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How to Write a Literature Review

A literature review is a specific type of research paper that focuses on published literature on a given topic. It is often the first step in doing original research, either scientific or otherwise. It is more than a mere summary of the literature, however, as it presents analysis, patterns, and critiques of individual sources, groups of sources, and the body of literature as a whole.

Not to be confused with a book review, a literature review surveys scholarly articles, books and other sources (e.g. dissertations, conference proceedings) relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, providing a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each work. The purpose is to offer an overview of significant literature published on a topic that critically analyzes a segment of a published body of knowledge through summary, classification, and comparison of prior research studies, reviews of literature, and theoretical articles. Someone reading a literature review should gain an understanding of trends, issues, unresolved questions, controversies, and the importance of the scholarly knowledge related to a specific question (topic).

The literature review format can vary by discipline, according to the purpose for the review, or with different venues for publication. A review may be an end in itself or a preface to and rationale for engaging in primary research. A review is usually a required part of grant and research proposals and often a chapter in theses and dissertations.

No matter what literature review format you use, WhiteSmoke's all-in-one writing software with English grammar checker, spell checker, an online dictionary, thesaurus and unique writing enhancement feature will be critical to your success in writing a literature review, as it will catch your errors, suggest adjectives and adverbs, and help your writing shine.

Stages in conducting a literature review:

  1.      Problem formulation:  which topic or field will you explore? What specific question will you research? What are the components within the question? . It's useful to conduct preliminary library searches at this point.
  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, comes from reliable sources, and relates to your question in particular (remember, a literature review uses scholarly literature)
  4.      Analysis and interpretation: analyzing components and patterns in the literature, discussing the overall findings, critiquing the literature, and forming conclusions                                                    

Elements included when writing a literature review:

  1.      An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of writing the literature review
  2.      Division of works under review into categories (e.g. those in support of a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative theses entirely)
  3.      Explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others
  4.      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.

In every element of the literature review, it is essential to use correct English grammar and spelling. WhiteSmoke's grammar and spell check will assure that you do. It will also help you correct punctuation. In addition, with its dictionary, thesaurus, and writing enhancement tools, WhiteSmoke will allow you to write precisely what you mean to say. Its online, all-in-one-solution will make writing a literature review easier than ever.

A common format for writing a literature review:


1.    Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern, thus providing an appropriate context for reviewing the literature.
2.    Point out overall trends in what has been published about the topic; or conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in research and scholarship; or a single problem or new perspective of immediate interest.
3.    Establish the writer's reason (point of view) for reviewing the literature; explain the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and the organization of the review (sequence); and, when necessary, state why certain literature is or is not included (scope).


1.    Group research studies and other types of literature (reviews, theoretical articles, case studies, etc.) according to common denominators such as qualitative versus quantitative approaches, conclusions of authors, specific purpose or objective, chronology, etc.
2.    Summarize individual studies or articles with as much or as little detail as each merits according to its comparative importance in the literature, remembering that space (length) denotes significance.                                      In assessing each piece, consideration should be given to:
1.    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)?
2.    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?
3.     Persuasiveness: Which of the author's theses are most/least convincing?
4.    Value: Are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?                                                                                                           Provide the reader with strong "umbrella" sentences at beginnings of paragraphs, "signposts" throughout, and brief "so what" summary sentences at intermediate points in the review to aid in understanding comparisons and analyses.


1.    Summarize major contributions of significant studies and articles to the body of knowledge under review, maintaining the focus established in the introduction.
2.   Evaluate the current "state of the art" for the body of knowledge reviewed, pointing out major methodological flaws or gaps in research, inconsistencies in theory and findings, and areas or issues pertinent to future study.
3.   Conclude by providing some insight into the relationship between the central topic of the literature review and a larger area of study such as a discipline, a scientific endeavor, or a profession.

Writing tips:

1.     Open web sources (somebody's home page, as opposed to peer-reviewed online journals or licensed database sites that provide access to scholarly works) are not usually considered reliable sources for academic research and should be used sparingly, if at all, and only after careful research into the sponsors of a site. In other words, don't use generally available internet search engines for your literature review.
2.     Place each work in the context of its contribution to the understanding of the subject under review
3.     Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration
4.     Identify new ways to interpret, and shed light on, any gaps in previous research
5.     Resolve conflicts among seemingly contradictory previous studies
6.    Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort
7.    Point the way forward for further research
8.     Place one's original work (in the case of theses or dissertations) in the context of existing literature--remember, however, that a literature review does not present new primary scholarship.
9.     Always use WhiteSmoke English grammar software to check your grammar.

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