What Is a Literature Review?

Reviewing the existing body of research on your subject is a fundamental component of any academic writing. It’s generally hard to justify your arguments, statements, and opinions on a specialized subject (the one that laypersons hardly know well) without seeking evidence in the academic literature. Thus, literature reviews are a common component of more extensive works and can even be standalone assignments. 

Given such popularity of this type of academic writing, a natural question arises, “what is a literature review?” It’s hard to define this type of activity in two words as it’s: 

  • A systematic search of the published academic research on a specified subject 
  • An assessment of detected sources in terms of content and scope 
  • A structured writing piece presenting the findings and their evaluation with an informed overview and critique of the sources. 

Here we have prepared a detailed guide for those who don’t know how to write a literature review and have even accompanied it with a detailed example of a literature review” serving as a generic template for your further work in this domain. Read on to learn all the intricacies of literature review writing and master the skill of competent, detailed, and analytical approach to published research.

How to Write a Literature Review?

It’s noteworthy that the question of  how to do a literature review isn’t answered simply – for instance, “by reading relevant literature.” The core skills that a literature reviewer should possess are analytical thinking and critical reading. Only by applying these skills in the process of pre-writing (which is literature search and evaluation) and writing (which is analysis and structuring) can you arrive at a worthy academic piece. 

Here are some pro tips about completing a top-notch literature review. Our experts share their experiences and reveal the industry secrets of speedy yet structured review composition. 

  1. The first thing to do is identify the scope of your literature review. Will it be a couple of paragraphs in an essay, or should it be a standalone chapter in a research paper or dissertation? Depending on the size and depth of your review, you’ll need more or fewer sources and will structure the reviews differently.
  2. Next, determine the aims of your review. Will it show a professional grasp of the area you’re studying? Will it serve to justify your chosen research topic? Does it serve to justify your methodological selection? Or does it synthesize literature in a relevant academic form? Your review will fulfill all these goals in most cases, but it’s still vital to answer all these questions before proceeding. 
  3. Now comes the actual process of literature search. Depending on your subject area, you will select specialized libraries or academic portals. Skim through the titles and abstracts first to make your initial selection. After that, you can go more in-depth and weed out irrelevant sources, leaving only those that meet your aims fully. 
  4.  Once you have identified all relevant sources, read them through very attentively and identify the themes covered by the authors and your key takeaways from the literature. Once you have those notes, you’ll find it much easier to systematize and group your findings, focusing only on the relevant topics and concepts. 

What Can I Write about? 

As we’ve mentioned above, every literature review is unique because it is dedicated to a separate topic. But in terms of paragraph structuring and content inclusion, we recommend using the standard pattern of literature evaluation: 

  1. Subject. Here, you place a topic sentence encapsulating your central idea and topic of the paragraph. This part also serves to introduce the literature source you’re going to evaluate.
  2. Argument. Here, you expand the subject and define all arguments and conclusions you have made from the literature source. 
  3. Evaluation. Now comes your personal evaluation of the source, with the identification of its relevance for the topic and broader subject area, its strengths and weaknesses, and the overall significance you assign to them. 

Literature Review Outline 

All literature reviews are different as each of them pursues a unique topic and is based on the unique evidence you collect for that particular subject. However, we have developed a generic  literature review outline that you can use as a guide and tailor it to your topic and assignment type. 


Topic: ASD interventions for child integration 

Section #1 ASD definition 

Section #2 ASD interventions 

Section #3 Families’ experiences with ASD interventions 


Section #1: ASD definition 

– what is it? 

– symptoms? 

– how does ASD limit children and families? 

Section #2: ASD interventions  

– interventions for the child 

– interventions for the family 

– interventions for the environment 

– educational interventions 

– significance of ASD interventions for child integration 

Section #3: Recipient satisfaction with obtained integration services 

– families’ experiences with ASD interventions 

– reported strengths/weaknesses of interventions 

– reported recommendations/expectations for ASD integration service improvement 

Use this literature review template in your works, and you’ll see that the process of literature review completion gets quicker and more comfortable as you hone the writing skill. 

Literature Review Sample 

Now let’s take a closer look at the literature review example prepared for you by our experts. It is a mini-version of what you might prepare for your class, with the word count depending on the page count of your assignment. Yet, we have tried to preserve the spirit and tone of the literature review so that you can use it as guidance and scale it the way you see fit. 

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term for complex developmental issues characterized by speech and communication delays, impaired social integration, and the manifestation of restricted and repetitive conduct. Neither biological nor genetic causes of this in-born disorder are yet unknown, with active research in this area (John et al., 2018). However, the rising incidence of ASD diagnosis worldwide, and in the USA in particular, suggests that the magnitude of the problem increases, with a complex of interventions needed to improve the quality of life for families having an ASD child (Takeda, 2018).

Given the impaired social skills and specific behavior of ASD children, the latter experience numerous challenges in communicative development and emotional regulation. Individuals with an ASD diagnosis comprehend language poorly, have monotonous speech, and find it difficult to maintain eye contact. Because of the interaction and communication barriers, ASD individuals also suffer from emotional and mental health disorders more often, with many developing anxiety and depression signs (Ellis, 2018). Besides, the ASD symptoms often overlap with the mental disorder manifestations, thus complicating the diagnosis and delaying treatment for this population group. 

ASD and the associated impaired social functioning of individuals having it produce far-reaching implications on the lives of their families. ASD children are more prone to become victims of bullying and abuse; they also suffer from poor-quality health services and social acceptance problems to a greater degree (Popps, 2013). With this evidence in mind, ASD children’s caregivers are urged to spend more time and effort to take care of them. Parents of ASD children also represent vulnerable populations as their children’s challenging behaviors, elevated healthcare, and regular care demands also increase anxiety and cause depression (Chang, 2020).  

Common Mistakes Students Make When Writing a Literature Review 

Now you’re likely to understand more about literature review writing. But before you start crafting your own piece, please consider these common mistakes students often make in the process. Avoiding these issues can guarantee you a higher grade for the review assignment, minimizing the time you spend on literature analysis and composition. 

  • Disregard to the format. You might feel that it’s not essential, and you can format the literature review after you complete the writing stage, but such an assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, an APA literature review requires different in-text details compared to the MLA-style review, for instance. Chicago-format literature reviews use footnotes or endnotes instead of in-text citations, so you’re like to end up doing double work if you don’t use the correct format of referencing simultaneously with the writing process. 
  • Not keeping records. It’s a common mistake of students thinking that they can keep everything in mind. It’s true for up to 10-15 sources, but when the number of articles you’ve studied reaches 50 or even more, you can hardly tell where you found this or that fact. So, it’s essential to keep records of all bibliographical information and organize your notes to help you in the writing process. 
  • Reading full sources. The initial stage of literature search involves only scanning the sources. The Web is abundant in literature today, so you can’t afford to spend weeks or even months reading whole sources before determining whether they fit your review or not. So, we recommend first looking through the titles, then scanning the collection in terms of abstracts, and proceeding to the in-depth reading of the selected few articles. 
  • Writing a blanket of text. We understand that you may navigate through your sources like a guru after studying them for so much time. But your readers are laypersons, so they need guidance and signposts for grasping your literature review categories. So, it’s better to divide it into sections to simplify reading and improve comprehension.