The Best Literature Review Guide

It is common knowledge that academic essays and research papers are a fundamental part of the educational curriculum. Students create a thesis and support it using well-grounded sources and generate organized ideas to surround it. Nonetheless, several students do not know that they will tackle another paper in college known as a literature review.

Literature Review Definition

Because this type of paper is not common in academic writing, students regularly ask what literature review is. According to the definition, a literature review is a survey of various scholarly publications such as journals, articles, and books related to a particular topic or research question and maybe within a specific timeframe.

Doing a literature review involves reading several publications associated with the primary subject matter and presenting your unique understanding of every publication you read. In conclusion, a literature review should merge the summary with a synthesis of the sources it uses. A summary is a recap of the vital information of the source; synthesis is the reshuffling of information, giving the writing a different and exclusive meaning.

In most cases, a literature review is a section of a larger paper like a thesis or dissertation. Nevertheless, your instructor can assign it in the form of an independent assignment.

The Purpose

The primary purpose of a literature review is, to sum up, and synthesize the ideas developed by prior researchers, without instigating your perspective or other extra information.

Nonetheless, a literature review aims not only to list out summaries but also to notice a dominant trend or principle seen within all sources. As research papers have a thesis that provides direction to assist a writer keep his/her work organized,  a literature review equally has the main organizing principle (MOP). The purpose of this kind of writing is to detect the MOP and demonstrate its existence in all of your supporting documents.

Why is literature review critical? The value of such work is explained by the following goals it pursues:

  • A literature review pursues to unveil the relationship between existing ideas/ researches on a particular topic.
  • Recommends questions to drive further research based on prior studies.
  • It identifies the primary points of controversy and gaps within a subject matter.
  • Reveals the key themes, principles, concepts, and researchers that exist within a topic.
  • Emphasizes the importance of the primary topic within a particular subject area.
  • Showcases and explains the background of research for a specific subject matter
  • It helps to reveal any challenges that previous researchers experienced while doing the research.

Below are various examples topics to give you an idea of what a literature review can be about:

  • Investigating race and color prejudice in “Othello,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
  • Exploring reputation in “Pride and Prejudice,” “The Strange Case of Dr Jeykll and Mr Hyde.”
  • Corruption of power in “ Macbeth,” “All the King’s Men,” and “ Animal Farm.”
  • Duality in “The Strange Case of Dr Jeykll and Mr Hyde.”
  • Isolationism in “ The Catcher in the Rye,” “Frankenstein,” and “1984.”
  • Emotional and Physical survival in “Lord of Flies,” “Hatchet,” and “ Congo.”
  • Comprehending moral dilemmas in “Crime and Punishment,” “The Scarlet Letter,” and “ The Lifeboat.”

How Long Is a Literature Review?

Students might tend to wonder how long a literature review should be when facing the need to write. In many cases, the instructor determines the length of your paper’s body. Ensure to read the guidelines keenly to understand what your professor expects from you.

In case no specific guidelines are provided, you are recommended to keep your literature review about 15-30% of the whole paper. Roughly, if you are writing a 15 pages paper, the literature review can take 2-3 pages. If you are writing a literature review as an independent assignment, its length should be indicated in the guidelines provided.

Literature Review Format: APA, MLA, and Chicago

You should adhere to the citation style preferred by your instructor in your essay format. Enquire from your professor about other various components to establish the ideal literature review format:

  1. How long should the review be?
  2. What format should you use in intext-citations and references?
  3. What should your review consist of (a summary, synthesis, or personal critique and opinions)
  4. How many sources should you review, and what type of sources should they be (published materials, peer-reviewed sources, journal articles, or websites)?
  5. Should your review include subheadings or background information of your sources?

If you want to format your paper in APA style, then follow these rules:

  • Use 1-inch page margins.
  • Unless stated otherwise, use double-spacing in the entire text.
  • Ensure to select a legible font. The desired font for APA papers is Times New Roman set to 12-point size.
  • Include a header at the top of each page.
  • Put page numbers in the upper right corner of every page.
  • Make sure you include a title page consisting of the paper’s name, the author’s name, course code/ID, instructor’s name, institutional affiliation, and date. Ensure that your title is typed with uppercase and lower case letters, is centered, bolded, and in the upper part of the page.

For more clarity of APA’s latest version (APA 7) formating visit:

For MLA style text, apply the following Guidelines:

  • The page margins should not be less than 1 inch.
  • Unless stated otherwise in the guidelines, double space across the entire paper.
  • Include half-inch indents for every new paragraph.
  • The desired font for MLA papers is Times New Roman set to 12 -point size.
  • Include a header at the upper right of the first of the paper or on the title page. (MLA papers do not require you to formulate a title page, but you can decide on including one).
  • In the upper left of your first page should be the author’s name, course name/ID, professor’s name, and date. You can also add the due date of the assignment.
  • Include a running head in the upper right corner of every page of your paper. It should be one inch from the page’s right margin and half an inch from the top margin. The running head should include your surname and the page number, which is separated by a space in the running head.

For further clarity of MLA latest version (MLA 9th Edition) formatting, visit: or

Lastly, if you are required to write a literature review in Chicago, here are the essential rules to follow:

  • Use 1-inch page margins.
  • Unless stated otherwise in the instructions, use double-spacing throughout the whole text, except in table titles, figure captions, notes, blockquotes, and entries within the bibliography or work cited.
  • Do not add spaces between paragraphs.
  • Include page numbers in the top corner of every page, even the cover page.
  • The title page(cover) should consist of your full name, class information, and date. The cover page should be centered and placed one-third below the top of the page.
  • Ensure to pick a readable font. The desired font of Chicago papers is Times New Roman and Courier, which should be not less than 10-point size, but preferably to 12-point size.

For more guideline on the Chicago format, visit:

Structure of a Literature Review

How should you structure your literature review? A literature review follows a typical intro-body-conclusion style with five paragraphs overall, just like other types of academic writing. Let’s get straight into every component of a literature review structure in detail.


You should guide your audience towards the main organizing principle (MOP), which means that your information should begin from a broad viewpoint and slowly narrow down to reach your central point.

Commence by giving your overall concept(An example is corruption). Secondly, narrow your introduction’s concentration towards the MOP; by revealing the basis you used in choosing the literature sources, you are using( Macbeth, All the King’s Men, and Animal Farm). Lastly, your introduction should end with the presentation of your MOP, which ought directly to connect it to the three literature sources.

Body Paragraphs

Overall, each body paragraph will concentrate on a particular literature source presented in the introductory paragraph. Because every source has its style of reference for the MOP, it is essential to organize the review logically and consistently. This means that your work should be arranged either in a chronological, thematic, or methodological way.


To keep a correct historical timeframe, you need to break down your sources based on their publication dates. If this method is applied appropriately, it can showcase the progress of a particular concept and give examples in the form of literature. Nonetheless, there are other more incredible options we can use to organize the body.


Rather than using the timeframe method, you can look at the connection between your MOP and your sources. At times the central idea can originate from one literature source. In other cases, the writer may have to search for examples to prove their argument. A brilliant author will present his/her sources based on their level of strength; for instance, in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the whole book concentrates on racism; in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” racism was one of the multiple themes in the novel.


Based on the terminology, this kind of structuring concentrates on the methods used to present the primary concept. For instance, in “1984,” George Orwell uses the -law and -order methodology and demonstrates the menaces of a dystopia for a social species.

In “Frankenstein,” Mary Shelley displays the character’s physical traits as hideous and disturbing, which results in him suffering in an isolated environment. By demonstrating the several methods used to depict the MOP, the author can compare them based on an extremity, ethicality, and general influence.


Once you have presented your findings in the body section, you need to complete three objectives in the essay’s conclusion. The first thing to do is summarize the findings you made or found and, in brief, answer the question: “What have you learned?”

The second step is to showcase the importance of the information in relation to our current world. To put it differently, how can your audience absorb the info and apply it in today’s society.

Lastly, it would be best to leave the reader’s trail of thoughts within the actual essay topic. This gives them an opportunity to further the investigation, meaning the audience may contemplate where the discussion will go next.

Writing an Outline for a Literature Review

Most students regularly underestimate the significance of planning the structure of their academic papers earlier, which is not a wise idea. Creating a literature review outline will assist you in following the proper structure and format, making the writing process simpler. An outline will also ensure that you incorporate all the vital information without leaving anything behind.

How to write a literature review outline: As already shown in the structure section of our guide, each part of a literature review plays its vital role. Therefore, a writer should build an outline while keeping in mind the general intro-body-conclusion structure of a literature review and ensure that every section meets its objectives. Nevertheless, it is essential to remember that a literature review outline somewhat differs from other kinds of outlines because it does not provide new/original information. It concentrates on the existing researches relevant to the primary topic or research question.

Below is a literature review outline example on the subject of Ventricular-Associated Pneumonia(VAP) to help you get it right:

  • Introduction
  • Give an overview of the topic: Provide the background information on Ventricular-associated pneumonia, risk factors, aetiology, pathogenesis, treatment, and prevention of VAP.
  • Shape the main research questions: What is the role of endotracheal tubes or tracheostomy in the spread of VAP?

Do people with ventricular-associated tracheobronchitis have a high chance of getting VAP?

  • Methodology: For instance, the information was searched through the PUBMED/MEDLINE database to find relevant journal articles about Ventricular-associated pneumonia, Ventricular-associated tracheobronchitis(VAT), and the role of endotracheal tubes in spreading VAP. The data was extracted using a standardized form.
  • Expected outcomes
  • General trends in the literature on this topic.
  • Body
  • Subject 1: A brief overview of the specific piece of literature in general terms; an analysis of the key aspects of the study; a review of the research Subject questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and an overview of the strong and weak points, gaps and contradictions.
  • Subject 2: A brief overview of the particular piece of literature in general terms; an analysis of the key aspects of the study: a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and an overview of the strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
  • Subject 3: A brief overview of the particular piece of literature in general terms; an analysis of the key aspects of the study; a review of the research questions, methods, procedures, and outcomes; and an overview of the strong and weak points, gaps, and contradictions.
  • Conclusion
  • Show the relationships between the pieces of literature discussed. Emphasize main themes, common patterns, and trends. Talk about the merits and demerits of the various approaches taken by the authors.
  • State which studies seem to be the most influential.
  • Emphasize the primary contradictions and points of disagreement. Define the gaps still to be covered (if any).
  • If applicable: state how your study will contribute to the further disclosure of the topic.

How to Write a Good Literature Review

The approach you take in writing generally remains the same whether you are writing a literature review within the context of a larger research paper, for instance,( thesis or dissertation) or an independent assignment.

Now that you are familiar with the general regulations and have a basic literature review outline template, let’s look at the steps you should take to handle this type of paper:

Step 1: Identifying the Topic

This is the only area you may approach in a different way based on whether the literature review comes within a larger paper, such as a research paper or a stand-alone assignment altogether. In case you are creating a literature review as part of broader writing, it is necessary to search for literature connected to the research questions and problem. Correspondingly, if you are writing it as a separate assignment, you will have to choose an appropriate topic and a primary question on which you will be collecting the literature. You can use the engaging topics we selected earlier to guide your study.

Step 2: Conducting Research

After getting a well-defined topic, you should start collecting literature for your review. We suggest that you commence by composing a list of relevant keywords connected to the primary question to make the whole research process easier and assist you in getting relevant sources quickly. Once you are done compiling your list of keywords, use them to look for relevant and credible publications. You need to use reliable sources such as university libraries and online scientific databases.

After finding some sources, ensure that they are relevant and relate to your topic or research question. Instead of reading the entire document to know what it entails, you can read the abstract; this will help you save time.

            Pro tip: Once you have found a few credible publications, read the bibliographies or references section, this will give you an insight into other sources relevant to your work.

Step 3: Assess and Prioritize Sources

All through your research, you will likely find various relevant publications to include in your literature review. One huge mistake most students make is trying to add all of their collected sources into their reviews. We recommend counterchecking what you have collected and assess the available sources and choose the most relevant ones. Prioritizing sources is vital because it is not guaranteed that you will be able to read all these sources and synthesize them into a single literature review.

To evaluate which sources are worth including in your review, keep in mind the following criteria:

  • Impact;
  • Relevance;
  • Validity;
  • Innovation;
  • Originality;
  • Key insights;

To add to that, take notes on everything you can include in your review when reading the sources. Ensure to get your citations in place earlier. Creating an annotated bibliography will be simpler if you cite your selected sources earlier.

Step 4: Identify Relationships, Key ideas, and Gaps

Prior to outlining and writing your literature review, you need to determine the relationships between existing studies. Distinguishing the relationships will assist you in structuring the existing information, create a strong literature outline, and (if required) show your research contribution to a particular area.

Some of the key points to keep an eye out for are:

  • Major themes;
  • Trends and patterns;
  • Contradictions and debates;
  • Influential researches or theories;
  • Gaps

For instance, various studies might have a common trend, such as focusing on particular groups. Different researchers might have increased interest in specific aspects of the topic in terms of central themes. Contradictions might be a few disagreements concerning the theories and the outcomes of the research. Lastly, in many cases, gaps mean inadequate research on particular aspects of the topic.

Step 5: Make an Outline

Despite students neglecting this stage, outlining is the most crucial step in writing each academic paper; this is the simplest way to arrange your text’s body and certify that no essential information is missed. Moreover, jotting down ideas of what you are going to write about will assist you in getting things right quickly.

We previously discussed in this guide the basic structure of a literature review. You can use the excellent outline example we gave you as a guide in creating your outline.

Step 6: Move on to Writing

Once you have found and created all your sources, notes, citations, and a well-defined outline, you can move to the writing part. At this point, you are required to follow the plan you have constructed while keeping in mind the general structure and format assigned by your instructor.

Step 7: Adding the Final Touches

One huge mistake that many students make is skipping the final stage of the process, which incorporates proofreading and editing. To ensure that your work will be worth the highest score, we recommend taking enough time for these steps. You should not underrate the significance of proofreading and editing.

            Pro Tip: Prior to proofreading and editing your work, set aside your literature review for a day or two. This will provide you with an opportunity of taking it off your mind. This period will ensure that you get to proofreading with a new point of view. This tip will see to it that you won’t miss out on any errors or gaps that may be in your writing.

These steps will assist you in building an outstanding literature review with effortlessness! Want to get further information on ways to tackle this body of work? Below are three tips you need to keep in mind when writing a literature review:

  1. Good Sources

The most crucial thing any writer should focus on when working on a literature review is finding the best available sources for their MOP. This means when conducting your initial study, you should choose and filter through about 5-10 discrete options. The quality of the entire review is influenced by how strong a piece of literature showcases the focal point.

  • Synthesize the literature

Ensure to organize the review in the most effective manner, whether it is thematically, methodologically, or chronologically. You need to comprehend what you need to say and organize the source comparison appropriately.

  • Avoid Generalizations

Keep in mind that each literature work will approach the MOP from a different angle. As the writer, ensure to present the disparities in approaches clearly, leaving behind general statements that are worthless.

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