A good literature review shows the reader that you have done the background reading around your topic and that you've understood the critical issues.


Literature ReviewS (PDF)

A Literature Review
  • Focuses on a specific topic – your argument or problem as stated in your thesis

  • Compiles the research that has been published on the issue by recognized scholars and researchers

  • Informs the reader about the current concepts and state of research on the topic and any controversies

  • Describes the pros and cons of particular studies and may suggest areas for further research

  • Organizes the citations thematically into a narrative that can serve as the introduction to your report or that can be an individual essay


A Literature Review is NOT
  • A description or evaluation of a specific book, poem, play, etc.

  • An exhaustive, alphabetical list of every work consulted in your research, nor a list of references cited

  • An annotated bibliography listing references with brief notes added about the value of each source



From Edgewood College Library’s Writing a Review of the Literature

Another excellent resource is the University of Southern California Libraries Guide


A literature review should contain an introduction, a body and a conclusion. It should focus on a central idea or argument about the literature you are reviewing. Section headers are useful to highlight the main points for the reader; however, the different sections should flow together.



Your introduction (usually approx. ½ – ¾ page) will not only present the main topic but will also make a statement about the status of knowledge in this area of research. This usually involves reporting what is known about an issue and what is problematic about it.

Knowledge deficits are crucial to literature reviews. Such deficiencies are generally spoken about in terms of effects on particular populations, gaps in the research, and other contexts where the analysis could be useful.

Additionally, your introduction will include a statement that outlines what issues within the broader topic (main ideas and subtopics) will be presented and in what order. Sources are often identified in this section but don’t have to be.



For your reader to move through your information with ease while keeping the big picture in view, order your body paragraphs in the same way that you did in the statement about how your literature review will proceed. Order the main ideas from general to specific, deciding which sources have contributions to make to which concepts.

You will then present more specific information from the sources, using an in-text citation, to discuss the main ideas in more detail and to point out areas of agreement or debate among sources. Your body paragraphs should work not only to summarize what sources have said but to demonstrate the relationships between them.



You should conclude (about ¾ to 1 page) by reminding readers of the main topics and subtopics by identifying points of consensus and debate presented in your literature review.

Identify new possibilities for knowledge-making, new gaps in knowledge. What else could be looked at now that scholars know this information? Are there other contexts that need examining? Are there gaps in the research so far? You also want to include statements about what communities are best served by this knowledge—where and for whom is the information most relevant?


From the University of the Fraser Valley Writing Centre’s Literature Reviews


Option 1

I. Introduction


II. Article X
a) Summarize the article (when and how was the study done, what was its key focus, etc.)
b) Describe in detail what the article says about:

   a) Sub-issue #1 (e.g., gender)
   b) Sub-issue #2 (e.g., lifestyle)
   c) Sub-issue #3 (e.g., diet)

Article Y (Same procedure)

Article Z (Same procedure)


III. Compare, Contrast and Critique
a) What all three say about sub-issue #1
b) What all three say about sub-issue #2
c) What all three say about sub-issue #3


IV. Draw Conclusions
So what? Where do I stand now? Where does this leave us? What next?

Option 2

I. Introduction


II. Brief Summaries (perhaps one paragraph for each of the articles, X, Y and Z)


III. Compare, Contrast and Critique What the three articles say about

   Sub-issue #1 (e.g., gender)
   Sub-issue #2 (e.g., lifestyle)
   Sub-issue #3 (e.g., diet)


IV. Draw Conclusions


From Memorial University Writing Centre’s A Process for Reviewing and Analyzing Literature