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Where Can I Get Help Writing My Thesis Online?

writing literature review for phd thesis

You’ve spent years preparing for your master’s degree or PhD. You’ve read, studied and spent hours of time and energy writing papers. Now you’ve arrived at the culmination of all this effort: writing your thesis. There are plenty of compelling stories about the time and energy that students have spent drafting their dissertations and theses.

The good news is that you’re not alone. While you certainly don’t want to hire someone to write your thesis for you, which goes against most institution policies and puts your academic integrity at risk, you can get plenty of help with certain aspects of your thesis online. Whether you’re looking for a little guidance or extensive assistance, various services can make writing or editing your thesis go smoothly.

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writing literature review for phd thesis

Dissertation Editor’s primary function is to guide you along in the writing process and provide a helping hand in understanding everything you need to take care of. It places you with a writer who specializes in your area of study, and this individual can help you organize and analyze your research while making sure that your thesis fits your writing style and personality. This company also specializes in helping with any statistical analysis that you use in your thesis.

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writing literature review for phd thesis

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Sometimes when you’re writing a thesis or dissertation, you can get stuck on one section or chapter. You may not need assistance writing the whole thing, but getting some help with the exact portion you’re struggling with can come in handy. That’s one of the strengths of using Best Dissertation . You don’t have to rely on it for help with your entire thesis if it’s not what you need.

writing literature review for phd thesis

Like most of the top thesis-assistance services, Best Dissertation employs writers with advanced degrees who specialize in various fields of study. What truly sets this company apart is the live support that it offers any time of the day or night. It claims to take the stress and strain out of writing your dissertation or thesis.

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writing literature review for phd thesis

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  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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writing literature review for phd thesis

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).


The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.


If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources


A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility


  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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The PhD Proofreaders

Wrestling an elephant into a cupboard: how to write a PhD literature review in nine easy steps

Feb 10, 2019

how to write a literature review

When I was writing my PhD I hated the literature review. I was scared of it. One day, my supervisor took me to one side and told me that I had no choice: ‘It was going to have to be done before you start fieldwork’. I was terrified.

Sound familiar? According to Google, 5,000 people a month search for advice on how to conduct a literature review. And we know from the one-on-one PhD coaching we offer and from the theses we proofread that many students struggle with this part of their thesis. 

If you’re feeling lost, keep reading. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the nine steps involved in conducting and writing a PhD literature review.

You’ll realise what I eventually found out: C onducting a literature review is easy. Okay, perhaps that’s a bit much. Let me rephrase: Conducting a PhD literature review isn’t as hard as you think.

What a PhD literature review isn’t

Let us make one thing very clear. A PhD literature review isn’t just a summary of existing literature. That’s an annotated bibliography and that isn’t what a PhD literature review is about. This is the mistake I see most frequently in the PhDs I proofread.

Not only will your examiners send this back for corrections, but it may mean the whole PhD thesis is problematic because it isn’t grounded in a critical review of the literature.

What a PhD literature review is

A PhD literature review is a critical assessment of the literature in your field and related to your specific research topic. When discussing each relevant piece of literature, the review must highlight where the gaps are and what the strengths and weaknesses are of particular studies, papers, books, etc. Also, different pieces of literature are compared and contrasted with one another so that themes and relationships are highlighted.

The job of a literature review is to show five things (if you’re using our PhD Writing Template , you may recognise these):

1. What has been written on your topic 2. Who the key authors are and what the key works are 3. The main theories and hypotheses 4. The main themes that exist in the literature 5. Gaps and weaknesses that your study will then help fill

Who cares what other people have written and said, or what they haven’t said? Well, you should and your examiners definitely will. For your own study to make sense, it has to be situated in the literature. That means you must relate it to what others are talking about.

If you wanted to build a new mobile phone, you would have to research how other mobile phones are built, find out where they can be improved and then design one that makes those improvements.

The literature review is the same.

But where do I start? Here, we list nine steps. Follow each and you’ll be on your way to literature review greatness.

We’ve made the infographic below to help you on your way. Click the image to download it.

writing literature review for phd thesis

Step One: Pick a Broad Topic

You will be reviewing literature on a particular topic, so knowing what your topic is beforehand means you can narrow down your search. At this stage your topic is broad. You won’t be able to know the specifics until you do the review itself.

For my PhD, which looked at the contributions that local government made to climate change policy, my literature review started with a broad topic of ‘climate change policy’. I didn’t focus in on local government until I had read the literature on climate change policy and realized there was a gap.

So, having a clearly defined purpose is really important. Otherwise you are searching blind. If you refer to your PhD Writing Template, take a look at the box titled ‘Aims & Objectives’ – you’ll need to make sure you have established your aims, scope and research questions.

Step Two: Find the Way In

If you search for your broad topic in Google Scholar, you’ll be presented with millions of results. With my own PhD, a search for ‘climate change policy’ bought up over 3 million results.

  Obviously it’s unfeasible to read through all these.

So where do you start? Easy: choose the biggest names in your field.

There are three ways to find these:

1. Textbooks 2. Review articles 3. Most-cited articles

Read through these seminal texts and you’ll begin to get an idea of the broad topic.

Step Three: Who’s Saying What & When

Your job at this stage is to find out the key debates in the field. 

  • Who is making the most significant contribution?
  • What are they saying?
  • How are they saying it?
  • What aren’t they saying?

Step Four: Notes, Notes, Notes.

Whenever you read anything you should be taking notes. Detailed notes. These need to cover the following points: 

  • What is the author saying?
  • How is it relevant to your research?
  • What are the gaps/weaknesses?
  • What are the key references that you should read?

The more of these kind of standardised notes you have, the easier it will be when you write your literature review.

Step Five: Narrow Down the Field

As you read the key texts, you will begin to see what the key debates are in your field. There might be a number of ’schools’, for example. When you become aware of them, start to focus your literature review around them.

Step Six: Filter Through Your Growing List of References

Don’t just read everything. You need to find a way to filter through the articles or books that are relevant. For example, scan the abstracts, introduction, keywords, titles and references.

Filter the sources you come across into three separate categories:

  • Probably won’t read

Step Seven: Use Snowball Sampling

As you read through these articles, look at their reference list. Collect articles that you think will be relevant and use them in your literature review. This is known as snowball sampling.

Step Eight: Think About the Questions that Haven’t Been Asked

You must be reading critically, which means asking what the weaknesses are and where particular articles or book could be improved.

In order to tease out your own specific research topic, you need to think of the questions that haven’t been asked.

PhD Literature Review & Theory Framework Survival Pack

Master your lit review & theory framework.

Learn what goes where (and why), and how it all fit together with this free, interactive guide to the PhD literature review and theory framework.

Step Nine: Writing Up Your Literature Review

  The review will broadly follow the key debates you have spotted in step five above. As you write, focus on putting in more detail about particular sources (i.e. flesh out steps six and seven). The focus when writing is to elaborate upon the key patterns and themes that have emerged.

However, you need to include your own synthesis of the material. I said earlier that you shouldn’t just summarize the literature. Instead you should write critically. You should clearly and precisely present your argument. The argument will focus around the questions that haven’t been asked – step nine above – and will ground the literature review. We’ve written a guide to being critical in your literature review . You should read it if you’re unsure what’s required.

So, write early and write that first draft quickly. The earlier you start writing your literature review the better. You must accept that your first draft is going to be just that: a draft. When you write the first draft, focus on the broad structure first. This means focus on the broad themes you want to discuss in the review.

Something you need to consider is how to structure the chapter. The simple answer is that you can either structure it chronologically or thematically.

The long answer is that chronological literature reviews are restrictive and over-simplify the field. They are useful for very early drafts of the review and can help you to arrange the literature and trace threads and connections within it. However, your supervisors and examiners are looking for thematic reviews (unless they have told you otherwise), where you discuss the literature with reference to the themes that have emerged.

Equally important is knowing when to stop reviewing the literature.

The sooner you go out and do your fieldwork, the better. The literature review is a cruel mistress; you’ll struggle to fully nail down its various components and fully understand how everything you have read is related. But don’t despair; aspects of the literature review will become clearer when you enter the field and start to collect data.

Don’t fall into the trap of spending too long in the library and too little time doing fieldwork.

  It’s natural to be scared of the literature review. To conduct one, you have to read, process and synthesise hundreds of thousands of words. But it’s not impossible. Keep this guide to hand and refer to it when you feel yourself getting lost. Share it with your colleagues so they too can conquer their fear of the literature review.

Now read our guide to being critical in the literature review and, if you haven’t already, download our PhD writing template .

And if you need a little extra support, check out our one-on-one PhD coaching . It’s like having a personal trainer, but for your PhD. 

Hello, Doctor…

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Be able to call yourself Doctor sooner with our five-star rated How to Write A PhD email-course. Learn everything your supervisor should have taught you about planning and completing a PhD.

Now half price. Join hundreds of other students and become a better thesis writer, or your money back. 

Share this:


Anand Mohan

Good. Clear guidance


I have read the guidelines and noted numerous tricks of writing a thesis. My understanding of writing literature review has improved a lot. Thanks a lot

Dr. Max Lempriere

You’re welcome 🙂

Taurayi Nyandoro

Another Great piece.

C. Ann Chinwendu

It’s understandable and clearer now. I do appreciate you. Thanks so much

Many thanks for the kind words.

Sk Asraful Alam

You are just brilliant. Outstanding piece for the literature review.

You’re too kind. Thanks!

Titus Kisauzi

Great insights! Thanks indeed.

Mathew Shafaghi

Thank you very much for your clear advice. I am beginning to see where my early literature review drafts were lacking and my feelings of panic are reducing!


is the process the same a research paper?

Broadly speaking, yes. It’ll follow the same overall structure, but you won’t be going into as much detail.

Thabelo Nelushi

This is very helpful. Thank you so much for sharing

Gautam Kashyap

Great advice. Thank you!

You’re welcome!

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How to Write a Complete Literature Review for Your Thesis/Dissertation

writing literature review for phd thesis

A literature review critically evaluates and synthesizes existing research and scholarly publications on a specific topic or research question. Its goal is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge on the topic, identify gaps in the literature, and highlight areas for future research. A well-conducted literature review is an essential component of research because it helps to establish the research context, justify the need for the study, and guide the development of research questions or hypotheses.

The literature review of your thesis/dissertation is a very significant part of your paper. It provides readers with an understanding of previously published research in relation to your topic. It also highlights where your research fits into the existing literature. In other words, it provides valuable context for your readers about the field as a whole and the specific topic you have chosen to cover in your thesis/dissertation.

Literature reviews: An overview

A literature review does not only summarize what has been written about a topic already: it also offers a critical analysis of the existing literature.

Literature reviews can take different forms depending on what type of research you are doing and what your field of research is about. Literature reviews are a key part of the majority of academic articles or theses, and can even be written as articles all on their own. A literature review does not only summarize what has been written about a topic already: it also offers a critical analysis of the existing literature. In other words, you, the author, offer your analysis or critique on what has been written already. A literature review, however, should not just be a description of what has been written or a set of summaries.

The idea of reviewing and analyzing all the research that has been done on a topic can sound overwhelming; however, the task is easier than it sounds. This is also a vital step in performing the work necessary to write a good thesis. As you prepare and write your literature review, you will select and filter which sources are relevant to your work and which are not. As you review the literature, you will develop a clear understanding of the work that has come before you. This will enable you to write about it in such a way that you clearly demonstrate how you arrived at your own thesis statement or hypothesis.

A literature review can be quite short (5% of a paper) or quite long (30% of a paper) depending on the type of paper. For a thesis/dissertation, a literature review may be a full chapter, and is usually at least 10-20% of your paper.

Types of literature reviews

There are different types of literature reviews and the type you choose will be determined by the topic you are researching. Four common types of literature reviews are summarized below, but there are also other types that may be preferable depending on your thesis topic. 


This type of literature review organizes sources and their ideas by the date of publication. For example, if you are writing about chronic Lyme disease, you would start with articles describing and identifying Lyme disease (1970s), then describe initial treatments and discoveries (1980s), increased prevalence of Lyme disease and rise of people with chronic Lyme disease (2000s), and finally discuss the current controversies and treatments (2010s).

This type is often used in social science papers such as political science or public policy. They focus on specific trends in a field and can still include a chronological component. For example, you could write about changes in approaches to early childhood education by discussing the rise and fall in popularity of public preschool, highlighting relevant case studies, and presenting arguments that there is no need for schooling so early. This is often used to highlight competing schools of thought in a field.


This focuses less on what is said in different sources and more on how previous research has been performed. For example, a methodological review of the treatment of chronic Lyme disease might reveal that previous studies which relied solely on laboratory tests dismissed persistent Lyme symptoms as “all in the patients’ heads,” while studies that focused on interviewing patients as well as doctors classified the disease as an unidentified syndrome. Methodological studies can highlight how approaches to research have changed over time and how the approaches used in research influence the results.


Theoretical literature reviews are often found in fields like philosophy or humanities, but are also prevalent in social sciences. They review existing theories and their relationships, as well as what has been tested and what has not. This kind of review is quite useful in demonstrating where existing theories fall short in describing a particular phenomenon in the field.

Structuring your literature review

A literature review is usually a chapter in your thesis/dissertation and as such generally includes an introduction, main body, and conclusion. The introduction will explain:

  • The type of literature review you have performed
  • Why you have chosen to perform that type of literature review
  • Your criteria for selecting sources

Your main body will be the actual literature review, which we will discuss further in the next section. In your conclusion, you will summarize the major arguments that you have highlighted in your literature review and center your own research among them. The conclusion of the literature review should explain why your research study is necessary (what gap in the literature it fulfils) to lead smoothly into your next thesis chapter.

How do I review the literature?

An easy way to find relevant sources is to look at the citations of papers you find that are on the topic you want to research.

Before you write a literature review, you need to:

  • Become familiar with the literature
  • Select which sources are relevant to your thesis topic
  • Organize your sources
  • Choose the type of literature review you will write
  • Arrange your notes to reflect the type of literature review

How do you become familiar with the literature?

If you aren’t sure where to start, try going to Google Scholar and typing in some keywords about your topic. For example, if you’re researching chronic Lyme disease, you could type in keywords such as “chronic Lyme” “post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome” and “Lyme disease treatment” to see what results show up. As you search, you will be able to identify more keywords that are relevant to what you want to search. Making a list of these keywords can help you as you engage in this task. When you find an article that looks promising, copy the citation information from Google Scholar and save it in a file or use a reference manager like Mendeley . You will thank yourself for this later. You can then search your academic institution’s online library to download the article.

An easy way to find relevant sources is to look at the citations of papers you find that are on the topic you want to research. If you aren’t sure whether an article or paper you are reading is reputable , you can check its citation metrics using Google Scholar, which can tell you how many other people cited a particular source. Generally, it holds true that the more highly cited a source is, the more reliable and useful it is. Of course, your citation sources don’t need to be limited to journal articles. Books , news articles , interviews, and other sources are all acceptable .

Finally, as you read through sources and organize them, you will want to take notes. Don’t just save an article and hope you’ll remember why you did. Jot down a few sentences about the main argument of this source and why/how it is relevant to your research study. Once you have done this, you will want to go ahead and organize your sources in an order that reflects the type of literature review you have chosen to do. For example, if you are doing a thematic review, you should organize sources by a theme or type of argument. If you are doing a historical review, you would organize them in chronological order.

Writing the literature review

As you write your literature review, you will want to walk the reader through what has happened in the literature review and offer your analysis of it.

Now that you’ve reviewed the literature, taken notes, organized your sources and your notes, you are ready to begin! As we mentioned above, a literature review needs an introduction and a conclusion. As you write your literature review, you will want to walk the reader through what has happened in the literature review and offer your analysis of it. For example, you could say “while Yue and Xu argue that Lyme disease is a bacterial infection and should not result in symptoms resembling post-viral syndromes, others such as Scott and Zebrowski have noted the strong similarities between patients with chronic Lyme disease and the newly emerging group of COVID long-haulers. Scott and Zebrowski appear to be at the forefront of the changing perspective on chronic Lyme disease as newer evidence supports their position.”

Your literature review will include the ideas of many other people, but it should not be a lengthy chapter directly quoting other papers. You should instead paraphrase what others say. Of course you can use some quotes! They are not off limits. Short quotes like “Marx said ‘religion is the opiate of the masses’ while Mao Zedong said ‘religion is poison’” is fine. Longer blocks of text should be used only when necessary and properly indicated within the text .

Now you are ready to write your thesis literature review! Check out our site for more tips on how to write a good thesis, where to find the best thesis editing services, and more about thesis editing and proofreading services .

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Checklist for writing a literature review

Below is a list of points to remember when writing your literature review. These will help you make sure that your literature review is thorough and properly structured.

Do a thorough review of the sources in your field that are relevant to your thesis topic.

Make sure your sources are reliable and high-quality.

Take detailed notes and maintain an organized list of your sources.

Cover a wide variety of viewpoints, not just those that support or agree with your argument. Make it clear what controversies and unsettled point of views exist.

Make sure your literature review chapter has a clear introduction, main body, and conclusion.

Use quotes sparingly.

What is a literature review? +

A literature review is a summary of the major studies and sources related to your topic that already exist and provides critical analysis of these sources. A literature review is not a bibliography or a list of sources. It is written in a narrative format.

e.g. “Clowes and McKnight (2002) argue that chronic Lyme disease is analogous to post-viral syndrome.”

What kinds of sources can be included in a literature review? +

Anything you can cite in an academic paper can be included in a literature review. This includes journal articles, books, news sources, interviews, and so on. You should not include Wikipedia or your Uncle Bob as a source in the literature review (unless your Uncle Bob is a recognized expert in your topic!).

Do I really have to write a literature review? +

A literature review is part of most social science or natural science theses/dissertations. your institutional requirements inform you to, then you have to write a literature review. If you are writing a thesis/dissertation in humanities or in another field where the structure does not mandate a literature review, you may be able to skip it. Always check with your advisor and your institution about the requirements of your thesis/dissertation structure.


  • Apr 15, 2021

7 Secrets to Write a PhD Literature Review The Right Way

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

A literature review gives your readers an idea about your scholarly understanding of the previous work in your research domain. It requires you to justify your work and demonstrate the importance of your research work with respect to the current state of knowledge. It is a great opportunity for you to examine the previous work and fill any gaps in it which may help you to make it a foundation for your own research.

The role of a literature review and its importance in your thesis can also be seen from here:

Role of a Literature Review|Walden University

Writing a literature review requires gathering loads of information by reading many articles, books, and papers related to your Ph.D. topic. And once you are done with the initial stage, you have to organize the important data collected and discuss it according to your learning. Now, all of this seems quite tedious.

writing literature review for phd thesis

You may have seen many people ranting when they have to write a literature review, and it is totally fine. But, does it help in writing a review? Obviously, no. You have to make this process interesting for yourself to remain focused.

Here are some secrets which can help you to enjoy writing an amazing literature review.

1. Make a Well-Structured Outline:

A literature review is exhaustive research on the topic under investigation so that you can become an expert on that topic. Therefore, it is important for you to make a well-structured outline before you start writing otherwise you won’t understand where to end as you’ll be having a lot of information. For example, a literature review must include an introduction and conclusion section, you should avoid direct quotations and use paraphrasing instead. Your literature review should be organized according to the theme and should be divided into various headings to shift from one topic to another. You can use comparative terms to agree or disagree with the author and provide your own opinion.

Check out this literature review template to have a more clear understanding of creating a well-structured outline for your literature review: Literature Review Template|Thompson Rivers University

2. Use Synthesis Matrix:

When you are gathering information from a lot of resources, and you have to ultimately gather them in one place then using a synthesis matrix could be very helpful for this purpose. A synthesis matrix is an outline that permits a researcher to sort and arrange the various contentions introduced on an issue. Across the highest point of the chart are the spaces to record sources, and at the edge of the chart are the spaces to record the primary concerns of contention on the current theme.

writing literature review for phd thesis

You can outline your whole literature review and keep a check and balance of which things you have covered and what is left. It simplifies your work greatly and helps in writing a literature review in a very organized manner.

See more on the use of synthesis matrix at Literature Review using synthesis Matrix and Synthesizing various sources

3. Change Your Perspective:

Another important thing that you must do before you start writing a literature review is to change your writing perspective. You don’t have to take it as a burden that Why am I even doing this? Yes, we know it is quite a dull task, but why not enjoy it if you have to do it after all?

Write it for yourself. Question yourself from time to time. Like what information would you like to extract from it while you are reading this review? Would it sound interesting to your self? Would you remain focused while reading this writing style? Will you love this review as a third person? Will this be an interesting thing to read?

When you become your critique you have high chances of improvement. You start writing a review such that you would like to read it yourself, and gradually you can write one interesting literature review for your thesis.

writing literature review for phd thesis

4. Read and Write Simultaneously:

A common mistake that many people make while writing a literature review is that they do all the readings and information gathering first and leave the writing at last. What happens is that they utilize all their energy and focus in the reading phase and when it's time to start the actual writing they feel exhausted and over-worked. Moreover, when they see a blank page in front of them after reading piles of paperwork they get demotivated and feel anxious that how they will manage to write such a long review.

How to avoid this anxiety?

One simple way is to start writing parallel to reading. When you are reading an article or paper, make notes of it or short bullet points. It will help you to keep a track of both what you have read and what you need to add to your literature review. And when you finally start compiling the review you will have your guideline instead of a blank paper which makes it quite easy for you to jot it all down on a paper.

5. Make a Proper Timeline and Stick To It:

Making a proper timeline to write a literature review is crucial. You don’t want to get stuck in it and end up completing your review in a year instead of weeks. To avoid this, take a day or two off, search through the internet or other resources that what helping material you would require reading, and then make a proper timeline of completing them and making notes simultaneously.

It will help you a lot to stay on track.

Here is a sample timeline you could follow: Research Sample Timeline

6. Go Easy On Yourself:

Yes, you heard it. Don’t be so harsh on yourself. Keep days off in your schedule and relax fully on those days. You don’t have to keep reading and writing 24/7, all days a week. Our mind needs to be relaxed on and off to remain functional. If you over-burden yourself you will eventually end up doing absolutely nothing because of over-work.

writing literature review for phd thesis

If you get stuck somewhere, seek help from your supervisor, friends or other resources, Don’t let your shyness or shame keep you away from achieving your target. We are all humans, and we do need help at some point in our lives so don’t discourage yourself to do so.

7. Interpret Your Understanding Comprehensively:

When writing a review you need to portray what you have truly learned from the already published work of other scholars. What many people do is they start cramming information to write a review and end up writing only a summary of that data, They don’t learn and understand anything from it. They just take it as a formality that has to be fulfilled. That is wrong.

writing literature review for phd thesis

You need to have clear concepts and must be able to demonstrate to others what you learned from the previous work and how your work would contribute towards it. This is the true essence of writing a literature review, and it will benefit you the most for your research process.

If you are having any difficulty in writing or editing your thesis Literature Review you can visit our website to seek help and guidance by the following link:

Scholars Doctoral Editing and Consulting

Scholars Professional Editing Group LLC :

Website: https://www.thescholarsediting.com/

Email Us: [email protected]

Contact Us: (302) 295-4953


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Writing your thesis and conducting a literature review

  • Writing your thesis

Your literature review

  • Defining a research question
  • Choosing where to search
  • Search strings
  • Limiters and filters
  • Developing inclusion/exclusion criteria
  • Managing your search results
  • Screening, evaluating and recording
  • Snowballing and grey literature
  • Further information and resources

Most PhD and masters’ theses contain some form of literature review to provide the background for the research.  The literature review is an essential step in the research process. A successful literature review will offer a coherent presentation and analysis of the existing research in your field, demonstrating:

  • Your understanding of the subject area
  • Gaps in current knowledge (that may in turn influence the direction of your research) 
  • Relevant methodologies

There are different approaches and methods to literature reviews, and you may have heard of terms like systematic, structured, scoping or meta-analysis. This is when the literature review becomes the research methodology in its own right, instead of forming part of the research process.

This table shows the differences between a traditional literature review and a structured or systematic literature review.

Structured vs traditional literature reviews

What is a traditional literature review?

A traditional literature review is a critical review of the literature on a particular topic. The aim of this type of literature review is to identify any background research on your topic and to evaluate the quality and relevance of the literature. You will use your literature review to understand what has already been researched, help develop your research questions and the methodology that you should follow to collect and to identify any areas that your research can explore. You want your research to be unique so you will use a literature review to prevent you duplicating any previous research but also identifying any errors or mistakes that you would want to avoid.

A literature review is aimed at Masters (MSc students) and research level.

What is a structured literature review?

A structured literature review involves bringing many research studies together to use them as the data to determine findings (known as secondary research). There is no other form of data collection involved such as creating your own surveys and questionnaires (primary research). This approach allows you to look beyond one dataset and synthesise the findings of many studies to answer your clearly formulated research question.

Sometimes a structured review can be described as being a systematic literature review. A structured review typically does not fulfil all of the criteria for a full systematic review but may take a similar approach by taking a systematic, step by step method to find literature. They tend to follow a set protocol for determining the research studies to be included and every stage is documented.

To help you prepare for your structured literature review please complete this interactive workbook.

For Logistics students only

To help you prepare for your systematic literature review please complete this interactive workbook.

What is a systematic literature review?

A systematic literature review is a specific research methodology to identify, select, evaluate, and synthesise relevant published and unpublished literature to answer a particular research question. The systematic literature review should be transparent and replicable, you should follow a predetermined set of inclusion and exclusion criteria to select studies and help minimise bias. A systematic literature review may be registered, so that others can discover and minimise duplication, and can take several years to complete.

The systematic literature review is aimed at research (PhD students) level.

Useful background reading

Cranfield Libraries have several books offering guidance on how to approach and conduct literature reviews, and structured or systematic literature reviews:

  • Reading list for  literature review and study skills
  • Reading list of items to support a structured or systematic literature review

Looking at previous structured and systematic literature reviews is an effective way to understand what is required and how they should be structured and written up. Structured literature reviews can be found in the Masters Thesis Archive (MTA) and systematic literature reviews can be found in the Cranfield University institutional Repository, CERES. Check out the Theses  link.

  • << Previous: Writing your thesis
  • Next: Defining a research question >>
  • Last Updated: Oct 24, 2023 3:48 PM
  • URL: https://library.cranfield.ac.uk/writing-your-thesis


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