How to write a literature review

How to write a literature review

What is a literature review? 

A literature review is a scholarly paper that explores different publications within a specific discipline or area of study within a set timeframe. The exploration focuses on the substantive findings, theoretical frameworks, and used methodologies. This type of writing requires a student to read and analyze different peer-reviewed sources that relates to the main subject. A literature review must include a summary of the publications and a synthesis of the documents. The summary offers an overview of the key points in the publication and a synthesis is a re-organization of the information in the different publications to form a unique meaning that points to the main subject. This paper is part of a dissertation or thesis and sometimes can be given as a standalone assignment.

Purpose of a literature review

The main reason of writing a literature review is to offer a summary of the existing study of the subject and synthesis their ideas without adding personal opinions or additional information. It helps the writer to understand the trends and the principles that previous authors given focus on the same subject. A writer becomes aware of the areas that have been studies on the subject to identify the existing gap that guides his or her study. A literature review reveals the relationship between different ideas on the topic, major points of controversy, and suggests questions to drive further research.

Literature review format

The length of a literature review is indicated in the assignment details. If the instructor failed to indicate, it should occupy 15%-30% of the entire paper. Also, the assignment details from the instructor should be specific on whether the format should be APA, MLA, or Chicago among others. The instructor is useful in offers the specific details of a literature review such as the number of sources, inclusion of subheadings, personal critique, and whether to include the background information of the sources.  See an example of instructors’ detail:

If you want to format your paper in APA style, then follow these rules:

  • Use 1-inch page margins.
  • Unless provided with other instructions, use double-spacing throughout the whole text.
  • Make sure you choose a readable font. The preferred font for APA papers is Times New Roman set to 12-point size.
  • Include a header at the top of every page (in capital letters). The page header must be a shortened version of your essay title and limited to 50 characters, including spacing and punctuation.
  • Put page numbers in the upper right corner of every page.
  • When shaping your literature review outline in APA, don’t forget to include a title page. This page should include the paper’s name, the author’s name, and the institutional affiliation. Your title must be typed with upper and lowercase letters and be centered in the upper part of the page; use no more than 12 words and avoid using abbreviations and any useless words.


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