Literature Review

Literature reviews will vary between disciplines and assignments, and there are several ways to write one, but the goal is, typically, to survey and thoroughly analyze a sampling of a body of research on a given topic.

There are two types of review:

Review of the literature:

self-contained—the goal being to highlight and synthesize existing research

Lit Review:

foundation for research—the goal being to introduce and build a framework for your primary research

Self-contained reviews of literature are often assigned to help students become familiar with a topic and/or scholarship in their field but can also be used to help students identify gaps in research or to identify future research.

A lit review as a foundation for research will cover specific content that is relevant to your research. This type of literature review typically falls between the introduction and the methods sections of your paper.

Parts of a Literature Review

Like any paper, a review of the literature and a lit review will have an introduction, body, and conclusion. If you are writing a review of the literature, the introduction and conclusion will take up more space, whereas the introduction and conclusion for a lit review may only be a few short sentences. However, keep in mind that each section will vary depending on your purpose.

Review of the Literature


The introduction will be used to:

  • Explain the goals and methods of the research
  • Address key texts and topics that will appear in the review
  • Discuss your methods for finding sources and how you decided to include those sources in your review


The body of a review of the literature will summarize and synthesize each scholarly source by analyzing and critically evaluating them. Once you have your sources, you will need to decide how to organize them in a way that makes the most sense for your purpose. Here are some conventional ways to organize:

  • Chronological — this method organizes sources by publication date
  • Thematic — this method organizes sources around a topic or issue rather than a date/time
  • Methodological — this method can help you organize your sources when they come from different fields of research; you can use this method to compare the different approaches in relation to their findings


The conclusion should wrap up the paper by:

  • Summarizing any key findings and highlighting their significance to your project
  • Point out any major gaps in the research and/or areas for future study
  • Provide an understanding of the relationship between your review of the literature and the larger area of scholarship/research








Lit Review

If you are writing a lit review, the introduction and conclusion may be just a few short sentences yet will follow the same general organization of a review of the literature. However, there is one additional method of organizing the body of your lit review:

  • Theoretical — this method can be used to explore a variety of definitions, theories, and models; this can be a good way to argue for a specific theoretical approach as a framework for your research

Strategies and Tips for Writing

It’s good to remember that, whether you’re writing a review of the literature or a lit review, you are not simply summarizing sources but synthesizing sources to show the relationships between each source and your purpose/research. Here are some things that can help you achieve this goal:

  • Determine your goal
  • Choose sources wisely — you want to make sure that the sources you choose are focused on your goal
  • Do as much research as you need to thoroughly represent your goal
  • Write an annotated bibliography as you go — this can help with writing the paper, but can also give you insight into how each source relates to other sources, which will help with synthesis
  • Use quotes conservatively — it's best to represent each source in your own words, when possible, which will make it easier to synthesize
  • When paraphrasing, be cautious and make sure you faithfully represent the original author’s meaning
  • Keep your voice front and center — while you may be synthesizing other’s ideas, the review of the literature/lit review is a presentation of your own ideas about a body of research
  • Finally: revise, revise, revise! It’s important to make sure you have met the goals set out at the beginning of the process, so revision is important to make sure your writing reflects those goals in the best way possible

Remember, a review of the literature/lit review will vary depending on what you’re being asked to do, or the goals you have set out for yourself, so it’s important to have a clear outline of your project. And if you need any help, you can always come see us at the Writing Studio!