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Literature reviews - research guide

Writing your review

Writing your review

A literature review is a piece of discursive writing, which seeks to persuade the reader. It should be structured as a conversation that synthesises the literature around concepts and ideas, rather than a simple description of each author's findings in list form.

  • Organise your literature review in a way that helps readers make sense of the studies you are reporting on.
  • Synthesise the literature around concepts and ideas, rather than just describing each author's findings.
  • The topic sentence should contain the concept, then provide analysis of the studies that support the concept.

Structuring your review

Include an introduction with an overview of the topic, in conjunction with the objectives of the literature review.

Decide on a structure for your review and divide the texts under review into categories; some common approaches to literature reviews are:

  • Topical - grouping studies by subject or theme
  • Conceptual - grouping studies by concept
  • Methodological - grouping studies by method
  • Chronological - ordering studies from the oldest to the most recent or, more rarely, in reverse order
  • Combination – a mixture of approaches

When writing your review, ensure that you:

  • Use headings.
  • Begin each section of your review with a sentence that introduces the concept; then provide an analysis of the relevant studies.
  • Incorporate brief summaries throughout the review and include an explanation of how each text is similar to and how it varies from the others.
  • Use language that explicitly describes the scope of research within the topic, the studies under review, and the relationship to your own research.
  • Draw conclusions as to which texts are most considered and convincing in their argument, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of the topic.

Effectiveness of your review

  • The reader should have a clear understanding of the current state of knowledge on your topic​ .
  • You must show what has been overlooked, understudied, or misjudged by previous studies in order to create space for new research​.
  • The primary purpose of the literature review is to demonstrate why your research is necessary.

Literature review writing checklist

  1. How is your literature review organised? Are you clear about which approach is being used in the review?
  2. Do you use headings or paragraph breaks to show distinctions between the groups of texts being reviewed?
  3. Do you explain why texts are being reviewed by drawing a clear connection to your topic?
  4. Do you make clear which of the studies described are the most important?
  5. Do you cover all of the important areas of research related to your topic?
  6. Do you use transitions and summaries to move from one text or set of texts to the next?
  7. By the end of the literature review, is it clear why your research is necessary?