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Literature Reviews

Tips on writing a literature review

Tips! Tips! Tips!

Synthesize your findings. Your findings are your evaluation of the literature reviewed: what you consider the strengths and weakness of the studies reviewed; the comparison you did between studies; research trends and gaps in the research that you found while researching your topic, etc...

Across the articles that you read, pay attention to what are the:

  • Common/contested findings
  • Important trends
  • Influential theories
Identifying these elements as you are reading and writing notes about your sources will help you later when you start writing.
  • Do not over quote. If you only quote from every single author you found, then you are not showing any original thinking or analysis. Use quotes judiciously. Use quotes to highlight a particular passage or thought that exemplifies the research, theory or topic you are researching.
  • Instead, use paraphrasing. Restate the main ideas of a paragraph or section to highlight, in your own words, the important points made by the author.
  • Summarize findings, important sections, a whole article or book: This is different from paraphrasing since you are not re-stating the author words but summarizing the main point of what you are reading in a concise matter for your readers.
Note: In all cases, do not forget to give credit to these sources since they are not your original ideas but someone else. Check the specific citation style you are using for the appropriate in-text citation format)

Writing the Literature Review

After you have located your literature, read it, analyzed and evaluated it, it’s time to actually write it up.


  • Keep your audience in mind as you write your literature review. Your writing should be pitched at the level of expected readers. Use the terminology appropriate to them.
  • If you are writing for the ordinary reader, avoid all jargon. Generally, "plain English" is the best strategy.
  • It’s usually a good idea to keep your paragraphs short.
  • Subheadings should be used to clarify the structure. They break up the material into more readable units as well as give the reader a place to "dive in" if they do not want to read all of the material.
  • It’s often a good idea to write the first draft straight through and quickly – this can help preserve continuity and give coherence. Once you have text down on paper (or on a computer) it’s often far easier to make needed revisions.
  • Some common errors include:
    • a failure to focus by going off on tangents;
    • failure to cite essential pertinent studies;
    • failure to maintain a coherent, logical flow;
    • weak organization;
    • poor language, grammar etc.
  • Use direct quotation sparingly and judiciously. Paraphrasing writers' works is often preferable to quoting direct passages.
  • Be prudent in the number of studies you discuss and cite. Referring to almost everything on the subject is useless.
  • Don't cite references that you haven't read.
  • A review is NOT a group of linked abstracts, one per paragraph.