Literature Review - what is a Literature Review, why it is important and how it is done

What are literature reviews, goals of literature reviews, types of literature reviews, about this guide/licence.

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 What is a literature review? "A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries. " - Quote from Taylor, D. (n.d) "The literature review: A few tips on conducting it"

Source NC State University Libraries. This video is published under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY-NC-SA US license.

What are the goals of creating a Literature Review?

- Baumeister, R.F. & Leary, M.R. (1997). "Writing narrative literature reviews," Review of General Psychology , 1(3), 311-320.

When do you need to write a Literature Review?

In all these cases you need to dedicate a chapter in these works to showcase what have been written about your research topic and to point out how your own research will shed a new light into these body of scholarship.

Literature reviews are also written as standalone articles as a way to survey a particular research topic in-depth. This type of literature reviews look at a topic from a historical perspective to see how the understanding of the topic have change through time.

What kinds of literature reviews are written?

Guide adapted from "Literature Review" , a guide developed by Marisol Ramos used under CC BY 4.0 /modified from original.

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Literature Review Guide: Examples of Literature Reviews

All good quality journal articles will include a small Literature Review after the Introduction paragraph.  It may not be called a Literature Review but gives you an idea of how one is created in miniature.

Sample Literature Reviews as part of a articles or Theses

Links to sample Literature Reviews from other libraries

Standalone Literature Reviews

Irish Theses

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

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes .

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:

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.

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, frequently asked questions, introduction.

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:

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

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.

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

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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.

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

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:

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.

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:

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.

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).


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.


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:


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:

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.

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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:

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 .  

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Conducting a Literature Review


The process of evaluating sources can take place when you first encounter a source, when you're reading it over, and as you incorporate it into your project. In general, some level of evaluation should take place at all of these stages, with different goals for each. The last evaluation will be discussed in "Organizing the Review," but we'll go over the first two here.

The overall purpose of evaluating sources is to make sure that your review has the most relevant, accurate, and unbiased literature in the field, so that you can determine what has already been learned about your topic and where further research may be needed.

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Evaluating Sources During the Initial Search Process

When you first encounter a potential source, you'll want to know very quickly whether it is worth reading in detail and considering for your literature review. To avoid wasting time on unhelpful sources as much as possible, it's generally best to run each article, book, or other resource you find through a quick checklist, using information you can find by skimming through the summary and introduction.

The two most common forms of early source evaluation are the "Big 5 Criteria" and the "CRAAP Test." These cover the same most significant variables for evaluation, and which one to use comes down to preference.

Big 5 Criteria:

The most important criteria for evaluating a potential resource are:

A good rule of thumb for  Currency  is that medical, scientific, and technology resources should be published within the last 5 years to prevent the information from being out-of-date; for less time-sensitive topics like history or the humanities, resources published within the last 5-10 years are often acceptable.


A helpful mnemonic to remember the evaluation criteria, CRAAP is an acronym for:

Helpful questions for initial evaluation:

Evaluating Sources During the Reading Process

Once a resource has passed the initial evaluation, you are ready to begin reading through it to more carefully determine if it belongs in your project. In addition to the questions posed above, which are always relevant to evaluating sources, you should look at your potential sources of literature with an eye to the following questions:

1. Is there any bias visible in the work?

You already began this process in the previous step and hopefully eliminated the most obviously unreliable sources, but as you read it is always important to keep an eye out for potential blind spots the author might have based on their own perspective. Bias is not inherently disqualifying -- a biased article may still have accurate information -- but it is essential to know if a bias exists and be aware of how it might impact how the information was gathered, evaluated, or delivered.

Peer-reviewed sources tend to be less likely to have this risk, because multiple editors had to go through the resource looking for mistakes or biases. They need to meet a much higher academic threshold.

2. How was the research conducted? Are there any strengths or weaknesses in its methodology?

It is important to understand how the study in your source was administered; a significant part of the literature review will be about potential gaps in the current research, so you need to understand how the existing research was done.

3. How does the author justify their conclusions?

Either through the results of their own research or by citing external evidence, an article, book, or other type of resource should provide proof of its claims. In the initial research process you checked to make sure that there was evidence supporting the author's assertions; now it is time to take a look at that evidence and see if you find it compelling, or if you think it doesn't justify the conclusions drawn by the article.

4. What similarities do these articles share?

Grouping your literature review by categories based on subtopic, findings, or chronology can be an extremely helpful way to organize your work. Take notes while you're reading of common themes and results to make planning the review easier.

5. Where does this research differ from the other sources?

While very close to the previous question, this one emphasizes what unique information, methodology, or insights a particular source brings to the overall understanding of the topic. What  new  knowledge is being brought to the table by this source that would justify it appearing in your literature review?

6. Does this source leave any unanswered questions or opportunities for further research?

Most scholarly journal articles will include a section near the end of the article addressing limits of their study and opportunities for further research. Examine these closely and see where other sources you have fill in the gaps, and where perhaps additional research needs to be done to gain a more complete understanding of your topic.

As you go through this process, you might find yourself eliminating certain sources that no longer seem like they fit with your project's goals, or getting inspired to search for additional sources based on new information you've found. This is a normal part of the research process, and additional searching may be necessary to fill in any gaps left after evaluating the sources you already have.

evaluation of literature example

evaluation of literature example

How to Write a Literature Review

Critically analyze and evaluate

Tip: read and annotate pdfs.


Ask yourself questions like these about each book or article you include:

Take notes on the articles as you read them and identify any themes or concepts that may apply to your research question.

This sample template (below) may also be useful for critically reading and organizing your articles. Or you can use this online form and email yourself a copy .

Opening an article in PDF format in Acrobat Reader will allow you to use "sticky notes" and "highlighting" to make notes on the article without printing it out. Make sure to save the edited file so you don't lose your notes!

Some Citation Managers like Mendeley also have highlighting and annotation features.Here's a screen capture of a pdf in Mendeley with highlighting, notes, and various colors:

Screen capture of Mendeley desktop showing note, highlight, and color tools. Tips include adding notes and highlighting, and using different colors for other purposes like quotations

Screen capture from a UO Librarian's Mendeley Desktop app

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Literature Review - Finding the Resources

Evaluating your sources

Scholarly journals vs. non-scholarly journals, evaluate websites, critical reading.

Before deciding whether or not to incorporate what you have found into your literature review, you need to evaluate the resources to make sure that they contain information which is valuable and pertinent . This is especially true when the resources you retrieved are not collected by an academic library, but conveniently accessible through Internet search. Web resources need more careful thought to ensure their quality. Thus it is always a good practice to begin your search using CityU LibraryFind and databases for more authoritative and reliable resources.

Evaluation Criteria

Accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency and coverage are the five basic criteria for evaluating information from any sources.

It has been mentioned on " The Literature " page of this guide that a literature review generally consists of scholarly works. In addition to dissertations and theses, scholarly journal articles are another important sources to be incorporated in a literature review.

Many Library databases contain articles of various types of periodicals, including scholarly journals, magazines and newspapers. Most of these databases allow you to further limit your search results to "Scholarly Articles" so that you can view only academic research articles that in general report current original research.

The document below assists you in distinguishing scholarly journals from non-scholarly journals:

Bearing in mind that the Web is a vast network of unfiltered information sources, (i.e., anyone can put anything on it, bypassing editorial or peer review). It is of utmost importance that we evaluate information on the Web before it is used and cited.

Here are some quick hints that can help you decide whether the information given in a particular web page is reliable or not:

For more about evaluating information, visit the following sites:

Critically Analyzing Information Sources , from Research & Learning Serivces, Cornell University Library.

Evaluating Resources , from UC Berkeley Library.

Fake News, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Learning to Critically Evaluate Media Sources , from Cornell University Library.

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Literature Review: Conducting & Writing

What is a literature review, what is a literature review: a tutorial, literature reviews: an overview for graduate students.

A Literature Review Is Not:

So, what is it then?

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

Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students (by North Caroline State University Libraries)

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evaluation of literature example

Writing a Literature Review

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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.



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:

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:

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.


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  5. (PDF) Literature Evaluation Criteria

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  1. Literature Reviews: Moving from description to analysis, synthesis & evaluation

  2. Three-Step Critical Analysis

  3. Literature Review: Evaluation and Review

  4. Evaluating and Analysing Your Literature Review Materials

  5. Evaluating the literature

  6. Getting started with critical evaluation in your academic writing


  1. Evaluating Literature Reviews and Sources

    Tips to Evaluate Sources · Authority: Who is the author? what is his/her credentials--what university he/she is affliliated? · Usefulness: How

  2. Examples of Literature Reviews

    All good quality journal articles will include a small Literature Review after the Introduction paragraph. It may not be called a Literature

  3. How to Write a Literature Review

    What is the purpose of a literature review? · Examples of literature reviews · Step 1 – Search for relevant literature · Step 2 – Evaluate and

  4. Evaluating Sources

    When was this source published? · Is this source relevant to your topic? · What are the author or authors' qualifications? · Is the resource

  5. 5. Critically Analyze and Evaluate

    What is the research question? · What is the primary methodology used? · How was the data gathered? · How is the data presented? · What are the main

  6. Evaluating Sources

    Evaluate websites · Look for information about the author, e.g., links that say "Who we are", "About this site", etc. · See if the author/web

  7. Literature Review: Evaluation and Review

    This is a video covering the topic: Literature Review: Evaluation and Review for University Academic Success Programs at Arizona State

  8. Literature Review: Conducting & Writing

    Literature Review: Conducting & Writing · Sample Lit Reviews from Communication Arts · Have an exemplary literature review?

  9. Writing a Literature Review

    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

  10. Literature Review

    Sample Lit Reviews from Communication Arts. Literature Review Sample 1 · Literature Review Sample 2 · Literature Review Sample 3.