Literature review outline [Write a literature review with these structures]

Welcome to our comprehensive blog on crafting a perfect literature review for your research paper or dissertation.

The ability to write a literature review with a concise and structured outline is pivotal in academic writing.

You’ll get an overview of how to structure your review effectively, address your research question, and demonstrate your understanding of existing knowledge.

We’ll delve into different approaches to literature reviews, discuss the importance of a theoretical approach, and show you how to handle turning points in your narrative.

You’ll learn how to integrate key concepts from your research field and weave them into your paragraphs to highlight their importance.

Moreover, we’ll guide you through the nuances of APA citation style and how to compile a comprehensive bibliography. Lastly, we’ll walk you through the proofreading process to ensure your work is error-free.

As a bonus, this blog will provide useful tips for both seasoned researchers and first-time writers to produce a literature review that’s clear, informative, and engaging.

Enjoy the writing process with me!

Sentence starters and structure for each section of your literature review:

1. Introductiona) The aim of this literature review is to…
b) This chapter focuses on analyzing the key findings related to…
c) The purpose of this review is to critically assess the research concerning…
d) The central question guiding this literature review is…
e) By exploring relevant literature, this review intends to bridge the gap between…
2. Foundation of Theorya) A critical theory in this field is…
(Theoretical Framework)b) The concept of…plays an essential role in understanding the topic.
c) This section delves into the main theories and models that shape understanding of…
d) Building on the work of…, this review employs the framework of…
e) The literature identifies several key theories, including…
3. Empirical Researcha) Numerous studies have investigated the relationship between…
b) In a seminal study conducted by…, the findings indicate that…
c) The empirical evidence on…has been growing over the past years, with studies such as…
d) Researchers have used various methods to examine…, such as…
e) A significant contribution to this area comes from the work of…, who found that…
4. Research Gapa) Despite the extensive research on…, a noticeable gap remains in…
b) The current literature lacks a consensus on…
c) A notable limitation of the existing studies is…
d) There is a need for further research to address the inconsistencies found in…
e) Future studies should investigate the impact of…on…
5. Conclusiona) In summary, this literature review has identified key trends and findings related to…
b) The analysis of the literature has revealed several research gaps, particularly in the area of…
c) Building on the insights gained from this review of existing research, future research should prioritize…
d) The main findings of this review support the notion that…
e) Conclusively, this comprehensive examination of the existing literature lays the foundation for…

Purpose of a Literature Review

A literature review is a survey of existing literature in the field on a particular topic.

It gives researchers a good outline of the main points and examples of literature related to their research.

By discussing the literature, researchers can get an idea of the aspects of the topic they need to focus on.

literature review usually outlines your literature based on research methods and can be structured in various ways, such as a thematic literature review or methodological literature review.

If you need help with literature review, consider using ai tools that provides a literature review outline template or examples of literature review outlines.

Structure of a Literature Review – Outline

When you write a literature review outline, you are laying the foundations of great work. Many people rush this part and struggle later on. Take your time and slowly draft the outline for a literature review.

The structure of a literature review consists of five main components:

  1. Introduction: Provide a brief overview of the chapter, along with the topic and research aims to set the context for the reader.
  2. Foundation of Theory or Theoretical Framework: Present and discuss the key theories, concepts, and models related to your research topic. Explain how they apply to your study and their significance.
  3. Empirical Research: Review and analyze relevant empirical related to your research question. Highlight their findings, methodologies, and any limitations they possess.
  4. Research Gap: Identify any gaps, inconsistencies, or ambiguities in the existing literature. This will help establish the need for your research and justify its relevance.
  5. Conclusion: Summarize the main findings from the literature review, emphasizing the importance of your research question and the identified research gap. Suggest potential avenues for future research in the field.

You can use ChatGPT to create a literature review outline for you – check out this article here.

Literature Review Examples and Types

Based on the typology of literature reviews from Paré et al. (2015), the following list outlines various types of literature reviews and examples of when you’d use each type:

1. Conceptual Review: Analyzes and synthesizes the theoretical and conceptual aspects of a topic. It focuses on understanding key concepts, models, and theories.

Example use: When aiming to clarify the conceptual foundations and explore existing theories in a field, such as investigating the dimensions of job satisfaction.

2. Methodological Review: Evaluates and synthesizes the research approaches, methods, and techniques used in existing literature. It aims to identify methodological strengths and weaknesses in a research area.

Example use: When assessing data collection methods for researching user experiences with a new software application.

3. Descriptive Review: This simplest approach provides a rationale for choosing sources in a literature review outline. Provides a broad overview of studies in a research area. It aims to describe the existing literature on a topic and document its evolution over time.

Example use: When investigating the history of research on employee motivation and documenting its progress over the years.

4. Integrative Review: Combines and synthesizes findings from different studies to produce a comprehensive understanding of a research topic. It may identify trends, patterns, or common themes among various studies.

Example use: When exploring the links between work-life balance and job satisfaction, aggregating evidence from multiple studies to develop a comprehensive understanding.

5. Theory-driven Review: Examines a research topic through the lens of a specific theoretical framework. It focuses on understanding how the chosen theory explains or predicts phenomena in the literature.

Example use: When studying the impact of leadership styles on team performance, specifically using the transformational leadership theory as a basis for the analysis.

6. Evidence-driven Review: Aims to determine the effectiveness of interventions or practices based on the available research evidence when reviewing literature. It can inform the decision-making process in practice or policy by providing evidence-based recommendations.

Example use: When assessing the effectiveness of telemedicine interventions for managing chronic disease outcomes, providing recommendations for healthcare providers and policymakers.

By understanding these types of literature reviews and their appropriate usage, researchers can choose the most suitable approach for their research question and contribute valuable insights to their field.

How to Write a Good Literature Review

To write a good literature review, follow these six steps to help you create relevant and actionable content for a young researcher by reviewing literature effectively.

1. Define the review’s purpose: Before starting, establish a clear understanding of your research question or hypothesis. This helps focus the review and prevents unnecessary information from being included.

2. Set inclusion and exclusion criteria: Use predefined criteria for including or excluding sources in your review. Establish these criteria based on aspects such as publication date, language, type of study, and subject relevance. This ensures your review remains focused and meets your objectives.

3. Search for relevant literature: Conduct a comprehensive search for literature relevant to your research question. Use databases, online catalogs, and search engines that focus on academic literature, such as Google Scholar, Scopus, or Web of Science. Consider using multiple search terms and synonyms to cover all related topics, particularly when conducting a search for literature related to your research question.

4. Organize and analyze information: Develop a system for organizing and analyzing the information you find. You can use spreadsheets, note-taking applications, or reference management tools like Mendeley, Zotero, or EndNote. Categorize your sources based on themes, author’s conclusions, methodology, or other relevant criteria.

5. Write a critique of the literature: Evaluate and synthesize the information from your sources. Discuss their strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in knowledge or understanding. Point out any inconsistencies in the findings and explain any varying theories or viewpoints. Provide a balanced critique that highlights the most significant contributions, trends, or patterns.

6. Structure the review: Organize your literature review into sections that present the main themes or findings. Start with an introduction that outlines your research question, the scope of the review, and any limitations you may have encountered. Write clear, concise, and coherent summaries of your literature for each section, and end with a conclusion that synthesizes the main findings, suggests areas for further research, and reinforces your research question or hypothesis.

Incorporating these steps will assist you in crafting a well-structured, focused, and informative literature review for your research project.

If you want to know how long a literature review should be, check out this article.

Here are some examples of each step in the process. 

1. Define the review’s purposeFormulate your research question or hypothesisResearch question: “What are the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems?” Conduct an annotated bibliography to keep track of sources.
2. Set inclusion and exclusion criteriaDetermine which sources to include/exclude based on specific criteriaInclude: peer-reviewed articles published in the last 10 years; Exclude: non-English articles, non-empirical studies
3. Search for relevant literatureConduct a systematic search on academic databasesGoogle Scholar, Scopus, Web of Science, library catalogs, are excellent tools in the search for literature related to your topic.
4. Organize and analyze informationCreate a system for organizing and categorizing sourcesSpreadsheets, Mendeley, Zotero, EndNote, note-taking apps
5. Write a critique of the literatureEvaluate, synthesize, and discuss information from your sources to effectively create a lit review.Strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in the studies; Discuss any inconsistencies in the findings
6. Structure the reviewOrganize your review into sections to present the main themesIntroduction, Theme 1, Theme 2, Conclusion

Top Tips on How to Write Your Literature Review

Here are the top tips on how to write your literature review:

1. Develop a rough outline or framework before you start writing your literature review. This helps you avoid creating a jumbled mess and allows you to organize your thoughts coherently and effectively.

2. Use previous literature reviews as a guide to understand the norms and expectations in your field. Look for recently published literature reviews in academic journals or online databases, such as Google Scholar, EBSCO, or ProQuest.

3. Write first and edit later. Avoid perfectionism and don’t be afraid to create messy drafts. This helps you overcome writer’s block and ensures progress in your work.

4. Insert citations as you write to avoid losing track of references. Make sure to follow the appropriate formatting style (e.g. APA or MLA) and use reference management tools like Mendeley to easily keep track of your sources.

5. Organize your literature review logically, whether it’s chronologically, thematically, or methodologically. Identify gaps in the literature and explain how your study addresses them. Keep in mind that the structure isn’t set in stone and can change as you read and write, especially during a lit review.

Remember that writing your literature review is an iterative process, so give yourself room to improve and make changes as needed. Keep these actionable tips in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a compelling and well-organized literature review.

Wrapping up – Your literature review outline

As we conclude this extensive guide, we hope that you now feel equipped to craft a stellar literature review.

We’ve navigated the intricacies of an effective literature review outline, given you examples of each section, provided sentence starters to ignite your writing process, and explored the diverse types of literature reviews.

This guide has also illustrated how to structure a literature review and organize the research process, which should help you tackle any topic over time.

Emphasizing key themes, we’ve shown you how to identify gaps in existing research and underscore the relevance of your work.

Remember, writing a literature review isn’t just about summarizing existing studies; it’s about adding your own interpretations, arguing for the relevance of specific theoretical concepts, and demonstrating your grasp of the academic field.

Keep the key debates that have shaped your research area in mind, and use the strategies we’ve outlined to add depth to your paper.

So, start writing, and remember, the journey of writing is iterative and a pivotal part of your larger research process.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.