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Literature Review Basics

Five Steps to Writing your Literature Review

1. Topic

Chose your topic with care; you will be spending a lot of time thinking through this issue.

2. Research

Draw up a research plan and utilize many resources.

3. Review

Take the time to draw out connections and contradictions in the literature.

4. Track

Make sure to keep track of your citations in a manager such as RefWorks; it's easy to get overwhelmed.

5. Revise

Polish and produce the best literature review you can.


The Five Steps In-Depth


Choose a topic with care, making sure not to choose one that is too broad or too narrow. Choose something that you have interest in, as you will be spending a lot of time with it. Your topic might get refined as time goes on depending on what the literature says. For instance, there might not be much information on your topic or there might be a lot of negative information. You can be prepared for this as long as you have a solid topic.


Create a research plan. This is not like writing a paper where you might need five articles, two books and perhaps a website resource. You will need to do a lot of research for this assignment. Create a list of different keywords or write up a paragraph about your topic and pull keywords from there. You are going to need to be prepared to find and read many articles. Plan to utilize multiple databases and resources to find research material.



This is the part where you read, review, and write your first draft. You need to check articles for connections to each other, what arguments are made, and how they are different. A literature review is NOT like a book review where you just produce a summary of each article. You are looking at these articles as a body of work and seeing how they are the same, how they are different, and what conclusions you can draw from this. Identify themes and concepts. You must use your critical thinking skills to produce a review that demonstrates you understand the scholarly works as a whole.

Because literature reviews convey so much information in a condensed space, it is important to organize your review in a way that helps readers make sense of the studies you are reporting on. Two common approaches to literature reviews are chronological—ordering studies from oldest to most recent—and topical—grouping studies by subject or theme.


You will be keeping track of a lot of different citations so you will want to use a Citation Tracker such as Zotero. You can learn more about this tool on the Zotero guide.


Finally, make sure to leave time to revise. Take the time to review your work and have a friend or a third party review as well.