How to write an effective literature review for academic publishing

How to write an effective literature review for academic publishing

How to write an effective literature review for academic publishing

Literature review definition

A literature review is a critical recap of what has already been researched on a topic. It refers to a form of writing on an academic paper, which includes information summary and synthesis of a published scholarly research on a topic from any academic field or discipline. Literature reviews are part of academic writing and are commonly used in subjects and topics related to science, social sciences, and humanities. A literature review does not present new arguments or findings, but rather presents a summary or detailed analysis of an existing research published. It is done to critically validate a research and give insights to readers about the significance and relevance of an existing research.

Why do a literature review?

1. To find out for yourself on what is already known about the topic and learn on the different approaches taken by other researchers.

2. To give readers a critical overview of the existing knowledge which shows how the research fits in.

3. To find out the missing links and gaps from the current knowledge so that one can contribute something original.

How literature review is written

Writing a literature review can be confusing for new researchers and students. However, writing a literature can be simple, as it is only a critical recap of what has already been researched.

Write literature review in 5 simple steps

Step 1: Search for relevant literature on your topic

In this context, literature review refers to academic sources like books and journal articles about the topic of interest. The reviewer needs to search in the right scholarly database, for example, Google Scholar, PubMed, ScienceDirect, etc.

Step 2: Evaluate and select sources

It is not possible to read through every source and article written on the topic. To avoid this, it is necessary for the reviewer to carefully select sources by reading the abstract of the source to ensure the relevance of the article or information. Another important step to ensure relevance is to scan through the bibliography to find other relevant sources. One should also pay attention to the citation count on Google Scholar, and if the count is high, then the source is probably important and should be included.

Step 3: Identify themes, debates, and gaps

As you read, make it a priority to take notes and pay attention to the connections between different sources. This way, arguments and structure of the literature reviews can be organized efficiently and effectively. Be on the lookout for trends, patterns, theories, methods, or results, as well as themes, debates or contradictions, influential studies, and gaps.

Step 4: Outline your literature review’s structure

You can structure your literature review in a few ways. It all depends on what you found in the literature and what you want to emphasize.

Here are 4 common approaches to structure a literature review:

1. Chronological: From older to more recent publications

2. Thematic: Organized around several key themes

3. Methodological: Compare the different research methods used across studies

4. Theoretical: Use this to discuss opposing theories or models

Step 5: Get writing

Make sure your literature review has an introduction, a main body that summarizes and synthesizes the sources, and a conclusion similar to other academic texts. The introduction of your literature review should clearly state the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Introduction of literature review

If you are writing a literature review for your research paper, or dissertation, then:

  • a. Restate your research question
  • b. Emphasize the timelines of the topic. For example. “many recent studies have focused on the problem of X.”
  • c. Highlight a gap in the literature, for example, “while there has been much research on X, a few researchers have taken Y into consideration.”

In case you are writing a stand-alone paper:

  • a. Give some background on the topic and its importance
  • b. Discuss the scope of the literature you are going to review. For example, the time period of your sources.
  • c. State your objective, for example, what new insight will you draw from the literature?
Body of the literature review

The body of the literature review can be divided into sub-sections. Use sub-headings for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

Four tips to keep in mind

1. Summarize and synthesize

2. Analyze and interpret

3. Critically evaluate

4. Structured paragraphs

1. Summarize and synthesize the information: Summarizing refers to giving an overview of the main points of a source. However, it is also important to synthesize, which means combining sources to make an overall point by showing the similarities and differences between them. For example, “Perloff (2014) theorizes that the interactive aspects of social media may influence its impact on body image and mentions that women are among the most active social media users. Several empirical studies have focused on Facebook usage in adolescent girls (Tiggermann & Slater, 2013; Meier & Gray, 2014) and in young adult women (Smith, Hames & Joiner, 2013; Fardouly et al., 2015; Cohen, Newton-John & Slater, 2017), while a systematic review by Holland and Timmerman (2016) confirmed a relationship between social networking and body image for both women and men.” In this extract, you can see how different studies are pieced together to convey a point. The theory of Perloff (2014) is first summarized, then several studies are synthesized that have similar focus and findings that illustrate a clear trend in the field.

2. Analyze and interpret the research: It is important to add your own interpretation and discuss the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole. For example, “Throughout the literature, there is consistent evidence that body image issues are influenced not by social media usage in general, but the engagement with the visual and interactive aspects of these platforms.”

3. Critically evaluate your sources to identify and discuss strengths and weaknesses: Take a look at this sentence: “ However, in an era of rapidly changing digital technologies, the mass media paradigm is no longer for understanding how people engage with images, and finding of older studies may not be relevant to younger generations.” This is a critical evaluation of the literature, by contributing your own opinion on how new technology is changing the role of media and body image.

4. Use well-structured paragraphs: For example, “Body image issues have been widely associated with social media usage, particularly in young women. The Relation between media depiction and body image concerns in well-established; a meta-analysis by Grabe, Ward and Hyde (2008) concluded that…

However, in an era of rapidly changing digital technologies…

In light of this, researchers have become increasingly interested…”

Make sure your sentences and paragraphs are cohesive, and use transitions and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

Some of the main takeaways of your literature review:

1. If it a part of your dissertation/research paper, clearly show how your research addresses gaps and contributes new knowledge.

2. If it is a stand-alone paper, summarize the major findings and implications of the literature, including suggestions for future research.

Outline for literature review

An effective outline depends on 4 common approaches to structure the literature review

  • a. Chronological
  • b. Thematic
  • c. Method
  • d. Theory

1. Chronological approach: From older to more recent publications. By listing and summarizing sources in order, try to analyze patterns, turning points, and debates that have shaped the direction of the field over time. Provide your own interpretation of how and why certain developments occur. For example, start by discussing older studies, for instance, “Body image and media.” Then explain how over time, mass media like magazines turn to social media, which also emphasizes visual content.

2. Thematic: Organize your literature review around key themes. In this case, start by discussing research on, for instance, the negative effects of social media. This leads us into the mental health issues among Generation Z, and we can narrow in on the more specific theme of body image issues among Generation Z.

3. Method: If your sources use a variety of research methods, compare the results and conclusions of these different approaches. For example, start by discussing studies that use surveys, and then look at experimental studies.

4. Theory: Organize your structure based on various theories, models, or definitions of key concepts. For example, start by discussing how different scholars have to find the concept of body image, then discuss theories that explain the relationship between body image and self-perception.


Before you submit your paper, make sure you proofread and revise your paper. Apart from typographical errors, pay close attention to avoiding overuse of passive voice, repetitive phrasing, informal language, and subjective language.

Relevant links

Difference between thesis and dissertation: Main components of writing an effective thesis paper – Author Assists Blog

What is the importance of writing a literature review? – Author Assists Blog

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *