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When you need to figure out how to write a literature review, you may have quite a few questions. We don’t blame you – writing a literature review can be very tedious, time consuming, and difficult.

If you’ve been assigned a literature review project, it’s very common to be a little confused on what you’re supposed to be doing because there are a lot of different meanings to both of these words. More often than not, when you hear the word “review,” most people tend to think about an opinion-based summary about a book, article, or piece of media. And when they hear “literature,” they tend to think about books.

However, a literature review is a little different than that. You may have encountered the literature review section of a major research paper or a dissertation before.

This blog will walk you through everything you need to know to learn how to write a literature review. We’ll tell you exactly what a literature review is, how to write one, and why you need to write one in the first place.


Chances are if you’re looking up information on how to write a literature review, you’ve probably never written one before and aren’t sure where to start. So, on that note, let’s start with what a literature review actually is.

In academia, a literature review is an overview, summary, or account of literature, research, observations, or other findings that have been published about a particular topic. Sometimes you may see this presented as an annotated bibliography, which is a separate type of assignment you may have to complete before you write a paper. In other cases, you may be required to complete a literature review as part of a research paper, thesis, or dissertation.

Basically, in simpler terms, you’re looking at what has been written on your topic already and putting it all together to review it. In turn, this strengthens your argument to show that you’ve done your research and collected enough information to form the basis of your point of view.


So, what’s the point of all of this, anyway? It can be difficult to motivate yourself to focus on writing an assignment if you don’t understand why you have to do it in the first place, and it’s sometimes unclear as to why you’d be summarizing other peoples’ work instead of just writing your own.

Usually, a literature review is conducted in order to identify any strengths and weaknesses in the current discussion or research that is available on a topic. Your professor will assign you a literature review to assess the following skills:

● Research collection: Ability to read and locate relevant information, and scan an article for key points and significant data.

● Critical thinking: Ability to assess information and analyze it according to theoretical framework, identify bias in writing, and place the information in a broader context.

● Contributions to your field: Ability to conduct research and place it within the context of your particular field or discipline to assess trends, themes, patterns, or emerging forecasts.

● Writing skills: Ability to take your findings, communicate them efficiently, and organize them into a cohesive flow through proper writing and use of English grammar.


The concept of a literature review can often be confused with a literary analysis, but these are actually two very different types of assignments. Make sure you know which one it is you need to write or you may end up losing marks.

This might be a book, a movie, a television show, a scholarly article, or even just a newspaper article. In your literary analysis, you’d go over the important details and put them together to make in-depth conclusions and connect a deeper understanding of the material. For example, you might pull out different themes or writing techniques to convey the overall meaning of the work.

Meanwhile, a literature review is an analysis of a collection of pieces of literature on a topic. This is essentially a survey of research you’ll use to go over what’s been covered about your topic or research question, as we discussed above.

Ultimately, the difference between the two is that in a literary analysis, you’re using your own insights to make connections and focus on one article, while in a literature review you’re not adding your own insights and instead, you’re going over the insights other authors have made.


When you learn how to write a literature review, you should know what kind of literature review you’re going to be writing.

As we mentioned above, a literature review sometimes takes the form of an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography is sometimes assigned as its own separate assignment, or as a first step when you’re writing a big research paper.

In an annotated bibliography, you will list out all of your sources in alphabetical order, structured the way you’d put them in a bibliography, Works Cited page, or references page (depending on the formatting style you’re using). However, under each author’s entry, you’re going to write a short paragraph that contains the following three things: a quick summary of the article, an assessment of the source, and how this source could be used in your paper or contribute to your knowledge of a particular topic.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a research paper on the topic of why animal testing is wrong and you’ve been assigned to write an annotated bibliography. One of your sources might be an article on the different ways to test products on synthetic materials. In your annotated bibliography, you’d discuss the content of the article, provide an evaluation of the article, and then explain how you can use this information in your paper to suggest possible alternatives and showcase the fact that animal testing isn’t necessary when these options are available.

If you get stuck, the Purdue University Writing Lab has some great annotated bibliography samples you can use to guide your work.

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