The Dynamics to Help You Write a Literature Review for Your College Coursework

April 17, 2021

how to write a literature review

A literature review seems like a daunting task when you have to sit down and write one. The sheer amount of material you need to digest is not a cheering prospect for many people.

However, literature reviews are one of the best ways to keep up to date on current trends in existing literature, research, and information on a particular topic. That works both ways for the writer and the reader. It is also how professionals stay current on new methods and techniques.

If you have to write one and don’t know where to start, this comprehensive guide will show you how to pen excellent in-depth reviews. However, such a task will be intensive and time-consuming. If you would rather ​pay an experienced expert do ​a literature review for you, reach out to our expert ​writers here.

If you are game for an exciting dive into the literature review, strap in for the ride. 

What Is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a critical analysis of existing information sources on a particular topic of interest. You might also call it a comprehensive review of the existing knowledge base on a subject matter. It is called a review because you are supposed to give your personal opinion on what is available.

Literature reviews are meant to prove that you have done extensive research on what others have done on a particular topic. Given how in-depth such an analysis is, it confirms you have read and assimilated all the relevant information available.

Two major parts comprise the bulk of a literature review. These are:

1. Collection of information - you collect a significant number of relevant and credible sources on the subject matter, read them thoroughly, identify strong and low points addressed, as well as any gaps in the material.

2. Critical appraisal - You form your opinion of the publications as read and understood. A thematic approach or pattern is used to organize the review so that your own ideas ultimately stand out instead of the literature you are reviewing.

Postgraduate students usually write a literature review as part of their dissertations or theses, in which case it is condensed and brief. It can also be a full publication on its own, especially when done by undergraduate students or by professionals.

Why Write a Literature Review?

Writing a literature review is hard work, so why bother? Like everything else in academia, it has a specific and highly useful purpose. In this case, a literature review is meant to show and prove to readers how well you understood the subject matter.

When written in school, the goal is straightforward: how well do you understand the course's assigned reading material? When your instructor assigns you such an assignment, they will typically also give instructions and directions on exactly how they need it done.

More importantly, though, literature reviews help experts to keep up-to-date on recent developments in their field. Such people have no time to pore through tomes every few months, but a concise literature review helps them concentrate their effort and attention on what is truly important to them.

Features of a Good Literature Review

A literature review accomplishes its purpose by a concise summary of the sources involved. It also has a clear argument or idea based on the writer's understanding of the material covered.

As such, what makes a good literature review is:

  • A comprehensive, relevant, and credible collection of source material.
  • An intensive but concise description of such material.
  • A subjective view of the writer based on the material covered; an explanation of how well the content covers the subject matter, what is missing, and what should be explored.
  • It should be written in flowy, discursive prose.

There are few directions regarding what a literature review needs to have. In general, four sections must be present: a description of the publication, a summary of its main points, an evaluation of its contribution to the area of research, and a discussion of any missing links.

Comparison: Literature Review, Annotated Bibliography, Research Paper, Systematic Review

It is easy to confuse literature reviews with similar publications. An annotated bibliography and a systematic review are two of its closest cousins, but each is different.

Literature review vs. annotated bibliography: an annotated bibliography is a list of references with a summary of its content. It lacks the subjective 'review' approach where the author is required to give a personal view of the sources, which a literature review has.

Literature review vs. research paper: A research paper expands existing content by adding new ideas, discoveries, or arguments. A literature review adds nothing new except an opinion of the reviewed literature.

Literature review vs. systematic review: A systematic review is a type of literature review that uses systematic methods to provide a complete and exhaustive summary of existing evidence and information base. Learn more about these other types of reviews with a quick visit to our blog here.

Having established the bounds of what a literature review should cover, it is time to look into how you should write one. Remember that you can always request literature review professionals to write your paper for you. Order the service now and get 25% off your first order

Writing a Great Literature Review

Now that we are well into the process of writing a literature review, it is important to note that the approach you take is critical to the project. The actual review depends on how well you prepare, source your material, and pierce it together with a string of your own ideas.


The planning stage of a literature review involves coming up with a topic of study to serve as the subject matter.

Your instructor will usually have narrowed one down for you if you are writing as an academic assignment. If, however, you need to come up with one, here are a few things to consider:


You will usually have an idea of what you want to review. If not, you can start by brainstorming. It helps to pick the brain of your professor, eminent colleagues, or friends.

Write down all the ideas that come to your attention. However, always settle on a topic you are already well versed in.

2.Narrow down

Starting with a general idea, narrow it down to a more specific field. Usually, there are thousands if not tens of thousands of books and publications on any one area of study.

Narrowing the focus reduces the number of publications you have to consider. This stage also helps you to come up with a rough plan before you start the actual review.

3. Define your goal and purpose

What are you aiming to achieve with this review? At this point, you should also write down a thesis statement to define what you intend to accomplish. This statement will evolve as you do your research, so be flexible at this stage.

You might also find it helpful to look for similar literature reviews in the field to give you an idea of what format you need to use, what structure might be required, and give you a headstart on relevant sources.


This is the point you have to find what has been written already on the subject.

Unless you are writing a systematic literature review, this search can be arbitrary. However, you should always use the most relevant, credible, and current (many not apply if it is based on history) sources.

Ask yourself these questions when choosing your sources: 

  • What concepts does the source analyze?
  • What is its relevance to the subject or topic?
  • How does it relate to the other sources? Are there any links, similarities, or differences?
  • How authoritative or credible is it in the field?
  • After a thorough reading and understanding, are there any gaps in the concept as addressed in the content?

When gathering the sources for your review, the most respected authors and publishers will add credibility to your review. Ask around from knowledgeable professors or colleagues to get an idea of what you should be looking at.


Read through the material one by one, making separate notes on important viewpoints, discoveries, quotes, and anything else you feel you might need in your review.

After the first several books or publications, you will already have a clear view of the subject matter, the trends, and arguments stated in existing material.

You will have also have formed an opinion of what you want to address in your review, i.e., what your theme will be. This theme will be the foundation around which you weave your review of the sources collected.

Format of a Literature Review

A literature review has three main parts. These are the Introduction, Body, and Conclusion.

Each of these parts, in turn, has several subdivisions or areas of interest that it needs to address.

1. Introduction

The introduction should focus on giving an outline of the literature review.

It is probably one of the most important parts of the literature review because you need to pique the reader's interest in reading the full review.

If you lose them here, they probably will not even get to the second page.

Write a persuasive first paragraph by having a hook to get your audience interested. Thinking about what their interest is on topic. Do they want new information? Do they want a quick summary? Are they after a comprehensive review? Show them what you have to offer.

You can usually do this by saying, in as few words as possible, why you are writing the review, why the topic is important in the field, how you selected your literature, what pattern and arguments you have used, and what your scope is.


The body contains a detailed review of the sources organized either thematically, chronologically, or methodologically. Usually, your arguments about the existing literature will inform how you do this organization.

For example, if you are writing about sexism, you plan a trend based on feminism, which will inform how and where each source will appear in your review.

Once you have this trend or plan, you can start writing each section in turn.

The body will usually have several subdivisions based on what organizational structure you choose to use. However, some that will often appear in each review and don't necessarily required specific subheadings are:

  • A few paragraphs on the historical background of the topic.
  • A few paragraphs about the methodologies you chose to use when selecting the sources, reviewing them, and structuring the review.
  • Summary of previous studies on the same topic.
  • Offer alternative viewpoints, if any.
  • Give a rundown of the principal points in each publication and answer general questions asked.

As you write your body, keep in mind that you will need a complete list of citations using your chosen style. That is, either APA, MLA, or Chicago citation styles depending on instructions or guidelines in place. You will mention the specific authors and sources in-text, then have the full citations list at the end of the review.

Expert tips

Composing the body of your review will be easy and generally straightforward. However, remember that you want it to have as much credibility and relevance as possible. As such, think about the following tips as offered by experts.

  • Use a lot of evidence to add weight to your arguments and conclusions. Just like with an academic research paper, every claim must be backed by concrete evidence.
  • Be highly selective. The review is supposed to be a summary, so choose only what you feel are the most important points to illustrate.
  • Maintain your individuality. It is easy to get lost in the stream of thoughts and ideas expressed by others. Always ensure that you maintain your unique voice throughout the text. Keep the thread of your voice constant.
  • Move from a general or broad view and narrow down to a more specific focus.
  • Give insight into the relationship between the sources and your theme.
  • Use minimal quotes and maintain accuracy when paraphrasing. The review is about how well you understand the material, so keep quotes at a minimum and only when necessary, such as when using new words introduced by the author. When paraphrasing, be careful to maintain the intended meaning.

3. Conclusion

The conclusion will be a summary of the most important aspects of the existing sources or information body.

Give a general evaluation of what you read and understand from your sources, identify any significant flaws or information gaps, and outline what you think should be future study areas.

You must link your research with the existing knowledge base. Even though you will not be building upon it, make sure that your insights and arguments on existing knowledge have a strong connection.

Need Help?

Literature reviews are vitally important in providing foundation knowledge on a topic. They also help identify information gaps and provide guidelines for future research. Nevertheless, they require a lot of effort and time to carry out successfully.

Hopefully, by now, you have the basics of writing a literature review. Are you feeling up to it? If not, Help for Writing is ready to write your literature review for you at the most competitive rates. Order the service today and let us help you get there in time and with full quality assured.

About the author 

Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.

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