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We shared tips on searching for and assessing papers for your literature review in our previous blog. We will now talk more about how to better organise the content and to what you need to pay attention when writing your literature review.

Before you start writing the review, you should first organise what content you are going to include.

The organisation of content will depend on:

  • the nature of your paper
  • the expectations of the field and
  • any stipulated word limit

How many sections should your literature review have?

There is no fixed approach. You may only be required to review the most relevant and recent papers in some fields, while in others a thorough historical overview of the topic is expected.

For a brief review:

If the common practice in your academic field only requires a brief review of current research, a single section might be enough to do the job.

For a longer review:

When writing a longer literature review, using multiple sections and using sub-headings could be a good idea.

Common ways of organising a longer review:

  • using a chronological approach, starting with early developments and ending with the most up-to-date studies
  • writing around separate themes, or different theoretical approaches or perspectives
  • looking at different research methods if methodology is an important theme of your research

Useful tips for writing your literature review

After developing a clear concept for organising the content of your review, you are now ready to actually start writing!

Throughout your writing process, it’s important to bear in mind:

“The purpose of a review is not to list the studies, but to critically evaluate them.”

You can try following the steps below:

  1. Start with an introduction that explains why the topic is important and sets out the structure or scope of the review.
  2. Make constant comparisons and connections: each paragraph should be clearly linked to the overall topic and the connections between different areas should be explicit.
  3. Highlight controversial or inconsistent findings and discuss any ongoing debates and disagreements in the field.
  4. Be sure to cite any papers that contradict your approach/findings/hypothesis. If you don’t, a reviewer is sure to spot the omission!

Once your review is complete, the next step is to summarise the findings, identify the gaps in the literature, provide the rationale for your study and explain what it will contribute to research and practice.

Author Profile

Dr Rachel Baron
Co-Chief Editor & Managing Editor (Social Sciences)
Rachel first joined us as a freelance editor in 2001, while completing her PhD. After spending a few years as a post-doctoral researcher and then lecturing in psychology, she returned to us in 2010 and focused her career on academic editing. She took on the role of Assistant Chief Editor in 2018, and became co-Chief-Editor in 2020. Unable to leave academia behind completely, she also teaches Psychology at an English-speaking university in Italy, where she is now based. With extensive experience in both academia and publishing, Rachel has an excellent overview of both the client and editor sides of the business.

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