
  • Write cohesively: Use topic sentences and transition words for drawing relations, comparisons, and distinctions.


  • Give a synopsis of the key findings that you have drawn from the review of the literature and accentuate their importance.
  • Relate it to your theme research question.

Summing Up

The most compelling literature reviews are often the ones that are written as arguments. Literature reviews are where you establish your study as addressing a particular problem and showing the relevance and significance of your study in a particular way. Although you may describe this in your introduction the literature review section provides you with an extended opportunity to develop a conversation in a way you would want your readers to see. You should be able to conduct and write a literature review by following the guidelines and structure. However, if you find it difficult then you can seek help from our expert research paper writers. The academic writers at PenMyPaper are adept and experts in the field who will help you with any kind of research assignment and deliver quality papers within your deadline.

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