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Write a Literature Review

What is a literature review?

​A literature review is both a summary and explanation of the complete and current state of knowledge on a narrowed topic as found in academic books and journal articles.

You might be asked to write one of two broad kinds of literature reviews: a stand-alone assignment for a course, often as part of your training in the research of your field, or as a part of an introduction to or preparation for a longer work, usually a thesis or research report. The specific purpose and length of the literature review will vary. One way to understand the differences between these two types is to read published literature reviews or the literature review chapter of theses and dissertations in your own subject area. Analyze the structure of their arguments and note the way they address the issues.

What is the purpose of a literature review?

  • To summarize, evaluate, and compare articles or studies that are relevant and important to your topic
  • To highlight key findings
  • To identify inconsistencies, gaps, and contradictions in the literature
  • To provide an analysis of the methodologies and approaches of other researchers
  • To provide clues as to where future research is heading or recommend areas on which to focus
  • To ensure you do not duplicate work that has already been done

What are the parts of a literature Review?


  • Purpose:
    • To explain the focus and establish the importance of the subject
  • In general, your introduction should
    • provide the framework, selection criteria, or parameters of your literature review
    • provide background or history
    • outline what kind of work has been done on the topic
    • briefly identify any controversies within the field or any recent research that has raised questions about earlier assumptions
    • conclude with a purpose or thesis statement
      • In a stand-alone literature review, this statement will sum up and evaluate the current state of this field of research
      • In a review that is an introduction or preparatory to a thesis or research report, it will suggest how the review findings will lead to the research the writer proposes to undertake.


  • ​Purpose:
    • To summarize and evaluate the current state of knowledge in the field
    • To note major themes or topics, the most important trends, and any findings about which researchers agree or disagree
  • Structure:
    • Often divided by headings/subheadings
  • If the review is preliminary to your own thesis or research project, its purpose is to make an argument that will justify your proposed research. Therefore, the literature review will discuss only that research which leads directly to your own project.


  • Purpose: 
    • To summarize the evidence presented and show its significance
    • Rather than restating your thesis or purpose statement, explain what your review tells you about the current state of the field
  • If the review is an introduction to your own research, the conclusion highlights gaps and indicates how previous research leads to your own research project and chosen methodology. 
  • If the review is a stand-alone assignment for a course, the conclusion should suggest any practical applications of the research as well as the implications and possibilities for future research.


  • Find out what style guide you are required to follow (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago)
  • Follow the guidelines to format citations and create a reference list or bibliography
  • Cite Your Sources

What if I have to write a systematic review?

You might be asked to write another type of literature review called a systematic review. Writers of systematic reviews use clearly defined search parameters to gather literature that will help them answer a focused research question.

If you plan to write a systematic review, you can book an appointment with a librarian to develop a search strategy.

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