Literature Reviews

Literature Reviews

8. How to write a literature review

As with any piece of writing, determine who the audience is for your literature review, and then determine its purpose – this will decide the form and tone of your text. For example, is your literature review a chapter in your dissertation? Then it would use a formal academic tone to present a survey of the literature that informed your research. Or is it for submission to an academic journal? Review the journal’s submission requirements and read previously published literature reviews to get a sense for what is appropriate. Is the purpose of your literature review to provide you with the groundwork for your research? Determining the purpose and the audience for your literature review will also determine its structure and tone. In brief:

  1. Clarify your research question or thesis statement – this will help you to clearly identify the scope of your literature review, and assist you in determining which texts will be included and/or referenced.
  2. Conduct a search of the literature: good places to start are your institution or public library’s website, Google Scholar, or open-access databases. Helpful resources include literature reviews published in relevant journals, course reading lists on your chosen topics, the literature review sections of completed graduate student theses.
  3. Evaluate texts for inclusion – refer back to your research question to determine whether or not a text may be relevant to exploring your subject.
  4. Read and take careful notes of your selected texts. Document management databases or citation management software can be extremely useful here (our research team uses Zotero).
  5. Prepare an outline.
  6. Write! And then, edit!


The University of Toronto Scarborough’s Assignment Calculator [ ] – is a useful resource for writing literature reviews – simply input your assignment type and due date, and this calculator will reverse-engineer a timeline of tasks to help you meet your deadlines.