How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper

What is a Literature Review in a Research Paper?

When you are starting with a literature review, it is essential to understand what must be included and learn how to write a good literature review.

In simple terms, the literature review is a comprehensive summary that is based on previous research on a specific topic. The purpose is to show that you have done relevant research. Your literature review may include various surveys, scholarly articles, magazines, books (both digital and in print), multimedia sources, newspaper articles, and other sources that have been collected during your research. These should not be just a collection of sources and the titles per se but have a structure with enumeration, description, a summary, and, most importantly, an objective evaluation to support and explain your research. 

The most challenging part is to collect your research information that represents a literature review. It is recommended to pick at least ten books that relate to your subject and then add at least five sources as you write your paper. You may require literature review writing help before you start because you have to make an outline and see what kind of information has been included in your reference(s). It will help you to prove your point and show that your research paper can be justified.  

How long should a literature review be?

In writing a literature review, you must consult your academic advisor to determine the length of this section. In most cases, it will depend on your discipline, subject, and target audience. If you have a thesis paper or work with a dissertation, the length of your literature review should be at least 25 pages. If you are dealing with an assignment, it can be about 3-5 pages. It means that if you have no other instructions, a paper that is 10 pages long should have at least 1-2 pages of a literature review. When you are in doubt, consult your academic advisor regarding limitations. 

Literature Review Structure

In the majority of cases, a literature review for a research paper must have an introduction that speaks of your objectives and a methodology. Before you write an abstract for a literature review, think about the middle body parts with the entries, and take your time to think about the conclusion part. While the structure of your research paper may differ, three sections are essential: 

  1. An introduction or background information part. Here is where you must explain the ways how you have collected information. This is where you must link your entries to a chosen methodology. 
  2. The body parts with the review that contains the discussion and the references. This is where you must introduce an entry by talking briefly about the author and the publication. In the next step, discuss how exactly the information provided has helped to shape your research paper. It will help to add confidence to your tone. 
  3. The conclusion part has recommendations and a call to action. You must talk about the similarities and the differences of your sources and provide your target audience with suggestions regarding further research. You may also offer information about what has been encountered regarding limitations. Do not introduce any new ideas here. 

It is recommended to use only those sources that have complete information with the author’s credentials and data regarding academic credibility. It means that when you have a blog web page or something discovered on social media, you won’t be able to include such information in your literature review. When you learn how to do a literature review, use only reliable sources that will provide your readers with at least two different publications that relate to your subject. Most importantly, sort your information in advance based on the academic style before placing it in your relevant section. 

How to Write a Literature Review

Step 1: Narrow your topic down and choose your entries based on your thesis and academic objectives. It will help you to sort out the entries that are not entirely helpful. 

Step 2: Explore the literature based on keywords and the subject. You can think about visiting Jstor to see what information has been provided. You can look for relevant papers that are related to another discipline. It will help you to see what scientists have worked on your subject. 

Step 3: Read the articles that you find and evaluate them. You can look for the strengths and weaknesses as it is exactly what you should provide in a relevant research paper section. 

Step 4: Organize your literature entries by checking for the same patterns. It will help you to sort your references. 

Step 5: Take notes and work on your thesis. If you find something that has been especially useful for your research paper, mention it in your writing. 

Step 6: Compose your literature review section. As you might already know a literature review format, narrow things down and ensure that you fit the final word count. 

Step 7: Explore your work and sort the entries based on importance or sub-sections. It will help to make your literature review more structured. Think about the most vital entries or sort your references based on a subject or the country of origin (if applicable). 

Step 8: Edit and proofread your literature review. Do so aloud by checking for readability. 

Unless you already have a list of sources that you have been suggested by an academic advisor, it will be necessary to look for information online or at the local library.

  • Before you start a literature review in research paper, consider taking a closer look at the databases like Jstor, Pubmed, and Google Scholar. These databases provide you with a list of academic research articles that can be searched via keywords. Some of the papers will be commercial, while others will provide you with free access. You can also subscribe to as one of the options where you can search relevant disciplines based on your course or a specific keyword phrase.  
  • You can also take a look at Microsoft Academic where you can work similarly to Google Scholar. While there may not be a large list of academic articles, it has good sorting and lists only verified articles. Remember to provide references if you choose any of the discovered articles. In most cases, you will find relevant citations in APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard, Vancouver, and many other writing styles. It will save you time as you have to cite various entries for a literature review. Just look for citations at the top or at the bottom of the database articles.
  • As another solution, do not ignore and databases like Semantic Scholar. These will provide you with interesting information. For something more interesting, check out as it is a “time machine” that has many newspaper articles and scanned web pages. There are many historical speeches and audio files that may also help you with specific disciplines. Take your time to see what fits your subject and always take notes to explain and show how a specific entry has helped you with your research work. 

Importance of a Literature Review

Working with a literature review, you are not only providing a list of references and sources that you have used for a research paper but also structuring your paper to help your target audience see what further information can be explored. You are also going through the self-assistance as you are looking through the particular topic and seeing what kind of studies have been done to determine the main idea. If your subject is slightly different compared to what you research, your literature review will help to explain related information. It is especially important for those cases when you participate in debates and want to present your report in a concise way, supported by more than one piece of evidence. It will help you to address the opponents. You must use the literature review as an academic research solution to address your opinion and the notions that have been offered by your opponents.

In addition to the referencing aspect, you also describe how your research objectives are related to academic work that has been done in the past. It is a statistical factor that must be considered because it helps to explain your originality and special relevance based on what you have contributed. It is especially relevant for a literature review for thesis when you have to provide sufficient scientific support. If your research work brings something totally new, it's important to show that you have consulted the list of books and magazines before you outlined your concept. One of the reasons college students have to use a literature review is avoidance of plagiarism because this section is also included in your final Bibliography. When you structure your sources and references, it helps to justify your methodology and show why your research work can be used for further academic consideration. 

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