Have a language expert improve your writing

Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.

  • Knowledge Base

Methodology

  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

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 that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

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 summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

Instantly correct all language mistakes in your text

Be assured that you'll submit flawless writing. Upload your document to correct all your mistakes.

upload-your-document-ai-proofreader

Table of contents

What is the purpose of 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, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely 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 its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

Here's why students love Scribbr's proofreading services

Discover proofreading & editing

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 problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. 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 as 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 useful 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 also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to 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.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

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?
  • 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 use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

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 is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation 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.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you 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 organizing the body of a literature review. 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).

Chronological

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 summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze 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 organize 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.

Methodological

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

Theoretical

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.

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, you can follow these tips:

  • 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 sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

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

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

Open Google Slides Download PowerPoint

If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

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 thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

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

  • To familiarize 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 thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

McCombes, S. (2023, September 11). How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates. Scribbr. Retrieved February 15, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/literature-review/

Is this article helpful?

Shona McCombes

Shona McCombes

Other students also liked, what is a theoretical framework | guide to organizing, what is a research methodology | steps & tips, how to write a research proposal | examples & templates, what is your plagiarism score.

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Writing a Literature Review

OWL logo

Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

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.

Introduction:

  • 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.

Conclusion:

  • 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.

HIST495 Introduction to Historical Interpretation (History Honors)

  • Getting Started
  • Consulting Reference Materials for Overview/Background Information
  • Finding Primary Sources
  • Finding Secondary Sources (Books and Articles)
  • Locating Book Reviews

Guidelines and Examples

3 simple steps to get your literature review done (nus libraries).

  • Creating an Annotated Bibliography
  • Strategies for Building Your Bibliography
  • Special Collections and Archives Outside of the US
  • Rose Library, Emory University and Other Archives Within Georgia
  • Writing & Citing
  • Library Assignments
  • Introduction to Literature Reviews (UNC)
  • Literature Review Guidelines (Univ. of Mary Washington)
  • Organizing Research for Arts and Humanities Papers and Theses: Writing A Literature Review
  • Write a Literature Review (JHU)
  • Example from the University of Mary Washington

  • << Previous: Locating Book Reviews
  • Next: Creating an Annotated Bibliography >>
  • Last Updated: Jan 29, 2024 12:56 PM
  • URL: https://guides.libraries.emory.edu/main/histhonors

Have a language expert improve your writing

Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, automatically generate references for free.

  • Knowledge Base
  • Dissertation
  • What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples

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.

Instantly correct all language mistakes in your text

Be assured that you'll submit flawless writing. Upload your document to correct all your mistakes.

upload-your-document-ai-proofreader

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

Prevent plagiarism, run a free check.

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.

The only proofreading tool specialized in correcting academic writing

The academic proofreading tool has been trained on 1000s of academic texts and by native English editors. Making it the most accurate and reliable proofreading tool for students.

how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

Correct my document today

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).

Chronological

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.

Methodological

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

Theoretical

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 .

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the ‘Cite this Scribbr article’ button to automatically add the citation to our free Reference Generator.

McCombes, S. (2022, June 07). What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved 15 February 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/thesis-dissertation/literature-review/

Is this article helpful?

Shona McCombes

Shona McCombes

Other students also liked, how to write a dissertation proposal | a step-by-step guide, what is a theoretical framework | a step-by-step guide, what is a research methodology | steps & tips.

Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library

  • Collections
  • Research Help

YSN Doctoral Programs: Steps in Conducting a Literature Review

  • Biomedical Databases
  • Global (Public Health) Databases
  • Soc. Sci., History, and Law Databases
  • Grey Literature
  • Trials Registers
  • Data and Statistics
  • Public Policy
  • Google Tips
  • Recommended Books
  • Steps in Conducting a Literature Review

What is a literature review?

A literature review is an integrated analysis -- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings and other relevant evidence related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents a synthesis of the evidence that provides background information on your topic and shows a association between the evidence and your research question.

A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment.  Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
  • Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.

APA7 Style resources

Cover Art

APA Style Blog - for those harder to find answers

1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.

Your literature review should be guided by your central research question.  The literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

  • Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow.  Is it manageable?
  • Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.
  • If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor and your class mates.

2. Decide on the scope of your review

How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

  • This may depend on your assignment.  How many sources does the assignment require?

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.

Make a list of the databases you will search. 

Where to find databases:

  • use the tabs on this guide
  • Find other databases in the Nursing Information Resources web page
  • More on the Medical Library web page
  • ... and more on the Yale University Library web page

4. Conduct your searches to find the evidence. Keep track of your searches.

  • Use the key words in your question, as well as synonyms for those words, as terms in your search. Use the database tutorials for help.
  • Save the searches in the databases. This saves time when you want to redo, or modify, the searches. It is also helpful to use as a guide is the searches are not finding any useful results.
  • Review the abstracts of research studies carefully. This will save you time.
  • Use the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
  • Check with your professor, or a subject expert in the field, if you are missing any key works in the field.
  • Ask your librarian for help at any time.
  • Use a citation manager, such as EndNote as the repository for your citations. See the EndNote tutorials for help.

Review the literature

Some questions to help you analyze the research:

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions.
  • Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited? If so, how has it been analyzed?

Tips: 

  • Review the abstracts carefully.  
  • Keep careful notes so that you may track your thought processes during the research process.
  • Create a matrix of the studies for easy analysis, and synthesis, across all of the studies.
  • << Previous: Recommended Books
  • Last Updated: Jan 4, 2024 10:52 AM
  • URL: https://guides.library.yale.edu/YSNDoctoral

Grad Coach

How To Write An A-Grade Literature Review

3 straightforward steps (with examples) + free template.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewed By: Dr. Eunice Rautenbach | October 2019

Quality research is about building onto the existing work of others , “standing on the shoulders of giants”, as Newton put it. The literature review chapter of your dissertation, thesis or research project is where you synthesise this prior work and lay the theoretical foundation for your own research.

Long story short, this chapter is a pretty big deal, which is why you want to make sure you get it right . In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to write a literature review in three straightforward steps, so you can conquer this vital chapter (the smart way).

Overview: The Literature Review Process

  • Understanding the “ why “
  • Finding the relevant literature
  • Cataloguing and synthesising the information
  • Outlining & writing up your literature review
  • Example of a literature review

But first, the “why”…

Before we unpack how to write the literature review chapter, we’ve got to look at the why . To put it bluntly, if you don’t understand the function and purpose of the literature review process, there’s no way you can pull it off well. So, what exactly is the purpose of the literature review?

Well, there are (at least) four core functions:

  • For you to gain an understanding (and demonstrate this understanding) of where the research is at currently, what the key arguments and disagreements are.
  • For you to identify the gap(s) in the literature and then use this as justification for your own research topic.
  • To help you build a conceptual framework for empirical testing (if applicable to your research topic).
  • To inform your methodological choices and help you source tried and tested questionnaires (for interviews ) and measurement instruments (for surveys ).

Most students understand the first point but don’t give any thought to the rest. To get the most from the literature review process, you must keep all four points front of mind as you review the literature (more on this shortly), or you’ll land up with a wonky foundation.

Okay – with the why out the way, let’s move on to the how . As mentioned above, writing your literature review is a process, which I’ll break down into three steps:

  • Finding the most suitable literature
  • Understanding , distilling and organising the literature
  • Planning and writing up your literature review chapter

Importantly, you must complete steps one and two before you start writing up your chapter. I know it’s very tempting, but don’t try to kill two birds with one stone and write as you read. You’ll invariably end up wasting huge amounts of time re-writing and re-shaping, or you’ll just land up with a disjointed, hard-to-digest mess . Instead, you need to read first and distil the information, then plan and execute the writing.

Free Webinar: Literature Review 101

Step 1: Find the relevant literature

Naturally, the first step in the literature review journey is to hunt down the existing research that’s relevant to your topic. While you probably already have a decent base of this from your research proposal , you need to expand on this substantially in the dissertation or thesis itself.

Essentially, you need to be looking for any existing literature that potentially helps you answer your research question (or develop it, if that’s not yet pinned down). There are numerous ways to find relevant literature, but I’ll cover my top four tactics here. I’d suggest combining all four methods to ensure that nothing slips past you:

Method 1 – Google Scholar Scrubbing

Google’s academic search engine, Google Scholar , is a great starting point as it provides a good high-level view of the relevant journal articles for whatever keyword you throw at it. Most valuably, it tells you how many times each article has been cited, which gives you an idea of how credible (or at least, popular) it is. Some articles will be free to access, while others will require an account, which brings us to the next method.

Method 2 – University Database Scrounging

Generally, universities provide students with access to an online library, which provides access to many (but not all) of the major journals.

So, if you find an article using Google Scholar that requires paid access (which is quite likely), search for that article in your university’s database – if it’s listed there, you’ll have access. Note that, generally, the search engine capabilities of these databases are poor, so make sure you search for the exact article name, or you might not find it.

Method 3 – Journal Article Snowballing

At the end of every academic journal article, you’ll find a list of references. As with any academic writing, these references are the building blocks of the article, so if the article is relevant to your topic, there’s a good chance a portion of the referenced works will be too. Do a quick scan of the titles and see what seems relevant, then search for the relevant ones in your university’s database.

Method 4 – Dissertation Scavenging

Similar to Method 3 above, you can leverage other students’ dissertations. All you have to do is skim through literature review chapters of existing dissertations related to your topic and you’ll find a gold mine of potential literature. Usually, your university will provide you with access to previous students’ dissertations, but you can also find a much larger selection in the following databases:

  • Open Access Theses & Dissertations
  • Stanford SearchWorks

Keep in mind that dissertations and theses are not as academically sound as published, peer-reviewed journal articles (because they’re written by students, not professionals), so be sure to check the credibility of any sources you find using this method. You can do this by assessing the citation count of any given article in Google Scholar. If you need help with assessing the credibility of any article, or with finding relevant research in general, you can chat with one of our Research Specialists .

Alright – with a good base of literature firmly under your belt, it’s time to move onto the next step.

Need a helping hand?

how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

Step 2: Log, catalogue and synthesise

Once you’ve built a little treasure trove of articles, it’s time to get reading and start digesting the information – what does it all mean?

While I present steps one and two (hunting and digesting) as sequential, in reality, it’s more of a back-and-forth tango – you’ll read a little , then have an idea, spot a new citation, or a new potential variable, and then go back to searching for articles. This is perfectly natural – through the reading process, your thoughts will develop , new avenues might crop up, and directional adjustments might arise. This is, after all, one of the main purposes of the literature review process (i.e. to familiarise yourself with the current state of research in your field).

As you’re working through your treasure chest, it’s essential that you simultaneously start organising the information. There are three aspects to this:

  • Logging reference information
  • Building an organised catalogue
  • Distilling and synthesising the information

I’ll discuss each of these below:

2.1 – Log the reference information

As you read each article, you should add it to your reference management software. I usually recommend Mendeley for this purpose (see the Mendeley 101 video below), but you can use whichever software you’re comfortable with. Most importantly, make sure you load EVERY article you read into your reference manager, even if it doesn’t seem very relevant at the time.

2.2 – Build an organised catalogue

In the beginning, you might feel confident that you can remember who said what, where, and what their main arguments were. Trust me, you won’t. If you do a thorough review of the relevant literature (as you must!), you’re going to read many, many articles, and it’s simply impossible to remember who said what, when, and in what context . Also, without the bird’s eye view that a catalogue provides, you’ll miss connections between various articles, and have no view of how the research developed over time. Simply put, it’s essential to build your own catalogue of the literature.

I would suggest using Excel to build your catalogue, as it allows you to run filters, colour code and sort – all very useful when your list grows large (which it will). How you lay your spreadsheet out is up to you, but I’d suggest you have the following columns (at minimum):

  • Author, date, title – Start with three columns containing this core information. This will make it easy for you to search for titles with certain words, order research by date, or group by author.
  • Categories or keywords – You can either create multiple columns, one for each category/theme and then tick the relevant categories, or you can have one column with keywords.
  • Key arguments/points – Use this column to succinctly convey the essence of the article, the key arguments and implications thereof for your research.
  • Context – Note the socioeconomic context in which the research was undertaken. For example, US-based, respondents aged 25-35, lower- income, etc. This will be useful for making an argument about gaps in the research.
  • Methodology – Note which methodology was used and why. Also, note any issues you feel arise due to the methodology. Again, you can use this to make an argument about gaps in the research.
  • Quotations – Note down any quoteworthy lines you feel might be useful later.
  • Notes – Make notes about anything not already covered. For example, linkages to or disagreements with other theories, questions raised but unanswered, shortcomings or limitations, and so forth.

If you’d like, you can try out our free catalog template here (see screenshot below).

Excel literature review template

2.3 – Digest and synthesise

Most importantly, as you work through the literature and build your catalogue, you need to synthesise all the information in your own mind – how does it all fit together? Look for links between the various articles and try to develop a bigger picture view of the state of the research. Some important questions to ask yourself are:

  • What answers does the existing research provide to my own research questions ?
  • Which points do the researchers agree (and disagree) on?
  • How has the research developed over time?
  • Where do the gaps in the current research lie?

To help you develop a big-picture view and synthesise all the information, you might find mind mapping software such as Freemind useful. Alternatively, if you’re a fan of physical note-taking, investing in a large whiteboard might work for you.

Mind mapping is a useful way to plan your literature review.

Step 3: Outline and write it up!

Once you’re satisfied that you have digested and distilled all the relevant literature in your mind, it’s time to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard). There are two steps here – outlining and writing:

3.1 – Draw up your outline

Having spent so much time reading, it might be tempting to just start writing up without a clear structure in mind. However, it’s critically important to decide on your structure and develop a detailed outline before you write anything. Your literature review chapter needs to present a clear, logical and an easy to follow narrative – and that requires some planning. Don’t try to wing it!

Naturally, you won’t always follow the plan to the letter, but without a detailed outline, you’re more than likely going to end up with a disjointed pile of waffle , and then you’re going to spend a far greater amount of time re-writing, hacking and patching. The adage, “measure twice, cut once” is very suitable here.

In terms of structure, the first decision you’ll have to make is whether you’ll lay out your review thematically (into themes) or chronologically (by date/period). The right choice depends on your topic, research objectives and research questions, which we discuss in this article .

Once that’s decided, you need to draw up an outline of your entire chapter in bullet point format. Try to get as detailed as possible, so that you know exactly what you’ll cover where, how each section will connect to the next, and how your entire argument will develop throughout the chapter. Also, at this stage, it’s a good idea to allocate rough word count limits for each section, so that you can identify word count problems before you’ve spent weeks or months writing!

PS – check out our free literature review chapter template…

3.2 – Get writing

With a detailed outline at your side, it’s time to start writing up (finally!). At this stage, it’s common to feel a bit of writer’s block and find yourself procrastinating under the pressure of finally having to put something on paper. To help with this, remember that the objective of the first draft is not perfection – it’s simply to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, after which you can refine them. The structure might change a little, the word count allocations might shift and shuffle, and you might add or remove a section – that’s all okay. Don’t worry about all this on your first draft – just get your thoughts down on paper.

start writing

Once you’ve got a full first draft (however rough it may be), step away from it for a day or two (longer if you can) and then come back at it with fresh eyes. Pay particular attention to the flow and narrative – does it fall fit together and flow from one section to another smoothly? Now’s the time to try to improve the linkage from each section to the next, tighten up the writing to be more concise, trim down word count and sand it down into a more digestible read.

Once you’ve done that, give your writing to a friend or colleague who is not a subject matter expert and ask them if they understand the overall discussion. The best way to assess this is to ask them to explain the chapter back to you. This technique will give you a strong indication of which points were clearly communicated and which weren’t. If you’re working with Grad Coach, this is a good time to have your Research Specialist review your chapter.

Finally, tighten it up and send it off to your supervisor for comment. Some might argue that you should be sending your work to your supervisor sooner than this (indeed your university might formally require this), but in my experience, supervisors are extremely short on time (and often patience), so, the more refined your chapter is, the less time they’ll waste on addressing basic issues (which you know about already) and the more time they’ll spend on valuable feedback that will increase your mark-earning potential.

Literature Review Example

In the video below, we unpack an actual literature review so that you can see how all the core components come together in reality.

Let’s Recap

In this post, we’ve covered how to research and write up a high-quality literature review chapter. Let’s do a quick recap of the key takeaways:

  • It is essential to understand the WHY of the literature review before you read or write anything. Make sure you understand the 4 core functions of the process.
  • The first step is to hunt down the relevant literature . You can do this using Google Scholar, your university database, the snowballing technique and by reviewing other dissertations and theses.
  • Next, you need to log all the articles in your reference manager , build your own catalogue of literature and synthesise all the research.
  • Following that, you need to develop a detailed outline of your entire chapter – the more detail the better. Don’t start writing without a clear outline (on paper, not in your head!)
  • Write up your first draft in rough form – don’t aim for perfection. Remember, done beats perfect.
  • Refine your second draft and get a layman’s perspective on it . Then tighten it up and submit it to your supervisor.

Literature Review Course

Psst… there’s more!

This post is an extract from our bestselling Udemy Course, Literature Review Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

You Might Also Like:

How To Find a Research Gap (Fast)

37 Comments

Phindile Mpetshwa

Thank you very much. This page is an eye opener and easy to comprehend.

Yinka

This is awesome!

I wish I come across GradCoach earlier enough.

But all the same I’ll make use of this opportunity to the fullest.

Thank you for this good job.

Keep it up!

Derek Jansen

You’re welcome, Yinka. Thank you for the kind words. All the best writing your literature review.

Renee Buerger

Thank you for a very useful literature review session. Although I am doing most of the steps…it being my first masters an Mphil is a self study and one not sure you are on the right track. I have an amazing supervisor but one also knows they are super busy. So not wanting to bother on the minutae. Thank you.

You’re most welcome, Renee. Good luck with your literature review 🙂

Sheemal Prasad

This has been really helpful. Will make full use of it. 🙂

Thank you Gradcoach.

Tahir

Really agreed. Admirable effort

Faturoti Toyin

thank you for this beautiful well explained recap.

Tara

Thank you so much for your guide of video and other instructions for the dissertation writing.

It is instrumental. It encouraged me to write a dissertation now.

Lorraine Hall

Thank you the video was great – from someone that knows nothing thankyou

araz agha

an amazing and very constructive way of presetting a topic, very useful, thanks for the effort,

Suilabayuh Ngah

It is timely

It is very good video of guidance for writing a research proposal and a dissertation. Since I have been watching and reading instructions, I have started my research proposal to write. I appreciate to Mr Jansen hugely.

Nancy Geregl

I learn a lot from your videos. Very comprehensive and detailed.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. As a research student, you learn better with your learning tips in research

Uzma

I was really stuck in reading and gathering information but after watching these things are cleared thanks, it is so helpful.

Xaysukith thorxaitou

Really helpful, Thank you for the effort in showing such information

Sheila Jerome

This is super helpful thank you very much.

Mary

Thank you for this whole literature writing review.You have simplified the process.

Maithe

I’m so glad I found GradCoach. Excellent information, Clear explanation, and Easy to follow, Many thanks Derek!

You’re welcome, Maithe. Good luck writing your literature review 🙂

Anthony

Thank you Coach, you have greatly enriched and improved my knowledge

Eunice

Great piece, so enriching and it is going to help me a great lot in my project and thesis, thanks so much

Stephanie Louw

This is THE BEST site for ANYONE doing a masters or doctorate! Thank you for the sound advice and templates. You rock!

Thanks, Stephanie 🙂

oghenekaro Silas

This is mind blowing, the detailed explanation and simplicity is perfect.

I am doing two papers on my final year thesis, and I must stay I feel very confident to face both headlong after reading this article.

thank you so much.

if anyone is to get a paper done on time and in the best way possible, GRADCOACH is certainly the go to area!

tarandeep singh

This is very good video which is well explained with detailed explanation

uku igeny

Thank you excellent piece of work and great mentoring

Abdul Ahmad Zazay

Thanks, it was useful

Maserialong Dlamini

Thank you very much. the video and the information were very helpful.

Suleiman Abubakar

Good morning scholar. I’m delighted coming to know you even before the commencement of my dissertation which hopefully is expected in not more than six months from now. I would love to engage my study under your guidance from the beginning to the end. I love to know how to do good job

Mthuthuzeli Vongo

Thank you so much Derek for such useful information on writing up a good literature review. I am at a stage where I need to start writing my one. My proposal was accepted late last year but I honestly did not know where to start

SEID YIMAM MOHAMMED (Technic)

Like the name of your YouTube implies you are GRAD (great,resource person, about dissertation). In short you are smart enough in coaching research work.

Richie Buffalo

This is a very well thought out webpage. Very informative and a great read.

Norasyidah Mohd Yusoff

Very comprehensive and eye opener for me as beginner in postgraduate study. Well explained and easy to understand. Appreciate and good reference in guiding me in my research journey. Thank you

Maryellen Elizabeth Hart

Thank you. I requested to download the free literature review template, however, your website wouldn’t allow me to complete the request or complete a download. May I request that you email me the free template? Thank you.

Submit a Comment Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

  • Print Friendly

The University of Edinburgh home

  • Schools & departments

Institute for Academic Development

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

Organizing Research for Arts and Humanities Papers and Theses

  • General Guide Information
  • Developing a Topic
  • What are Primary and Secondary Sources
  • What are Scholarly and Non-Scholarly Sources
  • Writing an Abstract
  • Writing Academic Book Reviews
  • Writing A Literature Review
  • Using Images and other Media

What is a Literture Review

Note: This description of the elements of a literature review is geared toward researchers in the arts and humanities. Additional information on conducting literature reviews is available in Dr. Robert Labaree's libguide on organizing research in the social sciences .

A literature review is a discursive essay that critically surveys existing scholarship on a particular topic in the field. A literature review essay is a required part of a dissertation. Undergraduate students are sometimes asked to write a literature review essay as part of an assignment to help them delve into topical research. Literature reviews are also included in grant proposals.

Components of a Literature Review Essay

When organizing a literature review essay, remember to weave in the following components as needed:

  • Criteria for selecting and excluding sources for your literature review;
  • Citations to the works under review;
  • Summary of the main ideas, arguments, theories, or methodologies of each work under review;
  • Critical evaluation of how each work fits into the development of scholarship on the topic at hand, whether it breaks new evidentiary or theoretical grounds, or provides notable nuaned reading. In academic papers and dissertations, critical evaluation constitutes the bulk of the literature review essay.

Organizing a Literature Review Essay

There are several common ways to organize a literature review essay. Often literature review essays are a hybrid:

Historic : If the history of publishing sheds important light on the trajectory of scholarship on your topic, it may be useful to organize your essay chronologically by date of publication. Are earlier authors cited in subsequent publications, and if so, which ones?

Thematic : Has your topic undergone thematic reinterpretation, and how have the themes been treated by the works under review?  Is there a methodological context, such as iconographic, sociological, political, religious? Do any of the works offer a methodological reevaluation or re-contextualization of evidence? It may be worthwhile to check the bibliographies of the sources you are reviewing to see who else is cited, and whether there are previous authors and works that are commonly cited by the literature you are reviewing.

Theoretical : Has the topic been influenced by theoretical developments, such as structuralism, feminism, historicism? How do the works under review contribute to, amplify on, or reorient the theoretical discourse? It may be worthwhile to check the bibliographies of the sources you are reviewing to see who else is cited, and whether there are previous authors and works that are commonly cited by the literature you are reviewing.

A literature review essay written as a chapter of a dissertation ought to be as exhaustive as possible, given the parameters of the dissertation topic. You should be clear in stating the criteria for including and excluding sources.

Remember that you are writing an essay. It should have a theme that is reflected in the opening paragraph/section, a body that provides a well constructed critical summary and synthesis of works under review, and a conclusion that may reflect on the current state of scholarship, and, if appropriate, note developing scholarly trends. 

Remember to keep track of your sources, regardless of the stage of your research. The USC Libraries have an excellent guide to  citation styles  and to  citation management software . 

  • << Previous: Writing Academic Book Reviews
  • Next: Using Images and other Media >>
  • Last Updated: Jan 19, 2023 3:12 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.usc.edu/ah_writing

Help

  • Cambridge Libraries

Resources for My Subject

History: writing a history dissertation.

  • Writing a History Dissertation
  • Referencing and Style Guide
  • Literature Search Plan

Starting a Literature Search

Conducting a literature search is a great way to find a viable topic and plan your research. It will also give you the opportunity to look for primary and secondary resources that can support the arguments you make in your dissertation. 

Starting your literature search early will help you plan your dissertation and give you an overview of all the resources you might want to consult. Below are examples of how you can start this process and how they can help.

Dissertation Books

how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

Define your Topic

Start your search by identifying a broad subject area, such as a country, period, theme or person. You might do this by looking at reference works, such as a Very Short Introduction , Cambridge Histories , or Oxford Handbooks . These books will give you an insight into the many areas you can investigate in greater depth and they will also provide references to peer-reviewed material on more defined topics. 

Next , look at material which focuses more on the area you have identified from reference works. These might be books, chapters or articles which focus on a more defined area of the subject you have identified. Use these to formulate questions that you can answer in your research.

Then ,  read resources that will help you form your argument and answer the questions you have set. This material should focus on the topic you have chosen and help you explain what has been written on this area before.

Search for Secondary Resources

In order to successfully search for resources relevant to your study, you will need to use search-terms which will retrieve the best results. The tips below will help you do this:

Terms you have found in your reading

Keep a note of terms you have seen when you have been identifying your topic. This could be anything relevant your topic, including: places, people, jobs, religions, institutions, objects, periods, or events. Also, take note of terms that are related to your topic and had an impact on the area you are studying. Write down all the terms which relate to your topic and note which ones provide the most relevant results.

It can also be useful to keep a note of what you are not looking at so that you stay focused on your topic and do not retrieve too many results.

Authors who are written about the topic

You will start to notice that some authors are mentioned as specialists on the topic you are researching. Search a variety of catalogues to find what they have written on the subject in different formats. They might have contributed to edited works, written articles, given presentations to conferences or annotated works. They also might lead you to others who have written about your topic or research groups which are relevant to your studies.

Use subject searches

Most secondary resources have been indexed according to their subject. Through using these subject terms you can search catalogues more efficiently and find relevant resources without just searching the title or author. 

If you find a useful resources, try looking at its catalogue record. See if any of the subject headings look useful and note what terminology they use as this will be consistent across most databases. When you have found a useful term, copy and paste it into a subject search (or select the link) and see what other resources are available.

You can also use an online thesaurus to find search terms. The most commonly used terms are the Library of Congress Subject Headings  which provide uniform terms across international databases.

Use databases

The University subscribes to many databases that focus on different countries and topics. These will provide a comprehensive guide to what has been written in your area and may use different subject headings. Reference databases and bibliographies can be especially useful for finding citations of everything that has been written on a certain area of history. Biographical databases can also help find information about individuals and institutions. For a complete list of all the databases the University subscribes to, look at the A-Z of databases . 

Search for Primary Resources

There are plenty of primary resources that can be used in your dissertation. The University subscribes to many databases that provide access to primary resources and some of our libraries hold special collections which can be used in your research. Below are some examples:

The University subscribes to many newspapers from the past and present. They can be a really useful tool for finding contemporary accounts of events and provide more than just articles (including: advertisements, illustrations, family notices, sports, arts, court cases). Many newspaper databases will also include related content, such as pamphlets and newsbooks.

The University Library has a collection of print newspapers which can be consulted on site. The University also subscribes to electronic databases of national and local newspapers across the world. More information about the newspaper databases we subscribe to is available on our  dedicated website .

Special Collection Material

Many libraries and archives provide access to rare, unique and specialised collections of books and manuscripts. The University Library, for example, provides access to Manuscripts and Rare Books Departments , as do some of the colleges. Some of the more frequently used and important material is also available as part of an online library, such as Cambridge's CUDL .

Official Publications (Government Documents)

Documents produced by governmental and intergovernmental bodies can provide an insight into their decision making and governance. Several libraries in Cambridge have received official publications material and a lot of material is now available online. More information about the official material in Cambridge libraries is available on our Official Publications LibGuide .

Data and Statistics

Figures can be used to help illustrate a point and provide evidence as you answer the central question in your dissertation. You might chose to refer to census data, crime statistics, trade figures, or any other data set that relates to your area of history. This sort of information can be found in databases and replicated in secondary resources. 

Private Papers

If you are researching an individual (or someone who played a prominent role in the area you are focusing on) it is a good idea to see if they have deposited private papers in an archive. These might includes diaries, letters, draft works, or anything else that was kept and not published. These works are normally kept in an archive, so a good starting point is to look at a catalogue that might show where relevant papers are held (such as Archives Hub )

These can include maps, cartoons, paintings and photographs. Images are available both in print and online, but you need to be cautious of the copyright restrictions of images before you use them (check the information given by the source). Some databases will allow you to search images, like ARTstor , so use them as a good starting point for your search. 

Audio-Visual

Similarly to images, the University provides access to a variety of audio-visual resources, including interviews, recordings, radio and films. If there is a particular DVD you would like to use, try searching the title in iDiscover. For example, " Interviews with Historians " will take you to a comprehensive collection of DVDs available at the Seeley. Many films are also available online, such as British Pathe .

Organise and Save Your Research

You will be able to do a comprehensive and efficient literature search if you keep a record of what you have read, where you read it and what each item means to your research. The best way to achieve this is to:

1. Record the key ideas, themes and quotes from what you have read. Try to find a uniform way to do this as it will make it easier to find information when you come to write your dissertation. Some formats are freely available on the internet, such as the Cornell Note Taking System .

2. Save citations you have looked at so you do not struggle to find them again. Also, this will help you when you come to do your references. There are many reference managers available to help you store this information and create a fully formatted bibliography.

  • << Previous: Home
  • Next: Referencing and Style Guide >>
  • Last Updated: Feb 9, 2024 3:45 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.cam.ac.uk/history

© Cambridge University Libraries | Accessibility | Privacy policy | Log into LibApps

  • EXPLORE Random Article

How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation

Last Updated: August 4, 2021

This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD . Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. This article has been viewed 22,403 times.

If you're writing a doctoral-level dissertation in the sciences or humanities, you'll most likely be required to include a literature review. A well-written review brings together the previous work done in your field and places an emphasis upon established points relevant to your topic. This shows your dissertation committee that you're well-read in your specialty area and can contextualize your work within larger conversations in your field. Within the review itself, you’ll need to analyze other scholars’ works, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and synthesize their perspectives with your own work.

Reviewing the Literature

Step 1 Understand the formatting and content guidelines.

  • If you're not sure which formatting guidelines you should be following, ask your committee chair or major professor.

Step 2 Collect at least 50 relevant literature sources within your field.

  • The number of sources you'll need will vary depending on your field and major professor. While not all fields will require 50 sources (and some may require more), it's a good ballpark figure to start with.
  • Make sure that you identify the major and minor fields that your dissertation fits into. Discuss this with your committee and make a list of key terms and concepts to help you as you start collecting sources.

Step 3 Read and analyze all of your sources before you begin writing.

  • What research methods do the scholars whose work you're reading use?
  • What conflicts have cropped up between different schools of thought?
  • How have theories in the field changed over time?
  • What names and ideas come up most frequently?
  • Write your citations 1 at a time as you read through your sources. Do not try to write several annotations at once.

Structuring the Body of Your Lit Review

Step 1 Include 4–6 subheadings in your lit review to increase readability.

  • For example, say you’re writing about teaching trends in higher education. You could have 1 subheading about online-based teaching, another about uses of technology in the classroom, and another about experience-based teaching.

Step 2 Organize sources around the most influential article in each subsection.

  • Organizing sources will allow you to enumerate the ways in which other sources agree with, disagree with, or otherwise modify the sources of highest importance.

Step 3 Present the sources chronologically within each section.

  • For example, you’d summarize a source about technology in the classroom written in 1967 before one written in 1976.

Writing the Lit Review

Step 1 Tie the lit review to the body of your dissertation in the introduction.

  • For example, maybe the work you’re doing in your dissertation expands on what’s been done in one subsection of the works you’re reviewing.

Step 2 Write each entry in a way that blends summary and analysis.

  • For example, if a frequently-cited article within the literature relies on faulty research or poor research, point this out when addressing the article.

Step 3 Synthesize different sources that take a similar approach to a topic.

  • Synthesizing sources by method by comparing different academic works that follow a similar operating method (this is especially prevalent in the hard sciences)
  • Synthesizing sources by topic, since your lit review should be broad enough to cover at least 4–5 different subfields within your area of study

Step 4 Maintain your own writing voice when composing the lit review.

  • So, don’t switch between imitating the sentence structures and vocabularies of each of the sources you’re summarizing.

Step 5 Proofread your lit review before moving on with your dissertation.

  • A thoroughly checked review has a better chance of being accepted by your dissertation committee.

Expert Q&A

  • Give yourself at least 4-6 months to write the literature review. Although you won’t be coming up with new, original ideas for the lit review, it still takes a substantial chunk of time to write. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • If you're seriously struggling to write your literature review, you can consult a professional editorial company to help you write your review. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

You Might Also Like

Ask for Feedback

  • ↑ https://guides.library.cornell.edu/annotatedbibliography
  • ↑ https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/resources/writing/writing-resources/literature-review
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/literature-reviews/

About this article

Christopher Taylor, PhD

To write a literature review for a dissertation, start with an introduction that gives an overview of the topic. In this overview, emphasize the topic's importance, identify recent research, and clarify how that research applies to the body of your dissertation. For example, the work in your dissertation might expand on what’s been done in one subsection of the works you’re reviewing. In your review, summarize 40 to 50 different sources in a way that provides an analysis of their strengths. It’s not realistic to write an entire paragraph for each source, so look for ways to group sources together and show your committee that you’re able to make high-level connections between them. As you write, be sure to maintain your own writing voice by trying to think of it as a conversation between yourself and the sources. For more advice from our academic co-author, including how to research formatting guidelines, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

Did this article help you?

Ask for Feedback

  • About wikiHow
  • Terms of Use
  • Privacy Policy
  • Do Not Sell or Share My Info
  • Not Selling Info

College of Arts and Sciences

History and American Studies

  • What courses will I take as an History major?
  • What can I do with my History degree?
  • History 485
  • History Resources
  • What will I learn from my American Studies major?
  • What courses will I take as an American Studies major?
  • What can I do with my American Studies degree?
  • American Studies 485
  • For Prospective Students
  • Student Research Grants
  • Honors and Award Recipients
  • Phi Alpha Theta

Alumni Intros

  • Internships

Sample Literature Review

Click this link  to access a .pdf example of a literature review for a History 297-298 course.

Alumni Intros

How have History & American Studies majors built careers after earning their degrees? Learn more by clicking the image above.  

Recent Posts

  • Fall 2023 Symposium – 12/8 – All Welcome!
  • Spring ’24 Course Flyers
  • Internship Opportunity – Chesapeake Gateways Ambassador
  • Congratulations to our Graduates!
  • History and American Studies Symposium–April 21, 2023
  • The Poe Museum Internships (Richmond, VA)
  • Summer Internship: Hunter House Victorian Museum (Norfolk, VA)
  • View umwhistory’s profile on Facebook
  • View umwhistory’s profile on Twitter

University of Texas

  • University of Texas Libraries
  • UT Libraries

Architectural History

  • Literature Reviews
  • Databases and Journals
  • Historical Newspapers, Magazines, and Trade Publications
  • Archives & Primary Sources
  • Census Data and Genealogy
  • Digital Collections
  • Materials and Visual Resources
  • GIS & Geospatial Data
  • Evaluate Sources
  • Writing a Research Paper
  • Case Studies
  • Citations and Data

Literature Review

What is a Literature Review?

It is…. a systematic and critical analysis of the literature on a specific topic. It describes trends, quality, relationships, inconsistencies and gaps in the research; and it details how the works enhance your understanding of the topic at large.

It is NOT…. simply an annotated bibliography that summarizes and/or assesses each article. There is not one, correct way to approach and write a literature review. It can be a stand-alone paper or part of a thesis/dissertation. Format and requirements can vary between disciplines, purpose and intended audience.

A literature review is an overview of existing literature (books, articles, dissertations, conference proceedings, and other sources) in a particular scholarly area. With a lit review, you will:

  • Gather information about your topic, including the sources used by others who have previously conducted research
  • Find out if your specific research question has already been answered
  • Find out what areas or perspectives have not yet been covered by others on your topic
  • Analyze and evaluate existing information

The literature review will assist you in considering the validity and scope of your research question so that you can do the necessary revision and fine tuning to it. It provides the foundation to formulate and present strong arguments to justify your chosen research topic.

  • How to Write a Literature Review  (University of California, Santa Cruz)

Check out these books from the library for further guidance:

how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

  • Després, Carole. "The meaning of home: literature review and directions for future research and theoretical development." Journal of architectural and planning research 8, no.2, (Summer 1991): 96-155.
  • Steiner, Frederick R. "Philadelphia, the holy experiment: A literature review and analysis." Ekistics , 49, (1982): 298-305.

Reckoning with Authorities

As you are developing your Lit Review, part of your objective is to identify the leading authorities within the field or who address your topic or theme. Some tips for identifying the scholars:

Old Fashioned Method:

  • Keep notes on footnotes and names as you read articles, books, blogs, exhibition catalogs, etc. Are there names or works that everyone references? Use the catalog to track these reference down.
  • Consider looking for state of the field articles often found either in a discipline's primary journal or in conference proceedings - keynote speakers.
  • Look for book reviews.

Publication Metrics:

  • These resources include information about the frequency of citations for an article/author.
  • These resources are not specifically for Architecture or Planning. Remember therefore to be critical and careful about the assumptions you make with regard to the results!

The Web of Science platform currently also provides temporary access to several databases that are not part of the Core Collection, including Biosis Citation Index, Data Citation Index, and Zoological Record.

Use this link to access Google Scholar, and see our Google Scholar Guide for information on using this resource.

If you encounter a warning about the security certificate when using the FindIt@UT tool in Google Scholar, you can learn more about that using this guide .

  • Last Updated: Feb 14, 2024 9:30 AM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/arch_history

Creative Commons License

Duke University Libraries

Literature Reviews

  • 6. Write the review
  • Getting started
  • Types of reviews
  • 1. Define your research question
  • 2. Plan your search
  • 3. Search the literature
  • 4. Organize your results
  • 5. Synthesize your findings
  • Thompson Writing Studio This link opens in a new window
  • Need to write a systematic review? This link opens in a new window

how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

Contact a Librarian

Ask a Librarian

Organize your review according to the following structure:

  • Provide a concise overview of your primary thesis and the studies you explore in your review.
  • Present the subject of your review
  • Outline the key points you will address in the review
  • Use your thesis to frame your paper
  • Explain the significance of reviewing the literature in your chosen topic area (e.g., to find research gaps? Or to update your field on the current literature?)
  • Consider dividing it into sections, particularly if examining multiple methodologies
  • Examine the literature thoroughly and systematically, maintaining organization — don't just paraphrase researchers, add your own interpretation and discuss the significance of the papers you found)
  • Reiterate your thesis
  • Summarize your key findings 
  • Ensure proper formatting of your references (stick to a single citation style — be consistent!)
  • Use a citation manager, such as Zotero or EndNote, for easy formatting!

Check out UNC's guide on literature reviews, especially the section " Organizing the Body ."

  • << Previous: 5. Synthesize your findings
  • Next: AI tools >>
  • Last Updated: Feb 15, 2024 1:45 PM
  • URL: https://guides.library.duke.edu/lit-reviews

Duke University Libraries

Services for...

  • Faculty & Instructors
  • Graduate Students
  • Undergraduate Students
  • International Students
  • Patrons with Disabilities

Twitter

  • Harmful Language Statement
  • Re-use & Attribution / Privacy
  • Support the Libraries

Creative Commons License

Want to Get your Dissertation Accepted?

Discover how we've helped doctoral students complete their dissertations and advance their academic careers!

how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

Join 200+ Graduated Students

textbook-icon

Get Your Dissertation Accepted On Your Next Submission

Get customized coaching for:.

  • Crafting your proposal,
  • Collecting and analyzing your data, or
  • Preparing your defense.

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.

how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

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)

how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

  • 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.

' src=

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

Related Posts

grad student studying in the library

Dissertation

What makes a good research question.

Creating a good research question is vital to successfully completing your dissertation. Here are some tips that will help you formulate a good research question.  What Makes a Good Research Question? These are the three Read more…

concentrated grad student taking dissertation notes

Dissertation Structure

When it comes to writing a dissertation, one of the most fraught questions asked by graduate students is about dissertation structure. A dissertation is the lengthiest writing project that many graduate students ever undertake, and Read more…

professor consulting students in his office

Choosing a Dissertation Chair

Choosing your dissertation chair is one of the most important decisions that you’ll make in graduate school. Your dissertation chair will in many ways shape your experience as you undergo the most rigorous intellectual challenge Read more…

Make This Your Last Round of Dissertation Revision.

Learn How to Get Your Dissertation Accepted .

Discover the 5-Step Process in this Free Webinar .

Almost there!

Please verify your email address by clicking the link in the email message we just sent to your address.

If you don't see the message within the next five minutes, be sure to check your spam folder :).

Hack Your Dissertation

5-Day Mini Course: How to Finish Faster With Less Stress

Interested in more helpful tips about improving your dissertation experience? Join our 5-day mini course by email!

Writing a Literature Review in the Arts and Humanities

  • 1. Get Started
  • 2.1 Find Review Articles
  • 3.1 Find Scholarly Journals
  • 3.2 Find Theses or Dissertations
  • 3.3 Track Citations
  • 4. Evaluate Literature
  • 5. Take Notes & Manage References
  • 6. Keep Current
  • 7. Prepare First Draft & Revise

Humanities Librarian

Profile Photo

Process of Literature Review

This guide was created to help FSU students in the arts and humanities with writing a literature review.

Whether you are writing a literature review for your term paper, research article, or thesis/dissertation, we hope you will find some helpful tips for completing the task.

Each tab in this guide was designed to correspond to each stage of the literature review process. However, research and writing are iterative processes; they do not necessarily follow a linear process. You may find yourself cycling through stages more than once, perhaps going back to your topic after a first reading of articles and books you have discovered. The outline here is meant only as a guide for thinking about the process.

What is a Literature Review?

A Literature Review IS.. .

  • a selective, integrated analysis and synthesis of what has been researched and published on a particular topic
  • a process, typically starting from selecting a topic to review and concluding with writing a manuscript to report the published works on the topic
  • an iterative process: you may have to keep coming back to previous stage(s) to refine your topic, modify the search statements, and/or revise a working thesis, etc.

A Good Literature Review IS NOT...

  • a mere summary of what you have read on a topic
  • a summary of everything that is reported on a topic
  • an annotated bibliography 

         ...BUT IS

  • a critical summary of relevant and selective literature on the topic
  • written in clear language
  • a piece of research on its own

         ...AND DOES

  • situate and focus your research in context
  • use credible and most relevant sources
  • add value to the existing knowledge on the topic

FSU Reading Writing Center

The Florida State University Reading-Writing Center and Digital Studio offers writing support to all FSU students across all the disciplines.

  • FSU Reading-Writing Center (RWC) an inclusive resource for FSU students of all majors, programs, and backgrounds. Whether you are working on a project, a paper, or any range of writing, the RWC is excited to assist you in any stage of your work process.

Video Tutorials

  •   Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students  (9:38)
  •   From North Carolina State University Libraries
  • Writing the Literature Reviews: Step-by-Step Tutorial for Graduate Students  : Part 1 (5:21)  
  •    From Univ. of Maryland University College

These tutorials are hosted on YouTube and may include advertising. FSU Libraries do not endorse ads promoted by YouTube.

Guide Authors

This guide was authored by Abby Scheel in 2017. Adam Beauchamp maintains the guide and is the point of contact for inquiries.

Except where otherwise noted, the content in this guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License . 

Creative Commons icon

  • Next: 1. Get Started >>
  • Last Updated: Sep 20, 2023 11:38 AM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.fsu.edu/litreview_arthum

© 2022 Florida State University Libraries | 116 Honors Way | Tallahassee, FL 32306 | (850) 644-2706

how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

AI Literature Review Generator

Automated literature review creation tool.

  • Academic Research: Create a literature review for your thesis, dissertation, or research paper.
  • Professional Research: Conduct a literature review for a project, report, or proposal at work.
  • Content Creation: Write a literature review for a blog post, article, or book.
  • Personal Research: Conduct a literature review to deepen your understanding of a topic of interest.

New & Trending Tools

Biology assistant, literature review ai, speech maker ai.

IMAGES

  1. 14+ Literature Review Examples

    how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

  2. basic parts of a literature review

    how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

  3. An example of a literature review of a dissertation

    how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

  4. How to write a dissertation literature review: an in-depth guide.

    how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

  5. 50 Smart Literature Review Templates (APA) ᐅ TemplateLab

    how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

  6. 50 Smart Literature Review Templates (APA) ᐅ TemplateLab

    how to write a literature review for a history dissertation

VIDEO

  1. Write Your Literature Review FAST

  2. How to write literature review #academicsuccess #thesiswriting #school #students

  3. How To Structure A Literature Review

  4. Research Session # 10 : How to Write Literature Review? By Usman Tariq Bhatti

  5. SIMPLIFIED WRITING OUTLINE OF CHAPTER 2, REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE AND STUDIES

  6. Ph.D. Chapter two Literature Review for a Thesis| HOW TO WRITE CHAPTE TWO for Ph.D

COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Literature Review

    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 Free lecture slides Other interesting articles Frequently asked questions Introduction Quick Run-through Step 1 & 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5

  2. Literature Review Guidelines

    3) CHOOSING WORKS: Your literature review must include enough works to provide evidence of both the breadth and the depth of the research on your topic or, at least, one important angle of it. The number of works necessary to do this will depend on your topic.

  3. Writing a Literature Review

    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

  4. Writing Literature Reviews

    Guidelines and Examples Introduction to Literature Reviews (UNC) Literature Review Guidelines (Univ. of Mary Washington) Organizing Research for Arts and Humanities Papers and Theses: Writing A Literature Review Write a Literature Review (JHU) Example from the University of Mary Washington 3 Simple Steps To Get Your Literature Review Done!

  5. What is a Literature Review?

    Step 1 & 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5 Why write a literature review? 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

  6. A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review

    If the literature review is flawed, the remainder of the dissertation may also be viewed as flawed, because "a researcher cannot perform significant research without first understanding the literature in the field" (Boote & Beile, 2005, p. 3). Experienced thesis examiners know this.

  7. Steps in Conducting a Literature Review

    A literature review is an integrated analysis-- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings and other relevant evidence related directly to your research question. That is, it represents a synthesis of the evidence that provides background information on your topic and shows a association between the evidence and your research question.

  8. How To Write A Literature Review (+ Free Template)

    Step 1: Find the relevant literature. Naturally, the first step in the literature review journey is to hunt down the existing research that's relevant to your topic. While you probably already have a decent base of this from your research proposal, you need to expand on this substantially in the dissertation or thesis itself.. Essentially, you need to be looking for any existing literature ...

  9. Literature review

    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.

  10. Writing A Literature Review

    A literature review is a discursive essay that critically surveys existing scholarship on a particular topic in the field. A literature review essay is a required part of a dissertation. Undergraduate students are sometimes asked to write a literature review essay as part of an assignment to help them delve into topical research.

  11. History: Writing a History Dissertation

    The tips below will help you do this: Terms you have found in your reading Keep a note of terms you have seen when you have been identifying your topic. This could be anything relevant your topic, including: places, people, jobs, religions, institutions, objects, periods, or events.

  12. PDF Writing an Effective Literature Review

    Whatever stage you are at in your academic life, you will have to review the literature and write about it. You will be asked to do this as a student when you write essays, dissertations and theses. Later, whenever you write an academic paper, there will usually be some element of literature review in the introduction. And if you have to

  13. How to write a dissertation literature review

    In short, a dissertation literature review provides a critical assessment of the sources (literature) you have gathered and read surrounding your subject area, and then identifies a "gap" in that literature that your research will attempt to address.

  14. Writing a literature review

    A formal literature review is an evidence-based, in-depth analysis of a subject. There are many reasons for writing one and these will influence the length and style of your review, but in essence a literature review is a critical appraisal of the current collective knowledge on a subject. Rather than just being an exhaustive list of all that ...

  15. How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation: 12 Steps

    1 Understand the formatting and content guidelines. Before you begin writing, check the guidelines specified by your department or university. For example, if you are writing your paper in APA style, read the literature review guidelines online so that you know how to properly format your paper.

  16. Sample Literature Review

    American Studies 485. Faculty. For Prospective Students. Current Students. Scholarships & Awards. Student Research Grants. Honors and Award Recipients. Phi Alpha Theta.

  17. PDF A Complete Dissertation

    Provide a cursory glance at the constitution of an entire dissertation. Offer a comprehensive outline of all key elements for each section of the dissertation—that is, precursor of what is to come, with each element being more fully developed and explained further along in the book.

  18. A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review

    Authors: Justus Randolph Mercer University Abstract and Figures Writing a faulty literature review is one of many ways to derail a dissertation. This article summarizes some pivotal...

  19. Literature Reviews

    The Literature Review by Lawrence A. Machi; Brenda T. McEvoy A clear, understandable six-step method for streamlining the literature review process! Written in user-friendly language, this resource offers master's and doctoral level students in education and the social sciences a road map to developing and writing an effective literature review for a research project, thesis, or dissertation.

  20. LibGuides: Literature Reviews: 6. Write the review

    Organize your review according to the following structure: Abstract (it might help to write this section last!) Provide a concise overview of your primary thesis and the studies you explore in your review. Introduction. Present the subject of your review; Outline the key points you will address in the review; Use your thesis to frame your paper

  21. PDF LITERATURE REVIEWS

    ¡ be aware that key definitions and background should be provided in the introduction to orient your reader to the topic. the literature review is the place to provide more extended discussions, such as terms that emerge from complicated theoretical traditions 2. MOTIVATE YOUR RESEARCH

  22. PDF The Thesis Writing Process and Literature Review

    First, consider the relevant literatures on which you intend to draw. This is not simply all substantively related work. So how to know what to select? Think about how each subfield of literature relates to your project. Primary Categories of Literature that Relate to Your Thesis

  23. How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation

    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.

  24. Writing a Literature Review in the Arts and Humanities

    a process, typically starting from selecting a topic to review and concluding with writing a manuscript to report the published works on the topic; an iterative process: you may have to keep coming back to previous stage(s) to refine your topic, modify the search statements, and/or revise a working thesis, etc. A Good Literature Review IS NOT...

  25. AI Literature Review Generator

    Academic Research: Create a literature review for your thesis, dissertation, or research paper. Professional Research: Conduct a literature review for a project, report, or proposal at work. Content Creation: Write a literature review for a blog post, article, or book.