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Nova A.

How To Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper | Steps & Examples

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Published on: Jun 30, 2021

Last updated on: Mar 3, 2024

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A well-structured literature review is a vital component of research paper writing, showcasing your understanding of existing research and setting the stage for your study. 

In this guide, we'll break down the process into manageable steps, offering practical tips to simplify this often challenging task. Whether you're familiar with research or a novice, follow along to enhance your literature review writing skills. 

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What is a Literature Review?

According to Cooper (1998) and Ridley (2008), a literature review is an extensive analysis of scholarly works within a specific subject area. It involves synthesizing, evaluating, and summarizing existing knowledge to identify key concepts and gaps in research. 

This critical examination of literature serves as the foundation for understanding the evolution of ideas and theories within a field.

Typically found in academic research papers, the literature review establishes the context and theoretical framework for a study. It helps researchers situate their work within existing scholarship.

The literature review is placed in the early sections of a research paper, often after the introduction and before the methodology section. In research papers, literature reviews can also be integrated into sections like the Introduction of a research paper.

Purpose of a Literature Review in Research Paper 

The purpose of a literature review in a research paper is multifaceted. Let's explore its role in a research paper:

  • Provides a background to the research topic, establishing context and relevance.
  • Helps identify existing gaps, controversies, or limitations in the literature.
  • Assists in developing a theoretical framework for the study.
  • Offers insights into methodologies used in prior research and enables critical evaluation of key studies and methodologies.
  • Facilitates the synthesis of diverse sources to form a cohesive understanding.
  • Aids in avoiding redundancy by acknowledging and building upon existing research.
  • Strengthens arguments by grounding them in established literature.
  • Positions the research within the broader academic discourse, contributing to the advancement of knowledge.

What Are The Parts of a Literature Review?

The parts of a literature review typically include:

  • Introduction: Sets the context, defines the scope, and outlines the objectives.
  • Body: Organizes literature thematically, chronologically, or methodologically, presenting summaries, analyses, and evaluations of existing research.
  • Discussion/ Critical Analysis: Synthesizes findings, and identifies patterns, discrepancies, and gaps in the literature.
  • Conclusion: Summarizes key points, highlights contributions, and suggests avenues for future research.

In the upcoming section, we will discuss the steps to conduct a literature review in detail.

Step 1: Conduct a Literature Search   

The first step in conducting a literature review for your research paper involves searching for literature relevant to your research question or problem.

Let’s understand how to start a literature review writing process with an example:

Research Question:

How does the application of quantum entanglement contribute to the development of quantum computing technology?

For the research problem above identify the list the keywords: 


  • Application, implementation, deployment
  • Quantum entanglement, quantum correlations, entangled states
  • Contribute, enhance, advance, bolster
  • Development, progress, evolution, growth
  • Quantum computing technology, quantum information processing

Now that you have identified key terms, you can now easily employ various platforms to conduct primary research on your research question. Use these keywords to search for existing literature related to your paper's problem statement.

Here are some databases to search for journals and articles:

Step 2: Assess and Choose Sources 

Carefully assess the reliability, relevance, and credibility of the identified sources. Choose scholarly articles, books, and reputable websites. 

Make sure to choose the sources that are most relevant to your research question. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when choosing sources: 

  • What is the author's main question or problem?
  • How does the source define key concepts for your research?
  • What theories, models, or methods does the source employ?
  • Does the research follow established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the primary results and conclusions?
  • How does the source connect to existing literature? 
  • Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the presented research or information?

Tip: As you read, start jotting down notes for your literature review. Try creating an annotated bibliography, including full citation details along with a brief summary and analysis for each source. This method helps you remember what you've read and saves time later on.

Step 3: Find Themes, Debates, and Research Gaps

Look at the articles you read to see what they talk about a lot, where they disagree, and what they don't cover. Make sure you understand how these articles connect. Based on what you find, look for:

  • Trends and Patterns: See if there are changes over time in how people do research or what they find.
  • Themes: Find common ideas that come up a lot in the articles.
  • Debates, Conflicts, and Contradictions: Notice where the articles don't agree.
  • Important Articles: Find studies that really influenced the field.
  • Gaps: Figure out what's not in the articles, and what they missed.

This step helps you organize your literature review and shows how your research adds to what's already known.

Suppose you are reviewing articles on climate change effects on biodiversity. After analyzing the literature, you notice the following:

  • Trends: More satellite tech used in climate change studies.
  • Theme: Disproportionate impact on certain species, especially in vulnerable ecosystems.
  • Debate: Disagreement on conservation strategies.
  • Key study: Impact of climate change on interconnected ecosystems.
  • Gap: Lack of research on socio-economic effects on local communities.

Step 4: Structure Your Literature Review 

Arrange your literature review in a logical order. Depending on the length of your review, choose an organizing method that fits your research paper. One approach is to use a methodological structure, where you discuss events in chronological order.

Let’s take a look at the methods to organize a literature review in a research paper:

Chronological Method

This method arranges the literature in the order of when events, studies, or theories were developed or published.

Start with the earliest relevant research and progress in chronological order. This approach helps readers understand the historical development of the topic, tracking its evolution over time.

Thematic Method 

Thematic organization groups literature based on common themes, ideas, or concepts.

Identify key themes or recurring concepts across various sources and organize your review around these commonalities. This approach allows for a comprehensive exploration of different perspectives on specific themes.

Methodological Method

This method organizes the literature based on the research methods employed in different studies.

Group together studies that use similar research methods, providing readers with a clear understanding of the various approaches taken in the literature. This is particularly useful for those interested in the methodologies applied in research.

Theoretical Method 

Theoretical organization structures the literature based on relevant theories or conceptual frameworks.

Group sources that share similar theoretical foundations, demonstrate how different studies align with or challenge existing theories. This approach helps readers grasp the theoretical landscape surrounding the research topic.

Publication Method 

This method orders the literature based on the publication dates of the sources.

Present the information in a chronological sequence, beginning with the earliest publications and progressing to the most recent. This approach showcases the progression of research over time.

Trend Method 

Organizing content based on emerging trends or patterns in the literature.

Identify and group studies contributing to or reflecting current trends in the research field. This method offers a contemporary perspective on the topic, showcasing the latest developments in the literature.

Step 5: Write the Literature Review

After defining the structure of your literature review it's time to start writing. Like essay writing, a literature review also contains an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

Start with the Introduction

In the introduction, set a clear focus and purpose for your literature review. If it's part of a dissertation or thesis, reaffirm your central problem or research question. 

Briefly summarize the scholarly context, emphasizing the timeliness of the topic or highlighting gaps in the literature.

Tip: If applicable, stress the relevance of recent studies or underscore overlooked aspects in previous research.

Create a Detailed Body

When organizing your literature review, adjust the structure based on its length. Use subsections with subheadings to focus on central themes, time periods, or methods. 

Keep these points in mind as you write.

  • Summarize and synthesize: Give a brief overview of important ideas from each source and connect them to tell a complete story. 
  • Critically Evaluate: Point out the good and bad parts of sources to show you understand them well. Look closely at how studies were done or if there are any problems.
  • Share Insight: Go beyond repeating information by adding your thoughts and talking about the bigger picture. 
  • Craft Clear Paragraphs: Write in well-organized paragraphs with clear main ideas and smooth transitions. Connect ideas, compare, and contrast between sources.

Tip: Consider adopting a narrative flow that guides the reader through your chosen themes or methodologies. Utilize transition words such as "furthermore," "conversely," or "in comparison" for fluidity in your narrative.

Write a Strong Conclusion

Recap the important findings from the articles and highlight why they matter. Explain how your research fills gaps and adds new information. Talk about how you used existing theories and methods to create a structure for your own study.

Tip: Clearly explain how your work adds to or questions what we already know in this area.

Different Types of Literature Reviews 

Here's a table outlining the common types of literature reviews:

Type of Literature Review


Narrative Literature Review

Comprehensive overview without a specific methodology

Systematic Literature Review

Structured and rigorous analysis of relevant studies


Quantitative review combining findings from multiple studies

Scoping Review

Preliminary assessment to identify key concepts and gaps

Critical Literature Review

Emphasizes critical analysis and evaluation of existing research

Examples of Literature Reviews 

A helpful approach to kickstart the writing of literature reviews is to review examples that align with your research paper intent and style.

Here we have some literature review for a research paper example:

Here are some PDF examples that you can download easily:

Tips for Writing a Literature Review

Here are some tips for writing both full length and integrated literature reviews:

Full-length literature reviews:

  • Divide your review into three parts: Introduction, Body, and Discussion/Conclusion.
  • Start by introducing your topic and highlighting major issues in the Introduction.
  • In the Body, discuss the studies related to your topic.
  • Finish with a Discussion or Conclusion summarizing key points.

Literature reviews as part of a larger paper:

  • Use an "express method" by writing a short description for each article.
  • Organize paragraphs, add transitions, an introduction, and a conclusion.
  • Focus on relevant studies; avoid unrelated ones.
  • Include significant studies about your topic to help readers understand the main points.
  • Check with instructors or editors to know how much detail is needed.

By following the comprehensive steps and examples provided in this guide, you're well on your way to creating a well-structured and insightful literature review. 

Remember, the literature review is not merely a formality; it's your opportunity to showcase your understanding of existing research and lay the foundation for your study. You can try writing your literature review by using AI essay writing tools!

If you encounter challenges during this process, fear not! provides reliable online essay services to students for all their academic needs.

Simply place your order to avail yourself of our services at the most affordable price.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)

What are the 3 parts of the literature review?

The three parts of the literature review are;

  • Introduction
  • Main body of the review
  • Conclusion

What are the 5 rules for writing a literature review?

The main five rules for writing a literature review are;

  • Define a topic
  • Take notes
  • Do in-depth research 
  • Choose the type of review
  • Be critical

How long is a literature review?

The length of a literature review may vary depending on what it is for. The review might be a full chapter for a thesis or dissertation. But for an assignment, it might only be a few pages long.

What are the key components of a literature review?

The key components of a literature review are;

  • Discussion of gaps in research
  • Summary of other researchers’ work
  • Description of publication

How many papers should be in a literature review?

There are usually about 8-10 significant pieces of work for an 8,000-word dissertation. For a 12-15,000 word dissertation, you might want to use 20 pieces of work.

What are the 3 purposes of the literature review?

The three purposes of the literature review are to;

  • Identify the gaps in the previous research
  • Provide knowledge on the topic
  • Give credit to other researchers 
Nova A.


Nova A. (Literature, Marketing)

As a Digital Content Strategist, Nova Allison has eight years of experience in writing both technical and scientific content. With a focus on developing online content plans that engage audiences, Nova strives to write pieces that are not only informative but captivating as well.

As a Digital Content Strategist, Nova Allison has eight years of experience in writing both technical and scientific content. With a focus on developing online content plans that engage audiences, Nova strives to write pieces that are not only informative but captivating as well.

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