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Scientific writing: Literature Reviews

Defining Literature Reviews and Why They are Important

What is a Literature Review?

A Literature review is a critical recap of what has already been researched on a topic. The contents of a literature review can consist of anything from books, journal articles, and other kinds of sources that have to do with the topic.This is sometimes also called a narrative review.

There are many different types of literature reviews. If you are interested in evidence synthesis based reviews such as systematic reviews, scoping reviews, rapid reviews, etc. please see our companion guide at

What is the purpose of a Literature Review?

A literature review can be used to: 

  • Find out for yourself what's already known about the topic.
  • Give your reader a critical overview of what you found.
  • Find out what's missing from the current knowledge you have found so you can contribute something original.


How To Write a Literature Review

Steps to Writing a Literature Review

1. Search for relevant literature on your topic

Literature that you can use should come from academic sources like books or journal articles.

2. Evaluate and Select Sources

As you look for sources, you probably do not need everything about the topic. When you find credible sources, read the abstract and check the bibliography in order to find out whether the literature is relevant or not. 

3. Identify themes, debates, and gaps.

As you read, take notes and pay attention to the connections between different sources. By doing so, you can organize your literature review's arguments and structure a lot easier.

Things to look for:

  • Trends and patterns in theory, method, or results
  • Themes
  • Debates or contradictions
  • Influential studies
  • Gaps

4. Outline your literature review' s structure.

There are four approaches to structure a literature review

  1. Chronological: From older to more recent publications
  2. Thematic: Organized by several key themes
  3. Methodological: Compare the different research methods being used across studies
  4. Theoretical: Your review's main goal is to discuss opposing theories or models

5. Start writing!

After you have have planned and organized how you are going to write, you are finally ready to actually make the review. Although all literature reviews are different, make sure your review has an intro, main body, and conclusion.


Watch this video to learn some tips when writing


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