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How to Do a Literature Review

How do you do a literature review?

This is the question that I often get asked. And based on my experience as a proofreader, I notice that students often have a challenging time with this chapter.

From my proofreading experience, I notice that some students find it challenging to write their literature reviews. They don’t tell me that they are having problems writing the literature review, but it is reflected in their writing. These are the things you need to keep in mind when doing a literature review.


A literature review is a compilation of the sources, or literature that gives a background to what you want to study. However, it isn’t just a summary of the works you’ve read but it includes an analysis of the major works related to your research.

The aim of a review is to critically analyze parts of the published body of knowledge related to your research. You can do so by doing a summary, classification, comparison of previous studies, and theoretical analysis.

i teach students about how to write a literature review


Some students make the mistake of writing a report or a synopsis of the literature. You can write a synopsis of the previous works for your own note-taking, but that isn’t a literature review.

When conducting a literature review, you would need to:

  • Be organized: make sure your literature is related to the research questions
  • Identify the background or landscape of the study
  • Identify gaps in the research
  • State how your work will contribute/address the gap within the field of research
  • You can come up with questions that need further research


When writing the introduction, you’d need to define the research problem or area of concern which will give an appropriate context for the reader. You can do so by:

  • Discussing the overall trends of the issue
  • Highlighting conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, conclusion
  • Identifying gaps in the research


So much to read and write you don’t know where to start writing your literature review? Here’s how you can start:

  • Group the arguments according to themes or
  • Follow a chronology
  • Organize according to different authors’ perspectives

You would also need to link each paragraph or sub-sections to make your points coherent and justify to the reader why the points you have chosen are important, relevant or how they address your research goals.

ANOTHER TIP: Study a good thesis/dissertation that is similar to what you want to study and look at how their literature reviews are written. This is not copying because you are studying how it is written!


Summarize the important works and relate them to your thesis

Once you’re done writing your literature view, don’t forget to edit it. In this blog post, I share how you can edit your own thesis.

Once you’re done editing your literature review, you can get feedback from your supervisor. Be sure to always engage with your supervisor through out your PhD journey. Click here to find out about how to establish a good relationship with your supervisor.

I hope this blog post is helpful for all students out there!

If you’re done writing your thesis and need a place to print your thesis ASAP you can head over to Print Xpert. They did mine within an hour!

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