How to Write a Literature Review for a
Research Paper, Thesis, or Dissertation
The literature review is a very important part of a research
paper, undergraduate thesis, master's thesis, or a doctoral
dissertation. Thus, it is very important to write an effective
There may be a number of good ways to write a literature
review. Nonetheless, in this article, I will provide some general
guidelines that can be used to write a literature review for a
research paper, thesis, or dissertation. I believe that these
guidelines are relevant to writing any type of major paper (e.g.,
a research paper, master's thesis, or doctoral dissertation).
1. The Literature Review is Focused.
The reader does not need to know every finding or theory
concerning the general topics of the research paper, thesis, or
dissertation. Only ideas and findings that provide a solid
theoretical or empirical foundation for the hypotheses or
research questions should be presented. In other words, if
findings or ideas have no relevance to the validity or importance
of the hypotheses or research questions, then they do not need
to be included.
2. The Literature Review is Comprehensive.
Although you need to include only relevant ideas and
findings, the information that is relevant should be
comprehensive. The literature review should be representative
of the thinking and research on the topic, including conflicting
ideas and findings. However, it may not be necessary to include
detailed information about every idea or finding related to the
paper topic. Ideas or findings that are redundant with what you
have already stated may not need to be described in detail. You
could mention in the literature review that there are other
findings or ideas with references included in parentheses.
3. The Literature Review is Concise
It is important that the literature review is as concise as
possible so that the reader can remain focused and interested in
reading the paper. Also, it may be more difficult to discern the
central ideas or themes if there is too much information
4. The Literature Review is Clear
There are several ways to make the literature review clearer.
First, short and simple sentences could be used. Second, ideas
and findings should be stated precisely. Third, specific
examples could be provided for ideas. Fourth, it would be good
to provide detailed information about the most important
findings. It should be clear concerning the research design (e.g.,
correlational study or randomized experiment), who the
participants were, and what specific findings the conclusions are
5. The Literature Review is Organized
The use of headings may help the reader comprehend the
organization of the literature review. A heading could be used
for each section of the literature review. The organization of
the literature should reflect the basic elements of the thesis or
research question in the paper. For example, imagine that your
hypothesis is that a book with more pages will sell more copies.
The first part of the literature review could cover findings or
ideas concerning what may influence book sales. The second
part of the literature review could cover research or theory that
would support the idea quantity information influence decisions.