1A. Overview of the Literature Process and How to Start

A project schedule  is an effective way to manage your time and help break down the Literature Review into manageable chunks. Giving yourself dedicated time to each part of the Literature Review process, will allow you to manage your time and efforts, while balancing your other academic, social, and familial obligations. Here is a visual representation of how to allocate your time for a Literature Review. Let's start with the introduction stage of your Literature Review.
Graphic representative of the literature process. Description found below.
How much time should you spend? Introduction: 5%; Planning: 10%; Researching: 25%; Organizing: 10%; First draft: 25%; Revising: 15%; Proofreading: 10%

What is a Literature Review?


A Literature Review is a comprehensive examination of what has been published on a specific topic. They are usually one of the first steps in research methodologies. Writing a Literature Review requires research, analysis, and synthesis.

While every discipline uses Literature Reviews, there are key differences that arise out of the corresponding variations in research questions and methodologies. For example, kinesiologists studying heart disease will review the literature to identify acceptable measurement methods, whereas anthropologists researching intersections of culture and technology need to examine the literature to identify different categories of analysis. Because of differences in how we extract data from sources and what information is relevant, the analysis within and structure of our Literature Reviews will vary.



Along with disciplinary differences, there are variations in format. Stand-alone Literature Reviews are the most common type of Literature Review and are frequently assigned by professors. They are self-contained pieces of writing that can function as a stepping stone to a larger piece of writing or can enhance writers’ understandings of a topic. Embedded Literature Reviews, meanwhile, are part of a larger piece of writing, such as an essay, thesis, or scholarly article. They introduce readers to the surrounding literature while also situating your work within the larger scholarly discussion on that topic. Due to this variety of formats, make sure you are clear on what kind of Literature Review your professor is expecting.

Why Do We Write Literature Reviews?


Researchers write Literature Reviews to identify trends, gaps, intersections, and directions within published research while also situating their own work (see Figure A.1 below). Conducting a Literature Review will help you to clarify your understanding of the content and to establish a coherent picture of the current body of knowledge, which will streamline your writing process.

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Figure A.1: Your Literature Review. Writing a Literature Review analyzes the wider scholarly conversation on your topic.



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Stand-alone Literature Reviews summarize and synthesize previously published studies on a specific topic to outline existing evidence, to identify gaps in current research, and to position future research. Unlike embedded Literature Reviews, which appear as part of a larger piece of work, stand-alone Literature Reviews are a self-contained piece of writing that can be read on their own ( see Figure A.2). Once researchers have selected a topic, the first step in their research methodology is often the stand-alone Literature Review. Although you may write a stand-alone Literature Review as a course assignment to enhance your own knowledge as a student, scholars often write stand-alone Literature Review to benefit the research community and discipline. To write a strong stand-alone Literature Review, you should approach the research using a step-by-step process.



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Embedded Literature Reviews are sections within larger works, such as reports, essays, or dissertations, that discuss and analyze published material related to the research topic (see Figure A.3). In these cases, even though the majority of your work will be devoted to your own research and discussion, a brief Literature Review will address how other scholars have discussed your topic. Writing an embedded Literature Review will clarify your understanding of the material and demonstrate your thorough research skills. Embedded Literature Reviews are usually placed near the beginning of your essay in order to provide your reader with important context as well as to situate your work within the wider body of research on your topic. The length of embedded Literature Reviews varies, but is usually dependent upon the length of your assignment. Embedded Literature Reviews must discuss the connections between the sources you used for your research and also make connections between your work and these sources. To write a strong embedded Literature Review, you should approach your research systematically.

Organizing Your Literature Review

For both stand-alone and embedded Literature Reviews, you will need to select the most effective way to organize your material. The three common approaches are the following:


You can notice a change over time in how sources address or treat the topic. For example, scholars who published in the 1960s interpreted a historical event differently than those who published in the early 2000s.

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Your topic can be addressed through different lenses or subtopics. For example, some scholars have examined the social aspects of a topic while others have explored its economic aspects.

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You can note that scholars take clear and oppositional stands on the same topic. For example, groups of scholars disagree about the best way to measure a physiological event, and as a result, use different instruments and methodologies.

How Do You Structure Your Standard Literature Review?

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The introduction of your Literature Review demonstrates the importance of a topic and outlines the direction of the review, including the thesis, research question, scope, and purpose.


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The body of your Literature Review synthesizes and analyzes sources in a clear, logical manner.





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The conclusion of your Literature Review addresses the gaps in knowledge, indicates what your analysis tells you about the thesis or research question, and provides directions for future research.

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Reference List

The reference list of your Literature Review lists all the sources you cited in your paper, but students using the Chicago Manual of Style will also need to include the works they consulted even if they did not cite them.



To familiarize yourself with the building blocks for using APA citation please complete, Module 1: References of the APA Style Training. In later weeks, we will review the more complex questions of APA citation style.

Literature Review Sample Guide


For guidance on writing a Literature Review, take a look at Pudue Online Writing Lab's tips for Writing a Literature Review. The content is also available as a PDF.




Write Online (n.d.). Literature Review. Retrieved from http://writeonline.ca/litreview.php?content=section1 and licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.