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Literature Reviewing

Writing a literature review

Writing an effective literature review is difficult, time consuming and may require many drafts. The first draft should set set the context for your research. Throughout your study you may have to keep up to date with developments in the field and then latterly your final draft will involve you relating your findings to the findings of others and identifying implications for theory, practice and research. As with any piece of writing, structure is crucial.

What will it look like?


  • Scope of the review & the research - what you are going to cover.
  • Establish the position (viewpoint) from which you are reviewing the literature.
  • How the review ties in with research topic.

Main body of the reviewImage representing a mind map.

How you structure this may depend on your particular research field.

Some common approaches are:

  • Theme  - separate strands - discuss individually before bringing them together.
  • Methodology – concentrating on researcher methods, not the content of the material.
  • Sector - political , business, professional practice, , geography, literary.
  • Theoretical development -   identifiable theoretical stages that can be discussed.
  • Chronology - easier, but remember to synthesise and critique, not just list items.
  • Combination of the above, or by another structure you choose.

Throughout the review, tell your own research story and keep your own "voice"  - why you are doing the study, the gap your study is going to fill and answer the “so what”  question - what will it mean for society? The literature review should read like any other academic research paper.

Literature review - Writing Checklist

Lit review Checklist

Selection of literature

  • Clear inclusion / exclusion of your research stated.
  • Focused on recent developments / research for that topic.


  • Logical flow. Follows the intellectual progression & major debates in the field.
  • Good balance between description and comment.
  • Demonstrates wide, but focused reading.Green checkmark icon.
  • Concentrates on current / most relevant issues.
  • Material presented in a logical order.


  • Is the interpretation /evaluation of your reading obvious?
  • Use the literature to give your own interpretation/ justification of the research.
  • Obvious linking of all the elements.
  • Identified the gap in the research / literature?