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How to Write a Literature Review: A Proven Formula of Success

how-to-write-a-literature-reviewYou will need to totally change your understanding of the word “literature” to write a winning literature review. Put aside sonnets by Shakespeare or any other masterpieces of fiction, because now you target scholarly sources (articles, books, dissertations) relevant to your research question. Check this quick guide that will give you a complete understanding of what your instructors mean by a review of literature and how to write a literature review.

How to write a literature review and why do it?

What is a literature review? A literature review is an overview of significant scholarly sources relevant to a particular research question. A literature review includes a description, summary and critical evaluation of each source. It can be an important chapter of your research paper or a self-contained assignment. A literature review discusses significant literature published in a particular field and will help you place your research paper in the context of existing literature.

How to write a literature review: what sources to include?

The main criteria for selecting sources for your literature reviews are:

  • relevance;
  • reliability;
  • significance.

The main types of sources you may want to include in a literature review are:

  1. journal articles;
  2. newspapers;
  3. books;
  4. conference proceedings;
  5. government or business reports;
  6. theses and dissertations;
  7. Internet (be careful, use only the most reliable sources).


How to write a literature review: how many sources to include?

When writing a literature review, you will surely wonder how many sources is enough. Unless your instructor provides specific requirements, check this table:

Undergraduate 5-20 sources
Bachelor 20+ sources
Master 40+ sources
Postgraduate 50+ sources


How to write a literature review? Main steps

These are the main steps you should follow to write a winning review of literature:

  1. Define the research problem.
  2. Check the format requirements (there are different requirements for different citation styles).
  3. Choose keywords if you are going to use Internet resources or the college e-library. Use synonyms to improve your search results.
  4. Find the literature.
  5. Evaluate each source; include only the most relevant, reliable and significant sources into your review.
  6. Analyze and interpret data.
  7. Write a review.


How to write a literature review: components

When writing a literature review, you should include the following components:


  • discussion of the problem (theory, phenomenon) under analysis;
  • objectives of the review;
  • different categories of sources (those supporting contradicting positions and offering alternative solutions);
  • links between different sources and an explanation of each work;
  • conclusions.


How to write a literature review? Learn from the mistakes of others


Wrong Right
Oh, thumbs down to the author of this article. I did not understand it at all. Remember that you are not a critic at Use academic language and be objective when evaluating sources.
Ok, I will only look through the abstracts of articles to save my time. Yes, you should pay attention to the abstracts when selecting the relevant sources. However, you should read the whole article to fully understand the authors’ findings.
These articles contradict one another. Some authors must be wrong. I will not include their works in my review of literature. Make sure to include contrary data into your review and consider different hypotheses.
This article from Wikipedia is truly informative. I will use it in my review. When searching the Internet, choose only the most reliable sources. Nobody guarantees that a particular article from Wikipedia was written by an expert or that the information it contains is indeed correct.
I will write about every article in detail, one by one, so that the instructor will see that I have read all of them. Avoid confusing a literature review with an annotated bibliography. A literature review requires dividing all sources into groups depending on the stances taken by the authors. By contrast, an annotated bibliography includes an evaluation of each source.

Now you understand how to write a winning literature review. Follow these simple steps, learn from mistakes of others and enjoy excellent grades.

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