How to write a good literature review – the easiest guide?


A literature review is a compendious and concise summary of previously published materials on a particular subject. It is an academic writing piece which demonstrates knowledge and helps in discerning the academic literature. The review can be done of the whole literature or a part of it. It also includes critical examination of the material. Scholarly sources like books, journal articles, manuscripts, theses, dissertations, poetries, reports and speeches are some of the examples of literary sources which can be reviewed under a literature review.

A literature review is bifurcated into three parts, firstly the information section or Introduction, Secondly, the body of the review which consists of examination, evaluation and critical analysis and, Thirdly, the conclusion part which suggests the present scenario and recommendations in the reviewed work. And apart from this is referencing in case it is done, it should be authentic and limited.

Purpose of literature review

A literature review aims to convey readers’ comprehension of the most recent research and conversations relevant to a particular topic or field of study in the form of a written report. It facilitates in understanding and increasing the analytical power of the person writing the review in that particular field. It not only indicates the capacity for study but also the writer’s level of familiarity with the subject.

An easy guide to write a literature review

Before writing a review is begun, some steps are to be taken care of prior to writing, during and after the completion of the work. These steps as follows will make the review writing organized and easy to write:

  • Be clear on the area of research – literature review had a significant impact in the field of research, as it acts as basis for all types of research learning. It helps in creating rules for practice and policy, and, if done correctly, have the potential to inspire fresh thinking and new perspectives for a given subject.
  • Limit the area of topic of review – It is required in order to introduce the subject’s fundamentals. avoiding plagiarism, and giving due acknowledgment to other researchers with the help of citations and references, identify areas of earlier study. Setting limit to the research topic is necessary to be concise and precise while reviewing.
  • Selecting the literature to be reviewed – search and selection of literature is important as it conveys the proposed methodology, demonstrates how to examine a research outcome according to a scientific paper, and the writer becomes aware of the past publications, how the knowledge went into transition from time to time and his capability to review them. Search a library database using keywords. Recent articles and review reference lists often contain links to more helpful studies.
  • Thorough reading of the selected work, evaluation and analysis – to develop a research idea and clarify what is known and what is to be identified, find the Conflicting theories, results and rationale. Evaluation and analysis of selected work is necessary before since it demonstrates familiarity with and knowledge of current research in a certain field of writing a literature review
  • Identifying the gaps – To assist researchers, policy makers, and reviewers in comprehending the kinds of inquiries that must be made and the studies that must be conducted to answer these issues, it is crucial to identify research gaps and pinpoint where the evidence falls short. As it is all about a previously published writing hence finding the lacunae is important in order to bridge the gaps of knowledge.
  • Organize the paper and structure the review – organizing is important as it enhances the presentation and view, it can be done by including latest findings, influential theories, relevant and authentic information. The review must also be structured in form of heading, sub-heading, paragraphs, examples, points, patterns and other necessary details following a given format.
  • Develop a thesis – before writing a review theses development is important as it guides about the previous developments made on the chosen topic for review. It provides a plan of review and argument and also becomes a gateway for the reader. It is a precondition, in order to write the actual crux in few sentences.
  • Write the review –after fulfilling all the preconditions, and keeping in mind the aims and objectives of the review one should begin with the literature review without any plagiarism and foul sources of information. Literature review is all about saving time and energy, dissuade duplication and to establish the position of the writer as reviewer.
  • Review the work done – basically a retrospection and self-audit of the work done is always important. It is a thorough analysis of the complete research, writing, key-points and sources of information. The review done must be compared to the earlier publications and findings. The review is also done in order to keep a check on the task done and find that what is still unwritten and pending in the particular area of research.

Five C’s (Cite, compare, Contrast, critical analysis and connect) of literature review are to be taken care to make review much easier and to bring research topic into sharper focus, enhance the research approach of the writer, increasing knowledge over the subject matter of study and contextualising the findings of the review. They are as follows:

  • Cite the sources consulted and used to develop the definition of research issue intended to investigate.
  • Compare the numerous claims made in the literature, including arguments, hypotheses, approaches, and conclusions. For example:  Identify the points where the various researchers agree and disagree. Identify the similarities and differences between the methods used to explore relevant research problems.
  • Contrast the numerous arguments, themes, techniques, philosophies, and disputes mentioned in the literature. Give an example of an important topic that is disputed, contentious, or still up for debate.
  • Critical analysation of the work. Explain which arguments are more convincing and why. Describe the methods, findings, and approaches that seem the most dependable, valid, appropriate, and/or popular and why. Be mindful of the verbs chosen to convey what earlier scholars have said.
  • Connect the numerous studies looked at in during the research. Describe how the research borrows from, differs from, synthesises, supplements, or expands upon earlier findings.

Thing to keep in mind necessarily while reviewing a literature

  • Providing clear outline of the topic- a clear overview of the topic is necessary in order to move further in a systematic format and style of reviewing.
  • Describing the methodology of research- the methodology and rationale of research should be clearly described and conveyed.
  • Providing most pertinent information to support review- backed up evidences and references are highly important to enhance the credibility of the literature review.
  • Summarizing the major findings and approaches – all the major findings, research and precedents must be thoroughly analysed and summarized in a systematic form.

Limitations in literature review

The literature review just like other research works has certain restrictions and limitations. The entire reliance is on already published research, the accessibility of these studies, and the suitability of these studies with the criteria of the selection/exclusion procedure are the constraints of a literature review of this kind. The downsides of a study are its flaws or shortcomings, which might be caused by a lack of funding, a small sample size, bad methodology, etc. It is not necessary that the literary work which is reviewed is perfect for the society at large. Many a times it is the author who writes with only himself keeping in mind, and thus review of such work might not be appropriate in broader sense. These reviews, some of which are mistakenly referred to as “systematic” evaluations, could be prejudiced, which could result in incorrect conclusions. Overlooking grey literature and neglecting to look for indications of confounding factors can also lead to misleading conclusions. Although the limitations are usually personal and that is the prime reason why mostly every literature cannot be reviewed.

Recent, troubling, well-publicized reviews are proof that the methods necessary to make systematic reviews as objective and dependable as is practical are not well understood and appreciated. Being explicit and using thorough knowledge and strategy will always yield a better review. A critical evaluation is always better than critical appraisal, thus compounding of the analysed data must be done and formalism must be taken care of at all costs. Hence review writers must conduct more in-depth reviews, editors and peer reviewers to enforce tougher gatekeeping, and the methodological community to improve its support of the greater research community. Providing a tag of certainty to literary works is prestige in itself and also a need of the society to embed it with good literature. Without cooperation, we are unable to establish and maintain an efficient framework for rigorous, fact-based decision-making in environmental management and conservation.