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How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

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To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

Open Google Slides Download PowerPoint

If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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How to write a good scientific review article

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  • PMID: 35792782
  • DOI: 10.1111/febs.16565

Literature reviews are valuable resources for the scientific community. With research accelerating at an unprecedented speed in recent years and more and more original papers being published, review articles have become increasingly important as a means to keep up to date with developments in a particular area of research. A good review article provides readers with an in-depth understanding of a field and highlights key gaps and challenges to address with future research. Writing a review article also helps to expand the writer's knowledge of their specialist area and to develop their analytical and communication skills, amongst other benefits. Thus, the importance of building review-writing into a scientific career cannot be overstated. In this instalment of The FEBS Journal's Words of Advice series, I provide detailed guidance on planning and writing an informative and engaging literature review.

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How to write a superb literature review

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Literature reviews are important resources for scientists. They provide historical context for a field while offering opinions on its future trajectory. Creating them can provide inspiration for one’s own research, as well as some practice in writing. But few scientists are trained in how to write a review — or in what constitutes an excellent one. Even picking the appropriate software to use can be an involved decision (see ‘Tools and techniques’). So Nature asked editors and working scientists with well-cited reviews for their tips.

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doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-03422-x

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Scientific review articles are comprehensive, focused reviews of the scientific literature written by subject matter experts. The task of writing a scientific review article can seem overwhelming; however, it can be managed by using an organized approach and devoting sufficient time to the process. The process involves selecting a topic about which the authors are knowledgeable and enthusiastic, conducting a literature search and critical analysis of the literature, and writing the article, which is composed of an abstract, introduction, body, and conclusion, with accompanying tables and figures. This article, which focuses on the narrative or traditional literature review, is intended to serve as a guide with practical steps for new writers. Tips for success are also discussed, including selecting a focused topic, maintaining objectivity and balance while writing, avoiding tedious data presentation in a laundry list format, moving from descriptions of the literature to critical analysis, avoiding simplistic conclusions, and budgeting time for the overall process.

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7 Writing a Literature Review

Hundreds of original investigation research articles on health science topics are published each year. It is becoming harder and harder to keep on top of all new findings in a topic area and – more importantly – to work out how they all fit together to determine our current understanding of a topic. This is where literature reviews come in.

In this chapter, we explain what a literature review is and outline the stages involved in writing one. We also provide practical tips on how to communicate the results of a review of current literature on a topic in the format of a literature review.

7.1 What is a literature review?

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Literature reviews provide a synthesis and evaluation  of the existing literature on a particular topic with the aim of gaining a new, deeper understanding of the topic.

Published literature reviews are typically written by scientists who are experts in that particular area of science. Usually, they will be widely published as authors of their own original work, making them highly qualified to author a literature review.

However, literature reviews are still subject to peer review before being published. Literature reviews provide an important bridge between the expert scientific community and many other communities, such as science journalists, teachers, and medical and allied health professionals. When the most up-to-date knowledge reaches such audiences, it is more likely that this information will find its way to the general public. When this happens, – the ultimate good of science can be realised.

A literature review is structured differently from an original research article. It is developed based on themes, rather than stages of the scientific method.

In the article Ten simple rules for writing a literature review , Marco Pautasso explains the importance of literature reviews:

Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications. For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively. Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every single new paper relevant to their interests. Thus, it is both advantageous and necessary to rely on regular summaries of the recent literature. Although recognition for scientists mainly comes from primary research, timely literature reviews can lead to new synthetic insights and are often widely read. For such summaries to be useful, however, they need to be compiled in a professional way (Pautasso, 2013, para. 1).

An example of a literature review is shown in Figure 7.1.

Video 7.1: What is a literature review? [2 mins, 11 secs]

Watch this video created by Steely Library at Northern Kentucky Library called ‘ What is a literature review? Note: Closed captions are available by clicking on the CC button below.

Examples of published literature reviews

  • Strength training alone, exercise therapy alone, and exercise therapy with passive manual mobilisation each reduce pain and disability in people with knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review
  • Traveler’s diarrhea: a clinical review
  • Cultural concepts of distress and psychiatric disorders: literature review and research recommendations for global mental health epidemiology

7.2 Steps of writing a literature review

Writing a literature review is a very challenging task. Figure 7.2 summarises the steps of writing a literature review. Depending on why you are writing your literature review, you may be given a topic area, or may choose a topic that particularly interests you or is related to a research project that you wish to undertake.

Chapter 6 provides instructions on finding scientific literature that would form the basis for your literature review.

Once you have your topic and have accessed the literature, the next stages (analysis, synthesis and evaluation) are challenging. Next, we look at these important cognitive skills student scientists will need to develop and employ to successfully write a literature review, and provide some guidance for navigating these stages.

Steps of writing a ltierature review which include: research, synthesise, read abstracts, read papers, evaualte findings and write

Analysis, synthesis and evaluation

Analysis, synthesis and evaluation are three essential skills required by scientists  and you will need to develop these skills if you are to write a good literature review ( Figure 7.3 ). These important cognitive skills are discussed in more detail in Chapter 9.

Diagram with the words analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Under analysis it says taking a process or thing and breaking it down. Under synthesis it says combining elements of separate material and under evaluation it says critiquing a product or process

The first step in writing a literature review is to analyse the original investigation research papers that you have gathered related to your topic.

Analysis requires examining the papers methodically and in detail, so you can understand and interpret aspects of the study described in each research article.

An analysis grid is a simple tool you can use to help with the careful examination and breakdown of each paper. This tool will allow you to create a concise summary of each research paper; see Table 7.1 for an example of  an analysis grid. When filling in the grid, the aim is to draw out key aspects of each research paper. Use a different row for each paper, and a different column for each aspect of the paper ( Tables 7.2 and 7.3 show how completed analysis grid may look).

Before completing your own grid, look at these examples and note the types of information that have been included, as well as the level of detail. Completing an analysis grid with a sufficient level of detail will help you to complete the synthesis and evaluation stages effectively. This grid will allow you to more easily observe similarities and differences across the findings of the research papers and to identify possible explanations (e.g., differences in methodologies employed) for observed differences between the findings of different research papers.

Table 7.1: Example of an analysis grid

[include details about the authors, date of publication and the rationale for the review] [summarise the aim of the experiment] [summarise the experiment design, include the subjects used and experimental groups] [summarise the main findings] [summarise the conclusion] [evaluate the paper’s findings, and highlight any terms or physiology concepts that you are unfamiliar with and should be included in your review]

A tab;e split into columns with annotated comments

Table 7.3: Sample filled-in analysis grid for research article by Ping and colleagues

Ping 2010
The effect of chronic caffeine supplementation on endurance performance has been studied extensively in different populations. However, concurrent research on the effects of acute supplementation of caffeine on cardiorespiratory responses during endurance exercise in hot and humid conditions is unavailable
To determine the effect of caffeine supplementation on cardiorespiratory responses during endurance running in hot and humid conditions 9 heat-adapted recreational male runners
Age 25.4±6.9 years
Weight (kg) 57.6±8.4
Non-users of caffeine (23.7±12.6 mg/day)
Randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled cross-over design (at least 7 days gap between trials to nullify effect of caffeine)
Caffeine (5 mg/kg) or placebo ingested as a capsule one hour before a running trial to exhaustion (70% VO2 max on a motorised treadmill in a heat-controlled laboratory (31 °C, 70% humidity)
Diet monitored for 3 days before first trial and repeated for 3 days before 2nd trial (to minimise variation in pre-exercise muscle glycogen)
Subjects asked to refrain from heavy exercise for 24 h before trials
Subjects drank 3 ml of cool water per kg of body weight every 20 min during running trial to stay hydrated
Heart rate (HR), core body temperature and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) were recorded at intervals of 10 mins, while oxygen consumption was measured at intervals of 20 min
Mean exhaustion time was 31.6% higher in the caffeine group:
• Placebo 83.6±21.4
• Caffeine 110.1±29.3
Running time to exhaustion was significantly higher (p
Ingestion of caffeine improved the endurance running performance, but did not affect heart rate, core body temperature, oxygen uptake or RPE. The lower RPE during the caffeine trial may be because of the positive effect of caffeine ingestion on nerve impulse transmission, as well as an analgesic effect and psychological effect. Perhaps this is the same reason subjects could sustain the treadmill running for longer in the caffeine trial.

Source: Ping, WC, Keong, CC & Bandyopadhyay, A 2010, ‘Effects of acute supplementation of caffeine on cardiorespiratory responses during endurance running in a hot and humid climate’, Indian Journal of Medical Research, vol. 132, pp. 36–41. Used under a CC-BY-NC-SA licence.

Step two of writing a literature review is synthesis.

Synthesis describes combining separate components or elements to form a connected whole.

You will use the results of your analysis to find themes to build your literature review around. Each of the themes identified will become a subheading within the body of your literature review.

A good place to start when identifying themes is with the dependent variables (results/findings) that were investigated in the research studies.

Because all of the research articles you are incorporating into your literature review are related to your topic, it is likely that they have similar study designs and have measured similar dependent variables. Review the ‘Results’ column of your analysis grid. You may like to collate the common themes in a synthesis grid (see, for example Table 7.4 ).

Table showing themes of the article including running performance, rating of perceived exertion, heart rate and oxygen uptake

Step three of writing a literature review is evaluation, which can only be done after carefully analysing your research papers and synthesising the common themes (findings).

During the evaluation stage, you are making judgements on the themes presented in the research articles that you have read. This includes providing physiological explanations for the findings. It may be useful to refer to the discussion section of published original investigation research papers, or another literature review, where the authors may mention tested or hypothetical physiological mechanisms that may explain their findings.

When the findings of the investigations related to a particular theme are inconsistent (e.g., one study shows that caffeine effects performance and another study shows that caffeine had no effect on performance) you should attempt to provide explanations of why the results differ, including physiological explanations. A good place to start is by comparing the methodologies to determine if there are any differences that may explain the differences in the findings (see the ‘Experimental design’ column of your analysis grid). An example of evaluation is shown in the examples that follow in this section, under ‘Running performance’ and ‘RPE ratings’.

When the findings of the papers related to a particular theme are consistent (e.g., caffeine had no effect on oxygen uptake in both studies) an evaluation should include an explanation of why the results are similar. Once again, include physiological explanations. It is still a good idea to compare methodologies as a background to the evaluation. An example of evaluation is shown in the following under ‘Oxygen consumption’.

Annotated paragraphs on running performance with annotated notes such as physiological explanation provided; possible explanation for inconsistent results

7.3 Writing your literature review

Once you have completed the analysis, and synthesis grids and written your evaluation of the research papers , you can combine synthesis and evaluation information to create a paragraph for a literature review ( Figure 7.4 ).

Bubble daigram showing connection between synethesis, evaulation and writing a paragraph

The following paragraphs are an example of combining the outcome of the synthesis and evaluation stages to produce a paragraph for a literature review.

Note that this is an example using only two papers – most literature reviews would be presenting information on many more papers than this ( (e.g., 106 papers in the review article by Bain and colleagues discussed later in this chapter). However, the same principle applies regardless of the number of papers reviewed.

Introduction paragraph showing where evaluation occurs

The next part of this chapter looks at the each section of a literature review and explains how to write them by referring to a review article that was published in Frontiers in Physiology and shown in Figure 7.1. Each section from the published article is annotated to highlight important features of the format of the review article, and identifies the synthesis and evaluation information.

In the examination of each review article section we will point out examples of how the authors have presented certain information and where they display application of important cognitive processes; we will use the colour code shown below:

Colour legend

This should be one paragraph that accurately reflects the contents of the review article.

An annotated abstract divided into relevant background information, identification of the problem, summary of recent literature on topic, purpose of the review

Introduction

The introduction should establish the context and importance of the review

An annotated introduction divided into relevant background information, identification of the issue and overview of points covered

Body of literature review

Annotated body of literature review with following comments annotated on the side: subheadings are included to separate body of review into themes; introductory sentences with general background information; identification of gap in current knowledge; relevant theoretical background information; syntheis of literature relating to the potential importance of cerebral metabolism; an evaluation; identification of gaps in knowledge; synthesis of findings related to human studies; author evaluation

The reference section provides a list of the references that you cited in the body of your review article. The format will depend on the journal of publication as each journal has their own specific referencing format.

It is important to accurately cite references in research papers to acknowledge your sources and ensure credit is appropriately given to authors of work you have referred to. An accurate and comprehensive reference list also shows your readers that you are well-read in your topic area and are aware of the key papers that provide the context to your research.

It is important to keep track of your resources and to reference them consistently in the format required by the publication in which your work will appear. Most scientists will use reference management software to store details of all of the journal articles (and other sources) they use while writing their review article. This software also automates the process of adding in-text references and creating a reference list. In the review article by Bain et al. (2014) used as an example in this chapter, the reference list contains 106 items, so you can imagine how much help referencing software would be. Chapter 5 shows you how to use EndNote, one example of reference management software.

Click the drop down below to review the terms learned from this chapter.

Copyright note:

  • The quotation from Pautasso, M 2013, ‘Ten simple rules for writing a literature review’, PLoS Computational Biology is use under a CC-BY licence. 
  • Content from the annotated article and tables are based on Schubert, MM, Astorino, TA & Azevedo, JJL 2013, ‘The effects of caffeinated ‘energy shots’ on time trial performance’, Nutrients, vol. 5, no. 6, pp. 2062–2075 (used under a CC-BY 3.0 licence ) and P ing, WC, Keong , CC & Bandyopadhyay, A 2010, ‘Effects of acute supplementation of caffeine on cardiorespiratory responses during endurance running in a hot and humid climate’, Indian Journal of Medical Research, vol. 132, pp. 36–41 (used under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence ). 

Bain, A.R., Morrison, S.A., & Ainslie, P.N. (2014). Cerebral oxygenation and hyperthermia. Frontiers in Physiology, 5 , 92.

Pautasso, M. (2013). Ten simple rules for writing a literature review. PLoS Computational Biology, 9 (7), e1003149.

How To Do Science Copyright © 2022 by University of Southern Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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What is a Literature Review? How to Write It (with Examples)

literature review

A literature review is a critical analysis and synthesis of existing research on a particular topic. It provides an overview of the current state of knowledge, identifies gaps, and highlights key findings in the literature. 1 The purpose of a literature review is to situate your own research within the context of existing scholarship, demonstrating your understanding of the topic and showing how your work contributes to the ongoing conversation in the field. Learning how to write a literature review is a critical tool for successful research. Your ability to summarize and synthesize prior research pertaining to a certain topic demonstrates your grasp on the topic of study, and assists in the learning process. 

Table of Contents

  • What is the purpose of literature review? 
  • a. Habitat Loss and Species Extinction: 
  • b. Range Shifts and Phenological Changes: 
  • c. Ocean Acidification and Coral Reefs: 
  • d. Adaptive Strategies and Conservation Efforts: 

How to write a good literature review 

  • Choose a Topic and Define the Research Question: 
  • Decide on the Scope of Your Review: 
  • Select Databases for Searches: 
  • Conduct Searches and Keep Track: 
  • Review the Literature: 
  • Organize and Write Your Literature Review: 
  • How to write a literature review faster with Paperpal? 
  • Frequently asked questions 

What is a literature review?

A well-conducted literature review demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with the existing literature, establishes the context for their own research, and contributes to scholarly conversations on the topic. One of the purposes of a literature review is also to help researchers avoid duplicating previous work and ensure that their research is informed by and builds upon the existing body of knowledge.

how to write a scientific literature review paper

What is the purpose of literature review?

A literature review serves several important purposes within academic and research contexts. Here are some key objectives and functions of a literature review: 2  

1. Contextualizing the Research Problem: The literature review provides a background and context for the research problem under investigation. It helps to situate the study within the existing body of knowledge. 

2. Identifying Gaps in Knowledge: By identifying gaps, contradictions, or areas requiring further research, the researcher can shape the research question and justify the significance of the study. This is crucial for ensuring that the new research contributes something novel to the field. 

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3. Understanding Theoretical and Conceptual Frameworks: Literature reviews help researchers gain an understanding of the theoretical and conceptual frameworks used in previous studies. This aids in the development of a theoretical framework for the current research. 

4. Providing Methodological Insights: Another purpose of literature reviews is that it allows researchers to learn about the methodologies employed in previous studies. This can help in choosing appropriate research methods for the current study and avoiding pitfalls that others may have encountered. 

5. Establishing Credibility: A well-conducted literature review demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with existing scholarship, establishing their credibility and expertise in the field. It also helps in building a solid foundation for the new research. 

6. Informing Hypotheses or Research Questions: The literature review guides the formulation of hypotheses or research questions by highlighting relevant findings and areas of uncertainty in existing literature. 

Literature review example

Let’s delve deeper with a literature review example: Let’s say your literature review is about the impact of climate change on biodiversity. You might format your literature review into sections such as the effects of climate change on habitat loss and species extinction, phenological changes, and marine biodiversity. Each section would then summarize and analyze relevant studies in those areas, highlighting key findings and identifying gaps in the research. The review would conclude by emphasizing the need for further research on specific aspects of the relationship between climate change and biodiversity. The following literature review template provides a glimpse into the recommended literature review structure and content, demonstrating how research findings are organized around specific themes within a broader topic. 

Literature Review on Climate Change Impacts on Biodiversity:

Climate change is a global phenomenon with far-reaching consequences, including significant impacts on biodiversity. This literature review synthesizes key findings from various studies: 

a. Habitat Loss and Species Extinction:

Climate change-induced alterations in temperature and precipitation patterns contribute to habitat loss, affecting numerous species (Thomas et al., 2004). The review discusses how these changes increase the risk of extinction, particularly for species with specific habitat requirements. 

b. Range Shifts and Phenological Changes:

Observations of range shifts and changes in the timing of biological events (phenology) are documented in response to changing climatic conditions (Parmesan & Yohe, 2003). These shifts affect ecosystems and may lead to mismatches between species and their resources. 

c. Ocean Acidification and Coral Reefs:

The review explores the impact of climate change on marine biodiversity, emphasizing ocean acidification’s threat to coral reefs (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2007). Changes in pH levels negatively affect coral calcification, disrupting the delicate balance of marine ecosystems. 

d. Adaptive Strategies and Conservation Efforts:

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the literature review discusses various adaptive strategies adopted by species and conservation efforts aimed at mitigating the impacts of climate change on biodiversity (Hannah et al., 2007). It emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary approaches for effective conservation planning. 

how to write a scientific literature review paper

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Writing a literature review involves summarizing and synthesizing existing research on a particular topic. A good literature review format should include the following elements. 

Introduction: The introduction sets the stage for your literature review, providing context and introducing the main focus of your review. 

  • Opening Statement: Begin with a general statement about the broader topic and its significance in the field. 
  • Scope and Purpose: Clearly define the scope of your literature review. Explain the specific research question or objective you aim to address. 
  • Organizational Framework: Briefly outline the structure of your literature review, indicating how you will categorize and discuss the existing research. 
  • Significance of the Study: Highlight why your literature review is important and how it contributes to the understanding of the chosen topic. 
  • Thesis Statement: Conclude the introduction with a concise thesis statement that outlines the main argument or perspective you will develop in the body of the literature review. 

Body: The body of the literature review is where you provide a comprehensive analysis of existing literature, grouping studies based on themes, methodologies, or other relevant criteria. 

  • Organize by Theme or Concept: Group studies that share common themes, concepts, or methodologies. Discuss each theme or concept in detail, summarizing key findings and identifying gaps or areas of disagreement. 
  • Critical Analysis: Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each study. Discuss the methodologies used, the quality of evidence, and the overall contribution of each work to the understanding of the topic. 
  • Synthesis of Findings: Synthesize the information from different studies to highlight trends, patterns, or areas of consensus in the literature. 
  • Identification of Gaps: Discuss any gaps or limitations in the existing research and explain how your review contributes to filling these gaps. 
  • Transition between Sections: Provide smooth transitions between different themes or concepts to maintain the flow of your literature review. 

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Conclusion: The conclusion of your literature review should summarize the main findings, highlight the contributions of the review, and suggest avenues for future research. 

  • Summary of Key Findings: Recap the main findings from the literature and restate how they contribute to your research question or objective. 
  • Contributions to the Field: Discuss the overall contribution of your literature review to the existing knowledge in the field. 
  • Implications and Applications: Explore the practical implications of the findings and suggest how they might impact future research or practice. 
  • Recommendations for Future Research: Identify areas that require further investigation and propose potential directions for future research in the field. 
  • Final Thoughts: Conclude with a final reflection on the importance of your literature review and its relevance to the broader academic community. 

what is a literature review

Conducting a literature review

Conducting a literature review is an essential step in research that involves reviewing and analyzing existing literature on a specific topic. It’s important to know how to do a literature review effectively, so here are the steps to follow: 1  

Choose a Topic and Define the Research Question:

  • Select a topic that is relevant to your field of study. 
  • Clearly define your research question or objective. Determine what specific aspect of the topic do you want to explore? 

Decide on the Scope of Your Review:

  • Determine the timeframe for your literature review. Are you focusing on recent developments, or do you want a historical overview? 
  • Consider the geographical scope. Is your review global, or are you focusing on a specific region? 
  • Define the inclusion and exclusion criteria. What types of sources will you include? Are there specific types of studies or publications you will exclude? 

Select Databases for Searches:

  • Identify relevant databases for your field. Examples include PubMed, IEEE Xplore, Scopus, Web of Science, and Google Scholar. 
  • Consider searching in library catalogs, institutional repositories, and specialized databases related to your topic. 

Conduct Searches and Keep Track:

  • Develop a systematic search strategy using keywords, Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT), and other search techniques. 
  • Record and document your search strategy for transparency and replicability. 
  • Keep track of the articles, including publication details, abstracts, and links. Use citation management tools like EndNote, Zotero, or Mendeley to organize your references. 

Review the Literature:

  • Evaluate the relevance and quality of each source. Consider the methodology, sample size, and results of studies. 
  • Organize the literature by themes or key concepts. Identify patterns, trends, and gaps in the existing research. 
  • Summarize key findings and arguments from each source. Compare and contrast different perspectives. 
  • Identify areas where there is a consensus in the literature and where there are conflicting opinions. 
  • Provide critical analysis and synthesis of the literature. What are the strengths and weaknesses of existing research? 

Organize and Write Your Literature Review:

  • Literature review outline should be based on themes, chronological order, or methodological approaches. 
  • Write a clear and coherent narrative that synthesizes the information gathered. 
  • Use proper citations for each source and ensure consistency in your citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.). 
  • Conclude your literature review by summarizing key findings, identifying gaps, and suggesting areas for future research. 

Whether you’re exploring a new research field or finding new angles to develop an existing topic, sifting through hundreds of papers can take more time than you have to spare. But what if you could find science-backed insights with verified citations in seconds? That’s the power of Paperpal’s new Research feature!  

How to write a literature review faster with Paperpal?

Paperpal, an AI writing assistant, integrates powerful academic search capabilities within its writing platform. With the Research feature, you get 100% factual insights, with citations backed by 250M+ verified research articles, directly within your writing interface with the option to save relevant references in your Citation Library. By eliminating the need to switch tabs to find answers to all your research questions, Paperpal saves time and helps you stay focused on your writing.   

Here’s how to use the Research feature:  

  • Ask a question: Get started with a new document on paperpal.com. Click on the “Research” feature and type your question in plain English. Paperpal will scour over 250 million research articles, including conference papers and preprints, to provide you with accurate insights and citations. 
  • Review and Save: Paperpal summarizes the information, while citing sources and listing relevant reads. You can quickly scan the results to identify relevant references and save these directly to your built-in citations library for later access. 
  • Cite with Confidence: Paperpal makes it easy to incorporate relevant citations and references into your writing, ensuring your arguments are well-supported by credible sources. This translates to a polished, well-researched literature review. 

The literature review sample and detailed advice on writing and conducting a review will help you produce a well-structured report. But remember that a good literature review is an ongoing process, and it may be necessary to revisit and update it as your research progresses. By combining effortless research with an easy citation process, Paperpal Research streamlines the literature review process and empowers you to write faster and with more confidence. Try Paperpal Research now and see for yourself.  

Frequently asked questions

A literature review is a critical and comprehensive analysis of existing literature (published and unpublished works) on a specific topic or research question and provides a synthesis of the current state of knowledge in a particular field. A well-conducted literature review is crucial for researchers to build upon existing knowledge, avoid duplication of efforts, and contribute to the advancement of their field. It also helps researchers situate their work within a broader context and facilitates the development of a sound theoretical and conceptual framework for their studies.

Literature review is a crucial component of research writing, providing a solid background for a research paper’s investigation. The aim is to keep professionals up to date by providing an understanding of ongoing developments within a specific field, including research methods, and experimental techniques used in that field, and present that knowledge in the form of a written report. Also, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the scholar in his or her field.  

Before writing a literature review, it’s essential to undertake several preparatory steps to ensure that your review is well-researched, organized, and focused. This includes choosing a topic of general interest to you and doing exploratory research on that topic, writing an annotated bibliography, and noting major points, especially those that relate to the position you have taken on the topic. 

Literature reviews and academic research papers are essential components of scholarly work but serve different purposes within the academic realm. 3 A literature review aims to provide a foundation for understanding the current state of research on a particular topic, identify gaps or controversies, and lay the groundwork for future research. Therefore, it draws heavily from existing academic sources, including books, journal articles, and other scholarly publications. In contrast, an academic research paper aims to present new knowledge, contribute to the academic discourse, and advance the understanding of a specific research question. Therefore, it involves a mix of existing literature (in the introduction and literature review sections) and original data or findings obtained through research methods. 

Literature reviews are essential components of academic and research papers, and various strategies can be employed to conduct them effectively. If you want to know how to write a literature review for a research paper, here are four common approaches that are often used by researchers.  Chronological Review: This strategy involves organizing the literature based on the chronological order of publication. It helps to trace the development of a topic over time, showing how ideas, theories, and research have evolved.  Thematic Review: Thematic reviews focus on identifying and analyzing themes or topics that cut across different studies. Instead of organizing the literature chronologically, it is grouped by key themes or concepts, allowing for a comprehensive exploration of various aspects of the topic.  Methodological Review: This strategy involves organizing the literature based on the research methods employed in different studies. It helps to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of various methodologies and allows the reader to evaluate the reliability and validity of the research findings.  Theoretical Review: A theoretical review examines the literature based on the theoretical frameworks used in different studies. This approach helps to identify the key theories that have been applied to the topic and assess their contributions to the understanding of the subject.  It’s important to note that these strategies are not mutually exclusive, and a literature review may combine elements of more than one approach. The choice of strategy depends on the research question, the nature of the literature available, and the goals of the review. Additionally, other strategies, such as integrative reviews or systematic reviews, may be employed depending on the specific requirements of the research.

The literature review format can vary depending on the specific publication guidelines. However, there are some common elements and structures that are often followed. Here is a general guideline for the format of a literature review:  Introduction:   Provide an overview of the topic.  Define the scope and purpose of the literature review.  State the research question or objective.  Body:   Organize the literature by themes, concepts, or chronology.  Critically analyze and evaluate each source.  Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the studies.  Highlight any methodological limitations or biases.  Identify patterns, connections, or contradictions in the existing research.  Conclusion:   Summarize the key points discussed in the literature review.  Highlight the research gap.  Address the research question or objective stated in the introduction.  Highlight the contributions of the review and suggest directions for future research.

Both annotated bibliographies and literature reviews involve the examination of scholarly sources. While annotated bibliographies focus on individual sources with brief annotations, literature reviews provide a more in-depth, integrated, and comprehensive analysis of existing literature on a specific topic. The key differences are as follows: 

 Annotated Bibliography Literature Review 
Purpose List of citations of books, articles, and other sources with a brief description (annotation) of each source. Comprehensive and critical analysis of existing literature on a specific topic. 
Focus Summary and evaluation of each source, including its relevance, methodology, and key findings. Provides an overview of the current state of knowledge on a particular subject and identifies gaps, trends, and patterns in existing literature. 
Structure Each citation is followed by a concise paragraph (annotation) that describes the source’s content, methodology, and its contribution to the topic. The literature review is organized thematically or chronologically and involves a synthesis of the findings from different sources to build a narrative or argument. 
Length Typically 100-200 words Length of literature review ranges from a few pages to several chapters 
Independence Each source is treated separately, with less emphasis on synthesizing the information across sources. The writer synthesizes information from multiple sources to present a cohesive overview of the topic. 

References 

  • Denney, A. S., & Tewksbury, R. (2013). How to write a literature review.  Journal of criminal justice education ,  24 (2), 218-234. 
  • Pan, M. L. (2016).  Preparing literature reviews: Qualitative and quantitative approaches . Taylor & Francis. 
  • Cantero, C. (2019). How to write a literature review.  San José State University Writing Center . 

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  • Bibliography

A literature review surveys prior research published in books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have used in researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within existing scholarship about the topic.

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.

Importance of a Good Literature Review

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:

  • Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
  • Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
  • Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.

Given this, the purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
  • Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2011; Knopf, Jeffrey W. "Doing a Literature Review." PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January 2006): 127-132; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012.

Types of Literature Reviews

It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally among scholars that become part of the body of epistemological traditions within the field.

In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.

Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].

Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.

Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.

Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem . Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?" This type of literature review is primarily applied to examining prior research studies in clinical medicine and allied health fields, but it is increasingly being used in the social sciences.

Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

NOTE: Most often the literature review will incorporate some combination of types. For example, a review that examines literature supporting or refuting an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem related to the research problem will also need to include writing supported by sources that establish the history of these arguments in the literature.

Baumeister, Roy F. and Mark R. Leary. "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews."  Review of General Psychology 1 (September 1997): 311-320; Mark R. Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147; Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2006; Torracro, Richard. "Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples." Human Resource Development Review 4 (September 2005): 356-367; Rocco, Tonette S. and Maria S. Plakhotnik. "Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks: Terms, Functions, and Distinctions." Human Ressource Development Review 8 (March 2008): 120-130; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Thinking About Your Literature Review

The structure of a literature review should include the following in support of understanding the research problem :

  • An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
  • Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
  • An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.

The critical evaluation of each work should consider :

  • Provenance -- what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
  • Methodology -- were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
  • Objectivity -- is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness -- which of the author's theses are most convincing or least convincing?
  • Validity -- are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

II.  Development of the Literature Review

Four Basic Stages of Writing 1.  Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? 2.  Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. 3.  Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. 4.  Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.

Consider the following issues before writing the literature review: Clarify If your assignment is not specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1.  Roughly how many sources would be appropriate to include? 2.  What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? 3.  Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? 4.  Should I evaluate the sources in any way beyond evaluating how they relate to understanding the research problem? 5.  Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history? Find Models Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read, such as required readings in the course syllabus, are also excellent entry points into your own research. Narrow the Topic The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that's available about the topic, but you'll make the act of reviewing easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the USC Libraries Catalog for recent books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research. For example, a book surveying the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may include a chapter on the role Egypt has played in mediating the conflict, or look in the index for the pages where Egypt is mentioned in the text. Consider Whether Your Sources are Current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.

III.  Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

Chronology of Events If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. For example, a literature review that focuses on continuing research about the emergence of German economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union. By Publication Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on environmental studies of brown fields if the progression revealed, for example, a change in the soil collection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies. Thematic [“conceptual categories”] A thematic literature review is the most common approach to summarizing prior research in the social and behavioral sciences. Thematic reviews are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time, although the progression of time may still be incorporated into a thematic review. For example, a review of the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics could focus on the development of online political satire. While the study focuses on one topic, the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics, it would still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The difference in this example between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: themes related to the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point being made. Methodological A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. For the Internet in American presidential politics project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of American presidents on American, British, and French websites. Or the review might focus on the fundraising impact of the Internet on a particular political party. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. However, only include what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship about the research problem.

Here are examples of other sections, usually in the form of a single paragraph, you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:

  • Current Situation : Information necessary to understand the current topic or focus of the literature review.
  • Sources Used : Describes the methods and resources [e.g., databases] you used to identify the literature you reviewed.
  • History : The chronological progression of the field, the research literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Selection Methods : Criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed [i.e., scholarly] sources.
  • Standards : Description of the way in which you present your information.
  • Questions for Further Research : What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

IV.  Writing Your Literature Review

Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.

Use Evidence A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid. Be Selective Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information, but that are not key to understanding the research problem, can be included in a list of further readings . Use Quotes Sparingly Some short quotes are appropriate if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, is not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for using your own words in reviewing the literature. Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work and the work of others. Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.

V.  Common Mistakes to Avoid

These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.

  • Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
  • You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
  • Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
  • Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
  • Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
  • Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
  • Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.

Cook, Kathleen E. and Elise Murowchick. “Do Literature Review Skills Transfer from One Course to Another?” Psychology Learning and Teaching 13 (March 2014): 3-11; Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . London: SAGE, 2011; Literature Review Handout. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012; Randolph, Justus J. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review." Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. vol. 14, June 2009; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.

Writing Tip

Break Out of Your Disciplinary Box!

Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue? You don’t want to substitute a thorough review of core research literature in your discipline for studies conducted in other fields of study. However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.

Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Just Review for Content!

While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating. Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:

  • How are they organizing their ideas?
  • What methods have they used to study the problem?
  • What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
  • What sources have they cited to support their conclusions?
  • How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?

When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem.

Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1 998.

Yet Another Writing Tip

When Do I Know I Can Stop Looking and Move On?

Here are several strategies you can utilize to assess whether you've thoroughly reviewed the literature:

  • Look for repeating patterns in the research findings . If the same thing is being said, just by different people, then this likely demonstrates that the research problem has hit a conceptual dead end. At this point consider: Does your study extend current research?  Does it forge a new path? Or, does is merely add more of the same thing being said?
  • Look at sources the authors cite to in their work . If you begin to see the same researchers cited again and again, then this is often an indication that no new ideas have been generated to address the research problem.
  • Search Google Scholar to identify who has subsequently cited leading scholars already identified in your literature review [see next sub-tab]. This is called citation tracking and there are a number of sources that can help you identify who has cited whom, particularly scholars from outside of your discipline. Here again, if the same authors are being cited again and again, this may indicate no new literature has been written on the topic.

Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2016; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

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Enago Academy

How to Write a Good Scientific Literature Review

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Nowadays, there is a huge demand for scientific literature reviews as they are especially appreciated by scholars or researchers when designing their research proposals. While finding information is less of a problem to them, discerning which paper or publication has enough quality has become one of the biggest issues. Literature reviews narrow the current knowledge on a certain field and examine the latest publications’ strengths and weaknesses. This way, they are priceless tools not only for those who are starting their research, but also for all those interested in recent publications. To be useful, literature reviews must be written in a professional way with a clear structure. The amount of work needed to write a scientific literature review must be considered before starting one since the tasks required can overwhelm many if the working method is not the best.

Designing and Writing a Scientific Literature Review

Writing a scientific review implies both researching for relevant academic content and writing , however, writing without having a clear objective is a common mistake. Sometimes, studying the situation and defining the work’s system is so important and takes equally as much time as that required in writing the final result. Therefore, we suggest that you divide your path into three steps.

Define goals and a structure

Think about your target and narrow down your topic. If you don’t choose a well-defined topic, you can find yourself dealing with a wide subject and plenty of publications about it. Remember that researchers usually deal with really specific fields of study.

It is time to be a critic and locate only pertinent publications. While researching for content consider publications that were written 3 years ago at the most. Write notes and summarize the content of each paper as that will help you in the next step.

Time to write

Check some literature review examples to decide how to start writing a good literature review . When your goals and structure are defined, begin writing without forgetting your target at any moment.

Related: Conducting a literature survey? Wish to learn more about scientific misconduct? Check out this resourceful infographic.

Here you have a to-do list to help you write your review :

Review Article

  • A scientific literature review usually includes a title, abstract, index, introduction, corpus, bibliography, and appendices (if needed).
  • Present the problem clearly.
  • Mention the paper’s methodology, research methods, analysis, instruments, etc.
  • Present literature review examples that can help you express your ideas.
  • Remember to cite accurately.
  • Limit your bias
  • While summarizing also identify strengths and weaknesses as this is critical.

Scholars and researchers are usually the best candidates to write scientific literature reviews, not only because they are experts in a certain field, but also because they know the exigencies and needs that researchers have while writing research proposals or looking for information among thousands of academic papers. Therefore, considering your experience as a researcher can help you understand how to write a scientific literature review.

Have you faced challenges while drafting your first literature review? How do you think can these tips help you in acing your next literature review? Let us know in the comments section below! You can also visit our  Q&A forum  for frequently asked questions related to copyrights answered by our team that comprises eminent researchers and publication experts.

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Open Access

Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliations Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), CNRS, Montpellier, France, Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB), FRB, Aix-en-Provence, France

  • Marco Pautasso

PLOS

Published: July 18, 2013

  • https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149
  • Reader Comments

Figure 1

Citation: Pautasso M (2013) Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review. PLoS Comput Biol 9(7): e1003149. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149

Editor: Philip E. Bourne, University of California San Diego, United States of America

Copyright: © 2013 Marco Pautasso. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: This work was funded by the French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) through its Centre for Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity data (CESAB), as part of the NETSEED research project. The funders had no role in the preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests: The author has declared that no competing interests exist.

Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications [1] . For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively [2] . Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every single new paper relevant to their interests [3] . Thus, it is both advantageous and necessary to rely on regular summaries of the recent literature. Although recognition for scientists mainly comes from primary research, timely literature reviews can lead to new synthetic insights and are often widely read [4] . For such summaries to be useful, however, they need to be compiled in a professional way [5] .

When starting from scratch, reviewing the literature can require a titanic amount of work. That is why researchers who have spent their career working on a certain research issue are in a perfect position to review that literature. Some graduate schools are now offering courses in reviewing the literature, given that most research students start their project by producing an overview of what has already been done on their research issue [6] . However, it is likely that most scientists have not thought in detail about how to approach and carry out a literature review.

Reviewing the literature requires the ability to juggle multiple tasks, from finding and evaluating relevant material to synthesising information from various sources, from critical thinking to paraphrasing, evaluating, and citation skills [7] . In this contribution, I share ten simple rules I learned working on about 25 literature reviews as a PhD and postdoctoral student. Ideas and insights also come from discussions with coauthors and colleagues, as well as feedback from reviewers and editors.

Rule 1: Define a Topic and Audience

How to choose which topic to review? There are so many issues in contemporary science that you could spend a lifetime of attending conferences and reading the literature just pondering what to review. On the one hand, if you take several years to choose, several other people may have had the same idea in the meantime. On the other hand, only a well-considered topic is likely to lead to a brilliant literature review [8] . The topic must at least be:

  • interesting to you (ideally, you should have come across a series of recent papers related to your line of work that call for a critical summary),
  • an important aspect of the field (so that many readers will be interested in the review and there will be enough material to write it), and
  • a well-defined issue (otherwise you could potentially include thousands of publications, which would make the review unhelpful).

Ideas for potential reviews may come from papers providing lists of key research questions to be answered [9] , but also from serendipitous moments during desultory reading and discussions. In addition to choosing your topic, you should also select a target audience. In many cases, the topic (e.g., web services in computational biology) will automatically define an audience (e.g., computational biologists), but that same topic may also be of interest to neighbouring fields (e.g., computer science, biology, etc.).

Rule 2: Search and Re-search the Literature

After having chosen your topic and audience, start by checking the literature and downloading relevant papers. Five pieces of advice here:

  • keep track of the search items you use (so that your search can be replicated [10] ),
  • keep a list of papers whose pdfs you cannot access immediately (so as to retrieve them later with alternative strategies),
  • use a paper management system (e.g., Mendeley, Papers, Qiqqa, Sente),
  • define early in the process some criteria for exclusion of irrelevant papers (these criteria can then be described in the review to help define its scope), and
  • do not just look for research papers in the area you wish to review, but also seek previous reviews.

The chances are high that someone will already have published a literature review ( Figure 1 ), if not exactly on the issue you are planning to tackle, at least on a related topic. If there are already a few or several reviews of the literature on your issue, my advice is not to give up, but to carry on with your own literature review,

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The bottom-right situation (many literature reviews but few research papers) is not just a theoretical situation; it applies, for example, to the study of the impacts of climate change on plant diseases, where there appear to be more literature reviews than research studies [33] .

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149.g001

  • discussing in your review the approaches, limitations, and conclusions of past reviews,
  • trying to find a new angle that has not been covered adequately in the previous reviews, and
  • incorporating new material that has inevitably accumulated since their appearance.

When searching the literature for pertinent papers and reviews, the usual rules apply:

  • be thorough,
  • use different keywords and database sources (e.g., DBLP, Google Scholar, ISI Proceedings, JSTOR Search, Medline, Scopus, Web of Science), and
  • look at who has cited past relevant papers and book chapters.

Rule 3: Take Notes While Reading

If you read the papers first, and only afterwards start writing the review, you will need a very good memory to remember who wrote what, and what your impressions and associations were while reading each single paper. My advice is, while reading, to start writing down interesting pieces of information, insights about how to organize the review, and thoughts on what to write. This way, by the time you have read the literature you selected, you will already have a rough draft of the review.

Of course, this draft will still need much rewriting, restructuring, and rethinking to obtain a text with a coherent argument [11] , but you will have avoided the danger posed by staring at a blank document. Be careful when taking notes to use quotation marks if you are provisionally copying verbatim from the literature. It is advisable then to reformulate such quotes with your own words in the final draft. It is important to be careful in noting the references already at this stage, so as to avoid misattributions. Using referencing software from the very beginning of your endeavour will save you time.

Rule 4: Choose the Type of Review You Wish to Write

After having taken notes while reading the literature, you will have a rough idea of the amount of material available for the review. This is probably a good time to decide whether to go for a mini- or a full review. Some journals are now favouring the publication of rather short reviews focusing on the last few years, with a limit on the number of words and citations. A mini-review is not necessarily a minor review: it may well attract more attention from busy readers, although it will inevitably simplify some issues and leave out some relevant material due to space limitations. A full review will have the advantage of more freedom to cover in detail the complexities of a particular scientific development, but may then be left in the pile of the very important papers “to be read” by readers with little time to spare for major monographs.

There is probably a continuum between mini- and full reviews. The same point applies to the dichotomy of descriptive vs. integrative reviews. While descriptive reviews focus on the methodology, findings, and interpretation of each reviewed study, integrative reviews attempt to find common ideas and concepts from the reviewed material [12] . A similar distinction exists between narrative and systematic reviews: while narrative reviews are qualitative, systematic reviews attempt to test a hypothesis based on the published evidence, which is gathered using a predefined protocol to reduce bias [13] , [14] . When systematic reviews analyse quantitative results in a quantitative way, they become meta-analyses. The choice between different review types will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, depending not just on the nature of the material found and the preferences of the target journal(s), but also on the time available to write the review and the number of coauthors [15] .

Rule 5: Keep the Review Focused, but Make It of Broad Interest

Whether your plan is to write a mini- or a full review, it is good advice to keep it focused 16 , 17 . Including material just for the sake of it can easily lead to reviews that are trying to do too many things at once. The need to keep a review focused can be problematic for interdisciplinary reviews, where the aim is to bridge the gap between fields [18] . If you are writing a review on, for example, how epidemiological approaches are used in modelling the spread of ideas, you may be inclined to include material from both parent fields, epidemiology and the study of cultural diffusion. This may be necessary to some extent, but in this case a focused review would only deal in detail with those studies at the interface between epidemiology and the spread of ideas.

While focus is an important feature of a successful review, this requirement has to be balanced with the need to make the review relevant to a broad audience. This square may be circled by discussing the wider implications of the reviewed topic for other disciplines.

Rule 6: Be Critical and Consistent

Reviewing the literature is not stamp collecting. A good review does not just summarize the literature, but discusses it critically, identifies methodological problems, and points out research gaps [19] . After having read a review of the literature, a reader should have a rough idea of:

  • the major achievements in the reviewed field,
  • the main areas of debate, and
  • the outstanding research questions.

It is challenging to achieve a successful review on all these fronts. A solution can be to involve a set of complementary coauthors: some people are excellent at mapping what has been achieved, some others are very good at identifying dark clouds on the horizon, and some have instead a knack at predicting where solutions are going to come from. If your journal club has exactly this sort of team, then you should definitely write a review of the literature! In addition to critical thinking, a literature review needs consistency, for example in the choice of passive vs. active voice and present vs. past tense.

Rule 7: Find a Logical Structure

Like a well-baked cake, a good review has a number of telling features: it is worth the reader's time, timely, systematic, well written, focused, and critical. It also needs a good structure. With reviews, the usual subdivision of research papers into introduction, methods, results, and discussion does not work or is rarely used. However, a general introduction of the context and, toward the end, a recapitulation of the main points covered and take-home messages make sense also in the case of reviews. For systematic reviews, there is a trend towards including information about how the literature was searched (database, keywords, time limits) [20] .

How can you organize the flow of the main body of the review so that the reader will be drawn into and guided through it? It is generally helpful to draw a conceptual scheme of the review, e.g., with mind-mapping techniques. Such diagrams can help recognize a logical way to order and link the various sections of a review [21] . This is the case not just at the writing stage, but also for readers if the diagram is included in the review as a figure. A careful selection of diagrams and figures relevant to the reviewed topic can be very helpful to structure the text too [22] .

Rule 8: Make Use of Feedback

Reviews of the literature are normally peer-reviewed in the same way as research papers, and rightly so [23] . As a rule, incorporating feedback from reviewers greatly helps improve a review draft. Having read the review with a fresh mind, reviewers may spot inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and ambiguities that had not been noticed by the writers due to rereading the typescript too many times. It is however advisable to reread the draft one more time before submission, as a last-minute correction of typos, leaps, and muddled sentences may enable the reviewers to focus on providing advice on the content rather than the form.

Feedback is vital to writing a good review, and should be sought from a variety of colleagues, so as to obtain a diversity of views on the draft. This may lead in some cases to conflicting views on the merits of the paper, and on how to improve it, but such a situation is better than the absence of feedback. A diversity of feedback perspectives on a literature review can help identify where the consensus view stands in the landscape of the current scientific understanding of an issue [24] .

Rule 9: Include Your Own Relevant Research, but Be Objective

In many cases, reviewers of the literature will have published studies relevant to the review they are writing. This could create a conflict of interest: how can reviewers report objectively on their own work [25] ? Some scientists may be overly enthusiastic about what they have published, and thus risk giving too much importance to their own findings in the review. However, bias could also occur in the other direction: some scientists may be unduly dismissive of their own achievements, so that they will tend to downplay their contribution (if any) to a field when reviewing it.

In general, a review of the literature should neither be a public relations brochure nor an exercise in competitive self-denial. If a reviewer is up to the job of producing a well-organized and methodical review, which flows well and provides a service to the readership, then it should be possible to be objective in reviewing one's own relevant findings. In reviews written by multiple authors, this may be achieved by assigning the review of the results of a coauthor to different coauthors.

Rule 10: Be Up-to-Date, but Do Not Forget Older Studies

Given the progressive acceleration in the publication of scientific papers, today's reviews of the literature need awareness not just of the overall direction and achievements of a field of inquiry, but also of the latest studies, so as not to become out-of-date before they have been published. Ideally, a literature review should not identify as a major research gap an issue that has just been addressed in a series of papers in press (the same applies, of course, to older, overlooked studies (“sleeping beauties” [26] )). This implies that literature reviewers would do well to keep an eye on electronic lists of papers in press, given that it can take months before these appear in scientific databases. Some reviews declare that they have scanned the literature up to a certain point in time, but given that peer review can be a rather lengthy process, a full search for newly appeared literature at the revision stage may be worthwhile. Assessing the contribution of papers that have just appeared is particularly challenging, because there is little perspective with which to gauge their significance and impact on further research and society.

Inevitably, new papers on the reviewed topic (including independently written literature reviews) will appear from all quarters after the review has been published, so that there may soon be the need for an updated review. But this is the nature of science [27] – [32] . I wish everybody good luck with writing a review of the literature.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to M. Barbosa, K. Dehnen-Schmutz, T. Döring, D. Fontaneto, M. Garbelotto, O. Holdenrieder, M. Jeger, D. Lonsdale, A. MacLeod, P. Mills, M. Moslonka-Lefebvre, G. Stancanelli, P. Weisberg, and X. Xu for insights and discussions, and to P. Bourne, T. Matoni, and D. Smith for helpful comments on a previous draft.

  • 1. Rapple C (2011) The role of the critical review article in alleviating information overload. Annual Reviews White Paper. Available: http://www.annualreviews.org/userimages/ContentEditor/1300384004941/Annual_Reviews_WhitePaper_Web_2011.pdf . Accessed May 2013.
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  • 16. Eco U (1977) Come si fa una tesi di laurea. Milan: Bompiani.
  • 17. Hart C (1998) Doing a literature review: releasing the social science research imagination. London: SAGE.
  • 21. Ridley D (2008) The literature review: a step-by-step guide for students. London: SAGE.

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Successful Scientific Writing and Publishing: A Step-by-Step Approach

John k. iskander.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia

Sara Beth Wolicki

2 Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, Washington, District of Columbia

Rebecca T. Leeb

Paul z. siegel.

Scientific writing and publication are essential to advancing knowledge and practice in public health, but prospective authors face substantial challenges. Authors can overcome barriers, such as lack of understanding about scientific writing and the publishing process, with training and resources. The objective of this article is to provide guidance and practical recommendations to help both inexperienced and experienced authors working in public health settings to more efficiently publish the results of their work in the peer-reviewed literature. We include an overview of basic scientific writing principles, a detailed description of the sections of an original research article, and practical recommendations for selecting a journal and responding to peer review comments. The overall approach and strategies presented are intended to contribute to individual career development while also increasing the external validity of published literature and promoting quality public health science.

Introduction

Publishing in the peer-reviewed literature is essential to advancing science and its translation to practice in public health ( 1 , 2 ). The public health workforce is diverse and practices in a variety of settings ( 3 ). For some public health professionals, writing and publishing the results of their work is a requirement. Others, such as program managers, policy makers, or health educators, may see publishing as being outside the scope of their responsibilities ( 4 ).

Disseminating new knowledge via writing and publishing is vital both to authors and to the field of public health ( 5 ). On an individual level, publishing is associated with professional development and career advancement ( 6 ). Publications share new research, results, and methods in a trusted format and advance scientific knowledge and practice ( 1 , 7 ). As more public health professionals are empowered to publish, the science and practice of public health will advance ( 1 ).

Unfortunately, prospective authors face barriers to publishing their work, including navigating the process of scientific writing and publishing, which can be time-consuming and cumbersome. Often, public health professionals lack both training opportunities and understanding of the process ( 8 ). To address these barriers and encourage public health professionals to publish their findings, the senior author (P.Z.S.) and others developed Successful Scientific Writing (SSW), a course about scientific writing and publishing. Over the past 30 years, this course has been taught to thousands of public health professionals, as well as hundreds of students at multiple graduate schools of public health. An unpublished longitudinal survey of course participants indicated that two-thirds agreed that SSW had helped them to publish a scientific manuscript or have a conference abstract accepted. The course content has been translated into this manuscript. The objective of this article is to provide prospective authors with the tools needed to write original research articles of high quality that have a good chance of being published.

Basic Recommendations for Scientific Writing

Prospective authors need to know and tailor their writing to the audience. When writing for scientific journals, 4 fundamental recommendations are: clearly stating the usefulness of the study, formulating a key message, limiting unnecessary words, and using strategic sentence structure.

To demonstrate usefulness, focus on how the study addresses a meaningful gap in current knowledge or understanding. What critical piece of information does the study provide that will help solve an important public health problem? For example, if a particular group of people is at higher risk for a specific condition, but the magnitude of that risk is unknown, a study to quantify the risk could be important for measuring the population’s burden of disease.

Scientific articles should have a clear and concise take-home message. Typically, this is expressed in 1 to 2 sentences that summarize the main point of the paper. This message can be used to focus the presentation of background information, results, and discussion of findings. As an early step in the drafting of an article, we recommend writing out the take-home message and sharing it with co-authors for their review and comment. Authors who know their key point are better able to keep their writing within the scope of the article and present information more succinctly. Once an initial draft of the manuscript is complete, the take-home message can be used to review the content and remove needless words, sentences, or paragraphs.

Concise writing improves the clarity of an article. Including additional words or clauses can divert from the main message and confuse the reader. Additionally, journal articles are typically limited by word count. The most important words and phrases to eliminate are those that do not add meaning, or are duplicative. Often, cutting adjectives or parenthetical statements results in a more concise paper that is also easier to read.

Sentence structure strongly influences the readability and comprehension of journal articles. Twenty to 25 words is a reasonable range for maximum sentence length. Limit the number of clauses per sentence, and place the most important or relevant clause at the end of the sentence ( 9 ). Consider the sentences:

  • By using these tips and tricks, an author may write and publish an additional 2 articles a year.
  • An author may write and publish an additional 2 articles a year by using these tips and tricks.

The focus of the first sentence is on the impact of using the tips and tricks, that is, 2 more articles published per year. In contrast, the second sentence focuses on the tips and tricks themselves.

Authors should use the active voice whenever possible. Consider the following example:

  • Active voice: Authors who use the active voice write more clearly.
  • Passive voice: Clarity of writing is promoted by the use of the active voice.

The active voice specifies who is doing the action described in the sentence. Using the active voice improves clarity and understanding, and generally uses fewer words. Scientific writing includes both active and passive voice, but authors should be intentional with their use of either one.

Sections of an Original Research Article

Original research articles make up most of the peer-reviewed literature ( 10 ), follow a standardized format, and are the focus of this article. The 4 main sections are the introduction, methods, results, and discussion, sometimes referred to by the initialism, IMRAD. These 4 sections are referred to as the body of an article. Two additional components of all peer-reviewed articles are the title and the abstract. Each section’s purpose and key components, along with specific recommendations for writing each section, are listed below.

Title. The purpose of a title is twofold: to provide an accurate and informative summary and to attract the target audience. Both prospective readers and database search engines use the title to screen articles for relevance ( 2 ). All titles should clearly state the topic being studied. The topic includes the who, what, when, and where of the study. Along with the topic, select 1 or 2 of the following items to include within the title: methods, results, conclusions, or named data set or study. The items chosen should emphasize what is new and useful about the study. Some sources recommend limiting the title to less than 150 characters ( 2 ). Articles with shorter titles are more frequently cited than articles with longer titles ( 11 ). Several title options are possible for the same study ( Figure ).

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Two examples of title options for a single study.

Abstract . The abstract serves 2 key functions. Journals may screen articles for potential publication by using the abstract alone ( 12 ), and readers may use the abstract to decide whether to read further. Therefore, it is critical to produce an accurate and clear abstract that highlights the major purpose of the study, basic procedures, main findings, and principal conclusions ( 12 ). Most abstracts have a word limit and can be either structured following IMRAD, or unstructured. The abstract needs to stand alone from the article and tell the most important parts of the scientific story up front.

Introduction . The purpose of the introduction is to explain how the study sought to create knowledge that is new and useful. The introduction section may often require only 3 paragraphs. First, describe the scope, nature, or magnitude of the problem being addressed. Next, clearly articulate why better understanding this problem is useful, including what is currently known and the limitations of relevant previous studies. Finally, explain what the present study adds to the knowledge base. Explicitly state whether data were collected in a unique way or obtained from a previously unstudied data set or population. Presenting both the usefulness and novelty of the approach taken will prepare the reader for the remaining sections of the article.

Methods . The methods section provides the information necessary to allow others, given the same data, to recreate the analysis. It describes exactly how data relevant to the study purpose were collected, organized, and analyzed. The methods section describes the process of conducting the study — from how the sample was selected to which statistical methods were used to analyze the data. Authors should clearly name, define, and describe each study variable. Some journals allow detailed methods to be included in an appendix or supplementary document. If the analysis involves a commonly used public health data set, such as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System ( 13 ), general aspects of the data set can be provided to readers by using references. Because what was done is typically more important than who did it, use of the passive voice is often appropriate when describing methods. For example, “The study was a group randomized, controlled trial. A coin was tossed to select an intervention group and a control group.”

Results . The results section describes the main outcomes of the study or analysis but does not interpret the findings or place them in the context of previous research. It is important that the results be logically organized. Suggested organization strategies include presenting results pertaining to the entire population first, and then subgroup analyses, or presenting results according to increasing complexity of analysis, starting with demographic results before proceeding to univariate and multivariate analyses. Authors wishing to draw special attention to novel or unexpected results can present them first.

One strategy for writing the results section is to start by first drafting the figures and tables. Figures, which typically show trends or relationships, and tables, which show specific data points, should each support a main outcome of the study. Identify the figures and tables that best describe the findings and relate to the study’s purpose, and then develop 1 to 2 sentences summarizing each one. Data not relevant to the study purpose may be excluded, summarized briefly in the text, or included in supplemental data sets. When finalizing figures, ensure that axes are labeled and that readers can understand figures without having to refer to accompanying text.

Discussion . In the discussion section, authors interpret the results of their study within the context of both the related literature and the specific scientific gap the study was intended to fill. The discussion does not introduce results that were not presented in the results section. One way authors can focus their discussion is to limit this section to 4 paragraphs: start by reinforcing the study’s take-home message(s), contextualize key results within the relevant literature, state the study limitations, and lastly, make recommendations for further research or policy and practice changes. Authors can support assertions made in the discussion with either their own findings or by referencing related research. By interpreting their own study results and comparing them to others in the literature, authors can emphasize findings that are unique, useful, and relevant. Present study limitations clearly and without apology. Finally, state the implications of the study and provide recommendations or next steps, for example, further research into remaining gaps or changes to practice or policy. Statements or recommendations regarding policy may use the passive voice, especially in instances where the action to be taken is more important than who will implement the action.

Beginning the Writing Process

The process of writing a scientific article occurs before, during, and after conducting the study or analyses. Conducting a literature review is crucial to confirm the existence of the evidence gap that the planned analysis seeks to fill. Because literature searches are often part of applying for research funding or developing a study protocol, the citations used in the grant application or study proposal can also be used in subsequent manuscripts. Full-text databases such as PubMed Central ( 14 ), NIH RePORT ( 15 ), and CDC Stacks ( 16 ) can be useful when performing literature reviews. Authors should familiarize themselves with databases that are accessible through their institution and any assistance that may be available from reference librarians or interlibrary loan systems. Using citation management software is one way to establish and maintain a working reference list. Authors should clearly understand the distinction between primary and secondary references, and ensure that they are knowledgeable about the content of any primary or secondary reference that they cite.

Review of the literature may continue while organizing the material and writing begins. One way to organize material is to create an outline for the paper. Another way is to begin drafting small sections of the article such as the introduction. Starting a preliminary draft forces authors to establish the scope of their analysis and clearly articulate what is new and novel about the study. Furthermore, using information from the study protocol or proposal allows authors to draft the methods and part of the results sections while the study is in progress. Planning potential data comparisons or drafting “table shells” will help to ensure that the study team has collected all the necessary data. Drafting these preliminary sections early during the writing process and seeking feedback from co-authors and colleagues may help authors avoid potential pitfalls, including misunderstandings about study objectives.

The next step is to conduct the study or analyses and use the resulting data to fill in the draft table shells. The initial results will most likely require secondary analyses, that is, exploring the data in ways in addition to those originally planned. Authors should ensure that they regularly update their methods section to describe all changes to data analysis.

After completing table shells, authors should summarize the key finding of each table or figure in a sentence or two. Presenting preliminary results at meetings, conferences, and internal seminars is an established way to solicit feedback. Authors should pay close attention to questions asked by the audience, treating them as an informal opportunity for peer review. On the basis of the questions and feedback received, authors can incorporate revisions and improvements into subsequent drafts of the manuscript.

The relevant literature should be revisited periodically while writing to ensure knowledge of the most recent publications about the manuscript topic. Authors should focus on content and key message during the process of writing the first draft and should not spend too much time on issues of grammar or style. Drafts, or portions of drafts, should be shared frequently with trusted colleagues. Their recommendations should be reviewed and incorporated when they will improve the manuscript’s overall clarity.

For most authors, revising drafts of the manuscript will be the most time-consuming task involved in writing a paper. By regularly checking in with coauthors and colleagues, authors can adopt a systematic approach to rewriting. When the author has completed a draft of the manuscript, he or she should revisit the key take-home message to ensure that it still matches the final data and analysis. At this point, final comments and approval of the manuscript by coauthors can be sought.

Authors should then seek to identify journals most likely to be interested in considering the study for publication. Initial questions to consider when selecting a journal include:

  • Which audience is most interested in the paper’s message?
  • Would clinicians, public health practitioners, policy makers, scientists, or a broader audience find this useful in their field or practice?
  • Do colleagues have prior experience submitting a manuscript to this journal?
  • Is the journal indexed and peer-reviewed?
  • Is the journal subscription or open-access and are there any processing fees?
  • How competitive is the journal?

Authors should seek to balance the desire to be published in a top-tier journal (eg, Journal of the American Medical Association, BMJ, or Lancet) against the statistical likelihood of rejection. Submitting the paper initially to a journal more focused on the paper’s target audience may result in a greater chance of acceptance, as well as more timely dissemination of findings that can be translated into practice. Most of the 50 to 75 manuscripts published each week by authors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are published in specialty and subspecialty journals, rather than in top-tier journals ( 17 ).

The target journal’s website will include author guidelines, which will contain specific information about format requirements (eg, font, line spacing, section order, reference style and limit, table and figure formatting), authorship criteria, article types, and word limits for articles and abstracts.

We recommend returning to the previously drafted abstract and ensuring that it complies with the journal’s format and word limit. Authors should also verify that any changes made to the methods or results sections during the article’s drafting are reflected in the final version of the abstract. The abstract should not be written hurriedly just before submitting the manuscript; it is often apparent to editors and reviewers when this has happened. A cover letter to accompany the submission should be drafted; new and useful findings and the key message should be included.

Before submitting the manuscript and cover letter, authors should perform a final check to ensure that their paper complies with all journal requirements. Journals may elect to reject certain submissions on the basis of review of the abstract, or may send them to peer reviewers (typically 2 or 3) for consultation. Occasionally, on the basis of peer reviews, the journal will request only minor changes before accepting the paper for publication. Much more frequently, authors will receive a request to revise and resubmit their manuscript, taking into account peer review comments. Authors should recognize that while revise-and-resubmit requests may state that the manuscript is not acceptable in its current form, this does not constitute a rejection of the article. Authors have several options in responding to peer review comments:

  • Performing additional analyses and updating the article appropriately
  • Declining to perform additional analyses, but providing an explanation (eg, because the requested analysis goes beyond the scope of the article)
  • Providing updated references
  • Acknowledging reviewer comments that are simply comments without making changes

In addition to submitting a revised manuscript, authors should include a cover letter in which they list peer reviewer comments, along with the revisions they have made to the manuscript and their reply to the comment. The tone of such letters should be thankful and polite, but authors should make clear areas of disagreement with peer reviewers, and explain why they disagree. During the peer review process, authors should continue to consult with colleagues, especially ones who have more experience with the specific journal or with the peer review process.

There is no secret to successful scientific writing and publishing. By adopting a systematic approach and by regularly seeking feedback from trusted colleagues throughout the study, writing, and article submission process, authors can increase their likelihood of not only publishing original research articles of high quality but also becoming more scientifically productive overall.

Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge PCD ’s former Associate Editor, Richard A. Goodman, MD, MPH, who, while serving as Editor in Chief of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Series, initiated a curriculum on scientific writing for training CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service Officers and other CDC public health professionals, and with whom the senior author of this article (P.Z.S.) collaborated in expanding training methods and contents, some of which are contained in this article. The authors acknowledge Juan Carlos Zevallos, MD, for his thoughtful critique and careful editing of previous Successful Scientific Writing materials. We also thank Shira Eisenberg for editorial assistance with the manuscript. This publication was supported by the Cooperative Agreement no. 1U360E000002 from CDC and the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. The findings and conclusions of this article do not necessarily represent the official views of CDC or the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. Names of journals and citation databases are provided for identification purposes only and do not constitute any endorsement by CDC.

The opinions expressed by authors contributing to this journal do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors' affiliated institutions.

Suggested citation for this article: Iskander JK, Wolicki SB, Leeb RT, Siegel PZ. Successful Scientific Writing and Publishing: A Step-by-Step Approach. Prev Chronic Dis 2018;15:180085. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5888/pcd15.180085 .

Reference management. Clean and simple.

What is a literature review? [with examples]

Literature review explained

What is a literature review?

The purpose of a literature review, how to write a literature review, the format of a literature review, general formatting rules, the length of a literature review, literature review examples, frequently asked questions about literature reviews, related articles.

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

In a literature review, you’re expected to report on the existing scholarly conversation, 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 a literature review
  • the basic format of a literature review

Tip: It’s not always mandatory to add a literature review in a paper. Theses and dissertations often include them, whereas research papers may not. Make sure to consult with your instructor for exact requirements.

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
  • 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 so that they can eventually make an intervention.

The format of a literature review is fairly standard. It includes an:

  • introduction that briefly introduces the main topic
  • body that includes the main discussion of the key arguments
  • conclusion that highlights the gaps and issues of the literature

➡️ Take a look at our guide on how to write a literature review to learn more about how to structure 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 label this section as “Literature Review.”

➡️ For more information on writing a thesis, visit our guide on how to structure a thesis .

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.

Take a look at these three theses 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]

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

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.

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

The main goal of a literature review is to provide the researcher with sufficient knowledge about the topic in question so that they can eventually make an intervention.

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Reference Examples

More than 100 reference examples and their corresponding in-text citations are presented in the seventh edition Publication Manual . Examples of the most common works that writers cite are provided on this page; additional examples are available in the Publication Manual .

To find the reference example you need, first select a category (e.g., periodicals) and then choose the appropriate type of work (e.g., journal article ) and follow the relevant example.

When selecting a category, use the webpages and websites category only when a work does not fit better within another category. For example, a report from a government website would use the reports category, whereas a page on a government website that is not a report or other work would use the webpages and websites category.

Also note that print and electronic references are largely the same. For example, to cite both print books and ebooks, use the books and reference works category and then choose the appropriate type of work (i.e., book ) and follow the relevant example (e.g., whole authored book ).

Examples on these pages illustrate the details of reference formats. We make every attempt to show examples that are in keeping with APA Style’s guiding principles of inclusivity and bias-free language. These examples are presented out of context only to demonstrate formatting issues (e.g., which elements to italicize, where punctuation is needed, placement of parentheses). References, including these examples, are not inherently endorsements for the ideas or content of the works themselves. An author may cite a work to support a statement or an idea, to critique that work, or for many other reasons. For more examples, see our sample papers .

Reference examples are covered in the seventh edition APA Style manuals in the Publication Manual Chapter 10 and the Concise Guide Chapter 10

Related handouts

  • Common Reference Examples Guide (PDF, 147KB)
  • Reference Quick Guide (PDF, 225KB)

Textual Works

Textual works are covered in Sections 10.1–10.8 of the Publication Manual . The most common categories and examples are presented here. For the reviews of other works category, see Section 10.7.

  • Journal Article References
  • Magazine Article References
  • Newspaper Article References
  • Blog Post and Blog Comment References
  • UpToDate Article References
  • Book/Ebook References
  • Diagnostic Manual References
  • Children’s Book or Other Illustrated Book References
  • Classroom Course Pack Material References
  • Religious Work References
  • Chapter in an Edited Book/Ebook References
  • Dictionary Entry References
  • Wikipedia Entry References
  • Report by a Government Agency References
  • Report with Individual Authors References
  • Brochure References
  • Ethics Code References
  • Fact Sheet References
  • ISO Standard References
  • Press Release References
  • White Paper References
  • Conference Presentation References
  • Conference Proceeding References
  • Published Dissertation or Thesis References
  • Unpublished Dissertation or Thesis References
  • ERIC Database References
  • Preprint Article References

Data and Assessments

Data sets are covered in Section 10.9 of the Publication Manual . For the software and tests categories, see Sections 10.10 and 10.11.

  • Data Set References
  • Toolbox References

Audiovisual Media

Audiovisual media are covered in Sections 10.12–10.14 of the Publication Manual . The most common examples are presented together here. In the manual, these examples and more are separated into categories for audiovisual, audio, and visual media.

  • Artwork References
  • Clip Art or Stock Image References
  • Film and Television References
  • Musical Score References
  • Online Course or MOOC References
  • Podcast References
  • PowerPoint Slide or Lecture Note References
  • Radio Broadcast References
  • TED Talk References
  • Transcript of an Audiovisual Work References
  • YouTube Video References

Online Media

Online media are covered in Sections 10.15 and 10.16 of the Publication Manual . Please note that blog posts are part of the periodicals category.

  • Facebook References
  • Instagram References
  • LinkedIn References
  • Online Forum (e.g., Reddit) References
  • TikTok References
  • X References
  • Webpage on a Website References
  • Clinical Practice References
  • Open Educational Resource References
  • Whole Website References

How To Write a Research Paper on Social Science?

How To Write a Research Paper on Social Science?

A research paper is a type of academic writing that has a profound impact on the field of  social sciences . It requires meticulous methodologies, robust data analysis, and insightful interpretations. Writing an impactful research paper not only helps students gain new knowledge but also challenges existing paradigms and offers fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to the field of studies. If you need help with homework you can  buy a research paper for college  or use this guide. 

The article below provides a step-by-step guide, helping you choose topics, collect data, analyze it, and interpret findings. This guide will enable students to create research papers that meet academic standards and contribute to the social sciences field.

Table of Contents

Choose an impactful research topic, conduct a thorough literature review, don’t forget to add essential sections of a research paper, provide analysis for comprehensive insights.

Start with choosing a socially relevant topic. It is essential to develop an understanding of different related areas to define how a chosen topic contributes to the existing level of social knowledge and affects the lives of people around. Furthermore, the process of selecting a topic will help to define potential gaps within specific social contexts.

While choosing a topic, ensure sufficient resources are available for a thorough analysis of the chosen case. The topic must align with your interests, passions, and values as it drives motivation and commitment throughout the research process. Besides, it would help if you understand the possible effect of your topic on society. Consider  how your work may contribute to social change, policy formulation, or the betterment of communities and individuals  affected by the social issue.

Conducting an in-depth literature review in social sciences is a foundational step in the research process. A well-structured literature review not only serves to establish the theoretical and empirical groundwork for your study but also provides valuable insights into prevailing knowledge gaps and potential pathways for further investigation.

Examine existing literature to determine critical gaps in the current knowledge landscape and pinpoint specific areas for deeper exploration. To effectively compose your research work, leverage reputable databases, including JSTOR, PubMed, and Google Scholar, to access a diverse array of scholarly articles and publications within the realm of social sciences area. Relying on such esteemed sources ensures the credibility of the information you incorporate into your research.

Collect opinions of subject matter experts, professors, or reputable researchers within the field to gain deep insights. Direct your attention toward cross-cutting themes and shared elements across diverse disciplines, such as sociology, psychology, and maybe economics. You must provide a holistic and comprehensive understanding of the intricate social issues at the heart of your research.

By embracing an interdisciplinary approach, you can cultivate a nuanced perspective that enriches your topic exploration.

Developing a structured outline is a foundational component of the paper-writing process. It is a guiding framework that facilitates the coherent organization of ideas and data, making a seamless and logical flow of information throughout the paper. It provides readers with a clear roadmap to navigate through the complexities of the research study, enhancing the overall readability and comprehension of the presented content.

The introduction starts with an overview of the research topic and its significance. Clearly state the objectives and aims of the study. The literature review section analyzes existing literature and highlights fundamental theories and findings related to the research topic.

The methodology section outlines the specific techniques and methodologies employed for data collection and analysis. The analysis section represents research findings using  visual aids like tables and graphs  for better comprehension.

The discussion and interpretation section offers an analysis of the implications of results within the social context for a more profound understanding of the case. Finally, the conclusion of the research paper summarizes key findings, suggests implications for future studies, and emphasizes real-world applications.

Collecting complete and reliable data is vital for drawing accurate decisions and gaining informed insights in social sciences. Below, we present several effective methodologies for data collection:

  • One of the pivotal techniques involves using questionnaires to gather quantitative data on attitudes, behaviors, and opinions within a specific population. Additionally, interviews serve as a valuable tool for collecting data, enabling investigators to delve deeper into the experiences and narratives of individuals within the social context.
  • When it comes to analysis, one crucial aspect is to identify patterns in social data. To achieve this, use pattern recognition techniques like frequency analysis, clustering, and trend analysis.
  • Using software tools and statistical methods further eases identifying patterns that may take time to be apparent. It is imperative to interpret the identified patterns within the broader social context and discuss the highlights on how social, cultural, and historical contexts influence the interpretation of data and how acknowledging these impacts can significantly enrich the overall analysis.

Written by FilipiKnow

in Career and Education

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how to write a scientific literature review paper

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  1. Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

    Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications .For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively .Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every ...

  2. How to Write a Literature Review

    Examples of literature reviews. Step 1 - Search for relevant literature. Step 2 - Evaluate and select sources. Step 3 - Identify themes, debates, and gaps. Step 4 - Outline your literature review's structure. Step 5 - Write your literature review.

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    A good review article provides readers with an in-depth understanding of a field and highlights key gaps and challenges to address with future research. Writing a review article also helps to expand the writer's knowledge of their specialist area and to develop their analytical and communication skills, amongst other benefits. Thus, the ...

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    Abstract. Scientific review articles are comprehensive, focused reviews of the scientific literature written by subject matter experts. The task of writing a scientific review article can seem overwhelming; however, it can be managed by using an organized approach and devoting sufficient time to the process.

  6. How to write a good scientific review article

    Literature reviews are valuable resources for the scientific community. With research accelerating at an unprecedented speed in recent years and more and more original papers being published, review articles have become increasingly important as a means to keep up-to-date with developments in a particular area of research.

  7. Writing a Literature Review

    Analysis. The first step in writing a literature review is to analyse the original investigation research papers that you have gathered related to your topic. Analysis requires examining the papers methodically and in detail, so you can understand and interpret aspects of the study described in each research article.

  8. How to write a literature review in 6 steps

    3. Evaluate and select literature. 4. Analyze the literature. 5. Plan the structure of your literature review. 6. Write your literature review. Other resources to help you write a successful literature review.

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    How to write a literature review in 6 steps. How do you write a good literature review? This step-by-step guide on how to write an excellent literature review covers all aspects of planning and writing literature reviews for academic papers and theses.

  10. Writing a Literature Review

    A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays).

  11. PDF Conducting a Literature Review

    a description of the publication. a summary of the publication's main points. a discussion of gaps in research. an evaluation of the publication's contribution to the topic.

  12. Writing a Literature Review Research Paper: A step-by-step approach

    A literature review is a surveys scholarly articles, books and other sources relevant to a particular. issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, providing a description, summary, and ...

  13. What is a Literature Review? How to Write It (with Examples)

    A literature review is a critical analysis and synthesis of existing research on a particular topic. It provides an overview of the current state of knowledge, identifies gaps, and highlights key findings in the literature. 1 The purpose of a literature review is to situate your own research within the context of existing scholarship ...

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    The first step in writing a good literature review is to decide on the particular type of review to be written; hence, it is important to distinguish and understand the various types of review articles. ... Grech V. WASP (write a scientific paper): preparing an abstract. Early Human Development. 2018; 125:51-52. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2018 ...

  15. How to write a review paper

    Include this information when writing up the method for your review. 5 Look for previous reviews on the topic. Use them as a springboard for your own review, critiquing the earlier reviews, adding more recently published material, and pos-sibly exploring a different perspective. Exploit their refer-ences as another entry point into the literature.

  16. 5. The Literature Review

    A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories.A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that ...

  17. PDF LITERATURE REVIEWS

    2. MOTIVATE YOUR RESEARCH in addition to providing useful information about your topic, your literature review must tell a story about how your project relates to existing literature. popular literature review narratives include: ¡ plugging a gap / filling a hole within an incomplete literature ¡ building a bridge between two "siloed" literatures, putting literatures "in conversation"

  18. How to Write a Literature Review Paper?

    1. Introduction. Literature review papers (LRPs) are often very helpful for researchers, as the reader gets an up-to-date and well-structured overview of the literature in a specific area, and the review adds value. This added value can, for example, be that the research gaps are made explicit, and this may be very helpful for readers who plan ...

  19. How to Write a Good Scientific Literature Review

    Here you have a to-do list to help you write your review: A scientific literature review usually includes a title, abstract, index, introduction, corpus, bibliography, and appendices (if needed). Present the problem clearly. Mention the paper's methodology, research methods, analysis, instruments, etc. Present literature review examples that ...

  20. Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

    Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications .For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively .Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every ...

  21. How to Write a Literature Review Paper?

    Abstract. This paper discusses the question about how to write a literature review paper (LRP). It stresses the primary importance of adding value, rather than only providing an overview, and it then discusses some of the reasons for (or not) actually writing an LRP, including issues relating to the nature and scope of the paper.

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    Review of the literature may continue while organizing the material and writing begins. One way to organize material is to create an outline for the paper. ... Writing a scientific paper — a brief guide for new investigators. Vaccine 2017; 35 (5):722-8. 10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.11.091 [Google Scholar] 3. Sellers K, Leider JP, Harper E ...

  23. What is a literature review? [with examples]

    Definition. A literature review is an assessment of the sources in a chosen topic of research. In a literature review, you're expected to report on the existing scholarly conversation, 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 ...

  24. How to Write a Peer Review

    Think about structuring your review like an inverted pyramid. Put the most important information at the top, followed by details and examples in the center, and any additional points at the very bottom. Here's how your outline might look: 1. Summary of the research and your overall impression. In your own words, summarize what the manuscript ...

  25. Welcome to the Purdue Online Writing Lab

    Mission. The Purdue On-Campus Writing Lab and Purdue Online Writing Lab assist clients in their development as writers—no matter what their skill level—with on-campus consultations, online participation, and community engagement. The Purdue Writing Lab serves the Purdue, West Lafayette, campus and coordinates with local literacy initiatives.

  26. Reference examples

    More than 100 reference examples and their corresponding in-text citations are presented in the seventh edition Publication Manual.Examples of the most common works that writers cite are provided on this page; additional examples are available in the Publication Manual.. To find the reference example you need, first select a category (e.g., periodicals) and then choose the appropriate type of ...

  27. How To Write a Research Paper on Social Science?

    Developing a structured outline is a foundational component of the paper-writing process. It is a guiding framework that facilitates the coherent organization of ideas and data, making a seamless and logical flow of information throughout the paper. It provides readers with a clear roadmap to navigate through the complexities of the research ...

  28. Browse journals and books

    Abridged Science for High School Students. The Nuclear Research Foundation School Certificate Integrated, Volume 2. Book. • 1966. Abschlusskurs Sonografie der Bewegungsorgane First Edition. Book. • 2024. Absolute Radiometry. Electrically Calibrated Thermal Detectors of Optical Radiation.

  29. PDF The SAT® Practice Test #1

    Reading and Writing, Module 1 : 39 minutes Reading and Writing, Module 2: 39 minutes 10-minute break Math, Module 1: 43 minutes Math, Module 2: 43 minutes The above are standard times. If you are approved for accommodations involving additional time, you should give yourself that time when you practice.

  30. American Psychological Association (APA)

    The American Psychological Association (APA) is a scientific and professional organization that represents psychologists in the United States. APA educates the public about psychology, behavioral science and mental health; promotes psychological science and practice; fosters the education and training of psychological scientists, practitioners and educators; advocates for psychological ...