How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper: A Step-By-Step Guide


Okay. Your professor asked you to write a literature review. So, you grab your favorite novel from your shelf, blow the dust off and read it from cover to cover. In the end, you either give it a thumbs-up if it was a captivating read or a thumbs-down if it bombed. Literature review - done, right? Well, not exactly.

Literature reviews in scholarly circles mean something entirely different altogether. For starters, “Literature” in this case doesn’t mean the literary works of world-renowned authors. Likewise, “Review” here doesn’t mean that you’re required to give your personal feelings and opinions on whether or not you like the collection. 

What is a literature review in academic writing

This is any collection of books and writings on a particular field/subject. It refers to a simple and organized summary of literary sources. But, there’s a way to do it.

Literature reviews typically have a systematic pattern of organization. They recap the important sources of information. In some cases, they might give a new spin to the interpretation of old material by combining it with new modern age interpretations. 

The context also matters a great deal. In some situations, it may analyze all sources of information, and render advice to readers as to which ones are most pertinent to the paper in question.

Is a literature review part of a research paper or is it different?

Again, it depends on specific contexts. Literature reviews can be written as standalone papers as part of research papers. They are mostly written in the sciences, but they do occasionally surface in humanities, though sightings there are quite rare.

So, are they different? The short answer is ‘yes’. The focal point of research papers is developing new arguments. Literature review portions of research papers use literature as the basis for supporting any new insight writers render to the discipline.

On the other hand, the main focus of a standalone paper is to summarize the already existing ideas of others, without adding any new contributions. 

If you have a limited amount of time to conduct a study, literature reviews bridge that gap. They provide an airtight background for investigations conducted. With that in mind, let’s explore how to write a literature review for your research paper.

Writing a literature review for a research paper

Regardless of whether you are writing a literature review as a standalone paper, or as part of your research paper, both follow the same basic steps:

Step 1: Collection, evaluation, and selection

Identify and understand your research problem and search for literature that is both relevant and related to your project. Compile a list of keywords that are relevant to your topic, and using recommended databases to search for relevant articles and journals.

Next, since you won’t be able to use everything, evaluate the materials based on their respective abstracts, to determine which ones are most valuable to your paper.

Finally, narrow down your list even further by selecting only the credible sources to work with. You can now begin taking notes and citing selected ones.

Step 2: Connections and themes

To formulate the structure of your review section, organize your arguments by looking for trends, patterns or themes that make up the common denominator for your sources. 

Identify recurring concepts and analyze the areas where your sources reveal conflict or contradictions. Try to see how your research can marry into the existing source information.

Step 3: Build the structure

Depending on how long your piece is, there are four main structures you can adopt to organize the body of your literature review:

  • Chronological - This method traces the development of a particular topic over time. 
  • Thematic - If you notice various recurring themes, you can organize the subsections of your review to address each theme. As long as it is central to your paper.
  • Methodological - This technique structures the review based on any research methods the authors used. You can then compare the results that emerge from the various approaches.
  • Theoretical - You can also structure your work based on various concept definitions, models and theories that emerge from your collection.

Step 4: Start writing your literature review

As is the case with all academic texts, your review should be organized into an introduction, main body and conclusion. The contents of each section depend primarily on what the main objective of your literature review is. As part of a research paper, for instance, you’ll need to reiterate your central problem and provide a bit of context to it.

The devil is in the details

Just like any other academic piece of writing, ensure that you comb through your literature review with a fine-tooth comb. Remember that your main goal at this point isn’t to present an argument.

Your objective is to present a final organized and concise collection of materials that you used in your research. Use language and terminology that your audience can resonate with depending on their background.

However, if you find it tedious and involving, you might want to consider getting help from someone well-versed in the area.

Our team of expert literature review writers will craft for you a meticulously written paper that will get you the high grades you deserve. Get in touch with us today to get an expert on your project.