How to Organize a Literature Review [in 30 Minutes or Less]: Outline & Tips

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Overview

A literature review shows how well you explored the topic. That’s why many students are afraid of it. But it’s not that scary. You just need to collect the results of the previous studies, structure them, and then make your own conclusions.

In this article, HelpfulPapers experts describe different kinds of literature reviews. You will find the list of key purposes of a literature review, its structure, and organization tips. Pay attention to the part where we explain how long a literature review should be.

  1. 🔖 What Is a Literature Review?
  2. 🎯 Why Do You Need a Literature Review?
  3. 📏 How Long Should a Literature Review Be?
  4. 📑 What Are the Types of a Literature Review?
  5. ️ How to Outline a Literature Review?
  6. 🔠 How to Organize a Literature Review?
  7. 🪄 Literature Review Tips by HelpfulPapers Team
  8. 📈 Best Literature Review Examples: Sociology, Nursing, Psychology, etc.

🔖 Literature Review Definition

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A literature review is a critical evaluation of literary pieces on a particular topic. It usually is placed at the beginning of an academic text (article, report, case study, etc.)

The main goals of a literature review are:

  1. To provide a new interpretation of the existing knowledge.
  2. To evaluate and compare the literature.
  3. To identify the gaps and the problems of the subject.

What Kind of Literature to Review?

Literature in your review can be different. Your topic sources may include:

  • Theses or dissertations.
  • Journal articles.
  • Statistical data.
  • Governmental and other organizations’ reports.
  • Monographs.
  • Empirical studies.

Remember that your sources should be directly related to the research problem. They have to develop the theme and answer the main questions you investigate. Sometimes it is better to include primary data rather than secondary sources. But if you do so, make sure that the secondary sources include qualitative research and actual results.

Read about the differences between primary and secondary sources here:
Essay Sources: Where to Find & How to Cite? 📚 Primary Sources Essay Writing Guide

What Kind of Review to Write?

Review is not just a summary. And not every source you have read is truly relevant to your topic. Remember that your first and primary goal is to organize, synthesize, and evaluate the sources. You also should identify the trends, conflicts, and controversies. The key here is to find the gaps in the prior studies and say why your research can fill them.

📏 How Long Should a Literature Review Be?

The length of a literature review should be approximately 20% of the paper. Of course, it all depends on the topic and field of your studies. You can analyze from five to 50+ literature pieces depending on the type and depth of your research.

🎯 Purpose of a Literature Review

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Literature Review Purpose #1

To show your knowledge.

Imagine that you join a scientific conversation. At first, you listen and make your assumptions. Then you clarify the issue and identify the missing points. Finally, you have to say your word referring to everything mentioned. Prove that you’ve done your research and know the issue well enough to display your opinion.

Literature Review Purpose #2

To provide an overview of prior studies.

You have not only to summarize but also evaluate and compare the sources. Criticize, synthesize, reveal similarities and differences. One of the main functions of a literature review is to help the readers have an objective perception of the topic.

Literature Review Purpose #3

To place your work.

Explain why your research is significant. Show how it fits with the existing knowledge and fills the gaps. Make sure that your specific research can contribute to the current studies. If it doesn’t, it’s still not late to change the direction of your investigation.

Literature Review Purpose #4

To identify not investigated aspects.

Remember that you need to do a thorough review not to miss any piece of information. Ensure that the area you center on is unexplored or not studied enough. You also have to say why it is vital to fill in the gaps and how your research can help.

Literature Review Purpose #5

To suggest the way of further research.

You have to identify the trends and predict the research prospects. Make it realistic: provide some arguments and evidence that support your opinion.

Other Purposes of a Literature Review

  1. Try to solve the conflicts and explain the opposite points of view. To what extent can you agree and disagree with different opinions?
  2. Decide what kind of additional research you need. Do you need to search further? Do you need the data that doesn’t exist yet?
  3. Present complex data in a simple way. Use lists, graphs, charts to clarify the materials. Can a person who doesn’t know anything about the topic understand it?

📑 Types of a Literature Review

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Now it’s time to decide the kind of literature review you need. Your choice might depend on the subject and your vision of the topic. Here you will find four basic types and how to write them.

Narrative Literature Review

A narrative literature review, also called traditional, analyzes what is already known about the topic. Usually, it reviews journal articles and textbooks on a specific topic. A narrative literature review defines the theoretical framework and the context for your further research.

A narrative literature review is suitable for:

  • Finding the patterns and trends in the prior studies.
  • Highlighting the gaps and questions that need more attention.
  • Identifying the focus or context of your research.

Systematic Literature Review

A systematic literature review should answer a well-defined research question. That is why it follows a protocol or plan with specific criteria. You need to define it before the study.

What do you need it for?

  • To guarantee unbiased and transparent results.
  • To provide reliable data which helps to draw conclusions.
  • To identify the gaps, differences, and trends in the chosen sources.

Scoping Literature Review

A scoping literature review focuses on broader questions than a systematic review. That is why it takes more time and requires more literature. The study explains the main concepts and describes the gaps in the knowledge.

When to use it?

  • When you need to clarify the definitions and concepts of a topic or field.
  • When you need to identify gaps in the literature.

Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is a list of the sources used in the research with their summaries. You should follow each citation with an annotative paragraph describing and evaluating the source.

What do you need it for?

  • To develop the knowledge of the research.
  • To summarize the information.
  • To assess the source.
  • To reflect on the relevance to your research.

️ Literature Review Outline

So, how to write a literature review?

It’s time to focus on the outline suitable for each type of literature review. There are three stages: introduction, the main body, and conclusion. We have prepared a mini-guide for each of them.

Literature Review Introduction

An introduction gives the readers the first impression. That is why don’t include too much data. Make sure that introduction is smaller than the main body.

What should you do in an introduction?

  • Define the topic and the thesis in the first paragraph.
  • Explain your point of view and the reasons for your review.
  • Tell the readers why your research is essential and why you have chosen this topic.
  • Explain how you organized your review.
  • Mention the key topics and sources that will be in the review.
  • Describe the scope – which sources are included, excluded, and why.

Literature Review Body

The main body’s purpose is to organize the sources, synthesize them, and analyze the literature. Explain how your topic is related to a broader general theme.

The body is the most significant part of a literature review. Here are three ways to organize it:

ChronologicalThis pattern analyzes the issue over time. It is an excellent way to introduce an unfamiliar topic to the audience. Avoid just listing or summarizing the literature – make sure you interpret the key trends.
ThematicThis approach works if you have found several vital themes for the research. You need to divide the body into subsections and explain each aspect separately.
MethodologicalHere you organize your review according to different research methods used in the sources—for example, quantitative and qualitative, empirical and theoretical, etc.

Literature Review Conclusion

The conclusion of a literature review shows your level of expertise and why your research matters. This is also a place to repeat your key findings and outline your research perspective.

What should you do when writing a conclusion?

  • Summarize all the findings vital to your research.
  • Assess the quality and relevance of the chosen literature.
  • Write about the gaps and weak spots of the sources.
  • Introduce a new approach to the studied issue.
  • Suggest a direction for future studies.
  • Connect your research with the existing knowledge.

🔠 How to Organize a Literature Review? From A to Z

We have just examined a literature review outline. Now it is time to arrange your work step-by-step.

Step 1. Define the Topic & Concepts

First things first, you need to know what you are looking for. The study might involve several vital concepts. In this case, you need to divide the literary review into several parts.

Let’s say your topic is teenage crime among ethnic minorities in the United States. Start with inspecting studies on adolescent crime. Then find research about crime among ethnic minorities in the United States. Finally, merge these fields and find studies about teenage crime among ethnic minorities in the United States.

Get ready to be flexible. There are also high chances of changing your topic or focus while reading literature. You can find some discoveries that partially answer your question, and then you will have to change the direction of your research.

Step 2. Look for the Background Information

You have to look for some reference books to find the background information. General and subject encyclopedias are a good choice for that. Encyclopedia entries will help you find ideas for your thesis and decide on the scope of research. Don’t forget about the “References” or “Further Reading” sections. Use them to find articles, books, and online resources that can also be helpful.

Step 3. Find the Credible Sources

Probably the most crucial moment is the search for sources. You need to find relevant and authoritative ones. How to do it?

First, decide on the best keywords for your topic. Proper keywords will lead you to the essential sources. Next, go to the database of scientific journals and books. Here are the ones that we recommend:

  1. EBSCO.
  2. JSTOR.
  3. Google Scholar.
  4. Dovepress.
  5. Academic Journals.
  6. Open Library (JSTOR’s project).
  7. National Agricultural Library.
  8. AGRIS Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
  9. Arachne (Archaeology, Art History database).
  10. Arnetminer (Computer Science database).
  11. arXiv Cornell University Library.

After you have found the materials, you need to evaluate them. Some of the literature might not be suitable for your research. Here are the criteria for evaluation: accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency, coverage, relevance, purpose.

Step 4. Organize What You’ve Found

What can help you not get lost in all of the information you have found? Good organization.

You can make a simple table or a map. Note each text’s main points, ideas, strengths, and weaknesses. Do it while reading the materials or right after it. You can use the map later as a template for your review.

It is also very beneficial to keep a search log. Track this information:

  • Where and when did you search for your sources?
  • What are successful and unsuccessful search keywords?
  • Which keywords will you need to use later?

Step 5. Make a Plan of Your Literature Review

You need to decide what to include in the literature review. Here are the tips that will ease the process:

  1. Refer to fundamental theories in the area and the literature that supports them.
  2. Include counter-theories and the literature that supports them.
  3. Outline the gap that you have found.
  4. Explain how your topic relates to the discussion in general.
  5. Offer possible solutions to the problems and how your research can help.

Step 6. Get to Writing a Literature Review

Ready to get the work done?

Build the text according to your plan. It will help you keep all the necessary information. Remember that you also need to follow the basic outline – introduction, body, and conclusion. Make sure you join a conversation, synthesize, and say something new, not just summarize what others have said.

🪄 Tips for Writing a Literature Review in 30 Minutes

🕸Make a network of textsFind one sound source, see what its authors refer to, go to this source, etc. Along the chain, identify new sources. It is necessary to do it chronologically; contemporaries also refer to each other.
📍Stick to the pointDo not deviate from your question. Always keep it in your head. Be able to explain the necessity of each source.
🔬AnalyzeTry not just to retell the article you read but also to approach it critically. Remember that not all the articles you find are worth analyzing.
🗣Find what others sayIf you don’t know how to criticize a source, try to find what other researchers say about it. You can get a general idea, but don’t copy somebody’s point of view.
📝Take notesWhen you read a piece, highlight the information that you find essential. Add your thoughts in a footnote or a separate note.

📈 Sociology Literature Review

In a sociology literature review, you can divide your main body into several parts, moving from a broad theme to a specific topic. This will give you an exemplary structure of the literature review. Define from two to four aspects that are vital to your research. Each subsection will require a separate search and evaluation of the literature.

We’ve picked some good examples of a sociology literature review:

🧠 Psychology Literature Review Examples

When you write a psychology review, it is good to use a theoretical approach. For example, you study an issue. Your task is to show different theoretical frameworks relevant to this problem today. You should synthesize the data and compare the existing knowledge.

Examples of a psychology literature review:

️ Political Science Literature Review Sample

A political science literature review sample provides an unbiased analysis of data. The research question may have null and several alternative hypotheses. Your purpose is to understand which of them is valid. It becomes possible on the stage of the literature review or your research.

The examples of a political science literature review:

️ Public Health Literature Review

In a public health literature review, you need to study a current problem. It is vital to include only relevant and up-to-date literature to provide a qualitative paper. Make sure to analyze different approaches and data. You may need to generate several ideas on how to solve the issue.

Here are some good public health literature review examples:

🏥 Nursing Literature Review Example

Consider several important rules if you need to write a nursing literature review. First, divide your topic into several subtopics. Then focus on different approaches to better understand your issue. For a nursing literature review, it is crucial to analyze ideas from each article. Highlight the essential findings and propose other perspectives.

You can use these nursing literature review examples:

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