What is a literature review?

What is a literature review? image

A literature review is an assessment of sources in the chosen topic of research.

In a literature review, you are expected to report the existing references available in your field of research, without adding new contributions.

If you are currently writing one, you've come to the right place. In the following paragraphs, we will explain the objective of a literature review, how to write one, its basic format, and lastly, some examples.

Purpose of a literature review

The four main objectives of a literature review are:

  • Studying the references of your research area
  • Summarizing the main arguments
  • Identifying current gaps, stances, and issues
  • Finally, presenting all of the above in a text

Ultimately, the main goal of a literature review is to provide the researcher with sufficient knowledge about the topic in question. Knowing where you stand, to know where you want to go.

Write the best literature review

Writing the best literature review can be easy if you cover these basic categories: Introduction, body, and conclusion.

The introduction should briefly introduce the main topic, just like the content order. The body includes a discussion of arguments in an organised way. Finally, the conclusion highlights the gaps, and issues subtracted from the literature. This basic structure will guarantee you an organised and understandable text.

Format of a literature review

First of all, a literature review should have its own labeled section. You should indicate clearly in the table of contents where the literature can be found, and you should address this section as 'Literature Review' (see examples below).

It is not always mandatory to add a literature review in a paper. Theses and dissertation include them almost always, whereas research papers include them occasionally. Make sure to consult with your instructor for exact requirements.

There is no set amount of words for a literature review, so the length depends on the research. If you are working with a large amount of sources, it will be long. If your paper does not depend entirely on references, it will be short.

Literature review examples

There is nothing better to understand something than an example. Take a look at these three papers featuring great literature reviews:

  • School-Based Speech-Language Pathologist's Perceptions of Sensory Food Aversions in Children [PDF, see page 20]
  • Who's Writing What We Read: Authorship in Criminological Research [PDF, see page 4]
  • A Phenomenological Study of the Lived Experience of Online Instructors of Theological Reflection at Christian Institutions Accredited by the Association of Theological Schools [PDF, see page 56]

Frequently Asked Questions about literature reviews

How is a literature review defined?

A literature review is a report of existing references available in your field of research, without adding your opinions.



Where do you find literature reviews?

Literature reviews are most commonly found in theses and dissertations. However, you find them in research papers as well.



How long should a literature review be?

There is no set amount of words for a literature review, so the length depends on the research. If you are working with a large amount of sources, then it will be long. If your paper does not depend entirely on references, then it will be short.



Should a literature review be combined with the introduction?

No. A literature review should have its own independent section. You should indicate clearly in the table of contents where the literature can be found, and address this section as 'Literature Review.'



Why should I include a literature review in my paper?

The main goal of a literature review is to provide the researcher with sufficient knowledge about the topic in question. By assessing the available source in your field of research, you will know where you stand, to know where you want to go.