The Literature Review Process

What is a Literature Review?

  • Can be a stand alone text or part of a larger work
  • Can be one of the first sections of an academic paper or article

The Functions of a Literature Review:

  • Should not be aimless or entire summary
  • Must be relevant summary
  • Summarizes and organizes each work’s ideas around a specific topic or argument
    • Organizes and synthesizes
    • Includes a critical analysis of the relationship among different texts with an eye to your paper’s argument or purpose
  • Features current relevant literature

How to Write a Literature Review (redacted and adapted from “Guidelines for writing a literature review” by Helen Mongan-Rallis. at

  1. Write in proper format (e.g. APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.)
  1. Decide on a topic
  1. Identify the literature for review
    1. Use relevant databases
    2. Redefine topic as needed
    3. Include classic studies in your field and/or those relevant to your topic
    4. Import literature into RefWorks or similar sources management software (check your institution’s library website)
  1. Analyze and categorize the literature (skim the articles, especially the abstracts).
    1. Identify key words, patterns, strengths and weaknesses as they relate to/support your topic
    2. Identify key quotes
    3. Evaluate for currency: depending on your field, literature should be no older than 5-10 years but can include classic studies prior to this if they are relevant to your topic.
  1. Synthesize
    1. Identify the topic or problem but avoid generalizations
    2. Early on, indicate why the topic being discussed is important
    3. Organize the works around this topic—include most relevant studies first
    4. Indicate why certain studies are important, incomplete or problematic but only if their information is substantively related to your topic
    5. Highlight and organize findings around their relevance to your topic
    6. Indicate why the time frame is important
    7. If using a classic study or studies indicate why their inclusion is important or relevant
  1. Organize the body of the Lit Review
    1. Include an overview and the purpose at the beginning (intro and thesis)
    2. Mention what will and won’t be covered and why (part intro and possibly thesis)
    3. Organize your review so that the works included logically support the thesis—though all works include should be important and relevant, further organize thesis from least to most relevant
    4. Use transitions and subheadings if needed (i.e. for longer papers)
    5. Include a conclusion