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What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples

Published on 22 February 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 7 June 2022.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research.

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarise sources – it analyses, synthesises, and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

Why write a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1: search for relevant literature, step 2: evaluate and select sources, step 3: identify themes, debates and gaps, step 4: outline your literature review’s structure, step 5: write your literature review, frequently asked questions about literature reviews, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a dissertation or thesis, you will have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position yourself in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your dissertation addresses a gap or contributes to a debate

You might also have to write a literature review as a stand-alone assignment. In this case, the purpose is to evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of scholarly debates around a topic.

The content will look slightly different in each case, but the process of conducting a literature review follows the same steps. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research objectives and questions .

If you are writing a literature review as a stand-alone assignment, you will have to choose a focus and develop a central question to direct your search. Unlike a dissertation research question, this question has to be answerable without collecting original data. You should be able to answer it based only on a review of existing publications.

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research topic. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list if you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can use boolean operators to help narrow down your search:

Read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

To identify the most important publications on your topic, take note of recurring citations. If the same authors, books or articles keep appearing in your reading, make sure to seek them out.

You probably won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on the topic – you’ll have to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your questions.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models and methods? Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • How does the publication contribute to your understanding of the topic? What are its key insights and arguments?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible, and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can find out how many times an article has been cited on Google Scholar – a high citation count means the article has been influential in the field, and should certainly be included in your literature review.

The scope of your review will depend on your topic and discipline: in the sciences you usually only review recent literature, but in the humanities you might take a long historical perspective (for example, to trace how a concept has changed in meaning over time).

Remember that you can use our template to summarise and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using!

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It’s important to keep track of your sources with references to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography, where you compile full reference information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

You can use our free APA Reference Generator for quick, correct, consistent citations.

To begin organising your literature review’s argument and structure, you need to understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly-visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat – this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organising the body of a literature review. You should have a rough idea of your strategy before you start writing.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).


The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarising sources in order.

Try to analyse patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organise your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.


If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources


A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text, your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

If you are writing the literature review as part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate your central problem or research question and give a brief summary of the scholarly context. You can emphasise the timeliness of the topic (“many recent studies have focused on the problem of x”) or highlight a gap in the literature (“while there has been much research on x, few researchers have taken y into consideration”).

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, make sure to follow these tips:

  • Summarise and synthesise: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole.
  • Analyse and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole.
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources.
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transitions and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts.

In the conclusion, you should summarise the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasise their significance.

If the literature review is part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate how your research addresses gaps and contributes new knowledge, or discuss how you have drawn on existing theories and methods to build a framework for your research. This can lead directly into your methodology section.

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a dissertation , thesis, research paper , or proposal .

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarise yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your  dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

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Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might 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 in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.


  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.


  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

help with dissertation literature review

Writing the Dissertation - Guides for Success: The Literature Review

  • Writing the Dissertation Homepage
  • Overview and Planning
  • The Literature Review
  • The Methodology
  • The Results and Discussion
  • The Conclusion
  • The Abstract
  • Getting Started
  • Research Gap
  • What to Avoid

Overview of writing the literature review

Conducting a literature review enables you to demonstrate your understanding and knowledge of the existing work within your field of research. Doing so allows you to identify any underdeveloped areas or unexplored issues within a specific debate, dialogue or field of study. This, in turn, helps you to clearly and persuasively demonstrate how your own research will address one or more of these gaps.

Disciplinary differences

Please note: this guide is not specific to any one discipline. The literature review can vary depending on the nature of the research and the expectations of the school or department. Please adapt the following advice to meet the demands of your dissertation and the expectations of your school or department. Consult your supervisor for further guidance; you can also check out  Writing Across Subjects guide .

Guide contents

As part of the Writing the Dissertation series, this guide covers the most common expectations for the literature review chapter, giving you the necessary knowledge, tips and guidance needed to impress your markers!  The sections are organised as follows:

  • Getting Started  - Defines the literature review and presents a table to help you plan.
  • Process -  Explores choosing a topic, searching for sources and evaluating what you find.
  • Structure  - Presents key principles to consider in terms of structure, with examples to illustrate the concepts.
  • Research gap - Clarifies what is meant by 'gap' and gives examples of common types of gaps.
  • What to Avoid  - Covers a few frequent mistakes you'll want to...avoid!
  • FAQs  - Answers to common questions about research gaps, literature availability and more.
  • Checklist  - Includes a summary of key points and a self-evaluation checklist.

Training and tools

  • The Academic Skills team has recorded a Writing the Dissertation workshop series to help you with each section of a standard dissertation, including a video on writing the literature review .
  • Check out the library's online Literature Review: Research Methods training.
  • Our literature reviews summary guide provides links to further information and videos.
  • The dissertation planner tool can help you think through the timeline for planning, research, drafting and editing.
  • iSolutions offers training and a Word template to help you digitally format and structure your dissertation.

help with dissertation literature review

What is the literature review?

The literature review of a dissertation gives a clear, critical overview of a specific area of research. Our main Writing the Dissertation - Overview and Planning guide explains how you can refine your dissertation topic  and begin your initial research; the next tab of this guide, 'Process', expands on those ideas. In summary, the process of conducting a literature review usually involves the following:

  • Conducting a series of strategic searches to identify the key texts within that topic.
  • Identifying the main argument in each source, the relevant themes and issues presented and how they relate to each other.
  • Critically evaluating your chosen sources and determining their strengths, weaknesses, relevance and value to your research along with their overall contribution to the broader research field.
  • Identifying any gaps or flaws in the literature which your research can address.

Literature review as both process and product

Writers should keep in mind that the phrase 'literature review' refers to two related, but distinct, things:

  • 'Literature review' refers, first, to the  active process  of discovering and assessing relevant literature.
  • 'Literature review' refers, second, to the  written product  that emerges from the above process.

This distinction is vital to note because  every  dissertation requires the writer to engage with and consider existing literature (i.e., to undertake the active  process ). Research doesn't exist in a void, and it's crucial to consider how our work builds from or develops existing foundations of thought or discovery. Thus, even if your discipline doesn't require you to include a chapter titled 'Literature Review' in your submitted dissertation, you should expect to engage with the process of reviewing literature.

Why is it important to be aware of existing literature?

  • You are expected to explain how your research fits in with other research in your field and, perhaps, within the wider academic community.
  • You will be expected to contribute something new, or slightly different, so you need to know what has already been done.
  • Assessing the existing literature on your topic helps you to identify any gaps or flaws within the research field. This, in turn, helps to stimulate new ideas, such as addressing any gaps in knowledge, or reinforcing an existing theory or argument through new and focused research.

Not all literature reviews are the same. For example, in many subject areas, you are expected to include the literature review as its own chapter in your dissertation. However, in other subjects, the dissertation structure doesn't include a dedicated literature review chapter; any literature the writer has reviewed is instead incorporated in other relevant sections such as the introduction, methodology or discussion.

For this reason, there are a number of questions you should discuss with your supervisor before starting your literature review. These questions are also great to discuss with peers in your degree programme. These are outlined in the table below (see the Word document for a copy you can save and edit):

  • Dissertation literature review planning table

Literature review: the process

Conducting a literature review requires you to stay organised and bring a systematic approach to your thinking and reading. Scroll to continue reading, or click a link below to jump immediately to that section:

Choosing a topic

The first step of any research project is to select an interesting topic. From here, the research phase for your literature review helps to narrow down your focus to a particular strand of research and to a specific research question. This process of narrowing and refining your research topic is particularly important because it helps you to maintain your focus and manage your material without becoming overwhelmed by sources and ideas.

Try to choose something that hasn’t been researched to death. This way, you stand a better chance of making a novel contribution to the research field.

Conversely, you should avoid undertaking an area of research where little to no work has been done. There are two reasons for this:

  • Firstly, there may be a good reason for the lack of research on a topic (e.g. is the research useful or worthwhile pursuing?).
  • Secondly, some research projects, particularly practice-based ones involving primary research, can be too ambitious in terms of their scope and the availability of resources. Aim to contribute to a topic, not invent one!

Searching for sources

Researching and writing a literature review is partly about demonstrating your independent research skills. Your supervisor may have some tips relating to your discipline and research topic, but you should be proactive in finding a range of relevant sources. There are various ways of tracking down the literature relevant to your project, as outlined below.

Make use of Library Search

One thing you don’t want to do is simply type your topic into Google and see what comes up. Instead, use Library Search to search the Library’s catalogue of books, media and articles.

Online training for 'Using databases' and 'Finding information' can be found here . You can also use the Library's subject pages to discover databases and resources specific to your academic discipline.

Engage with others working in your area

As well as making use of library resources, it can be helpful to discuss your work with students or academics working in similar areas. Think about attending relevant conferences and/or workshops which can help to stimulate ideas and allows you to keep track of the most current trends in your research field.

Look at the literature your sources reference

Finding relevant literature can, at times, be a long and slightly frustrating experience. However, one good source can often make all the difference. When you find a good source that is both relevant and valuable to your research, look at the material it cites throughout and follow up any sources that are useful. Also check if your source has been cited in any more recent publications.

Cartoon person with magnifying glass follows footstep patterns. Text reads 'Found a great source? Follow the trail!'

Think of the bibliography/references page of a good source as a series of breadcrumbs that you can follow to find even more great material.

Evaluating sources

It is very important to be selective when choosing the final sources to include in your literature review. Below are some of the key questions to ask yourself:

  • If a source is tangentially interesting but hasn’t made any particular contribution to your topic, it probably shouldn’t be included in your literature review. You need to be able to demonstrate how it fits in with the other sources under consideration, and how it has helped shape the current state of the literature.
  • There might be a wealth of material available on your chosen subject, but you need to make sure that the sources you use are appropriate for your assignment. The safest approach to take is to use only academic work from respected publishers. However, on occasions, you might need to deviate from traditional academic literature in order to find the information you need. In many cases, the problem is not so much the sources you use, but how you use them. Where relevant, information from newspapers, websites and even blogs are often acceptable, but you should be careful how you use that information. Do not necessarily take any information as factual. Instead be critical and interpret the material in the context of your research. Consider who the writer is and how this might influence the authority and reliability of the information presented. Consult your supervisor for more specific guidance relating to your research.
  • The mere fact that something has been published does not automatically guarantee its quality, even if it comes from a reputable publisher. You will need to critique the content of the source. Has the author been thorough and consistent in their methodology? Do they present their thesis coherently? Most importantly, have they made a genuine contribution to the topic?

Keeping track of your sources

Once you have selected a source to use in your literature review, it is useful to make notes on all of its key features, including where it comes from, what it says, and what its main strengths and weaknesses are. This way you can easily re-familiarise yourself with a source without having to re-read it. Keeping an annotated bibliography is one way to do this.

Alternately, below is a table you can copy and fill out for each source (see the Word document to save an editable copy for yourself). Software such as EndNote also allows you to keep an electronic record of references and your comments on them.

  • Source evaluation table

Writing your literature review

As we explored in the 'Getting Started' tab, the literature review is both a process you follow and (in most cases) a written chapter you produce. Thus, having engaged the review process, you now need to do the writing itself. Please continue reading, or click a heading below to jump immediately to that section.

Guiding principles

The structure of the final piece will depend on the discipline within which you are working as well as the nature of your particular research project. However, here are a few general pieces of advice for writing a successful literature review:

  • Show the connections between your sources. Remember that your review should be more than merely a list of sources with brief descriptions under each one. You are constructing a narrative. Show clearly how each text has contributed to the current state of the literature, drawing connections between them.
  • Engage critically with your sources. This means not simply describing what they say. You should be evaluating their content: do they make sound arguments? Are there any flaws in the methodology? Are there any relevant themes or issues they have failed to address? You can also compare their relative strengths and weaknesses.
  • Signpost throughout to ensure your reader can follow your narrative.  Keep relating the discussion back to your specific research topic.
  • Make a clear argument. Keep in mind that this is a chance to present your take on a topic. Your literature review showcases your own informed interpretation of a specific area of research. If you have followed the advice given in this guide you will have been careful and selective in choosing your sources. You are in control of how you present them to your reader.

There are several different ways to structure the literature review chapter of your dissertation. Two of the most common strategies are thematic structure and chronological structure (the two of which can also be combined ). However you structure the literature review, this section of the dissertation normally culminates in identifying the research gap.

Thematic structure

Variations of this structure are followed in most literature reviews. In a thematic structure , you organise the literature into groupings by theme (i.e., subtopic or focus). You then arrange the groupings in the most logical order, starting with the broadest (or most general) and moving to the narrowest (or most specific).

The funnel or inverted pyramid

To plan a thematic structure structure, it helps to imagine your themes moving down a funnel or inverted pyramid  from broad to narrow. Consider the example depicted below, which responds to this research question:

What role did the iron rivets play in the sinking of the Titanic?

The topic of maritime disasters is the broadest theme, so it sits at the broad top of the funnel. The writer can establish some context about maritime disasters, generally, before narrowing to the Titanic, specifically. Next, the writer can narrow the discussion of the Titanic to the ship's structural integrity, specifically. Finally, the writer can narrow the discussion of structural integrity to the iron rivets, specifically. And voila: there's the research gap!

Funnel divided into layers. Layer 1: Research on maritime disasters. Layer 2: Research on the Titanic. Layer 3: Research on structural integrity of Titanic. Layer 4: Role of iron rivets in Titanic sinking. Layer 5: My research.

The broad-to-narrow structure is intuitive for readers. Thus, it is crucial to consider how your themes 'nest inside' one another, from the broad to the narrow. Picturing your themes as nesting dolls is another way to envision this literature review structure, as you can see in the image below.

Five nesting dolls labelled left to right: 1.1 Maritime disasters; 1.2 The Titanic; 1.3 Structural integrity; 1.4 Iron rivets; and 1.5 Research gap.

As with the funnel, remember that the first layer (or in this case, doll) is largest because it represents the broadest theme. In terms of word count and depth, the tinier dolls will warrant more attention because they are most closely related to the research gap or question(s).

The multi-funnel variation

The example above demonstrates a research project for which one major heading might suffice, in terms of outlining the literature review. However, the themes you identify for your dissertation might not relate to one another in such a linear fashion. If this is the case, you can adapt the funnel approach to match the number of major subheadings you will need.

In the three slides below, for example, a structure is depicted for a project that investigates this (fictional) dissertation research question: does gender influence the efficacy of teacher-led vs. family-led learning interventions for children with ADHD? Rather than nesting all the subtopics or themes in a direct line, the themes fall into three major headings.

The first major heading explores ADHD from clinical and diagnostic perspectives, narrowing ultimately to gender:

  • 1.1 ADHD intro
  • 1.2 ADHD definitions
  • 1.3 ADHD diagnostic criteria
  • 1.4 ADHD gender differences

The second major heading explores ADHD within the classroom environment, narrowing to intervention types:

  • 2.1 ADHD in educational contexts
  • 2.2 Learning interventions for ADHD
  • 2.2.1 Teacher-led interventions
  • 2.2.2 Family-led interventions

The final major heading articulates the research gap (gender differences in efficacy of teacher-led vs. family-led interventions for ADHD) by connecting the narrowest themes of the prior two sections.

Multi-funnel literature review structure by Academic Skills Service

To create a solid thematic structure in a literature review, the key is thinking carefully and critically about your groupings of literature and how they relate to one another. In some cases, your themes will fit in a single funnel. In other cases, it will make sense to group your broad-to-narrow themes under several major headings, and then arrange those major headings in the most logical order.

Chronological structure

Some literature reviews will follow a  chronological structure . As the name suggests, a review structured chronologically will arrange sources according to their publication dates, from earliest to most recent.

This approach can work well when your priority is to demonstrate how the research field has evolved over time. For example, a chronological arrangement of articles about artificial intelligence (AI) would allow the writer to highlight how breakthroughs in AI have built upon one another in sequential order.

A chronological structure can also suit literature reviews that need to capture how perceptions or understandings have developed across a period of time (including to the present day). For example, if your dissertation involves the public perception of marijuana in the UK, it  could  make sense to arrange that discussion chronologically to demonstrate key turning points and changes of majority thought.

The chronological structure can work well in some situations, such as those described above. That being said, a purely chronological structure should be considered with caution.  Organising sources according to date alone runs the risk of creating a fragmented reading experience. It can be more difficult in a chronological structure to properly synthesize the literature. For these reasons, the chronological approach is often blended into a thematic structure, as you will read more about, below.

Combined structures

The structures of literature reviews can vary drastically, and for any given dissertation there will be many valid ways to arrange the literature.

For example, many literature reviews will  combine  the thematic and chronological approaches in different ways. A writer might match their major headings to themes or subtopics, but then arrange literature chronologically within the major themes identified. Another writer might base their major headings on chronology, but then assign thematic subheadings to each of those major headings.

When considering your options, try to imagine your reader or audience. What 'flow' will allow them to best follow the discussion you are crafting? When you are reading articles, what structural approaches do you appreciate in terms of ease and clarity?

Identifying the gap

The bulk of your literature review will explore relevant points of development and scholarly thought in your research field: in other words, 'Here is what has been done so far, thus here is where the conversation now stands'. In that way, you position your project within a wider academic discussion.

Having established that context, the literature review generally culminates in an articulation of what remains to be done: the  research gap  your project addresses. See the next tab for further explanation and examples.

Demystifying the research gap

The term research gap   is intimidating for many students, who might mistakenly believe that every single element of their research needs to be brand new and fully innovative. This isn't the case!

The gap in many projects will be rather niche or specific. You might be helping to update or re-test knowledge rather than starting from scratch. Perhaps you have repeated a study but changed one variable. Maybe you are considering a much discussed research question, but with a lesser used methodological approach.

To demonstrate the wide variety of gaps a project could address, consider the examples below. The categories used and examples included are by no means comprehensive, but they should be helpful if you are struggling to articulate the gap your literature review has identified.

***P lease note that the content of the example statements has been invented for the sake of demonstration. The example statements should not be taken as expressions of factual information.

Gaps related to population or geography

Many dissertation research questions involve the study of a specific population. Those populations can be defined by nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic class, political beliefs, religion, health status, or other factors. Other research questions target a specific geography (e.g. a country, territory, city, or similar). Perhaps your broader research question has been pursued by many prior scholars, but few (or no) scholars have studied the question in relation to your focal population or locale: if so, that's a gap.

  • Example 1:  As established above, the correlations between [ socioeconomic status ] and sustainable fashion purchases have been widely researched. However, few studies have investigated the potential relationship between [ sexual identity ] and attitudes toward sustainable fashion. Therefore...
  • Example 2:  Whilst the existing literature has established a clear link between [ political beliefs ] and perceptions of socialized healthcare, the influence of [ religious belief ] is less understood, particularly in regards to [ Religion ABC ].
  • Example 3:  Available evidence confirms that the widespread adoption of Technology XYZ in [ North America ] has improved manufacturing efficiency and reduced costs in the automotive sector. Using predictive AI models, the present research seeks to explore whether deployment of Technology XYZ could benefit the automotive sector of [ Europe ] in similar ways.

Gaps related to theoretical framework

The original contribution might involve examining something through a new lens.  Theoretical framework  refers, most simply, to the theory or theories a writer will use to make sense of and shape (i.e., frame ) their discussion. Perhaps your topic has been analysed in great detail through certain theoretical lenses, but you intend to frame your analysis using a theory that fewer scholars have applied to the topic: if so, that's a gap.

  • Example 1:  Existing discussions of the ongoing revolution in Country XYZ frame the unrest in terms of [ theory A ] and [ theory B ]. The present research will instead analyse the situation using [ theory C ], allowing greater insight into...
  • Example 2:  In the first section of this literature review, I examined the [ postmodern ], [ Marxist ], and [ pragmatist ] analyses that dominate academic discussion of The World According to Garp.  By revisiting this modern classic through the lens of [ queer theory ], I intend to...

Gaps related to methodological approach

The research gap might be defined by differences of methodology (see our Writing the Methodology guide for more). Perhaps your dissertation poses a central question that other scholars have researched, but they have applied different methods to find the answer(s): if so, that's a gap.

  • Example 1:  Previous studies have relied largely upon the [ qualitative analysis of interview transcripts ] to measure the marketing efficacy of body-positive advertising campaigns. It is problematic that little quantitative data underpins present findings in this area. Therefore, I will address this research gap by [ using algorithm XYZ to quantify and analyse social-media interactions ] to determine whether...
  • Example 2: Via [ quantitative and mixed-methods studies ], previous literature has explored how demographic differences influence the probability of a successful match on Dating App XYZ. By instead [ conducting a content analysis of pre-match text interactions ] on Dating App XYZ, I will...

Scarcity as a gap

Absolutes such as never  and always  rarely apply in academia, but here is an exception: in academia, a single study or analysis is  never  enough. Thus, the gap you address needn't be a literal void in the discussion. The gap could instead have to do with  replicability  or  depth/scope.  In these cases, you are adding value and contributing to the academic process by testing emerging knowledge or expanding underdeveloped discussions.

  • Example:  Initial research points to the efficacy of Learning Strategy ABC in helping children with dyslexia build their reading confidence. However, as detailed earlier in this review, only four published studies have tested the intervention, and two of those studies were conducted in a laboratory. To expand our growing understanding of how Learning Strategy ABC functions in classroom environments, I will...

Elapsed time as a gap

Academia values up-to-date knowledge and findings, so another valid type of gap relates to elapsed time. Many factors that can influence or shape research findings are ever evolving: technology, popular culture, and political climates, to name just a few. Due to such changes, it's important for scholars in most fields to continually update findings. Perhaps your dissertation adds value by contributing to this process.

For example, imagine if a scholar today were to rely on a handbook of marketing principles published in 1998. As good as that research might have been in 1998, technology (namely, the internet) has advanced drastically since then. The handbook's discussion of online marketing strategies will be laughably outdated when compared to more recent literature.

  • Example:  A wide array of literature has explored the ways in which perceptions of gender influence professional recruitment practices in the UK. The bulk of said literature, however, was published prior to the #MeToo movement and resultant shifts in discourse around gender, power imbalances and professional advancement. Therefore...

What to avoid

This portion of the guide will cover some common missteps you should try to avoid in writing your literature review. Scroll to continue reading, or click a heading below to jump immediately to that section.

Writing up before you have read up

Trying to write your literature review before you have conducted adequate research is a recipe for panic and frustration. The literature review, more than any other chapter in your dissertation, depends upon your critical understanding of a range of relevant literature. If you have only dipped your toe into the pool of literature (rather than diving in!), you will naturally struggle to develop this section of the writing. Focus on developing your relevant bases of knowledge before you commit too much time to drafting.

Believing you need to read everything

As established above, a literature review does require a significant amount of reading. However, you aren't expected to review  everything ever written  about your topic. Instead, aim to develop a more strategic approach to your research. A strategic approach to research looks different from one project to the next, but here are some questions to help you prioritise:

  • If your field values up-to-date research and discoveries, carefully consider the 'how' and 'what' before investing time reading older sources: how will the source function in your dissertation, and what will it add to your writing?
  • Try to break your research question(s) down into component parts. Then, map out where your literature review will need to provide extensive detail and where it can instead present quicker background. Allocate your research time and effort accordingly. 

Omitting dissenting views or findings

While reviewing the literature, you might discover authors who disagree with your central argument or whose own findings contradict your hypothesis. Don't omit those sources: embrace them! Remember, the literature review aims to explore the academic dialogue around your topic: disagreements or conflicting findings are often part of that dialogue, and including them in your writing will create a sense of rich, critical engagement. In fact, highlighting any disagreements amongst scholars is a great way to emphasise the relevance of, and need for, your own research.

Miscalculating the scope

As shown in the funnel structure (see 'Structure' tab for more), a literature review often starts broadly and then narrows the dialogue as it progresses, ultimately bringing the reader to the dissertation's specific research topic (e.g. the funnel's narrowest point).

Within that structure, it's common for writers to miscalculate the scope required. They might open the literature review far too broadly, dedicating disproportionate space to developing background information or general theory; alternately, they might rush into the narrowest part of the discussion, failing to develop any sense of surrounding context or background, first.

It takes trial and error to determine the appropriate scope for your literature review. To help with this...

  • Imagine your literature review subtopics cascading down a stairwell,  as in the illustration below.
  • Place the broadest concepts on the highest steps, then narrow down to the most specific concepts on the lowest steps: the scope 'zooms in' as you move down the stairwell.
  • Now, consider which step is the most logical starting place for your readers. Do they need to start all the way at the top, or should you 'zoom in'?

Stairwell sloping down with topics written on steps, top to bottom: Feminism; feminist theories; feminist literary theory (FLT); FLT and horror; FLT and Stephen King; FLT and the Stand.

The illustration above shows a stairwell diagram of a dissertation that aims to analyse Stephen King's horror novel  The Stand  through the lens of a specific feminist literary theory.

  • If the literature review began on one of the bottom two steps, this would feel rushed and inadequate. The writer needs to explore and define the relevant theoretical lens before they discuss how it has been applied by other scholars.
  • If the literature review began on the very top step, this would feel comically broad in terms of scope: in this writing context, the reader doesn't require a detailed account of the entire history of feminism!

The third step, therefore, represents a promising starting point: not too narrow, not too broad.

The 'islands' structure

Above all else, a literature review needs to synthesize a range of sources   in a logical fashion. In this context, to  synthesize  means to bring together, connect, weave, and/or relate. A common mistake writers make is failing to conduct such synthesis, and instead discussing each source in isolation. This leads to a disconnected structure, with each source treated like its own little 'island'. The island approach works for very few projects.

Some writers end up with this island structure because they confuse the nature of the  literature review  with the nature of an annotated bibliography . The latter is a tool you can use to analyse and keep track of individual sources, and most annotated bibliographies will indeed be arranged in a source-by-source structure. That's fine for pre-writing and notetaking, but to structure the literature review, you need to think about connections and overlaps between sources rather than considering them as stand-alone works.

If you are struggling to forge connections between your sources, break down the process into tiny steps:

  • e.g. Air pollution from wood-burning stoves in homes.
  • e.g.  Bryant and Dao (2022) found that X% of small particle pollution in the United Kingdom can be attributed to the use of wood-burning stoves.
  • e.g.  A study by Williams (2023) reinforced those findings, indicating that small particle pollution has...
  • e.g.  However, Landers (2023) cautions that factor ABC and factor XYZ may contribute equally to poor air quality, suggesting that further research...

The above exercise is  not  meant to suggest that you can only write one sentence per source: you can write more than that, of course! The exercise is simply designed to help you start synthesizing the literature rather than giving each source the island treatment.

Q: I still don't get it - what's the point of a literature review?

A: Let's boil it down to three key points...

  • The literature review provides a platform for you, as a scholar, to demonstrate your understanding of how your research area has evolved. By engaging with seminal texts or the most up-to-date findings in your field, you can situate your own research within the relevant academic context(s) or conversation(s).
  • The literature review allows you to identify the research gap your project addresses: in other words, what you will add to discussions in your academic field.
  • Finally, the literature review justifies the reason for your research. By exploring existing literature, you can highlight the relevance and purpose of your own research.

Q: What if I don't have a gap?

A:  It's normal to struggle with identifying a research gap. This can be particularly true if you are working in a highly saturated research area, broadly speaking: for example, if you are studying the links between nutrition and diabetes, or if you are studying Shakespeare.

Library catalog keyword search for 'diabetes' and 'nutrition', showing about 101,000 results.

The 'What to Avoid' tab explained that  miscalculating the scope  is a common mistake in literature reviews. If you are struggling to identify your gap, scope might be the culprit, particularly if you are working in a saturated field. Remember that the gap is the narrowest part of the funnel, the smallest nesting doll, the lowest step: this means your contribution in that giant academic conversation will need to be quite 'zoomed in':

This is not a valid gap →  Analysing Shakespeare's sonnets.

This might be a valid gap →  Conducting an ecocritical analysis of the visual motifs of Shakespeare's final five procreation sonnets (e.g. sonnets number thirteen to seventeen).

In the above example, the revised attempt to articulate a gap 'zooms in' by identifying a particular theoretical lens (e.g. ecocriticism), a specific convention to analyse (e.g. use of visual motifs), and a narrower object (e.g. five sonnets rather than all 150+). The field of Shakespeare studies might be crowded, but there is nonetheless room to make an original contribution.

Conversely, it might be difficult to identify the gap if you are working not in a saturated field, but in a brand new or niche research area. How can you situate your work within a relevant academic conversation if it seems like the 'conversation' is just you talking to yourself?

Library catalog keyword search for 'hippogriffs' and 'anatomy' showing only 2 search results.

In these cases, rather than 'zooming in', you might find it helpful to 'zoom out'. If your topic is niche, think creatively about who will be interested in your results. Who would benefit from understanding your findings? Who could potentially apply them or build upon them? Thinking of this in interdisciplinary terms is helpful for some projects.

Tip:  Venn diagrams and mind maps are great ways to explore how  your research connects to, and diverges from, the existing literature.

Q: How many references should I use in my literature review?

A:  This question is risky to answer because the variations between individual projects and disciplines make it impossible to provide a universal answer. The fact is that one dissertation might have 50 more references than another, yet the two projects could be equally rigorous and successful in fulfilling their research aims.

With that warning in mind, let's consider a 'standard' dissertation of around 10K words. In that context, referencing 30 to 40 sources in your literature review tends to work well. Again, this is  not  a universally accurate rule, but a ballpark figure for you to contemplate. If the 30 to 40 estimate seems frighteningly high to you, do remember that many sources will be used sparingly rather than being mulled over at length. Consider this example:

In British GP practices, pharmaceutical treatment is most often prescribed for Health Condition XYZ ( Carlos, 2019; Jones, 2020 ; Li, 2022 ). Lifestyle modifications, such as physical exercise or meditation practices, have only recently...

When writing critically, it's important to validate findings across studies rather than trusting only one source. Therefore, this writer has cited three recent studies that agree about the claim being made. The writer will delve into other sources at more length, but here, it makes sense to cite the literature and move quickly along.

As you search the databases and start following the relevant trails of 'research bread crumbs', you will be surprised how quickly your reference list grows.

Q: What if there isn't enough relevant literature on my topic?

A: Think creatively about the literature you are using and engaging with. A good start is panning out to consider your topic more broadly: you might not identify articles that discuss your  exact  topic, but what can you discover if you shift your focus up one level?

Imagine, for example, that Norah is researching how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to provide dance instruction. She discovers that no one has written about this topic. Rather than panicking, she breaks down her research question into its component parts to consider what research  might  exist.

  • First, dance instruction: literature on how dance has traditionally been taught (i.e., not with AI) is still relevant because it will provide background and context. To appreciate the challenges or opportunities that transition to AI instruction might bring, we need to understand the status quo. Norah might also search for articles that analyse how other technological shifts have affected dance instruction: for example, how YouTube popularized at-home dance study, or how live video services like Zoom enabled real-time interaction between dance pupils and teachers despite physical distance.
  • Next, artificial intelligence used for instruction: Norah can seek out research on, and examples of, the application of AI for instructive purposes. Even if those purposes don't involve dance, such literature can contribute to illustrating the broader context around Norah's project.
  • Could it be relevant to discuss the technologies used to track an actor's real-life movements and convert them into the motions of a video game character? Perhaps there are parallels!
  • Could it be relevant to explore research on applications of AI in creative writing and visual art? Could be relevant since dance is also a creative field!

In summary, don't panic if you can't find research on your  exact  question or topic. Think through the broader context and parallel ideas, and you will soon find what you need.

Q: What if my discipline doesn't require a literature review chapter?

A: This is a great question. Whilst many disciplines dictate that your dissertation should include a chapter called Literature Review , not all subjects follow this convention. Those subjects will still expect you to incorporate a range of external literature, but you will nest the sources under different headings.

For example, some disciplines dictate an introductory chapter that is longer than average, and you essentially nest a miniature literature review inside the introduction, itself. Although the writing is more condensed and falls under a subheading of the introduction, the techniques and principles of writing a literature review (for example, moving from the broad to the narrow) will still prove relevant.

Some disciplines include chapters with names like Background , History , Theoretical Framework , etc. The exact functions of such chapters differ, but they have this in common: reviewing literature. You can't provide a critical background or history without synthesizing external sources. To illustrate your theoretical framework, you need to synthesize a range of literature that defines the theory or theories you intend to use.

Therefore, as stated earlier in this guide, you should be prepared to review and synthesize a range of literature regardless of your discipline. You can tailor the purpose of that synthesis to the structure and demands of writing in your subject area.

Q: Does my literature review need to include every source I plan to use in my discussion chapter?

A: The short answer is 'no' - there are some situations in which it is okay to use a source in your discussion chapter that you didn't integrate into your literature review chapter.

Imagine, for example, that your study produced a surprising result: a finding that you didn't anticipate. To make sense of that result, you might need to conduct additional research. That new research will help you explain the unexpected result in your discussion chapter.

More often, however, your discussion will  draw on, or return to, sources from your literature review. After all, the literature review is where you paint a detailed picture of the conversation surrounding your research topic. Thus, it makes sense for you to relate your own work to that conversation in the discussion.

The literature review provides you an opportunity to engage with a rich range of published work and, perhaps for the first time, critically consider how your own research fits within and responds to your academic community. This can be a very invigorating process!

At the same time, it's likely that you will be juggling more academic sources than you have ever used in a single writing project. Additionally, you will need to think strategically about the focus and scope of your work: figuring out the best structure for your literature review might require several rounds of re-drafting and significant edits.

If you are usually a 'dive in without a plan and just get drafting' kind of writer, be prepared to modify your approach if you start to feel overwhelmed. Mind mapping, organising your ideas on a marker board, or creating a bullet-pointed reverse outline can help if you start to feel lost.

Alternately, if you are usually a 'create a strict, detailed outline and stick to it at all costs' kind of writer, keep in mind that long-form writing often calls for writers to modify their plans for content and structure as their work progresses and evolves. It can help such writers to schedule periodic 'audits' of their outlines, with the aim being to assess what is still working and what else needs to be added, deleted or modified.

Here’s a final checklist for writing your literature review. Remember that not all of these points will be relevant for your literature review, so make sure you cover whatever’s appropriate for your dissertation. The asterisk (*) indicates any content that might not be relevant for your dissertation. You can save your own copy of the checklist to edit using the Word document, below.

  • Literature review self-evaluation checklist


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  • How it works

How to Write a Dissertation Literature Review – Steps & Tips

Published by Anastasia Lois at August 12th, 2021 , Revised On October 17, 2023

From an academic standpoint, a dissertation literature review can be defined as a survey of the thesis, journal articles, books, and other academic resources on any given research title . This article provides comprehensive guidelines on how to write a dissertation literature review.

A literature review in a dissertation is of critical importance primarily because it provides insight into the key concepts, advancements, theories, and results of your research questions  or  research problem .

However, it is essential to note that; a first-class dissertation literature review focuses on summarizing the academic sources used for research and analysing, interpreting, and assessing them to determine the gaps and differences in opinions, judgments, themes, and developments.

A good literature review will further elaborate on existing knowledge concerning the research hypothesis or questions.

View dissertation literature review examples here.  

When do you Write a Dissertation Literature Review?

Depending on your university’s guidelines, you might be required to include a literature review in the theoretical framework or the introduction.

Or you could also be asked to develop a standalone literature review chapter that appears before  the methodology  and  the findings  chapters of the dissertation.

In either case, your primary aim will be to review the available literature and develop a link between your research and the existing literature on your chosen topic.

Sometimes, you might be designated a literature review as a separate assignment . Regardless of whether you need to write a literature review for your dissertation or as a standalone project, some general guidelines for conducting literature will remain unchanged.

Here are the steps you need to take to write the literature review for a dissertation if you cannot write the literature review.

Steps of Writing a Literature Review

1. gather, assess, and choose relevant literature.

The first seed to take when writing your dissertation or thesis is to choose a fascinating and manageable research topic . Once a topic has been selected, you can begin searching for relevant academic sources.

If you are  writing a literature review for your dissertation, one way to do this is to find academic sources relevant to your  research problem or questions.

Without fully understanding current knowledge in the chosen study area, giving the correct direction to your research aim and objectives will be hard.

On the other hand, you will be expected to guide your research by developing a central question if you are writing a literature review as an individual assignment.

A notable difference here compared to the dissertation literature review is that you must answer this central question without conducting primary research (questionnaires, surveys, interviews). You  will be expected to address the question using only the existing literature.

Dissertation Literature Review Research Question

How can company “A” improve its brand value through social media marketing?

Literature Review Research Question

What is the connection between social media marketing and brand value?

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Use Keywords and References to Find Relevant Literature

Create a list of keywords that are relevant to the topic of research. Find journals, articles, and books using these keywords. Here are links to some recognised online academic libraries and databases;

  • Inspec, (Computer science, engineering, physics, chemistry)
  • EconLit, (Economics)
  • Google Scholar
  • Your university’s online research database

Finding relevant academic sources from “the reference list” of an article you have already found in a research database effectively discovers relevant studies.

Consider noting frequently appearing references as they are likely to be highly authentic and important publications even though they didn’t appear in the keyword search.

Journal articles or books that keep appearing with different keywords and phrases are the ones you should manually look out for.

The more times an article has been referenced, the more influential it is likely to be in any research field. Google Scholar lets users quickly determine how often a particular article has been referenced.

Also Read:  How to Best Use References in a Dissertation

2. Weighing and Selecting Academic Sources

It won’t be possible for you to read every publication related to your topic. An excellent way to select academic sources for your dissertation literature review is to read the abstract , which will help you decide whether the source is supportive and relevant to your research hypothesis or research questions.

To help you select sources relevant to your study, here are some questions for you to consider before making the decision.

  • What research questions has the author answered with their research work?
  • What fundamental concepts have been defined by the author?
  • Did the researcher use an innovative methodology or existing frameworks to define fundamental methods, models, and theories?
  • What are the findings, conclusion, and recommendations in the source book or paper?
  • What is the relevance between the existing literature and the academic sources you are evaluating?
  • Does the source article challenge, confirm, or add to existing knowledge on the topic?
  • How does the publication contribute to your understanding of the topic? What are its key insights and arguments?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Any breakthrough studies and key theories relevant to your research topic should be recorded as you search for highly credible and authentic academic sources.

The method of your review of literature depends on your academic subject. If your research topic is in the sciences, you must find and review up-to-date academic sources.

On the other hand, you might look into old and historical literature and recent literature if your research topic is in the humanities field.

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Recording Information and Referencing Sources

It is recommended that you start to write your literature review as you read articles, journals, and books. Take notes which can be later merged into the text of the literature review. Avoid plagiarism  and record all sources used along with references.

A good way of recording information is to analyse each source, summarise the key concepts or theories and compile a complete list of references in the form of an annotated bibliography.

This is a beneficial practice as it helps to remember the key points in each academic source and saves you valuable time as you start the literature review write-up.

3. Identify Key Themes and Patterns

The next step is to look for themes and patterns in the chosen sources that would enable you to establish similarities and differences between their  results and interpretations .

This exercise will help you to determine the  structure and argument for your literature review. Here are some questions that you can think of when reading and recording information;

  • Are any gaps in the existing literature?
  • What are the weaknesses of the current literature that should be addressed?
  • Were you able to identify any landmark research work and theories that resulted in the topic’s change of direction?
  • What are the similarities and disagreements between these sources? Were you able to identify any contradictions and conflicts?
  • What trends and themes were you able to identify? Are there any results, methods, or theories that lost credibility over time?

Also Read: How to Write a Dissertation – Step-by-Step Guide

4. Structure of Literature Review

There is no acclaimed  literature review structure , which means that you can choose from a range of approaches (thematic, chronological, methodological, and theoretical) when deciding on the structure of the literature review .

However, before you begin to  write the literature review , it is important to figure out the strategy that would work best for you. For long literature reviews, you might decide to use a combination of these strategies. For example, you could discuss each of the themes chronologically.

1: Theoretical

You can discuss various significant concepts, models, and theories in your literature review to form the basis of a theoretical framework . You could also combine a range of theoretical approaches to develop your theoretical framework or debate the significance of a particular theoretical framework.

2: Methodological

The methodological approach will require you to relate the findings of studies conducted in different research areas and use different research methods .

  • You might discover that results from the quantitative research approach are not the same as qualitative research.
  • You might split the selected academic sources based on their discipline – engineering, and sciences.

3: Thematic

You may also deploy a thematic approach, especially if you identified repeating key themes and patterns. If that is the case, you will be expected to put each aspect of the topic into different subsections within your literature review.

For example, if your research topic is “employment issues in the UK for international students,” you can divide the key themes into subsections; legal status, poor language skills, immigration policy, and economic turmoil.

4: Chronological

The most straightforward approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points, and critical debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

5. Writing your Literature Review 

Whether it’s a dissertation literature review or a standalone literature review assignment you have been assigned, you will be expected to divide your literature review into three larger sections – introduction, main body, and a conclusion.

What you write under these three segments will depend on the aim of your study.

Section 1 – Introduction

Here you will be required to state the objectives of the literature review clearly;

Introduction to Dissertation Literature Review Recapitulate your research problem or questions with a summary of the sources you reviewed when the literature review is for your thesis or dissertation. Consider highlighting gaps in existing knowledge and stress the suitability of your topic.

For example:

Research problem A has been debated in many recent studies.

While the topic has been explored concerning A, the B aspect has not yet been explored.

Individual Literature Review Project When reviewing literature for an individual literature review assignment, make sure that you clearly state the purpose of the research and debate the scope of the literature (how recent or old are the academic sources you are reviewing).

Section 2 – Main Body

As previously mentioned, you can divide this section into further subsections depending on your literature review’s length. You can also have a separate heading for each research method, theme, or theory to help your readers better understand your research.

Here are some tips for you to write a flawless main body of literature review;

  • Summarize and Combine ; Highlight the main findings from each academic source and organise them into one whole piece without losing coherence.
  • Evaluate and interpret; Make sure you are giving opinions and arguments of your own where possible. Simply rephrasing what others have said will undermine your work. You will be expected to debate and discuss other studies’ results about your research questions or aim.
  • Analytical Evaluation; It is essential to unmistakably present the literature you have reviewed and the merits and weaknesses of the literature.
  • Make Use of  Topic Sentences and Transitions; in organized subsections within the literature review to establish conflicts, differences, similarities, and relationships.

Example of How to Write a Dissertation Literature Review

The below example belongs to the body of a literature review on the effectiveness of e-recruitment in small and medium-sized enterprises in the United Kingdom’s IT sector.

E-recruitment means explicitly using digital technologies to recruit, select, and orient employees. The benefits of e-recruitment in the literature have been studied: increased access to a pool of candidates, time and cost savings, and greater flexibility for the organisation.

In contrast, the literature states that e-recruitment might not properly achieve the goal of retaining the workforce with the required skills to participate in the work environment (Lad & Das, 2016). Also, e-recruitment might be based on a flawed website design or poor application process, which might deter potential employees (Anand & Devi, 2016) .

This section of the study will focus on the existing studies linked to the effectiveness of e-recruitment. Human resource management is an essential function of business organisations because it manages the workforce.

The goal of HR should be to develop a strategic approach in which the organisation’s strategic goals can be attained efficiently and effectively. The advent of digital technologies has helped transform human resource management’s nature concerning recruiting and selecting employees for organisations.

The Internet’s benefits have reduced search time for candidates and significant cost savings for organisations. Finally, it offers a transparent method for obtaining information about specific candidates. E-recruitment helps organisations hire people from any part of the world as it promotes opportunities and benefits the organisation efficiently.

Sharma (2014) argues that 75% of human resource professionals in developed countries are now using e-recruitment to hire employees for their organisations. Additionally, some 2 out of 4 job seekers will use the Internet to source job opportunities.

Another evidence to support the rise of e-recruitment is a study by Holm (2014), which found that all Fortune 100 companies will be using some form of e-recruitment to advertise vacant positions.

The implications are that e-recruitment is a popular strategy for various positions, from blue-collar roles to white-collar and professional positions. The benefits of e-recruitment have been identified in the literature. Girard & Fallery (2009) argues that e-recruitment helps to save time for organisations and employees.

Employers can use several methods to post jobs in as little as 20 minutes. There are no limits to ad size, and they can receive resumes immediately. In contrast, the traditional methods require some time to appear, for example, in a newspaper, and might be there for a limited period.

Section 3 – Conclusion

When writing the dissertation literature review conclusion, you should always include a summary of the key findings which emerged from the literature and their relevance and significance to your research objectives.

Literature Review for Dissertation

If you are writing a dissertation literature review, you will be required to demonstrate how your research helped to fill an evident gap in research and contributed to the current knowledge in the field. Similarly, you can explain how you used the existing patterns, themes, and theories to develop your research framework.

Literature Review as an Individual Assignment

You can summarize your review of your literature’s significance and implications and provide recommendations for future work based on the gaps in existing knowledge you acknowledged.

6. Proofread

Finally, thoroughly proofread your literature review for grammatical, structural, spelling, and factual errors before submitting it to your university.

If you are unable to proofread and edit your paper, then you could take advantage of our  editing and proofreading service , which is designed to ensure that your completed literature review satisfies each of your module or project’s requirements. We have Masters and PhD qualified writers in all academic subjects, so you can be confident that they will edit and improve the quality of your to 2:1 or First Class standard, as required.

Valuable Tips for Writing Dissertation Literature Review

Your literature review must systematically comply with your research area. Underneath, we are stating some essential guidelines for a compact literature review.

Contribute to the Literature

After carefully reviewing the literature, search for the gaps in knowledge and state how you have analysed the literature with a different perspective and contributed to your research area.

Keep your Argument Systematic & Consistent

Your arguments must be consistent and systematic while discussing theories and controversial and debatable content. Be logical in your review and avoid vague statements, not to make it complex for the readers.

Provide Adequate References

Don’t forget to provide references, as they are the soul of the dissertation. While discussing different aspects of the research, provide a reasonable number of references, as your discussion and interpretations must be backed up by relevant evidence. You can see an example provided in the sample paragraph above.

Be Precise While Writing a Review

You aren’t required to write every inch of information you have studied while reviewing the literature. You will be able to find tons of information that will correlate with your research area.

Be precise while writing the review, as writing unnecessary, irrelevant information won’t give a good impression. State the most reliable sources in your review without jumping into every possible source.

Don’t go Excessively for Direct Quotes

Direct quoting is required to make a point more impactful, but you should opt for it to a specific limit. Making excessive use of it won’t be a good idea.

The direct quote is mainly used when you think that the words being used by the actual author are so authentic in their meaning that you can’t replace or rephrase them. Try to avoid relying too much on a single author/s work.

Discussing their contributions and keeping the review going briefly would be better. While mentioning the points discussed by the prior researchers – link your arguments with their discussion. Don’t write the crux of their discussion, yet tell if your argument goes along with them.

Express your Analysis

The literature review is written to summarize your perspective, which should be backed up in light of the literature. Critically analyze literature with a rational approach and express your opinion on it.

Use the Correct Referencing Style

While referencing, one must use proper referencing styles, i.e., Harvard reference style, etc. Different referencing styles are used for in-text citations, while different for end-text citations.

Feeling overwhelmed by your literature review? Still unsure about how to write a dissertation literature review? There is no need to panic. Whether you are an undergraduate, postgraduate, or PhD student, our literature review writing service  can help you have your literature review to the highest academic quality.

All papers completed by our writers are delivered along with a free anti-plagiarism report. We will amend your paper for free as many times as needed until you are delighted with the contents and the works’ quality as long as your original instructions and requirements remain unchanged.

FAQs About Dissertation Literature Review

How to find relevant literature for reference in a dissertation.

You must note down keywords related to the title of your dissertation and search journals, articles, and books using them. 

How to select academic sources?

If you have found plenty of academic resources, you can select a few of them by reading the abstract of all the papers and separating the most relevant ones. 

How to quote academic references?

It is recommended that you start to write your literature review as you read articles, journals and books. Take notes which can be later merged into the text of the literature review. 

How should a literature review dissertation be written?

You should divide your literature review into three sections: 

Introduction, main body, and conclusion. 

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Dissertation conclusion is perhaps the most underrated part of a dissertation or thesis paper. Learn how to write a dissertation conclusion.

Make sure that your selected topic is intriguing, manageable, and relevant. Here are some guidelines to help understand how to find a good dissertation topic.

A list of glossary in a dissertation contains all the terms that were used in your dissertation but the meanings of which may not be obvious to the readers.



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Literature review

A general guide on how to conduct and write a literature review.

Please check course or programme information and materials provided by teaching staff , including your project supervisor, for subject-specific guidance.

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a piece of academic writing demonstrating knowledge and understanding of the academic literature on a specific topic placed in context.  A literature review also includes a critical evaluation of the material; this is why it is called a literature review rather than a literature report. It is a process of reviewing the literature, as well as a form of writing.

To illustrate the difference between reporting and reviewing, think about television or film review articles.  These articles include content such as a brief synopsis or the key points of the film or programme plus the critic’s own evaluation.  Similarly the two main objectives of a literature review are firstly the content covering existing research, theories and evidence, and secondly your own critical evaluation and discussion of this content. 

Usually a literature review forms a section or part of a dissertation, research project or long essay.  However, it can also be set and assessed as a standalone piece of work.

What is the purpose of a literature review?

…your task is to build an argument, not a library. Rudestam, K.E. and Newton, R.R. (1992) Surviving your dissertation: A comprehensive guide to content and process. California: Sage, p49.

In a larger piece of written work, such as a dissertation or project, a literature review is usually one of the first tasks carried out after deciding on a topic.  Reading combined with critical analysis can help to refine a topic and frame research questions.  Conducting a literature review establishes your familiarity with and understanding of current research in a particular field before carrying out a new investigation.  After doing a literature review, you should know what research has already been done and be able to identify what is unknown within your topic.

When doing and writing a literature review, it is good practice to:

  • summarise and analyse previous research and theories;
  • identify areas of controversy and contested claims;
  • highlight any gaps that may exist in research to date.

Conducting a literature review

Focusing on different aspects of your literature review can be useful to help plan, develop, refine and write it.  You can use and adapt the prompt questions in our worksheet below at different points in the process of researching and writing your review.  These are suggestions to get you thinking and writing.

Developing and refining your literature review (pdf)

Developing and refining your literature review (Word)

Developing and refining your literature review (Word rtf)

Writing a literature review has a lot in common with other assignment tasks.  There is advice on our other pages about thinking critically, reading strategies and academic writing.  Our literature review top tips suggest some specific things you can do to help you submit a successful review.

Literature review top tips (pdf)

Literature review top tips (Word rtf)

Our reading page includes strategies and advice on using books and articles and a notes record sheet grid you can use.

Reading at university

The Academic writing page suggests ways to organise and structure information from a range of sources and how you can develop your argument as you read and write.

Academic writing

The Critical thinking page has advice on how to be a more critical researcher and a form you can use to help you think and break down the stages of developing your argument.

Critical thinking

As with other forms of academic writing, your literature review needs to demonstrate good academic practice by following the Code of Student Conduct and acknowledging the work of others through citing and referencing your sources.  

Good academic practice

As with any writing task, you will need to review, edit and rewrite sections of your literature review.  The Editing and proofreading page includes tips on how to do this and strategies for standing back and thinking about your structure and checking the flow of your argument.

Editing and proofreading

Guidance on literature searching from the University Library

The Academic Support Librarians have developed LibSmart I and II, Learn courses to help you develop and enhance your digital research skills and capabilities; from getting started with the Library to managing data for your dissertation.

Searching using the library’s DiscoverEd tool: DiscoverEd

Finding resources in your subject: Subject guides

The Academic Support Librarians also provide one-to-one appointments to help you develop your research strategies.

1 to 1 support for literature searching and systematic reviews

Advice to help you optimise use of Google Scholar, Google Books and Google for your research and study: Using Google

Managing and curating your references

A referencing management tool can help you to collect and organise and your source material to produce a bibliography or reference list. 

Referencing and reference management

Information Services provide access to Cite them right online which is a guide to the main referencing systems and tells you how to reference just about any source (EASE log-in may be required).

Cite them right

Published study guides

There are a number of scholarship skills books and guides available which can help with writing a literature review.  Our Resource List of study skills guides includes sections on Referencing, Dissertation and project writing and Literature reviews.

Study skills guides

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  • Dissertation

What Is a Dissertation? | Guide, Examples, & Template

Structure of a Dissertation

A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program.

Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you’ve ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating to know where to begin.

Your department likely has guidelines related to how your dissertation should be structured. When in doubt, consult with your supervisor.

You can also download our full dissertation template in the format of your choice below. The template includes a ready-made table of contents with notes on what to include in each chapter, easily adaptable to your department’s requirements.

Download Word template Download Google Docs template

  • In the US, a dissertation generally refers to the collection of research you conducted to obtain a PhD.
  • In other countries (such as the UK), a dissertation often refers to the research you conduct to obtain your bachelor’s or master’s degree.

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Table of contents

Dissertation committee and prospectus process, how to write and structure a dissertation, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your dissertation, free checklist and lecture slides.

When you’ve finished your coursework, as well as any comprehensive exams or other requirements, you advance to “ABD” (All But Dissertation) status. This means you’ve completed everything except your dissertation.

Prior to starting to write, you must form your committee and write your prospectus or proposal . Your committee comprises your adviser and a few other faculty members. They can be from your own department, or, if your work is more interdisciplinary, from other departments. Your committee will guide you through the dissertation process, and ultimately decide whether you pass your dissertation defense and receive your PhD.

Your prospectus is a formal document presented to your committee, usually orally in a defense, outlining your research aims and objectives and showing why your topic is relevant . After passing your prospectus defense, you’re ready to start your research and writing.

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help with dissertation literature review

The structure of your dissertation depends on a variety of factors, such as your discipline, topic, and approach. Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an overall argument to support a central thesis , with chapters organized around different themes or case studies.

However, hard science and social science dissertations typically include a review of existing works, a methodology section, an analysis of your original research, and a presentation of your results , presented in different chapters.

Dissertation examples

We’ve compiled a list of dissertation examples to help you get started.

  • Example dissertation #1: Heat, Wildfire and Energy Demand: An Examination of Residential Buildings and Community Equity (a dissertation by C. A. Antonopoulos about the impact of extreme heat and wildfire on residential buildings and occupant exposure risks).
  • Example dissertation #2: Exploring Income Volatility and Financial Health Among Middle-Income Households (a dissertation by M. Addo about income volatility and declining economic security among middle-income households).
  • Example dissertation #3: The Use of Mindfulness Meditation to Increase the Efficacy of Mirror Visual Feedback for Reducing Phantom Limb Pain in Amputees (a dissertation by N. S. Mills about the effect of mindfulness-based interventions on the relationship between mirror visual feedback and the pain level in amputees with phantom limb pain).

The very first page of your document contains your dissertation title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo.

Read more about title pages

The acknowledgements section is usually optional and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you. In some cases, your acknowledgements are part of a preface.

Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces

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The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150 to 300 words long. Though this may seem very short, it’s one of the most important parts of your dissertation, because it introduces your work to your audience.

Your abstract should:

  • State your main topic and the aims of your research
  • Describe your methods
  • Summarize your main results
  • State your conclusions

Read more about abstracts

The table of contents lists all of your chapters, along with corresponding subheadings and page numbers. This gives your reader an overview of your structure and helps them easily navigate your document.

Remember to include all main parts of your dissertation in your table of contents, even the appendices. It’s easy to generate a table automatically in Word if you used heading styles. Generally speaking, you only include level 2 and level 3 headings, not every subheading you included in your finished work.

Read more about tables of contents

While not usually mandatory, it’s nice to include a list of figures and tables to help guide your reader if you have used a lot of these in your dissertation. It’s easy to generate one of these in Word using the Insert Caption feature.

Read more about lists of figures and tables

Similarly, if you have used a lot of abbreviations (especially industry-specific ones) in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.

Read more about lists of abbreviations

In addition to the list of abbreviations, if you find yourself using a lot of highly specialized terms that you worry will not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary. Here, alphabetize the terms and include a brief description or definition.

Read more about glossaries

The introduction serves to set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance. It tells the reader what to expect in the rest of your dissertation. The introduction should:

  • Establish your research topic , giving the background information needed to contextualize your work
  • Narrow down the focus and define the scope of your research
  • Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate
  • Clearly state your research questions and objectives
  • Outline the flow of the rest of your work

Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant. By the end, the reader should understand the what, why, and how of your research.

Read more about introductions

A formative part of your research is your literature review . This helps you gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic.

Literature reviews encompass:

  • Finding relevant sources (e.g., books and journal articles)
  • Assessing the credibility of your sources
  • Critically analyzing and evaluating each source
  • Drawing connections between them (e.g., themes, patterns, conflicts, or gaps) to strengthen your overall point

A literature review is not merely a summary of existing sources. Your literature review should have a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear justification for your own research. It may aim to:

  • Address a gap in the literature or build on existing knowledge
  • Take a new theoretical or methodological approach to your topic
  • Propose a solution to an unresolved problem or advance one side of a theoretical debate

Read more about literature reviews

Theoretical framework

Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework. Here, you define and analyze the key theories, concepts, and models that frame your research.

Read more about theoretical frameworks

Your methodology chapter describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to critically assess its credibility. Your methodology section should accurately report what you did, as well as convince your reader that this was the best way to answer your research question.

A methodology section should generally include:

  • The overall research approach ( quantitative vs. qualitative ) and research methods (e.g., a longitudinal study )
  • Your data collection methods (e.g., interviews or a controlled experiment )
  • Details of where, when, and with whom the research took place
  • Any tools and materials you used (e.g., computer programs, lab equipment)
  • Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical analysis , discourse analysis )
  • An evaluation or justification of your methods

Read more about methodology sections

Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses , or themes, but avoid including any subjective or speculative interpretation here.

Your results section should:

  • Concisely state each relevant result together with relevant descriptive statistics (e.g., mean , standard deviation ) and inferential statistics (e.g., test statistics , p values )
  • Briefly state how the result relates to the question or whether the hypothesis was supported
  • Report all results that are relevant to your research questions , including any that did not meet your expectations.

Additional data (including raw numbers, full questionnaires, or interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix. You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results. Read more about results sections

Your discussion section is your opportunity to explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research question. Here, interpret your results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. Refer back to relevant source material to show how your results fit within existing research in your field.

Some guiding questions include:

  • What do your results mean?
  • Why do your results matter?
  • What limitations do the results have?

If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data.

Read more about discussion sections

Your dissertation’s conclusion should concisely answer your main research question, leaving your reader with a clear understanding of your central argument and emphasizing what your research has contributed to the field.

In some disciplines, the conclusion is just a short section preceding the discussion section, but in other contexts, it is the final chapter of your work. Here, you wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you found, with recommendations for future research and concluding remarks.

It’s important to leave the reader with a clear impression of why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known? Why is your research necessary for the future of your field?

Read more about conclusions

It is crucial to include a reference list or list of works cited with the full details of all the sources that you used, in order to avoid plagiarism. Be sure to choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your dissertation. Each style has strict and specific formatting requirements.

Common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA , but which style you use is often set by your department or your field.

Create APA citations Create MLA citations

Your dissertation should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents such as interview transcripts or survey questions can be added as appendices, rather than adding them to the main body.

Read more about appendices

Making sure that all of your sections are in the right place is only the first step to a well-written dissertation. Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for editing and proofreading, as grammar mistakes and sloppy spelling errors can really negatively impact your work.

Dissertations can take up to five years to write, so you will definitely want to make sure that everything is perfect before submitting. You may want to consider using a professional dissertation editing service , AI proofreader or grammar checker to make sure your final project is perfect prior to submitting.

After your written dissertation is approved, your committee will schedule a defense. Similarly to defending your prospectus, dissertation defenses are oral presentations of your work. You’ll present your dissertation, and your committee will ask you questions. Many departments allow family members, friends, and other people who are interested to join as well.

After your defense, your committee will meet, and then inform you whether you have passed. Keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality; most committees will have resolved any serious issues with your work with you far prior to your defense, giving you ample time to fix any problems.

As you write your dissertation, you can use this simple checklist to make sure you’ve included all the essentials.

Checklist: Dissertation

My title page includes all information required by my university.

I have included acknowledgements thanking those who helped me.

My abstract provides a concise summary of the dissertation, giving the reader a clear idea of my key results or arguments.

I have created a table of contents to help the reader navigate my dissertation. It includes all chapter titles, but excludes the title page, acknowledgements, and abstract.

My introduction leads into my topic in an engaging way and shows the relevance of my research.

My introduction clearly defines the focus of my research, stating my research questions and research objectives .

My introduction includes an overview of the dissertation’s structure (reading guide).

I have conducted a literature review in which I (1) critically engage with sources, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing research, (2) discuss patterns, themes, and debates in the literature, and (3) address a gap or show how my research contributes to existing research.

I have clearly outlined the theoretical framework of my research, explaining the theories and models that support my approach.

I have thoroughly described my methodology , explaining how I collected data and analyzed data.

I have concisely and objectively reported all relevant results .

I have (1) evaluated and interpreted the meaning of the results and (2) acknowledged any important limitations of the results in my discussion .

I have clearly stated the answer to my main research question in the conclusion .

I have clearly explained the implications of my conclusion, emphasizing what new insight my research has contributed.

I have provided relevant recommendations for further research or practice.

If relevant, I have included appendices with supplemental information.

I have included an in-text citation every time I use words, ideas, or information from a source.

I have listed every source in a reference list at the end of my dissertation.

I have consistently followed the rules of my chosen citation style .

I have followed all formatting guidelines provided by my university.


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How to Conduct a Literature Review: A Guide for Graduate Students

  • Let's Get Started!
  • Traditional or Narrative Reviews
  • Systematic Reviews
  • Typology of Reviews
  • Literature Review Resources
  • Developing a Search Strategy
  • What Literature to Search
  • Where to Search: Indexes and Databases
  • Finding articles: Libkey Nomad
  • Finding Dissertations and Theses
  • Extending Your Searching with Citation Chains
  • Forward Citation Chains - Cited Reference Searching
  • Keeping up with the Literature
  • Managing Your References
  • Need More Information?

Bookmark This Guide!


Where to Get Help

Librarians at ISU are subject experts who can help with your research and course needs. There are experts available for every discipline at ISU who are ready to assist you with your information needs!

What we do:

  • Answer questions via phone, chat and in-person
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  • Purchase materials for the collection
  • Teach instruction session for ISU courses
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Find Your Librarian

   “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” - Neil Gaiman

The literature review is an important part of your thesis or dissertation. It is a survey of existing literature that provides context for your research contribution, and demonstrates your subject knowledge. It is also the way to tell the story of how your research extends knowledge in your field.

The first step to writing a successful literature review is knowing how to find and evaluate literature in your field. This guide is designed to introduce you to tools and give you skills you can use to effectively find the resources needed for your literature review.

Before getting started, familiarize yourself with some essential resources provided by the Graduate College:

  • Dissertation and Thesis Information
  • Center for Communication Excellence
  • Graduate College Handbook

Below are some questions that you can discuss with your advisor as you begin your research:

Questions to ask as you think about your literature review:

What is my research question.

Choosing a valid research question is something you will need to discuss with your academic advisor and/or POS committee. Ideas for your topic may come from your coursework, lab rotations, or work as a research assistant. Having a specific research topic allows you to focus your research on a project that is manageable. Beginning work on your literature review can help narrow your topic.

What kind of literature review is appropriate for my research question?

Depending on your area of research, the type of literature review you do for your thesis will vary. Consult with your advisor about the requirements for your discipline. You can view theses and dissertations from your field in the library's Digital Repository can give you ideas about how your literature review should be structured.

What kind of literature should I use?

The kind of literature you use for your thesis will depend on your discipline. The Library has developed a list of Guides by Subject with discipline-specific resources. For a given subject area, look for the guide titles "[Discipline] Research Guide." You may also consult our liaison librarians for information about the literature available your research area.

How will I make sure that I find all the appropriate information that informs my research?

Consulting multiple sources of information is the best way to insure that you have done a comprehensive search of the literature in your area. The What Literature to Search tab has information about the types of resources you may need to search. You may also consult our liaison librarians for assistance with identifying resources..

How will I evaluate the literature to include trustworthy information and eliminate unnecessary or untrustworthy information?

While you are searching for relevant information about your topic you will need to think about the accuracy of the information, whether the information is from a reputable source, whether it is objective and current. Our guides about Evaluating Scholarly Books and Articles and Evaluating Websites will give you criteria to use when evaluating resources.

How should I organize my literature? What citation management program is best for me?

Citation management software can help you organize your references in folders and/or with tags. You can also annotate and highlight the PDFs within the software and usually the notes are searchable. To choose a good citation management software, you need to consider which one can be streamlined with your literature search and writing process. Here is a guide page comparing EndNote, Mendeley & Zotero. The Library also has guides for three of the major citation management tools:

  • EndNote & EndNote Web Guide
  • Mendeley Guide
  • Getting Started with Zotero

What steps should I take to ensure academic integrity?

The best way to ensure academic integrity is to familiarize yourself with different types of intentional and unintentional plagiarism and learn about the University's standards for academic integrity. Start with this guide . The Library also has a guide about your rights and responsibilities regarding copyrighted images and figures that you include in your thesis.

Where can I find writing and editing help?

Writing and editing help is available at the Graduate College's Center for Communication Excellence . The CCE offers individual consultations, peer writing groups, workshops and seminars to help you improve your writing.

Where can I find I find formatting standards? Technical support?

The Graduate College has a Dissertation/ Thesis website with extensive examples and videos about formatting theses and dissertations. The site also has templates and formatting instructions for Word and LaTex .

What citation style should I use?

The Graduate College thesis guidelines require that you "use a consistent, current academic style for your discipline." The Library has a Citation Style Guides resource you can use for guidance on specific citation styles. If you are not sure, please consult your advisor or liaison librarians for help.

Adapted from The Literature Review: For Dissertations, by the University of Michigan Library. Available: https://guides.lib.umich.edu/dissertationlitreview

Center for Communication Excellence/ Library Workshop Slides

Slides from the CCE/ Library Workshop "A Citation Here...A Citation There...Pretty Soon You'll Have a Lit Review" held on February 21, 2024 are below:

  • CCE Workshop February 21, 2024
  • Next: Types of Literature Reviews >>
  • Last Updated: Feb 22, 2024 10:22 AM
  • URL: https://instr.iastate.libguides.com/gradlitrev


Dissertation Support: Preparing your literature review

  • Getting Started
  • Research methods
  • Preparing your literature review
  • Where to look (UWS)
  • Looking beyond the Library
  • Managing your project
  • Writing and referencing

What is a literature review?

Scribbr (2020) How to write a literature review: 3 minute step-by-step guide.   Available at: https://youtu.be/zIYC6zG265E (Accessed: 29 June 2021).

A literature review is a formal search and discussion of the literature published on a topic.  Such reviews have different purposes, some providing an overview as a learning exercise.  Most literature reviews are related to research activity, focus on scholarly and research publications and how this evidence relates to a specific research question or hypothesis.


Machi and McEvoy (2016, p.23) consider the review process as a critical thinking activity:

  • Select a topic (Recognize and define a problem);
  • Develop tools of argumentation (Create a process for solving the problem);
  • Search the literature (Collect and compile information);
  • Survey the literature (Discover the evidence and build the argument);
  • Critique the literature (Draw conclusions);
  • Write the thesis (Communicate and evaluate the conclusions).

Machi, L.A. and McEvoy, B.T. (2016) The literature review: six steps to success.  London; Corwin.

Cover Art

Leite, D., Padilha, M., and Cecatti, J. G. (2019) 'Approaching literature review for academic purposes: The Literature Review Checklist',  Clinics (Sao Paulo, Brazil) ,  74 , e1403.  https://doi.org/10.6061/clinics/2019/e1403

Are you compiling a literature review or a systematic literature review?

Research Shorts (2017) Conducting a systematic literature review. Available: https://youtu.be/WUErib-fXV0 (Accessed: 13 September 2021).

This video introduces the steps involved in a systematic literature review and demonstrates the differences with a standard literature review.

Constructing your search strategy

The exact nature of your research will not be determined until after the literature review.  However, the review should be conducted with a certain degree of structure.  In many cases, your supervisor will expect to see a preliminary search strategy before you proceed with your review. 

So, what does a search strategy involve?

  • Which themes are you including? 
  • Which are the principal key words or search terms for each theme? 
  • Are there obvious alternative search terms that should be included?  For example, 'international' could also be described as 'global' or 'worldwide'.
  • Which types of material are you including in your review?  This will vary according to the level of study and subject but could be restricted to research articles or encompass policy papers, textbooks, reports, conference presentations, blogs and more.  If in doubt, see the listing in Finding Sources
  • Which search resources are you going to use to find the relevant literature?  Options include bibliographic databases and Google Scholar (journal and research papers); the library's OneSearch (books, exemplars and more), Google or other general search engines (policy papers, blogs ...).
  • Does a specific date range for publication apply? 
  • Are you only interested in a specific scenario or environment?
  • Are you focusing on (for example) a specific population, product or genre?

Remember the restricted nature of your assignment and timescale when making such decisions.  Manageability is an acceptable justification for applying restrictions.  

Doing a systematic literature review?

Cover Art

Systematic literature reviews aim to generate a comprehensive overview of the literature published on a topic and relate this knowledge to a specific research question. 

The main principles are to be methodical, consistent and apparent

Usually, 6 steps are taken to complete a review.  The depth of treatment at each stage depends on the nature of the review and level of study.

  • Explore the literature to ensure validity of the research question/topic and confirm your search strategy.
  • Run your search noting numbers of results. 
  • The starting number for the PRISMA flow chart is the combined number of search results, i.e. the no. of results from database 1 + no. from database 2 etc.
  • Next, remove any duplicate entries. Note the number of items remaining.
  • Add entries for the number of items removed as you apply your selection criteria.
  • The final entry is the number of items to be reviewed.
  • Extract the data - assess the quality of research of individual items and note the evidence found.
  • Analyse the data - consider the evidence and themes in relation to your question.
  • Present your findings in a transparent manner.
  • PRISMA - Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses The PRISMA website includes examples of flow diagrams.

Titles to support literature reviews

A small selection of library titles to help with your literature review:

Cover Art

Unsure about your search strategy? Ask a Librarian

The team of Academic Librarians are here to help you with your projects.   

Make an appointment, tell us about your project and past searching experiences and we'll hep you devise the best search strategy to find the research and other materials that you need.

  • Book an appointment with an Academic Librarian

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Trapped in dissertation revisions?

How to write a literature review for a dissertation, published by steve tippins on july 5, 2019 july 5, 2019.

Last Updated on: 2nd February 2024, 04:45 am

Chapter 2 of your dissertation, your literature review, may be the longest chapter. It is not uncommon to see lit reviews in the 40- to 60-page range. That may seem daunting, but I contend that the literature review could be the easiest part of your dissertation.

It is also foundational. To be able to select an appropriate research topic and craft expert research questions, you’ll need to know what has already been discovered and what mysteries remain. 

Remember, your degree is meant to indicate your achieving the highest level of expertise in your area of study. The lit review for your dissertation could very well form the foundation for your entire career.

In this article, I’ll give you detailed instructions for how to write the literature review of your dissertation without stress. I’ll also provide a sample outline.

When to Write the Literature Review for your Dissertation

Though technically Chapter 2 of your dissertation, many students write their literature review first. Why? Because having a solid foundation in the research informs the way you write Chapter 1.

Also, when writing Chapter 1, you’ll need to become familiar with the literature anyway. It only makes sense to write down what you learn to form the start of your lit review.

Some institutions even encourage students to write Chapter 2 first. But it’s important to talk with your Chair to see what he or she recommends.

How Long Should a Literature Review Be?

There is no set length for a literature review. The length largely depends on your area of study. However, I have found that most literature reviews are between 40-60 pages.

If your literature review is significantly shorter than that, ask yourself (a) if there is other relevant research that you have not explored, or (b) if you have provided enough of a discussion about the information you did explore.

Preparing to Write the Literature Review for your Dissertation

barefoot woman sitting on a large stack of books

1. Search Using Key Terms

Most people start their lit review searching appropriate databases using key terms. For example, if you’re researching the impact of social media on adult learning, some key terms you would use at the start of your search would be adult learning, androgogy, social media, and “learning and social media” together. 

If your topic was the impact of natural disasters on stock prices, then you would need to explore all types of natural disasters, other market factors that impact stock prices, and the methodologies used. 

You can save time by skimming the abstracts first; if the article is not what you thought it might be you can move on quickly.

help with dissertation literature review

Once you start finding articles using key terms, two different things will usually happen: you will find new key terms to search, and the articles will lead you directly to other articles related to what you are studying. It becomes like a snowball rolling downhill. 

Note that the vast majority of your sources should be articles from peer-reviewed journals. 

2. Immerse Yourself in the Literature

woman asleep on the couch next to a giant pile of books

When people ask what they should do first for their dissertation the most common answer is “immerse yourself in the literature.” What exactly does this mean?

Think of this stage as a trip into the quiet heart of the forest. Your questions are at the center of this journey, and you’ll need to help your reader understand which trees — which particular theories, studies, and lines of reasoning — got you there. 

There are lots of trees in this particular forest, but there are particular trees that mark your path.  What makes them unique? What about J’s methodology made you choose that study over Y’s? How did B’s argument triumph over A’s, thus leading you to C’s theory? 

You are showing your reader that you’ve fully explored the forest of your topic and chosen this particular path, leading to these particular questions (your research questions), for these particular reasons.

3. Consider Gaps in the Research

The gaps in the research are where current knowledge ends and your study begins. In order to build a case for doing your study, you must demonstrate that it:

  • Is worthy of doctoral-level research, and
  • Has not already been studied

Defining the gaps in the literature should help accomplish both aims. Identifying studies on related topics helps make the case that your study is relevant, since other researchers have conducted related studies.

And showing where they fall short will help make the case that your study is the appropriate next step. Pay special attention to the recommendations for further research that the authors of studies make.

4. Organize What You Find

As you find articles, you will have to come up with methods to organize what you find. 

Whether you find a computer-based system (three popular systems are Zotero, endNote, and Mendeley) or some sort of manual system such as index cards, you need to devise a method where you can easily group your references by subject and methodology and find what you are looking for when you need it. It is very frustrating to know you have found an article that supports a point that you are trying to make, but you can’t find the article!

focused woman studying inside a bright library

One way to save time and keep things organized is to cut and paste relevant quotations (and their references) under topic headings. You’ll be able to rearrange and do some paraphrasing later, but if you’ve got the quotations and the citations that are important to you already embedded in your text, you’ll have an easier time of it.  

If you choose this method, be sure to list the whole reference on the reference/bibliography page so you don’t have to do this page separately later. Some students use Scrivener for this purpose, as it offers a clear way to view and easily navigate to all sections of a written document.

Need help with your literature review? Take a look at my dissertation coaching and dissertation editing services.

How to Write the Literature Review for your Dissertation

Once you have gathered a sufficient number of pertinent references, you’ll need to string them together in a way that tells your story. Explain what previous researchers have done by telling the story of how knowledge on this topic has evolved. Here, you are laying the support for your topic and showing that your research questions need to be answered. Let’s dive into how to actually write your dissertation’s literature review.

1. Create an Outline

If you’ve created a system for keeping track of the sources you’ve found, you likely already have the bones of an outline. Even if not, it may be relatively easy to see how to organize it all. The main thing to remember is, keep it simple and don’t overthink it. There are several ways to organize your dissertation’s literature review, and I’ll discuss some of the most common below:

  • By topic. This is by far the most common approach, and it’s the one I recommend unless there’s a clear reason to do otherwise. Topics are things like servant leadership, transformational leadership, employee retention, organizational knowledge, etc. Organizing by topic is fairly simple and it makes sense to the reader.
  • Chronologically. In some cases, it makes sense to tell the story of how knowledge and thought on a given subject have evolved. In this case, sub-sections may indicate important advances or contributions. 
  • By methodology. Some students organize their literature review by the methodology of the studies. This makes sense when conducting a mixed-methods study, and in cases where methodology is at the forefront.

2. Write the Paragraphs 

I said earlier that I thought the lit review was the easiest part to write, and here is why. When you write about the findings of others, you can do it in small, discrete time periods. You go down the path awhile, then you rest. 

Once you have many small pieces written, you can then piece them together. You can write each piece without worrying about the flow of the chapter; that can all be done at the end when you put the jigsaw puzzle of references together.

woman with curly hair studying in her home office

The literature review is a demonstration of your ability to think critically about existing research and build meaningfully on it in your study. Avoid simply stating what other researchers said. Find the relationships between studies, note where researchers agree and disagree, and– especiallyy–relate it to your own study. 

Pay special attention to controversial issues, and don’t be afraid to give space to researchers who you disagree with. Including differing opinions will only strengthen the credibility of your study, as it demonstrates that you’re willing to consider all sides.

4. Justify the Methodology

In addition to discussing studies related to your topic, include some background on the methodology you will be using. This is especially important if you are using a new or little-used methodology, as it may help get committee members onboard. 

I have seen several students get slowed down in the process trying to get committees to buy into the planned methodology. Providing references and samples of where the planned methodology has been used makes the job of the committee easier, and it will also help your reader trust the outcomes.

Advice for Writing Your Dissertation’s Literature Review

  • Remember to relate each section back to your study (your Problem and Purpose statements).
  • Discuss conflicting findings or theoretical positions. Avoid the temptation to only include research that you agree with.
  • Sections should flow together, the way sections of a chapter in a nonfiction book do. They should relate to each other and relate back to the purpose of your study. Avoid making each section an island.
  • Discuss how each study or theory relates to the others in that section.
  • Avoid relying on direct quotes–you should demonstrate that you understand the study and can describe it accurately.

Sample Outline of a Literature Review (Dissertation Chapter 2)

close-up shot of an open notebook and a laptop

Here is a sample outline, with some brief instructions. Note that your institution probably has specific requirements for the structure of your dissertation’s literature review. But to give you a general idea, I’ve provided a sample outline of a dissertation ’s literature review here.

  • Introduction
  • State the problem and the purpose of the study
  • Give a brief synopsis of literature that establishes the relevance of the problem
  • Very briefly summarize the major sections of your chapter

Documentation of Literature Search Strategy

  • Include the library databases and search engines you used
  • List the key terms you used
  • Describe the scope (qualitative) or iterative process (quantitative). Explain why and based on what criteria you selected the articles you did.

Literature Review (this is the meat of the chapter)

help with dissertation literature review

  • Sub-topic a
  • Sub-topic b
  • Sub-topic c

See below for an example of what this outline might look like.

How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation: An Example 

Let’s take an example that will make the organization, and the outline, a little bit more clear. Below, I’ll fill out the example outline based on the topics discussed.

If your questions have to do with the impact of the servant leadership style of management on employee retention, you may want to saunter down the path of servant leadership first, learning of its origins , its principles , its values , and its methods . 

You’ll note the different ways the style is employed based on different practitioners’ perspectives or circumstances and how studies have evaluated these differences. Researchers will draw conclusions that you’ll want to note, and these conclusions will lead you to your next questions. 

man browsing on his laptop

Next, you’ll want to wander into the territory of management styles to discover their impact on employee retention in general. Does management style really make a difference in employee retention, and if so, what factors, exactly, make this impact?

Employee retention is its own path, and you’ll discover factors, internal and external, that encourage people to stick with their jobs.

You’ll likely find paradoxes and contradictions in here that just bring up more questions. How do internal and external factors mix and match? How can employers influence both psychology and context ? Is it of benefit to try and do so?

At first, these three paths seem somewhat remote from one another, but your interest is where the three converge. Taking the lit review section by section like this before tying it all together will not only make it more manageable to write but will help you lead your reader down the same path you traveled, thereby increasing clarity. 

Example Outline

So the main sections of your literature review might look something like this:

  • Literature Search Strategy
  • Conceptual Framework or Theoretical Foundation
  • Literature that supports your methodology
  • Origins, principles, values
  • Seminal research
  • Current research
  • Management Styles’ Impact on employee retention
  • Internal Factors
  • External Factors
  • Influencing psychology and context
  • Summary and Conclusion

Final Thoughts on Writing Your Dissertation’s Chapter 2

The lit review provides the foundation for your study and perhaps for your career. Spend time reading and getting lost in the literature. The “aha” moments will come where you see how everything fits together. 

At that point, it will just be a matter of clearly recording and tracing your path, keeping your references organized, and conveying clearly how your research questions are a natural evolution of previous work that has been done.

PS. If you’re struggling with your literature review, I can help. I offer dissertation coaching and editing services.

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Steve Tippins

Steve Tippins, PhD, has thrived in academia for over thirty years. He continues to love teaching in addition to coaching recent PhD graduates as well as students writing their dissertations. Learn more about his dissertation coaching and career coaching services. Book a Free Consultation with Steve Tippins

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Leeds Beckett University

Skills for Learning : Dissertations & Literature Reviews

Dissertations  are extended projects in which you choose, research and write about a specific topic. They provide an opportunity to explore an aspect of your subject in detail. You are responsible for managing your dissertation, though you will be assigned a supervisor. Dissertations are typically empirical (based on your own research) or theoretical (based on others’ research/arguments).

The  Dissertation IT Kit  contains information about formatting your dissertation document in Word.

Look at the  Library Subject Guides  for your area. These have information on finding high quality resources for your dissertation. 

We run interactive workshops to help you prepare for your dissertation. Find out more on the  Skills for Learning Workshops  page.

We have online academic skills modules within MyBeckett for all levels of university study. These modules will help your academic development and support your success at LBU. You can work through the modules at your own pace, revisiting them as required. Find out more from our FAQ  What academic skills modules are available?  

Dissertation proposals

What are dissertation proposals.

A dissertation proposal is an outline of your proposed research project. It is what you imagine your dissertation might look like before you start. Consider it a temporary document which might change during the negotiation process between you and your dissertation supervisor.  The proposal can help you clarify exactly what you want to cover in your dissertation. It can also outline how you are going to approach it. Your dissertation plan and structure might change throughout this process as you develop your ideas. Your proposal is the first step towards your goal: a completed dissertation.

Structuring your dissertation proposal

The structure, content, and length of your dissertation proposal will depend on your course requirements. Some courses may require that your aims and objectives are separate from the main body of the proposal. You might be expected to write a literature review, and/or provide a detailed methodology. You might also be asked to include an extensive context for your proposed study. Consult your module handbook or assignment brief for the specific requirements of your course. 

Give each section of your proposal a heading You can also experiment with giving your proposed dissertation a title. Both of these approaches may help you focus and stay on topic. Most dissertation proposals will have a fairly standard structure, under the following headings:

Sections of a dissertation proposal

  • Aims and objectives
  • Rationale for your study
  • Methodology
  • Brief literature review
  • Benefits of your research

Describe what you plan to investigate. You could write a statement of your topic, a research question(s), or a hypothesis.

  • Explain why you want to do this research.
  • Write a justification as to why the project is worth undertaking.
  • Reasons might include: a gap in existing research; questioning or extending the findings of earlier research; replicating a piece of research to test its reliability.
  • Describe and justify how you plan to do the research.
  • You might be reviewing the work of others, which mainly involves secondary, or desk-based, research. Or you might plan to collect data yourself, which is primary research. It is common for undergraduate dissertations to involve a mixture of these.
  • If you are doing secondary research, describe how you will select your sources. For primary research, describe how you will collect your data. This might include using questionnaires, interviews, archival research, or other methods. 
  • Others will have researched this topic before, or something similar.
  • The literature review allows you to outline what they have found and where your project fits in. For example, you could highlight disagreements or discrepancies in the existing research.

Outline who might potentially gain from your research and what you might find out or expand upon. For example, there could be implications for practice in a particular profession.

Dissertation style and language

A dissertation is a logical, structured, argument-based exploration of a topic. The style of your writing may vary slightly in each chapter. For example, your results chapter should display factual information, whereas your analysis chapter might be more argument-based. Make sure your language, tone and abbreviations are consistent within each section. Your language should be formal and contain terminology relevant to your subject area. Dissertations have a large word count. It is important to structure your work with headings and a contents page. Use signposting language to help your reader understand the flow of your writing. Charts, tables or images may help you communicate specific information. 

Top tip!  To signpost in your dissertation, use the ‘Signalling Transition’ section of the  Manchester Academic Phrasebank .

Download the Dissertation Project Checklist Worksheet to help with planning your dissertation work. 

  • Dissertation Project Checklist Worksheet

The  Dissertation IT Kit  also contains information about formatting your dissertation document in Microsoft Word.

Past dissertations

Exploring past dissertations within your academic field can give you an idea as to how to structure your dissertation and find similar research methodologies. You can access dissertations and theses completed by students at Leeds Beckett and other universities. To find external dissertations, look at our FAQ answer ' Are there other dissertations I can look at?' . To find dissertations completed by Leeds Beckett students, search in the Discover theses search box below or look at our FAQ answer ' Can I find copies of past dissertations in the Library?

Sections of a dissertation

Not all dissertations will follow the same structure.  Your style can change depending on your school. Check your module handbook, assignment brief or speak with your course tutor for further guidance.

To decide what to include:

  • Think about your project from an outsider’s perspective. What do they need to know and in what order? What is the most clear and logical way for you to present your research?  
  • Discuss your project with your supervisor. Be open about ideas or concerns you have around the structure and content. 

Each section of a dissertation has a different purpose. Think about whether you're doing an empirical or theoretical dissertation and use the headings below to find out what you should be including.

You can also use the Leeds Beckett Dissertation Template to help you understand what your dissertation should look like. 

  • Leeds Beckett Dissertation Template

Empirical (research-based)

  • 1. Abstract
  • 2. Contents Page
  • 3. Introduction
  • 4. Literature Review
  • 5. Methodology
  • 6. Findings / Results
  • 7. Discussion
  • 8. Conclusion
  • 9. Reference List / Bibliography
  • 10. Appendices

Abstract : provides a brief summary of your whole dissertation.

The abstract outlines the purpose of your research and your methodology (where necessary). You should summarise your main findings and conclusion.

Top tips! Give the reader a sense of why your project is interesting and valuable. Write in the past tense. Aim for about half a page.

Contents page : lists all the sections of your dissertation with the page numbers. Do this last by using the automatic function in Word.

Introduction: introduces the reader to your research project.

Provide context to the topic and define key terms. Ensure that the scope of your investigation is clear. Outline your aims and objectives, and provide a brief description of your research methods. Finally, give an indication of your conclusion/findings.

Top tips! Start broad (background information) and get more specific (your research aims and findings). Try writing the introduction after the literature review and methodology chapters. This way, you will have a better idea of your research aims.

Literature Review : positions your research in relation to what has come before it.

The literature review will summarise prior research on the topic, such as journal articles, books, government reports and data. You should introduce key themes, concepts, theories or methods that provide context for your own research. Analyse and evaluate the literature by drawing comparisons and highlighting strengths and weaknesses. Download the Critical Analysis Questions and Evidence Matrix Worksheets to help you with this process and for more information on literature searching see Finding Information .

  • Critical Analysis Questions Worksheet
  • Evidence Matrix Worksheet

The literature review should justify the need for your research and highlight areas for further investigation. Avoid introducing your own ideas at this point; instead, compare and comment on existing ideas.

Top tips! Your literature review is not a descriptive summary of various sources. You need to synthesise (bring together) and critically analyse prior research. Sophisticated use of reporting verbs is important for this process. Download our Reporting Verbs Worksheet to help you with this.

  • Reporting Verbs Worksheet

Find out more about literature reviews elsewhere on this topic page.

Find out more about critical thinking.

Methodology : provides a succinct and accurate record of the methodology used and justifies your choice of methods.

In this section, you describe the qualitative and/or quantitative methods* used to carry out your research/experiment. You must justify your chosen research methodology and explain how it helps you answer your research question. Where appropriate, explain the rationale behind choices such as procedures, equipment, participants and sample size. You may need to reference specific guidelines that you have used, especially in subjects such as healthcare. If your research involves people, you may also need to demonstrate how it fulfils ethical guidelines.

Top tips! Your account should be sufficiently detailed so that someone else could replicate your research. Write in the passive voice. Remember, at this point you are not reporting any findings.

*Qualitative research is based on opinions and ideas, while quantitative research is based on numerical data.

Find out more about the research process.

Findings/Results : presents the data collected from your research in a suitable format.

Provide a summary of the results of your research/experiment. Consider the most effective methods for presenting your data, such as charts, graphs or tables. Present all your findings honestly. Do not change any data, even if it is not what you expected to find.

Top tips! Whilst you might acknowledge trends or themes in the data, at this stage, you won’t be analysing it closely. If you are conducting qualitative research, this section may be combined with the discussion section. Important additional documents, such as transcriptions or questionnaires, can be added to your appendices.

Discussion : addresses your research aims by analysing your findings.

In this chapter, you interpret and discuss your results and draw conclusions. Identify trends, themes or issues that arise from the findings and discuss their significance in detail. These themes can also provide the basis for the structure of this section. You can draw upon information and concepts from your literature review to help interpret your findings. For example, you can show how your findings build upon or contradict earlier research.

Top tips! Ensure that the points you make are backed up with evidence from your findings. Refer back to relevant information from your literature review to discuss and interpret your findings.

Conclusion : summarises your main points.

Provide an overview of your main findings and demonstrate how you have met your research objectives. Set your research into a wider context by showing how it contributes to current academic debates. Discuss the implications of your research and put forward any recommendations.

Top tips! Do not introduce any new information in this section. Your conclusion should mirror the content of your introduction but offer more conclusive answers.

Reference List / Bibliography : a complete list of all sources used.

List all the sources that you have consulted in the process of your research. Your Reference List or Bibliography must follow specific guidelines for your discipline (e.g. Harvard or OSCOLA). Look through your module handbook or speak to your supervisor for more information.

Find out more about referencing and academic integrity .

Appendix (single) or Appendices (plural):  presents raw data and/or transcripts that aren’t in the main body of your dissertation.

You may have to be selective in the data you present in your findings section. If this is the case, you may choose to present the raw data/extended version in an appendix. If you conduct qualitative research, such as interviews, you will include the transcripts in your appendix. Appendices are not usually included in the word count.

Top tips! Discuss with your supervisor whether you will need an appendix and what to include.

Theoretical (argument based)

  • Contents page
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Main body (divided into chapters)
  • Reference list / Bibliography

Provides a brief summary of your whole dissertation.

The abstract outlines the purpose of your research and your methodology (where necessary). You should summarise your main findings and conclusion.

Top tip!  Give the reader a sense of why your project is interesting and valuable. Write in the past tense. Aim for about half a page.

Contents page : lists all the sections of your dissertation with the page numbers. Using the automatic table of contents feature in Microsoft Word can help you format this.

The  Dissertation IT kit provides guidance on how to use these tools. 

Introduces the reader to your research project.

Provide context to the topic and define key terms. Ensure that the scope of your investigation is clear. Outline your aims and objectives, and provide a brief description of your research methods. Introduce your argument and explain why your research topic is important. Finally, give an indication of your conclusion/findings.

Top tip!  Start broad (background information) and get more specific (your research aims and findings). Try writing the introduction after the literature review and methodology chapters. This way, you will have a better idea of your research aims.

Summarises prior research on the topic, such as journal articles, books, and other information sources. You should introduce key themes, concepts, theories or methods that provide context for your own research. You should also analyse and evaluate the literature by drawing comparisons and highlighting strengths and weaknesses. 

Many (although not all) theoretical dissertations will include a separate literature review. You may decide to include this as a separate chapter. Otherwise, you can integrate it into your introduction or first themed chapter.

Find out more about literature reviews on the  Literature Reviews  page.

Divide the main body of your research into chapters organised by chronology or themes. Each chapter should be like a mini-essay that helps you answer your research questions. Like an essay, each chapter should have an introduction, main body and conclusion. Develop your argument and demonstrate critical thinking by drawing on relevant sources. Compare and contrast ideas, and make suggestions or recommendations where relevant. Explain how each chapter helps answer your main research question.

Top tip! Divide each chapter into chunks and use subheadings where necessary to structure your work.

Find out more on the  Critical Thinking  pages. 

Top tip!  Do not introduce any new information in this section. Your conclusion should mirror the content of your introduction but offer more conclusive answers.

List all the sources that you have consulted in the process of your research. Your Reference List or Bibliography must follow specific guidelines for your discipline (Harvard, APA or OSCOLA). Look through your module handbook or speak to your supervisor for more information.

Find out more about  referencing and academic integrity .

Appendix (single) or Appendices (plural):  presents any data, such as images or tables, that aren’t in the main body of your dissertation.

You may have to be selective about the information you include in the main body of your dissertation. If this is the case, you may place data such as images or tables in the appendix. Appendices are not usually included in the word count.

Top tip!  Discuss with your supervisor whether you will need any appendices and what to include.

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help with dissertation literature review

What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples

A literature review is an essential part of any research project. It is a critical analysis of published literature on a particular topic or research question. A literature review is important because it helps to identify gaps in current research, establish the context for a research project, demonstrate familiarity with a research field, and provide a basis for comparison with new research findings.

This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of how to conduct an online dissertation proposal and literature review, including steps to follow, a template to use, and examples to learn from. Whether you are a student conducting research for a paper or a professional conducting research for a project, this guide will provide you with the tools you need to conduct a thorough literature review.

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What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a comprehensive analysis and synthesis of published research literature on a particular topic. The purpose of a literature review is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge on a topic, identify gaps in current research, and provide a foundation for new research.

There are two main types of literature reviews:

Narrative literature review: This type of review provides a comprehensive summary of the literature on a topic. It does not follow a specific methodology or set of guidelines, and it may not include a statistical analysis of the literature.

Systematic literature review: This type of review follows a rigorous methodology to identify, analyze, and synthesize all relevant literature on a topic. It includes a detailed search strategy, inclusion and exclusion criteria, and a statistical analysis of the data.

Steps to conduct a literature review:

  • Define the research question or topic
  • Develop a search strategy to identify relevant literature
  • Conduct a comprehensive search of relevant databases and sources
  • Screen the literature based on inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Extract data from the selected studies
  • Analyze and synthesize the data
  • Write the literature review, including an introduction, methods, results, and discussion
  • Revise and edit the review to ensure accuracy and clarity

Why Conduct a Literature Review?

There are several important reasons to conduct a literature review:

Identify gaps in current research

Establish the context for a research project, demonstrate familiarity with a research field, provide a basis for comparison with new research findings, identify potential research methodologies, evaluate the credibility of sources, identify research gaps and opportunities, enhance the quality of research, avoid research duplication.

Conducting a literature review ensures that researchers are aware of existing research and do not duplicate research that has already been done. This can save time and resources and prevent researchers from drawing conclusions that have already been established in the literature.

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Guide for Conducting a Literature Review

Conducting a literature review can be a daunting task, but following a structured approach can help ensure a thorough and effective review. Here is a guide for conducting a literature review:

  • Identify the research question or topic
  • Develop a search strategy
  • Conduct a comprehensive search for literature
  • Evaluate and analyze the literature
  • Synthesize the literature and draw conclusions

Write the literature review

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Literature Review Template


Briefly introduce the topic and purpose of the literature review

State the research question or objective

Background and context

Provide a brief overview of the research area and its importance

Describe the scope and boundaries of the literature review

Literature review proper

Organize the literature review by themes, concepts, or theories related to the research question

Discuss the main findings and key arguments of each study or source

Evaluate and critique the literature, including strengths and weaknesses of each study or source

Identify gaps, inconsistencies, and controversies in the literature

Summary and conclusions

Summarize the main findings and conclusions of the literature review

Discuss the implications of the literature review for the research question and the field

Identify future research directions and potential research questions based on the literature review

Examples of Literature Reviews

  • Social Sciences Literature Review Example: A literature review on the effects of social media on mental health in adolescents, including studies on the links between social media use and depression, anxiety, and self-esteem.
  • Natural Sciences Literature Review Example: A literature review on the role of the gut microbiome in human health, including studies on the links between gut microbiota composition and immune function, metabolic disorders, and neurological conditions.
  • Humanities Literature Review Example: A literature review on the representation of gender and race in contemporary literature, including analyses of various works of fiction and their portrayal of diverse characters and perspectives.
  • Education literature review example: This literature review could focus on a specific aspect of education, such as student motivation or classroom management.
  • Medical literature review example: A medical literature review might focus on a particular disease or condition, such as diabetes or cancer, and evaluate the most recent research on treatments and outcomes.
  • Engineering literature review example: An engineering literature review could explore advances in a particular technology, such as renewable energy sources or artificial intelligence, and analyze the most recent research and developments in the field.
  • Business literature review example: A business literature review might focus on a particular aspect of business, such as marketing or human resources, and evaluate the most recent research and trends in the field.

A literature review is an essential component of research that involves identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing existing literature on a particular topic or research question. Its significance lies in the identification of research gaps, establishment of context, familiarity with research field, and comparison with new research findings. By following the guide for conducting a literature review, researchers can effectively identify, evaluate, and synthesize literature to draw informed conclusions.

The literature review template provides a helpful structure to organize findings and effectively present them. Examples of literature reviews from various disciplines demonstrate the diversity and flexibility of this research method. Researchers should use this guide, template, and examples to conduct comprehensive literature reviews and enhance the rigor and validity of their research.

What is literature review?

How to write a literature review for dissertation.

  • Write the literature review using a template that includes an introduction, background and context, literature review proper, and summary and conclusions
  • Or you can just hire help with dissertation online

What are the differences between background of the study and literature review?

What are the 3 parts of literature review, how to write a literature review for a research paper example.

  • Begin with an introduction that defines the research question or topic and provides the purpose of the review
  • Present the background and context of the research area
  • Conduct a comprehensive search for literature relevant to the research question or topic
  • Analyze and evaluate the literature, identifying themes and patterns
  • Synthesize the literature and draw conclusions based on the analysis
  • Write the literature review, following a clear structure and using appropriate language and citations

What are the 5 rules for writing a literature review?

  • Define the scope and focus of the review
  • Use appropriate sources and search strategies
  • Evaluate and analyze the literature critically
  • Organize the review thematically or chronologically
  • Provide a clear and concise summary of the findings


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A Guide To Writing The Dissertation Literature Review

Tom Baldwin - Jan 22, 2024

A Guide To Writing The Dissertation Literature Review

Do you want to know a guide to writing the dissertation literature review? You are at the right place. This latest post will explore how to write a literature review, Purposes for writing a literature review, How to conduct a literature review and, most importantly, how to write a methodology for a literature review dissertation

And many more that can be helpful for you. So, without any delay, let’s get started.

Key Take Away

  • Focused Scope: Clearly define your research question and key concepts to maintain focus and avoid information overload.
  • Comprehensive Search: Use diverse sources and search techniques for a thorough literature review. Apply strict criteria for inclusion/exclusion to ensure relevance.
  • Structured Presentation: Organize selected literature into themes and develop a concise thesis statement for a clear and guided narrative.
  • Methodological Precision: Outline a rigorous methodology, detailing search strategy, inclusion/exclusion criteria, data extraction, and synthesis. Reflect on choices, acknowledging strengths and limitations.

Table of Contents

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How To Write A Literature Review

Writing a literature review involves summarizing, evaluating, and synthesizing existing research on a particular topic. Here’s a guide to help you:

1. Define Your Scope

Begin by explicitly defining the scope and parameters of your literature review. Clearly articulate the specific research question or topic you aim to explore. 

Consider the key concepts, keywords, and terms relevant to your inquiry. This step is crucial for setting boundaries, ensuring focus, and avoiding information overload.

2. Search For Relevant Literature

Conduct a comprehensive literature search using a variety of sources such as academic databases , library catalogs, and search engines. Experiment with different combinations of keywords and synonyms related to your topic. 

Use advanced search features and filters provided by databases to refine and narrow down your results. Be mindful of the inclusion and exclusion criteria to ensure relevance.

3. Select And Evaluate Sources

As you gather sources, critically evaluate each one. Examine the author’s credentials, institutional affiliations, and any potential biases. Consider the publication venue and its reputation within the field. 

Pay attention to the publication date to ensure that you are incorporating recent and relevant research. Evaluate the research methodology employed in each study to assess the validity of the findings.

4. Organize The Literature

Organize the selected literature into themes or categories based on commonalities and differences. This can be achieved through the creation of an annotated bibliography or a matrix that categorizes studies based on key characteristics. 

This organizational step will serve as the backbone of your literature review, providing a structured framework for presenting information.

5. Develop A Thesis Statement

Craft a clear and concise thesis statement that encapsulates the main theme, findings, or trends within the literature. This thesis statement should provide a roadmap for readers, guiding them through the overarching narrative of your literature review. 

Ensure that the thesis aligns with the specific research question or objective you outlined in the initial stages.

6. Write An Introduction

In the introduction, contextualize the topic by providing background information, historical context, or relevant theoretical frameworks. Clearly state the purpose of your literature review and articulate the significance of the research question. 

Transition smoothly from the general context to your specific focus, and conclude the introduction with your thesis statement.

7. Body Of The Review

Organize the body of your literature review logically. If following a thematic approach, discuss studies within each theme, summarizing their main findings, methodologies, and contributions to the field. 

If following a chronological approach, trace the evolution of research over time. Ensure a coherent flow between paragraphs and sections, making connections between studies and highlighting key relationships.

8. Critical Analysis

Engage in a critical analysis of each source. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the studies, considering factors such as sample size, research design, and potential biases. Identify any conflicting findings or gaps in the literature. 

Discuss how methodological choices in each study may have influenced the results and interpretations.

9. Synthesize Information

Synthesize information by identifying common themes, trends, or patterns across studies. Explore the relationships between different sources and offer insights into the cumulative knowledge generated by the literature. 

Discuss how the collective findings contribute to the overall understanding of the topic and address your research question.

10. Write A Conclusion

Summarize the main findings and themes discussed in the body of the literature review. Reiterate your thesis statement and emphasize its significance. 

Discuss the broader implications of the reviewed literature and its relevance to the field. Consider proposing areas for future research and potential avenues for exploration.

11. Cite Sources

Ensure proper citation of all sources using the designated citation style (e.g., APA, MLA). Adhere to formatting guidelines consistently throughout your literature review. Maintain accuracy in citing authors, publication years, and other relevant details.

12. Revise And Edit

Carefully review your literature review for clarity, coherence, and logical flow. Check for consistency in tone and style. Edit for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. Consider seeking feedback from peers, mentors, or writing support services to refine your work further.

Additional Tips

  • Consider the cultural and geographical context of the studies you include.
  • Be aware of any evolving debates or shifts in perspectives within the literature.
  • Engage with your sources by offering critiques, connections, and reflections on the methodologies employed.
  • Keep track of the publication status of the studies, as ongoing research might have been published after your literature search.

By following this detailed guide, you can create a comprehensive and nuanced literature review that not only summarizes existing research but also contributes valuable insights to the academic discourse in your field of study.

11 Purposes For Writing A Literature Review  

Writing a literature review serves several important purposes within the academic and research context. Here are key reasons why researchers and scholars engage in the process of writing a literature review:

1. Establishing Context

Purpose: Provide background and context for a research study.

Explanation: A literature review helps situate a research project within the existing body of knowledge. By reviewing relevant studies, researchers establish a foundation for their work and demonstrate an understanding of the historical and theoretical context of their research.

2. Identifying Gaps In Knowledge

Purpose: Identify areas where further research is needed.

Explanation: By examining existing literature, researchers can pinpoint gaps, unanswered questions, or areas with conflicting findings. This identification of gaps helps justify the need for new research and contributes to the advancement of knowledge.

3. Demonstrating Scholarly Understanding

Purpose: Showcase a deep understanding of the subject matter.

Explanation: A well-crafted literature review demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with key concepts, theories, and empirical studies related to the research topic. It showcases the researcher’s expertise and positions them within the scholarly conversation.

4. Synthesizing Existing Knowledge

Purpose: Synthesize information from various sources to form a cohesive narrative.

Explanation: The literature review is an opportunity to synthesize information from diverse studies, presenting a comprehensive overview of existing knowledge. This synthesis helps researchers and readers understand the broader patterns, trends, and relationships in the literature.

5. Evaluating Methodologies

Purpose: Assess the strengths and weaknesses of research methodologies.

Explanation: Researchers critically evaluate the methodologies used in previous studies to understand the reliability and validity of their findings. This assessment informs the methodological choices in the current research and contributes to the overall research design.

6. Supporting Theoretical Frameworks

Purpose: Provide a theoretical foundation for the research.

Explanation: Literature reviews often explore and discuss theoretical frameworks relevant to the research topic. By doing so, researchers ground their work in established theories and frameworks, contributing to the theoretical development of their field.

7. Demonstrating Scope And Breadth

Purpose: Showcase a wide-ranging exploration of literature.

Explanation: Writing a literature review requires the exploration of a broad range of sources, providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of the field. This demonstration of breadth adds credibility to the research and indicates a thorough examination of relevant scholarship.

8. Guiding Research Questions Or Hypotheses

Purpose: Inform the formulation of research questions or hypotheses.

Explanation: Through the review process, researchers gain insights into the existing gaps and patterns, helping them formulate specific and targeted research questions or hypotheses. This ensures that the research is purposeful and directly addresses gaps in the current knowledge.

9. Building A Conceptual Framework

Purpose: Construct a conceptual framework for the study.

Explanation: The literature review aids in the development of a conceptual framework by identifying key concepts, variables, and relationships explored in previous research. This framework serves as a theoretical foundation for the current study.

10. Informing Methodological Choices

Purpose: Guide decisions on research methods.

Explanation: Researchers can draw on the literature review to inform decisions about the most appropriate research methods. By understanding how previous studies were conducted, researchers can make informed choices regarding data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

11. Contributing To Academic Discourse

Purpose: Contribute to ongoing academic discussions.

Explanation: Writing a literature review is a scholarly contribution in itself. By summarizing, analyzing, and synthesizing existing research, researchers actively engage in the academic discourse of their field, adding their perspectives to the broader conversation.

A literature review serves as a critical component of the research process, enabling researchers to situate their work within the larger academic landscape, identify gaps, synthesize knowledge, and contribute to the ongoing scholarly conversation.

How To Write A Methodology For A Literature Review Dissertation

How To Write A Methodology For A Literature Review Dissertation

Writing the methodology for a literature review in a dissertation involves outlining the methods you will use to gather, organize, and analyze the literature. While a traditional research methodology might involve data collection and analysis. 

The methodology for a literature review focuses on your approach to reviewing and synthesizing existing research. Here’s a guide on how to write the methodology section for a literature review dissertation.

1. Search Strategy

Describe your approach to searching for relevant literature. Include details such as the databases you used, keywords, and any specific criteria for inclusion or exclusion. This helps readers understand the comprehensiveness of your literature search.

2. Inclusion And Exclusion Criteria

Clearly outline the criteria you used to select or exclude studies. This might include factors such as publication date, study design, geographical location, or the type of participants. Justify your choices to demonstrate the rigour of your selection process.

3. Data Extraction

Explain how you extracted relevant information from the selected studies. Discuss the variables or themes you focused on and any tools or frameworks you used for data extraction.

4. Quality Assessment

If applicable, describe any criteria or tools you used to assess the quality of the studies included in your literature review. This is important for establishing the reliability and validity of your review.

5. Data Synthesis

Detail how you synthesized the information gathered from the literature. Discuss the methods you used to organize, categorize, and analyze the findings. This could involve thematic analysis, content analysis, or other qualitative synthesis methods.

6. Frameworks Or Models

If you used any theoretical frameworks or models to guide your literature review, explain them in this section. Discuss how these frameworks influenced your approach to analyzing and synthesizing the literature.

7. Categorization And Synthesis

Outline the process you followed to categorize the literature and synthesize key themes or concepts. This is the heart of your literature review methodology, so be specific about the steps you took to identify patterns and relationships in the literature.

8. Reflection On Methodological Choices

Reflect on the strengths and limitations of your methodology. Discuss any challenges you encountered and how you addressed them. This shows your awareness of potential biases and enhances the transparency of your work.

Conclude the methodology section by summarizing the key methods employed and how they contributed to the structure and content of your literature review. Remember to follow the specific guidelines provided by your institution and dissertation committee. 

Adapt the above steps based on the requirements and expectations of your academic program.

1. What Is The Primary Purpose Of A Literature Review In A Dissertation?

A literature review aims to provide a comprehensive overview of existing research, establish context, identify gaps, and contribute to the scholarly discourse within a specific field.

2. How Do I Define The Scope Of My Literature Review?

Begin by clearly articulating your research question and identifying key concepts. This helps set boundaries, maintain focus, and avoid information overload.

3. What Criteria Should I Consider When Selecting And Evaluating Sources?

Evaluate author credentials, institutional affiliations, publication venue reputation, and research methodologies. Consider biases and the relevance of the publication date.

4. Why Is It Important To Organize The Literature Into Themes Or Categories?

Organizing literature helps create a structured framework for presenting information and highlights commonalities and differences between studies.

5. What Role Does A Thesis Statement Play In A Literature Review?

A thesis statement encapsulates the main theme, findings, or trends within the literature, providing a roadmap for readers and aligning with the research question.

In crafting a literature review for your dissertation, mastering the art of synthesizing existing research is key. By defining scope, organizing systematically, and critically analyzing sources

You contribute not only to your research but also to the broader academic conversation. Follow the methodology guide, employ purposeful writing, and create a compelling narrative to enrich your academic exploration.


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Can you write (or rewrite) my literature review for me.

No – all writing must be your own. We can hold your hand throughout the research process, but we cannot write for you as that would constitute academic misconduct.

Can you help me find relevant literature for my review?

Yes. This is part of our popular Literature Review Kickstarter service. You can find more information about that here.

Can you help me organise and structure my literature review?

Yes, we can assist in structuring your literature review to ensure that you have a clear, logical structure and flow throughout your chapter.

Can you review my work and give me feedback?

Absolutely. Our Content Review service is designed exactly for this purpose and is one of the most popular services here at Grad Coach. In a Content Review, we carefully read through your literature review draft and provide detailed comments regarding the key issues/problem areas, why they’re problematic and what you can do to resolve the issues. You can learn more about Content Review here .

Do you offer editing and proofreading services for literature reviews?

Yes, we do provide language editing and proofreading services to ensure your literature review is well-written, clear, and free from errors.

Please note that language editing and proofreading is something that should only be done once you have finished writing your literature review (ideally at the end of your dissertation/thesis) and is not the same as a content review . 

Can you help me with other aspects of my research project?

Yes. Literature review support is only one aspect of our offering at Grad Coach, and we typically assist students throughout their entire dissertation/thesis/research project. You can learn more about our full service offering here .

What qualifications do your coaches have?

All of our coaches hold a doctoral-level degree (for example, a PhD, DBA, etc.). Moreover, they all have experience working within academia, in many cases as dissertation/thesis supervisors. In other words, they understand what markers are looking for when reviewing a student’s work. 

Can I get a coach that specialises in my topic area?

It’s important to clarify that our expertise lies in the research process itself , rather than specific research areas/topics (e.g., psychology, management, etc.).

In other words, the support we provide is topic-agnostic, which allows us to support students across a very broad range of research topics. That said, if there is a coach on our team who has experience in your area of research, as well as your chosen methodology, we can allocate them to your project (dependent on their availability, of course).

If you’re unsure about whether we’re the right fit, feel free to drop us an email or book a free initial consultation.

Can you help me with citations and referencing in my literature review?

Yes, we can assist you in ensuring that the proper citation and referencing formatting is used, but please note that this is part of our language editing and proofreading service.

Is my literature review/writing kept confidential?

Yes, we prioritise confidentiality and data security. Your written work and personal information are treated as strictly confidential. We can also sign a non-disclosure agreement, should you wish. 

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Literature Reviews

  • Getting Started
  • Choosing a Type of Review
  • Developing a Research Question
  • Searching the Literature
  • Searching Tips
  • ChatGPT [beta]
  • Documenting your Search
  • Using Citation Managers
  • Concept Mapping
  • Concept Map Definition


  • Writing the Review
  • Further Resources

Additional Tools

Google slides.

GSlides can create concept maps using their Diagram feature. Insert > Diagram > Hierarchy will give you some editable templates to use.

Tutorial on diagrams in GSlides .


MS Word can create concept maps using Insert > SmartArt Graphic. Select Process, Cycle, Hierarchy, or Relationship to see templates.

NVivo  is software for qualitative analysis that has a concept map feature. Zotero libraries can be uploaded using ris files. NVivo Concept Map information.

A concept map or mind map is a visual representation of knowledge that illustrates relationships between concepts or ideas. It is a tool for organizing and representing information in a hierarchical and interconnected manner. At its core, a concept map consists of nodes, which represent individual concepts or ideas, and links, which depict the relationships between these concepts .

Below is a non-exhaustive list of tools that can facilitate the creation of concept maps.

help with dissertation literature review


Canva is a user-friendly graphic design platform that enables individuals to create visual content quickly and easily. It offers a diverse array of customizable templates, design elements, and tools, making it accessible to users with varying levels of design experience. 

Pros: comes with many pre-made concept map templates to get you started

Cons : not all features are available in the free version

Explore Canva concept map templates here .

Note: Although Canva advertises an "education" option, this is for K-12 only and does not apply to university users.

help with dissertation literature review


Lucid has two tools that can create mind maps (what they're called inside Lucid): Lucidchart is the place to build, document, and diagram, and Lucidspark is the place to ideate, connect, and plan.

Lucidchart is a collaborative online diagramming and visualization tool that allows users to create a wide range of diagrams, including flowcharts, org charts, wireframes, and mind maps. Its mind-mapping feature provides a structured framework for brainstorming ideas, organizing thoughts, and visualizing relationships between concepts. 

Lucidspark , works as a virtual whiteboard. Here, you can add sticky notes, develop ideas through freehand drawing, and collaborate with your teammates. Has only one template for mind mapping.

Explore Lucid mind map creation here .

How to create mind maps using LucidSpark: 

Note: U-M students have access to Lucid through ITS. [ info here ] Choose the "Login w Google" option, use your @umich.edu account, and access should happen automatically.

help with dissertation literature review


Figma is a cloud-based design tool that enables collaborative interface design and prototyping. It's widely used by UI/UX designers to create, prototype, and iterate on digital designs. Figma is the main design tool, and FigJam is their virtual whiteboard:

Figma  is a comprehensive design tool that enables designers to create and prototype high-fidelity designs

FigJam focuses on collaboration and brainstorming, providing a virtual whiteboard-like experience, best for concept maps

Explore FigJam concept maps here .

help with dissertation literature review

Note: There is a " Figma for Education " version for students that will provide access. Choose the "Login w Google" option, use your @umich.edu account, and access should happen automatically.

help with dissertation literature review


MindMeister  is an online mind mapping tool that allows users to visually organize their thoughts, ideas, and information in a structured and hierarchical format. It provides a digital canvas where users can create and manipulate nodes representing concepts or topics, and connect them with lines to show relationships and associations.

Features : collaborative, permits multiple co-authors, and multiple export formats. The free version allows up to 3 mind maps.

Explore  MindMeister templates here .

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  • Last Updated: Feb 15, 2024 1:47 PM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.umich.edu/litreview
  • Open access
  • Published: 22 February 2024

The impact of the cost-of-living crisis on population health in the UK: rapid evidence review

  • Jade Meadows 1 ,
  • Miranda Montano 2 ,
  • Abdelrahman J. K. Alfar 1 , 3 ,
  • Ömer Yetkin Başkan 1 ,
  • Caroline De Brún 4 ,
  • Jennifer Hill 4 ,
  • Rachael McClatchey 5 , 6 ,
  • Nevila Kallfa 1 &
  • Gwen Sascha Fernandes 1 , 7  

BMC Public Health volume  24 , Article number:  561 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

Metrics details

In the UK, unique and unforeseen factors, including COVID-19, Brexit, and Ukraine-Russia war, have resulted in an unprecedented cost of living crisis, creating a second health emergency. We present, one of the first rapid reviews with the aim of examining the impact of this current crisis, at a population level. We reviewed published literature, as well as grey literature, examining a broad range of physical and mental impacts on health in the short, mid, and long term, identifying those most at risk, impacts on system partners, including emergency services and the third sector, as well as mitigation strategies.

We conducted a rapid review by searching PubMed, Embase, MEDLINE, and HMIC (2020 to 2023). We searched for grey literature on Google and hand-searched the reports of relevant public health organisations. We included interventional and observational studies that reported outcomes of interventions aimed at mitigating against the impacts of cost of living at a population level.

We found that the strongest evidence was for the impact of cold and mouldy homes on respiratory-related infections and respiratory conditions. Those at an increased risk were young children (0–4 years), the elderly (aged 75 and over), as well as those already vulnerable, including those with long-term multimorbidity. Further short-term impacts include an increased risk of physical pain including musculoskeletal and chest pain, and increased risk of enteric infections and malnutrition. In the mid-term, we could see increases in hypertension, transient ischaemic attacks, and myocardial infarctions, and respiratory illnesses. In the long term we could see an increase in mortality and morbidity rates from respiratory and cardiovascular disease, as well as increase rates of suicide and self-harm and infectious disease outcomes. Changes in behaviour are likely particularly around changes in food buying patterns and the ability to heat a home. System partners are also impacted, with voluntary sectors seeing fewer volunteers, an increase in petty crime and theft, alternative heating appliances causing fires, and an increase in burns and burn-related admissions. To mitigate against these impacts, support should be provided, to the most vulnerable, to help increase disposable income, reduce energy bills, and encourage home improvements linked with energy efficiency. Stronger links to bridge voluntary, community, charity and faith groups are needed to help provide additional aid and support.

Although the CoL crisis affects the entire population, the impacts are exacerbated in those that are most vulnerable, particularly young children, single parents, multigenerational families. More can be done at a community and societal level to support the most vulnerable, and those living with long-term multimorbidity. This review consolidates the current evidence on the impacts of the cost of living crisis and may enable decision makers to target limited resources more effectively.

Peer Review reports


In the UK, the COVID -19 pandemic and subsequent unforeseen geopolitical factors (e.g., Brexit & Ukraine-Russia War) resulted in a severe economic downturn with gross domestic product (GDP) decreasing by 11.0% in 2020, the sharpest drop since records began and unprecedented in modern times (Fig.  1 , panel a). Since March 2020, whilst GDP has increased , it has remained below 2020 pre-pandemic levels through to July 2022, accompanied by rising inflation rates due to endogenous and exogenous shocks (Fig.  1 , panel b) [ 1 ]. Internal shocks include supply chain challenges or labour shortages which affected the supply side, and pandemic-associated changes in consumer purchasing patterns which affected the demand side. These internal shocks have resulted in imbalances between the supply and demand of different markets including the goods and services market, the labour market, and the money market. Exogenous shocks occur due to non-economic interventions such as war (e.g., the Ukraine-Russia war) and the ongoing global pandemics (e.g., COVID-19). This combination of economic shocks is unprecedented, therefore the resulting impacts on inflation and the cost of living (CoL) are unique, both in terms of provenance and consequences for population health and wellbeing. This is further exacerbated by COVID-19 consequences and recovery from the pandemic which has been estimated to take 10–15 years [ 2 ]. The cost of living crisis is often regarded as the ‘second health emergency’ after the COVID-19 pandemic [ 3 ].

figure 1

Panel a : Annual % change in UK GDP since records began; Panel b : % change in GDP compared to Feb 2020 (pre-pandemic levels) [ 1 ].

Recent evidence from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that economic shocks and austerity exacerbate poverty, vulnerability, marginalisation, as well as socioeconomic and health inequalities [ 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 ], with serious implications for health [ 2 , 8 ],. In the UK, rising inflation has contributed to the rising CoL, which has made the population poorer and driven 1 in 5 into relative poverty [ 9 ].

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) checks the prices of a whole range of items in a standard ‘basket’ of goods and services and the price of that basket determines the overall price level, otherwise known as the Consumer Prices Index (CPI). Inflation is a term used to describe rising prices and how quickly prices go up is called the rate of inflation. To calculate the inflation rate, the cost of the basket or level of CPI is compared with the previous year, and this change in price level over the year is the rate of inflation [ 10 , 11 ]. The inflation rate in the UK (February 2023) was 10.5% against a usual target of 2% [ 10 ]. The inflation rate is projected to worsen through 2023 and subsequently decrease by Q1 of 2024 as depicted in Fig.  2 [ 10 ], a trend confirmed in recent months with inflation now at 4.2% (Jan 2024).

figure 2

CPI inflation Q1 2008 to Q1 2028, including successive Bank of England and Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts. Source: Institute for Government

According to the official economic projections, the expected UK economic recovery is slower than the G7 countries, a full recovery and return to pre-pandemic peak is expected in the end of 2024. The average annual growth rate is less than 1% (per year), from the start of the pandemic till 2028. Prior to this period, the growth rate was 2.75%. In addition to this, the real disposable income per person is expected to fall by 5.7 cumulative percent by the end of the next March 2024 [ 12 ].

Meanwhile the consumer’s wages and benefit payments are not in tandem with rising living costs, and in particular, the cost of housing, food, energy, and fuel [ 13 ]. For example, evidence suggests that 14.4% of households in the UK (approximately 3.53 million) will be living in fuel poverty by January 2023 [ 14 ]. Those at risk include large families, lone parents, and pensioner couples [ 15 ], with the elderly and children being most vulnerable to an increased risk of physical illness such as respiratory infections [ 16 ]. In addition, studies have found that economic hardships increase the prevalence of mental illness, including feelings of anxiety and depression [ 17 ]. The modest economic growth, the decline in real disposable income, and the slow recovery expectations will put more pressure on hospital admission from respiratory and mental illnesses.

To better understand the current cost of living crisis, the associated triggers, drivers, consequences and potential solutions, a rapid evidence review was undertaken between November 2022 and March 2023. This was a cross-organisation, multidisciplinary endeavour that brought together academics, researchers, clinicians, public health practitioners, and policymakers to develop a review that would be informative, useful and of value to the wider health and care system and their stakeholders.

Aims and objectives

The review aimed to provide a first narrative review of evidence relevant to the current CoL crisis and impact on our population health, wellbeing and related services.

The objectives of this evidence review were:

To explain the provenance of the current CoL crisis from a UK perspective including the causes, triggers, drivers, and consequences.

To map the short (1 – 2 months), mid- (3 – 6 months) and long- term (6 months plus) implications of the current CoL crisis on population health and wellbeing. These would be themed by physical health, mental health, wellbeing, education, environment, workforce, and wider health and care system pressures. It would also involve the identification of those most vulnerable to the cost-of-living crisis.

To describe how people change their behaviour or cope/respond to the current CoL crisis, how it impacts on their self-care (e.g., attending regular health checks or screening visits) and the longer-term implications of this behaviour change.

To describe some of the mitigation strategies or interventions that have been deployed to counter the negative impacts of the current CoL/economic crisis and their effects in the UK and key European counterparts, where available.

To describe the breadth of impacts on health and care system partners of the current CoL crisis.


Search strategy.

The search strategy was based on the objectives of this review and cross-referenced with the search strategy adopted by UKHSA’s Library Services on CoL and poverty evidence reviews, conducted since November 2022. Studies published from 2020, which was the start of the coronavirus pandemic and unique set of circumstances culminating in the cost of living crisis, and up to and including the 2023 were reviewed.

Key themes were discussed with experts, such as respiratory consultants, to finalise the search strategy to ensure the search included key phrases.

The definition of the CoL crisis has been taken from the WHO which describes CoL as the decrease in real disposable income that people have been experiencing since late 2021. The key causes are high inflation overriding income and benefit increases, and, have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, disruption to global supply chains and the food and energy crises [ 2 ].

The keywords included: cost of living, population impacts, living cost, fuel poverty, poverty, mental health, physical health, wellbeing, education, work environment, ability to work, and ability to care. Full details of search strategy are included in Appendix 1 .

Selection methodology

Evidence identification, screening and extraction.

The selection criteria were structured around PICOS structure [ 18 , 19 ]:

All age groups impacted by the CoL crisis in the UK.


Any strategies or interventions that have been used to mitigate the impacts of a CoL crisis to be presented by theme/topic, individual level e.g., reducing energy bills at home or changing food preparation patterns; community level e.g., provision of warm drinks at community centres for the elderly, economic/societal level e.g., energy payments for all households, etc. Could also present these at local/sub-regional, national levels.

All age groups that are used to compare with and against those most impacted by CoL (those most protected or least vulnerable to a financial crisis).

The primary outcomes includes a comprehensive tally of physical health (e.g., admissions, morbidity, mortality), Mental Health (e.g., anxiety, depression, injuries, suicide and self-harm), Wellbeing (e.g., social and economic insecurity, working additional jobs, reduced leisure time), educational attainment/school absenteeism, Environmental (e.g., pollution, housing conditions, infrastructure disruptions), workforce (inability to work due to sickness inability to care for family members) and Service pressures or impacts (e.g., lack of staff, lack of community based care or service provision).

Study design

Due to the specific nature of this CoL crisis and time restrictions, we reviewed all review study designs.

Inclusion criteria

UK-based studies only, due to the unique set of circumstances political policies and populations pertaining to the UK; review studies from the 1st of January 2020 up to include the 24th of February 2023. Including grey literature, such as reports from think tanks and charities, such as The Kings Fund [ 3 ] and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation [ 9 , 20 ].

Exclusion criteria

Non-UK based studies, specific study formats including letters to Editors.

Article review

From the search, excluding grey literature, 1,256 records were identified. The team extracted these titles/abstracts into Rayyan, an online software programme used for systematic literature reviews. The study team were then given individual access, with the ‘blind’ feature activated, allowing for independent assessments to be made of each article and corresponding eligibility for inclusion into this evidence review. The initial abstract review was undertaken by two members of the study team, with 50% of articles assessed by at least two members of the team – any discrepancies were discussed and a mutual decision made. Following abstract review, the full text screen was divided into topic areas where two team members reviewed each paper for suitability. As previously, any discrepancies were discussed and a mutual decision made. Each extracted article, regardless of relevance or quality, underwent initial screening to determine relevance to the review topic. Figure  3 details the process for inclusion of studies.

figure 3

PRISMA flowchart showing inclusion of studies into the study review process through Rayyan including identification, screening and final, included articles

Quality assessment methodology

Forty-one studies were included in the full text review. Suitable studies (with interventions) were appraised for quality by a primary reviewer and, to ensure robustness, 50% of these were appraised by a second reviewer. Study quality (cross-sectional, case–control, cohort or qualitative) was assessed using the Newcastle Ottawa Scale (NOS) adapted to consider key areas: selection (representativeness of the sample, sample size, non-responders and exposure details); comparability (is confounding considered) and outcome (blinding, recording and statistical test used). Whilst there are a myriad range of assessment tools available, the NOS has been endorsed by the Cochrane Collaboration to assess quality of research studies [ 18 ].

Three studies were eligible for scoring, the results are detailed in Table  1 . Eligibility for scoring was based on whether an intervention was evaluated as part of the study – those that described an intervention were considered for scoring.

The results are presented by the five objectives outlined in the methodology. Table 2 summarises the 26 papers identified as part of our review process and Table  3 describes the grey literature used.

Current CoL crisis

We have addressed objective 1 of the evidence review (describe the current CoL, including the causes, triggers, and drivers of economic instability by internal and external shock factors) as part of the introduction of this report and cited findings from the World Health Organisation [ 2 ], the Bank of England [ 11 ] and the Institute for Health Equity [ 14 ]. Six (out of twenty-six) peer-reviewed papers from the evidence review were also used to gather evidence and establish a baseline understanding of the current CoL crisis.

Short, mid and long term implications

The review mapped health and wellbeing outcomes using evidence published from six (out of twenty-six) peer-reviewed papers from the evidence review and findings from the World Health Organisation [ 2 ], the King’s Fund [ 3 ], the Joseph Rowntree Foundation [ 9 , 20 ] and Public Health Wales [ 13 ]. A summary of the findings from our reading across papers and grey literature, as well as discussions with our expert advisory panel, on relatable health outcomes is shown in Table  4 and are themed by type of impact (environmental impacts, mental health, physical health and service pressures/impact areas), by time (immediate 1–2 months, intermediate 3–6 months and longer-term 6 months and over) and populations at risk.

The review found that the strongest evidence for the impact of a CoL crisis, particularly from living in cold homes, was on acute hospital admissions due to respiratory distress or illnesses and in particular, affected the very young (children aged 0–4 years) or the elderly (75 + years) [ 13 , 16 , 29 , 33 ]. It is also anticipated that in 2023, a further 500,000 children across England will fall below the UK poverty line [ 33 ] with families struggling to buy essential items like food and clothing [ 34 ]. Increases in the cost of energy and food would result in families choosing between energy dense foods vs. more costly healthier food options [ 30 ]. The CoL crisis could widen socioeconomic inequalities in obesity by affecting disadvantaged families and communities at an existing risk of obesity [ 30 ]. Specifically concerning in younger children are issues related to living in a cold home – including unsafe sleep practices for children, reduced ventilation to keep ‘the heat in’, and living in areas where it is unsafe to open windows [ 35 ].

Behaviour change

Objective 3 of the evidence review was on the impact of the CoL crisis on health behaviours, how people cope or respond to a CoL crisis, and how it impacts on their self-care e.g., attending regular health checks or screening visits. Evidence from 3 (out of 26) peer-reviewed papers [ 32 , 36 , 37 ] from the evidence review and findings from Public Health Wales [ 13 ] informed our results. These were:

Reducing transport related costs associated with attending screening services and appointments may be effective as cost was a barrier for people accessing health and care services. Missing or delaying medical appointments will exacerbate physical and mental health illnesses and delay treatment.

Economic crisis was associated with a lower probability of drinking alcohol frequently and lower probability of being physically inactive.

Economic austerity was associated with increasing child poverty and poorer access and quality of services provided, particularly to children with physical disabilities.

Screening could be offered in acute care and community-based settings to address the social needs of vulnerable patients and families.

The Food Foundation has tracked food insecurity [ 38 ] and found that:

17.7% of households experienced food insecurity (moderate or severe) in January 2023, with 24.4% of households with children experiencing food insecurity.

3.2 million adults (6.1% of households) reported not eating for a whole day because they couldn’t afford food.

Key workers are more likely to be experiencing food insecurity.

Half of households on Universal Credit experienced food insecurity

Disability exacerbates food insecurity.

Non – white people more likely to experience food insecurity.

Mitigation strategies

Objective 4 of the evidence review was on potential interventions to address the CoL crisis at a population level. Nine (out of 26) peer-reviewed papers [ 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 , 44 , 45 , 46 , 47 ] were included alongside evidence from the grey literature sources including the King’s Fund [ 3 ], Joseph Rowntree Foundation [ 9 ] and Public Health Wales [ 13 ].

Where possible, scoring of studies with an intervention were undertaken. Three studies were scored using the Newcastle Ottawa Scale (NOS) as detailed in Table  1 :

A summary of interventions that could be deployed to mitigate the effects of the CoL crisis is presented in Appendix 2 with most peer-reviewed publications focussing on mitigating the negative impacts on mental health. By theme and strength of evidence (where grading was possible), the key findings are:

Mental health

Strong evidence (based on systematic review and meta-analysis of results) to support the use of short-stay crisis units for people experiencing mental health crises.

Evidence showed that suicide risk assessment tools are deployed variably across 85 NHS mental health organisations with limited staff training. Study outcomes recommend standardisation of assessment tools and bespoke staff training in use and implementation, to help improve service and care provision for people attempting suicide or serious self-harm.

Despite strong study design, there was a lack of evidence for the effectiveness of specialist mental health day units compared to crisis teams which support people in crisis at home.

Similarly, there was weak evidence for the use of mental health units which act independently of emergency departments with some units experiencing lengthy stays in a setting which was designed for short stays.

Public Health Wales 2023 [ 13 ] related commissioned review recommends focussing on mental health and wellbeing support including suicide prevention campaigns (short term) and linking people with community support including voluntary and community sector (long term).

Physical health

Providing financial help and home improvements to those at risk of living in a cold home (increasing the warmth and/or energy efficiency of a home)

Preventing falls through exercise (strength training) and home safety assessments

Preventing the spread of respiratory viral infections maximising vaccination uptakes e.g., influenza vaccines, employers encouraging sick employees to stay at home, and providing handwashing advice.

Helping vulnerable individuals keep warm, particularly those experiencing homelessness.

Environmental (income support, energy relief, housing, food)

Public Health Wales recommend providing targeted support on energy bills and extending the Winter Fuel Support Scheme for all households and focusing on the elderly, the very young and people with disabilities or long-term health conditions.

Advising on modifying home energy use in the community e.g., best time of day to use appliances or monitoring use with a smart meter.

Extension of the council tax reduction scheme for tenants and households experiencing hardship

Provision of meal allowances and free school meals to all primary school children.

Supporting emergency schemes such as food banks and community groups which provide essentials of daily living (extend to community/faith groups).

Voluntary & community sector

Weak evidence for the use of individualised/bespoke advice on facilitating energy tariff switching, particularly in vulnerable communities (BAME, elderly over 75 years, and families with young children). Young families most likely to switch, elderly least likely due to apathy, lack of knowledge and scepticism.

Impact on system partners

The last objective of the evidence review aimed to summarise the impact of the CoL crisis on other partners in the health and care systems, such as the voluntary and community sector, fire and rescue service, military, police, and ambulance service. The results of the review (predominantly grey literature as well as discussions with our expert advisory panel) found the following impacts by different sectors as presented here:

Voluntary and community sector

There has been a reduction in voluntary services and community groups, particularly in deprived areas where the level of need is higher. This is largely driven by an increase in energy prices, consumable such as food, and an increase in fuel prices, and more expensive labour [ 48 ].

Reductions in charitable donations and volunteer time have been seen in charity settings with charities now responding more to crisis planning, including welfare and wellbeing support for people.

A decrease in the volume of food donated to food banks has resulted in limited supplies of food provisions against rising demand in the community [ 49 ].

The rate of closures and number of closures of charities was significantly higher in 2022 than in 2021, and simultaneous reduction in the resilience of the voluntary and charity sector in April 2023 compared with previous years [ 50 ]. This includes operating losses for large front-line charities.

There has been a reduction in number of volunteers as part time jobs [ 50 ].

Successes were seen, with services being continued, in charities providing hot meals to elderly residents and a scheme for free school meals provision during school holidays.

Providing safe, warm spaces by making use of local amenities have been successfully deployed in some areas (Wiltshire Community Foundation).

Increases in fuel theft and shoplifting (crime/policing) were noted, however, the Office for National Statistics reports that this increase could be due to improved recording processes and practices by police staff and expansion of recorded crime figures to include new offences [ 51 ].

Fire & rescue

Increased risk of fires as people try to heat their homes or find alternative and cheaper ways to light or heat their homes, for example, wood burner fires linked to chimneys not being swept [ 52 ].

Increased emergency admissions in A & E from burns as a result of alternative heating mechanisms used or unsafe practices, for example, plugging in an electric heater too close to flammable materials.

Data from the House of Commons [ 53 ] shows that a series of measures have been introduced to mitigate against the CoL increase for defence people, veterans and service families including subsidised accommodation charges at 1%, freezing food charges, increasing travel allowance, and providing additional wraparound childcare services.

This is one of the first narrative reviews of the published and grey literature from 2020–2023 to describe the breadth of impact of the current and unique CoL crisis on population health in the UK. The main findings of this report refer to the immediate impacts on population health and well-being, including physical, mental, and financial health. This paper sequentially assesses the literature to present mapped population impacts, individual and population behavioural responses to the cost of living crisis, and the system wide implications of these impacts. Since conducting our review Broadbent et al. [ 54 ] and Richardson et al. [ 55 ], have published work which also investigates the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on population health, which corroborate our findings. Our review was produced to help stakeholders and partners in the health and care sector to rapidly assimilate key information, knowledge, and evidence on the impacts of the cost of living and use it to inform, challenge, change, and drive local policies and practices on tackling this crisis.

The unique provenance of the cost of living

The COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and the Ukraine-Russia war have resulted in unique economic shocks in the UK with steep declines in GDP, reduction in disposable incomes, and increases in inflation from 2020 to 2023. The situation has been further compounded by public sector strikes, political instability, changing fiscal and energy policies, climbing interest rates, findings further corroborated by Broadbent and colleagues [ 54 ]. At a population level, the evidence reflects a reduction in spending power due to the rising costs of essentials such as food and medication, and basic utilities such as heating, electricity, and council tax [ 56 ]. Evidence from the grey literature, the Office of National Statistics, reports that from 17 to 29 May 2023, 7 in 10 adults reported an increase in their cost of living compared to the previous year, largely driven by food bills (95%), gas or electricity bills (73%) and fuel prices (39%) [ 31 ]. A reduction in a household’s spending power or income, is likely to have marked effects on health, as other longitudinal analyses and reports have purported [ 55 ].Our review highlights the unique provenance of the current cost of living crisis, and why it is markedly different and more serious compared to previous economic crises, both at a UK and global level.

The short, mid- and long-term impacts

Our review captures a breadth of physical and mental health conditions which can be affected by the CoL crisis in the short, mid and long term. In the short term, the strongest evidence was for the impact of CoL on housing, resulting in cold, damp, or mouldy homes, and the subsequent effect on the rate of respiratory conditions. These impacts are also more likely to affect those already vulnerable, such as those with chronic conditions, lone parents, multigeneration families, and children [ 13 , 16 , 29 , 33 , 57 ]. Another group vulnerable to the CoL impacts include key workers, those on universal credit, disabled and people from non-white ethnicities [ 16 , 21 , 31 ]. The July 2023 labour market figures form the ONS show that over 410,000 people were not actively seeking employment due to long-term sick leave [ 58 ]. In the longer term, increased morbidity rates and mortality rates from all-causes and cause-specific, such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, are expected with recent publications citing an increase in premature mortality by up to 6.4% and life expectancy to decrease by 0.9% [ 55 ].This has been demonstrated with official mortality rates in March 2023, which were 4.8% above the expected rate [ 59 ].

Behaviour changes because of the CoL crisis are likely to confound the issues that are affecting physical and mental health. Changes in food buying patterns, changes in the frequency and temperature to which homes are heated, and reduced physical activity levels can contribute to poor physical and mental health and impact wellbeing. Other impacts include the inability to afford travels costs to attend screening or hospital services or the reduction in community services such as community pharmacies [ 13 ]. This CoL crisis has had a negative impact on voluntary services and community groups. Charity and food donations have decreased, whilst the need for charity and food banks have exponentially increased. The Trussell Trust report that from March 2022-March 2023, they provided almost 3 million emergency food parcels, higher than during the pandemic and more than double the number in the same period 5 years prior [ 60 ], a finding further highlighted by Broadbent and colleagues [ 54 ].

What can be done to mitigate the impacts?

Our evidence suggests that financial help should be provided to those most at risk of living in a cold home because of the CoL crisis, such as lone parents, multigenerational families, and those living alone via targeted support for energy bills with a focus on those at risk from the CoL crisis [ 13 ]. In addition to these groups, Broadbent [ 54 ]and Richardson [ 55 ] also suggest focus on women, unemployed people and those who are living with a disability, as being most vulnerable to the cost of living crisis. Financial support could also be provided in terms of reduction of council tax, provision of universal free school meals [ 61 ], and bespoke advice on how to save energy when using appliances at home [ 13 ]. To mitigate against the effects of the CoL crisis on physical health, particularly from respiratory illness, evidence was suggestive of investing in-home improvements for those living in cold homes, strength training to reduce the risk of falls, and that flu vaccination uptake should be maximised to reduce the spread of influenza alongside good hand washing guidance [ 13 ]. Campaigns aimed at suicide prevention and linking people with community support may also benefit those with mental health illnesses and those who live alone. Our evidence also found that linking system partners across the health and social care arena and including community-based partners such as the voluntary, charity and faith sectors may collectively have better outreach and impact.

What are the strengths and limitations of this review?

The key strength of this review is the immediate availability of a succinct report which considers the volume of evidence, both published and grey, on the current cost of living crisis. The authors also expanded the original search to include mitigating actions, behaviours, and strategies, so that colleagues may benefit from evidence-based solutions that may work at a population level. We have attempted to synthesis the most recent evidence, to build a picture of why the current economic crisis is unique, and what that means for the population. As with all original reviews, there are several limitations to this work. Firstly, the review period covers 2020–2023, rather than considering the impacts of historic CoL crises on population health. Whilst more evidence on population health outcomes may be needed, the provenance of the current CoL crisis remains unique and warranted specific focus and attention, hence our selection of the time window for review. Secondly, we were not able to ascertain peer-reviewed literature on the impacts on system partners including Fire & Rescue colleagues as these data remain unpublished, anecdotal, and discussed in privileged meetings. However, as more evidence gets published through this crisis, we may consider updating our review in due course to reflect the published evidence. Another limitation is the lack of consideration for any positive impacts of a cost of living crisis, for example a reduced consumption of alcohol due to reduced affordability, reduced usage of public transport due to costs, and a reduction in air quality in major cities. Lastly, due to the time, resources and need for this review, it was conducted in a 3-month timeframe to be of immediate use, value, and impact for current system partners but may have introduced bias to our findings such as a publication bias due to the shorter timeframe [ 62 ]. However, to mitigate this, we have provided a detailed description of methods used including search strategies and discussed the implications of the chosen method in terms of bias. Should more time and resources be made available, future iterations of this review should consider the wider impacts of the CoL crisis at a personalised and individual level, and family and community level but also include different types of study designs rather than the focus on reviews alone in this rapid synthesis which may not fully capture data on the cost of living impacts.

At a population level, the current CoL affects everyone, but particularly exacerbates poorer physical and mental health outcomes in those already vulnerable in our society. Our review found that while the most vulnerable are people living alone, single parents and those living in multigenerational households, more can be done at a community and societal level to support and improve health outcomes. This review brings together the evidence to enable decision makers to act at the right time whilst targeting their resources at the right groups.

Availability of data and materials

All data used or analysed during this study are included in this published article and its supplementary information files.

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This work was undertaken and supported by the South West Critical Thinking Unit (NHS England) with collaboration and partner contributions from across the health and care sector including colleagues from NHS England, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, and the UK Health Security Agency. NK, GF, and JM were involved in the initial concept, design, and development of the protocol. CDB and JH devised the search strategy and RC helped with theme development. GF, JM, and MM completed the abstract review, and GF, JM, MM, OB, and AA conducted the full text screening. JM and GF wrote the main manuscript text. NK, GF, JM, AA, OB, MM, JH, CDB and RC contributed to the manuscript development and multiple draft versions before finalising. No further funding or commissions to declare.

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Appendix 1. Search Strategy. Appendix 2. Interventions to mitigating the impacts of the CoL crisis.

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Meadows, J., Montano, M., Alfar, A.J.K. et al. The impact of the cost-of-living crisis on population health in the UK: rapid evidence review. BMC Public Health 24 , 561 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-024-17940-0

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