How to write your literature review

Planning your literature review

when you've finished this page you will be able to...


This page should be completed when you've finished reading the literature and are ready to start writing your review.

Top tip...

Start writing your literature review as soon as possible - it'll take longer than you think.

Devoting serious time to planning you literature review is time well spent, because an excellent review needs a clear and logical structure, and a well structured review is easier and more pleasant to read - in fact the more effort you put into planning, the less effort your readers will need to invest in trying to understand what you've written.

When you're planning your review, you need to decide how you're going to organise your information. Your literature review needs to tell a story, and you need to avoid simply listing the literature. You can organise your information in a number of ways; for example, you could organise by...

Top tip...

Examiners look favourably on well-written, logically organised work with good 'flow' - the easier and more pleasant they find it to read, the more they'll love it.

For the activity below you'll need:

Activity: Planning your literature review - 1 hour

Your literature review will be much easier to read - and to write - if you plan it well. It's a good idea to treat the literature review as a mini essay with an introduction to 'set the scene', a main body and a conclusion to summarise and tie up any loose ends.

By the end of this activity, you'll have a skeleton for your literature review - you can then add 'meat the to the bones'.

1. In the box below there are three headings under which you can organise your literature review. We've added some notes under each heading to help you decide what to write. Use these headings to create a plan for your literature review. You can use a notepad, paper, wordprocessing software...anything you like.

2. If you'd like to experiment with different structures for your plan, try using Post-It notes. Write each reference on a separate note, and explore some different plans.


Write one sentence summarising your research

List the references, along with a brief summary of each one, that provide the background to your research - this will 'set the scene'.

Main body

Decide how you will structure your literature review - by methodology, trend, theme, chronologically...

Think about how you will use the literature to support your hypothesis, and the literature that offers a different point of view

List, in the order you'll write about them, the references and a brief summary of the literature you'll include in this section.


Write a sentence restating your research question.

How did you do?

If you're unsure about what you should be doing, click below to see an example of a literature review plan created by a student doing an education project.

Top tip...

When you're happy with your literature review plan, it may be useful to get it checked by your supervisor - this way you'll be sure you're on the right track before you spend any time writing.

Once you've got the all-clear on your plan, you can start writing the first draft of your review. It's probably safe to say it'll require a minimum of three drafts before you have the finished product. There's a checklist below, which you can use when you're writing your literature review. It'll help you make sure you've included all the vital ingredients for a great review.

Activity: Checking your literature review - 30 minutes

1. As you read through your review, make sure you can tick off each of the statements on the checklist.

2. If there are any statements you can't tick, you'll need to re-write your review.

3. Keep editing and rewriting until you can tick off all of the statements.

Literature Review Checklist


I have...
indentified gaps in current knowledge  
shown I am building on existing work  
shown I am aware of the most important topics and studies  
identified areas for future research  
identified different view points  
The literature I have used it...  
mostly primary sources  
directly relevant to my research question  
well-conducted and robust  
from peer-reviewed journals or reputable web sources  
I have achieved a professional tone by...  
writing in a clear, concise style  
using an academic writing style  
checking spelling, punctuation, grammar and paragraphs  

Recommended Further Reading

Action point:

If you're in doubt about anything, ask your supervisor. He or she is a valuable source of advice.

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