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How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes .

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, frequently asked questions, introduction.

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

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Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).


The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.


If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:


A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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Example Literature Reviews

The example literature reviews below were submitted to UKDiss.com to help you with your own studies. If you are looking for literature review examples to help inspire your own then take a look at the below examples covering various subjects.

For help with writing your literature review, see our guide on how to write a literature review . We also offer a comprehensive writing service provided by fully qualified academics in your field of study.

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Literature Review Guide: Examples of Literature Reviews

All good quality journal articles will include a small Literature Review after the Introduction paragraph.  It may not be called a Literature Review but gives you an idea of how one is created in miniature.

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example of a literature review for a masters dissertation

How to write a dissertation literature review

(Last updated: 11 November 2021)

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Are you tired of hearing the phrase 'literature review' every five minutes at university and having no idea what it means, let alone where to start? Not to worry - we've got you covered with this step-by-step guide to creating a great dissertation literature review.

What is a literature review?

In short, a dissertation literature review provides a critical assessment of the sources (literature) you have gathered and read surrounding your subject area, and then identifies a “gap” in that literature that your research will attempt to address.

There are a lot of misunderstandings about what exactly a dissertation literature review entails, as it can vary. Whilst in some cases a dissertation literature review can be a simple summary of important sources, most often it requires you to critically engage with the text to convey your positive or negative opinions of it. What is your interpretation of a particular source? Does this interpretation differ considerably from other viewpoints in the literature? This is the sort of critical engagement expected from you in a literature review.

Whereas a summary will most likely provide a simple recap of the general arguments of the source(s), the expectations concerning a literature review extend beyond this. A literature review may provide a new perspective on a classic research paper or it may combine both new and old interpretations (this is the “gap” – more on this later). A literature review may also provide a thorough and critical outline of the intellectual developments in a field with a focus on major, and often polemical, debates. In other scenarios, a literature review may also provide an assessment of a source and inform a reader about its validity, pertinence and relevance to the research subject.

"In a literature review, you're aiming to summarise and provide a critical analysis of the research arguments you have found in your readings, without making new contributions to the literature. Hence the term: “literature review ”."

There tends to be confusion between literature reviews and academic papers in general, but they are not one and the same. Generally, academic papers aim to provide new research material about a particular subject, and a literature review features as part of this objective. In a research paper, the literature review forms the basis of the research – it helps to highlight any research gaps as support for a new argument or insights you intend to provide. In a literature review, you're aiming to summarise and provide a critical analysis of the research arguments you have found in your readings, without making new contributions to the literature. Hence the term: “literature review ”.

Is a literature review really necessary?

Now that we know what a literature review is, the next step is to understand the point of writing one in the first place. Like it or not, a literature review is an essential part of any academic piece of writing, as it demonstrates to your tutor or reader that you have a nuanced understanding of the sources concerning your research area or question.

Although it may seem arbitrary, the literature review helps to persuade the person reading and marking your assignment that what you have written about is relevant and your arguments are justified and worthwhile. So, in short, a literature review is essential, and you need to put the necessary time into getting it right.

How do you write a dissertation literature review?

As the next section of this blog is quite lengthy, we've broken it down into several key steps which should make it easier to follow when writing your own dissertation literature review. You start by identifying your sources, then you read and re-read them. Next, you think about any gaps in the research or literature you have used, and finally, you write your review using all the preparation and information gathered in the steps prior.

Identify sources

To write a good dissertation literature review, you need to have a fair idea of what sources you would like to review. If you haven’t been given a formal reference list by your tutor, refer back to the techniques we recommended earlier.

Make sure that your sources are balanced; include enough books and academic journals and any useful published work from reputable scholars. To help you choose your sources appropriately, you might want to think about the parameters and objectives of your research. What are you hoping to find out? In your literature review , what theoretical issues or perspectives do you aim to tackle? How about your methodology? Will you focus on mainly qualitative or quantitative studies, or a mixture of both? These general questions should help guide you in selecting your sources and again, remember that the abstract of a source is a very useful tool. Having a quick scan of the abstract and its ‘keywords’ will often give you an indication of the whether the source will be useful for your research or not.

As you’re identifying your sources, ensure you a keep a list as it’s very easy to lose focus given the wide scope of the Internet. Reference tools such as Mendeley allow you to store your sources online and via a desktop app, and are a great way to keep your bibliography organised. The citation tools attached to these programmes will also allow you to simply export citations in a format of your choice when required later. They will save you countless hours trying to figure out how to use Harvard or APA referencing correctly.

Read your sources

Now that you have organised your sources efficiently, it’s time to read through them. As unnatural as it may feel, it’s most effective to read in a few stages, as detailed below:

First, go through all the texts to get a sense of their general content and arguments. This will also help you judge which sources you mainly want to focus on in your review. During the second stage of your reading, you can then take a more critical, in-depth look at your sources. Make a lot of notes, be critical, ask questions. What is your academic opinion on the text? Do you have any comments on the methodological approach, the theoretical argument or the general hypothesis? Note these down. It will ensure that your literature review is not merely a summary of your readings, and will encourage a clear line of argument so that your work is logical and coherent.

Consider gaps in the research

When writing a dissertation literature review , an essential thing to consider is identifying the research gap. Identifying the gap is particularly important if your review forms part of a research proposal, as it will highlight the pertinence of your research – assuming that your research has been designed to fill this gap. In other instances, identifying the gap is an indication of good critical analysis and can score you extra points.

To identify the “gap” it is important that we know what this “gap” is. A research gap is essentially the existence of a research question, perspective or problem that has not been answered in the existing literature on any field of study. Identifying the research gap is important for highlighting the originality of your research; it proves you’re not simply recounting or regurgitating existing research. It also shows that you are very much aware of the status of the literature in your chosen field of study, which in turn, demonstrates the amount of research and effort you have put into your review.

Many students, especially at post-graduate level, find it extremely difficult to identify research gaps in their subject area. For post-graduate research papers, identifying research gaps and formulating research questions that can address these gaps form the very essence of a research paper. Identifying research gaps does not have to be a difficult endeavour and there are several ways to overcome this difficulty:

Start by reading A simple approach will be to read important parts of key articles in your research area. First, note that you’ll have to sift through many articles to identify the ones that are most suitable for your research. A quick search using keywords on Google Scholar will often give you a quick overview of the available literature. Other useful sources include databases such as JSTOR or Wiley Online Library . You can then snowball additional articles by clicking on ‘related articles’ or checking out which other papers have cited your source.

Abstracts and recommendations Whichever avenue you choose, reading the abstract is often a good starting point to get a sense of what the articles entails. You should also do a quick examination of the introductory and concluding paragraphs of the paper as these sections always provide some information on the aims and outcomes of the research, as well as ‘recommendations for future studies.’ These recommendations typically provide some insight on the research gaps in the literature. Another route would be to simply read as much as you can on your research subject while considering which research areas still need addressing in the literature – this is usually an indication of research gaps.

example of a literature review for a masters dissertation

Write your review

Now you’re well prepared to start putting fingers to keyboard. Consider the following pointers:

1. Use sample literature reviews Have a look at sample dissertation literature reviews in your subject area and read them thoroughly to familiarise yourself with existing key debates and themes. This can be a good starting point for framing and structuring your own review. If you are not familiar with academic writing, going through samples will help you to get a sense of what is expected in this regard. Pay attention to the academic language and formal style used. Also, remember that the bibliography or reference section of your selected texts will help you to snowball further references if you need any.

2. Keep it simple Keep your topic as narrowed down as possible. Remember that there are hundreds – or in some instances, thousands – of sources or perspectives concerning any subject area or topic. Researchers investigate research problems in many divergent ways and the literature available on any given subject is extremely broad. In your literature review, you won’t be expected to address every argument or perspective concerning your topic – this might actually undermine your ability to write a coherent and focused piece. You’ll make your work easier if you limit the scope of your work. In your review, ensure that you clearly state what the focus of your work will be.

3. Make sure your sources are as current as possible If you are reviewing scientific work, it’s essential your sources are as current as possible given the advancements in the field over the years. In the medical field particularly, research is constantly evolving and a source that’s only three years old may be even out-dated. In the social sciences this rule may not apply, as many theoretical works are classics and you will be expected to be familiar with these perspectives. You might have to the review the work of Marx, or Hobbes, or any other classic scholar. You still need to balance theory with current approaches, as you will need to demonstrate the ways in which perspectives in the literature have changed over the years, or you may even want to demonstrate how scholars have used classic theories to inform their work.

4. Consider the organisation of your work In a dissertation literature review, organising your work goes beyond having an introduction, body and conclusion. You’ll be reviewing a number of texts, so you’ll also have to think clearly about how to organise themes, topics and your argument in general. Below is a detailed guide on how to do this:

Like any other academic paper, a dissertation literature review will comprise a basic introduction, body, and conclusion.

The introduction of a literature review should be clear, short and focused. It should outline the focus of the review – in other words, it should clearly state the main topics to be covered. A good literature review will also state the arguments to be made, as well as underlying rationale that underpins these arguments.

The body of your literature review will include an in-depth discussion of the academic sources you have chosen to review. You may choose to organise your sources according to themes, methodology or even based on a chronological order. In the body of your review, ensure that your arguments are presented clearly and that you link these arguments with the literature. Is there a scholar that agrees with your view? Say so, in a way that the reader will understand easily. This demonstrates that you are very familiar with the academic research in your field. Remember to also make note of any views that do not agree with your position; excluding these arguments will reduce the methodological robustness of your piece. You can use direct quotations in your literature review, however do so sparingly so you don’t appear lazy. Most tutors will not approach it kindly; the purpose of a literature review is to demonstrate your ability to critically engage with a piece of text, and littering your review with direct quotes isn’t a good indication of this. Instead, try to paraphrase quotations and only use direct quotes if it really helps to illustrate your argument.

In the summary of your dissertation literature review, it’s important to give a summary of the conclusions you’ve drawn from your readings. If your literature review forms part of a broader research proposal, reiterate the gaps in the literature here, and clearly state how your proposed research will fill these gaps. Make recommendations for future research in this section too, which demonstrates your analytical skills and will score you some extra points.

You now have the basic structure of your research in place, however it’s worth dedicating some time to what the body of your work should entail. The body is the main core of your work, so it’s important to consider how you will frame and organise it. You have options here – you can choose to organise the content of your work based on a chronological method, based on themes, trends or methodology, or based on arguments.

To structure the body of work chronologically, you will have to organise your sources based on when they were published. A limitation of this approach is that it inhibits continuity in your arguments and in some instances, can undermine the coherence of your work. Use with caution.

A more coherent way of organising your work is to group your sources based on the arguments they make in a ‘for versus against’ manner. This enables you to present your work in a more dynamic way and what’s more, makes the key debates in the literature more obvious. Say you were trying to convey the debates on European migration policy, you might want to start by writing something along these lines:

"While scholars such as X argue that migration policies must be made more stringent to counteract the increased flow of Syrian refugees to Europe, other scholars such as Y offer a divergent perspective. They specifically espouse a perspective based on a human rights approach…"

This approach also leaves room for you to insert your voice into the literature. Consider this statement:

"While X argues for the enactment of more stringent migration policies, this paper argues along the lines of Y that migration policies should be based on human rights considerations."

Using this technique also allows you to introduce additional literature that supports your position.

Another way of organising your content is according to theme; or sub-themes, if your review focuses on one overarching topic. This method of organisation still allows you to present an overview of any polemical debates within these sub-themes. A thematic review can easily shift between chronological periods within each sub-section too.

Structuring work using a methodological approach is quite a common approach, however it’s often used in tandem with other ways of organising sources. This method is particularly evident in introductory sections whereby researchers may simply want to state that a particular subject has been mostly studied from a qualitative or quantitative perspective (they will often then cite a number of scholars or studies to support this claim). In scientific reviews however, a methodological approach may form the basis of the discussions in the body. If this is the case for you, focus on the methods used by various researchers. How did they go about answering a particular research question? Were there any limitations to this method? If so, what method(s) would have been better?

You’ll soon realise that organising the body of your literature review is an iterative process and you’ll more often than not use all of these approaches in your write-up. The body of your research may also include additional sections that do not necessarily form a part of its organisational structure. For instance, you might want to include a ‘context section’ that provides some insight on any background detail required for understanding the focus of the literature review. It may also focus on historical considerations. You could include a short methodology section that details the approach you used in selecting and analysing your sources.

5. Write the paragraphs of the body Once you have settled on the approach to writing your body, you must now write each of its paragraphs in a way that is in keeping with academic conventions. Consider this paragraph from a literature review about stakeholder participation for environmental management, to clarify the discussion that follows:

As the example above suggests, a dissertation literature review must be written using a formal and academic style . Also, note how sources have been grouped according to both arguments and themes. Remember we noted that the process of grouping sources in the body of your literature review is never a linear one? You will often use a combination of the approaches that we have discussed. Ensure that your writing is concise, coherent and devoid of any personal or strong language. Avoid any phrases like, “I hate X’s work”; a more academic way of stating your disagreement would be to simply state: “I would argue against X’s position that…”, or “X’s argument is inconsistent with the evidence because...”, or “X’s arguments are based on false assumptions because...”.

In the sample paragraph above, notice the use of words like “argue” – this is a good academic alternative to more commonplace words such as “says”. Other good alternatives include “states”, “asserts”, “proposes” or “claims”. More academic options include “opine”, “posit”, “postulate”, or “promulgate”, however some tutors and readers find these words to be too ‘heavy’ and archaic, so ensure that you are familiar with the writing standards in your institution.

If your writing is tailored to a peer-reviewed journal, it’s worth having a look at articles within that journal to get a sense of the writing style. Most tutors will provide a guideline on writing styles, and it’s important you adhere to this brief. You will often be required to also use the third person when writing a literature review, thus phrases such as “this paper argues” or “this paper is of the view that…” are appropriate.

There are exceptions at post-graduate level or generally – like when you have conducted your own primary research or published your work widely – which give you the academic authority to boldly make claims. In cases like these, the use of first person is suitable and you may use phrases such as “I argue” or “I propose”.

Remember also to generally use present tense when referring to opinions and theories (although in the context of specific research experiments, the use of the past tense is better).

Beyond the use of the academic terms suggested above, ‘linking’ words are also particularly important when writing a literature review, since you’ll be grouping a lot of writers together with either similar or divergent opinions. Useful linking words and phrases include: similarly, there are parallels, in convergence with…

When there is disagreement, you may want to use any of the following: However, conversely, on the other hand, diverges from, antithetical to, differential from…

6. Write the conclusion The conclusion of a dissertation literature review should always include a summary of the implications of the literature, which you should then link to your argument or general research question.

example of a literature review for a masters dissertation

Some final notes

The overall structure of your literature review will be largely based on your research area and the academic conventions that are in line with it. Nevertheless, there are some essential steps that apply across all disciplines and that you should ensure you follow:

Do not simply describe the opinions of writers Analyse, analyse, analyse, and ensure that your analysis is critical (what have the writers missed; where does your opinion sit with theirs, etc.).

Structure the body of your argument using various techniques Your structure should be organised based on thematic areas, key debates or controversial issues, and according to methodological approaches. Keep your review dynamic, but coherent. Remember to identify literature gaps and link this to your own research.

Use ample evidence This is extremely important and forms the very essence of a dissertation literature review. You must refer to various sources when making a point; see the sample paragraph above for an example of this. Your arguments and interpretation of a research topic must be backed by evidence. Do not make baseless claims, as a literature review is an academic piece of writing and not an opinion piece.

Be very selective Not every piece of research has to be reviewed. If you are determined to show that you aware of the available literature out there, try writing techniques such as: There is robust literature available concerning the migration patterns of Syrian refugees. Notable works include: X(2015), y (2013), Z (2014). Once you have acknowledged these works, you do not have to review them in detail. Be selective about the sources that you will discuss in detail in your review.

Do not rely too much on direct quotes Only use them to emphasise a point. Similarly, don’t rely too heavily on the work of a single author. Instead, highlight the importance of that author in your research and move on. If you need to keep going back to the work of that author, then you need to link those discussions with your work. Do not simply provide a summary of the author’s work. In what ways does your work agree or disagree with his/hers? Be critical.

Make your voice heard Yes, the whole point of the literature review is to provide a critical analysis and summary of the viewpoints out there, but a critical analysis does include the fact that you need to make your opinion known in the context of the literature. Note how skilfully, in the earlier sample paragraph by Reed (2008), he weaves his opinions with references. Read back over the sample and try to perfect this skill.

Ensure that you reference your work correctly And make sure you use the appropriate referencing style. For more help on this, click here .

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Literature reviewing at graduate level, or for any research, involves deciding on the type of review you need to do, searching the appropriate literature, and finding the right resources. You will find it helpful to read from the beginning of the page if you are new to literature reviewing.

Undergraduate students may find the page useful, but there is also a Write a Literature Review: for Undergraduates .

See also Write a Research Proposal .

Literature Reviews

The purpose of a literature review is to find out what is already known about your topic.

A literature review is the basis of a graduate essay, Dissertation, Masters or PhD thesis. The purpose of a literature review is to find out what is already known about your topic. It surveys and synthesizes scholarly articles, and other relevant sources on a topic of interest. It demonstrates your understanding of the literature.

Once you have read and critically reflected upon the relevant literature, you should be able to identify major themes as well as compare and contrast the various perspectives. If your literature review is part of a wider research project, you should aim to identify a "gap" in the literature and situate your research within it, demonstrating the value your research would bring to the field.

Booth et al. emphasize that literature reviews are used not just in theses and dissertations but in journals, book chapters, and in policy development/policy making. They are also included in reports resulting from a funded research project or other commissioned research or consultancy (Booth, A., Sutton, A., & Papaioannou, D. (2016). Systematic approaches to a successful literature review. Los Angeles, CA: Sage, p. 12). Call no.: LB2369.B66 2016

The stages of a literature review are to:

At postgraduate/thesis level you will normally do either a narrative or systematic literature review, depending on your topic.

Scoping Reviews

You may be asked to do a scoping review

You may be asked to do a scoping review .

Booth et al. say that a scoping review “Is characterised as a broad-brush approach to finding the most notable studies in the field, with minimal attempts to evaluate them for quality, a rudimentary attempts at synthesis (perhaps through listing, tabulation or mapping), and an analysis that caricatures the quantity and distribution of the literature” (p. 23). They define a scoping review as "A type of review that has as its primary objective the identification of the size and quality of research in a topic area in order to inform the subsequent conduct of a review" (Booth et al. (2016). Systematic approaches to a successful literature review, . p. 314.)

What is a Scoping Review?

See Finding Resources for your Literature Review .

Narrative (Traditional/Scholarly) Literature Reviews

A narrative review provides a synthesis or description of the literature review without using quantitative methods

A narrative review provides a synthesis or description of the literature review without using quantitative methods. Often the purpose of the review involves the evaluation of some set of investigations and involves theoretical statements and casts a wide range of topics and investigations. ( Sage Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods ).

The Sage Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods states that the strengths of a narrative review are: Unlike quantitative reviews, which have very narrowly defined parameters and precise inclusion and exclusion rules, a narrative review has more flexibility. The narrative review provides more potential for individual insight and opportunities for speculation than most quantitative review approaches. ( From Narrative Literature Review (Sage Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods)).

Narrative Literature Review ( Sage Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods ) describes the narrative review in much more detail and Literature Review: Traditional or Narrative Literature Reviews (Charles Sturt University) describes four different types of narrative review.

See the section Scholastic (traditional) Reviews in Chris Hart's Doing a literature review: Releasing the research imagination , pp. 95-99.

How-to Guides

This guide describes how to plan, conduct, organize, and present a systematic review of quantitative (meta-analysis) or qualitative (narrative review, meta-synthesis) information

Hints & Examples

Integrative Reviews

Integrative reviews are widely used in nursing

An integrative literature review (sometimes called an IR or a Systematic Integrative Review) is a “method that summarizes past empirical or theoretical literature to provide a more comprehensive understanding of a particular phenomenon or healthcare problem” (Broome 1993, as cited in Whittemore & Knafl, 2005, p. 546)

In the same way as a systematic literature view does, the write up of the integrative review literature search needs to explicitly state the search terms and databases used, as well as the criteria used for including and excluding sources.  The University of Waikato’s Library discovery layer software known as Library Search is great for getting a sense of the literature, but, as it is a search engine, not an individual database, when conducting the definitive searches, you need to go to individual databases.

Whittemore, R., & Knafl, K.  (2005). The integrative review: updated methodology. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 52(5), 546–553.   https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.waikato.ac.nz/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2005.03621.x

An example of an integrative review in a peer reviewed journal:

Pajakoski, E., Rannikko, S., Leino-Kilpi, H., & Numminen, O. (2021). Moral courage in nursing - An integrative literature review. Nursing & Health Sciences .   https://doi-org.ezproxy.waikato.ac.nz/10.1111/nhs.12805

This ebook is available through the library and shows how to conduct an integrative review:

Toronto, C. E., & Remington, R. (Eds.). (2020). A step-by-step guide to conducting an integrative review. Springer Nature. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-37504-1

Systematic (Interventional/Evidence-based Practice) Literature Reviews

Not simply a literature review conducted in a systematic manner, a systematic literature review is tightly structured and focuses on a topic with strict research parameters.

A systematic review is a tightly structured literature review that focuses on a topic with strict research parameters. The methodology used to collect research has to be consistent in order to reduce misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the data. See Systematic Reviews: What is a systematic review?

It is worth reading Chris Hart's thoughts on interventionist (systematic) reviews in Doing a literature review: Releasing the research imagination p. 99-105, before you start your review.

Further recommended readings include:

Systematic Reviews

Synthesising evidence: Systematic Reviews, Meta-analysis and Preference analysis

Contains methodological guidance for the preparation and maintenance of Cochrane intervention reviews. Many of the principles and methods described here are appropriate for systematic reviews applied to other types of research and to systematic reviews of interventions undertaken by others.

First Steps

What is PRISMA?

PRISMA is an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. PRISMA focuses on the reporting of reviews evaluating randomized trials, but can also be used as a basis for reporting systematic reviews of other types of research, particularly evaluations of interventions. See the PRISMA flow diagram http://www.prisma-statement.org and the *PRISMA checklist (see Booth et al. Systematic approaches to a successful literature review, p. 124)

What is Meta-analysis?

Meta-analysis uses statistical methods to combine the results of a systematic literature review. It is considered original work. Booth et al. define meta-analysis as "the process of combining statistically quantitative studies that have measured the same effect using similar methods and a common outcome measure" . (Booth et al, Systematic approaches to a successful literature review, p. 309).

Ask your supervisors about the best software or see this web page 13 best free meta-analysis software to use or check examples of theses or articles using meta-analysis to see which software would be best for you.

Clarification of terminology

The term “Systematic Literature Review” is a specific type of review which involves, among other things, designing a specific search strategy, and then conducting it in one or several databases (not Library Search), applying specified inclusion and exclusion criteria to the items found, and reporting on it. If you have been advised to conduct a systematic review it would pay to clarify this, as it may be that you just need to perform a literature search in a systematic manner, rather than a full Systematic Literature Review.

Systematic vs. Scoping vs. Integrative Review

This guide briefly compares each type of review and so you can determine which type of review is best for your needs: https://guides.library.duq.edu/c.php?g=1055475&p=7725920

Dissertations, Theses and Essays

For a masters degree, you will include a dissertation equivalent to two papers, or a thesis equivalent to three papers, or a thesis equivalent to four papers

For a masters degree, you will include a dissertation equivalent to two papers, or a thesis equivalent to three papers, or a thesis equivalent to four papers.

Remember your Academic Liaison Librarian can help you do the best search on the best Library databases for your topic

Level 5 Dissertations

The literature review often appears near the start of your dissertation, and is a key part of your overall dissertation structure. It is a summary of the current writings in the field you are researching and into which your dissertation will eventually fit (Oxbridge Essays).

For tips and guidance on writing your literature review, the following resources are recommended by the Library to help you get started.

For a range of print books on dissertation writing, e.g. Your undergraduate dissertation: the essential guide for success

If you feel you need extra guidance, this is a great chapter on Doing your Undergraduate Project .

You can also book a Research Consultation with your Academic Liaison Librarian if you need further assistance.

Masters Theses

In addition to the resources listed in the Level 5 Dissertation section, see:

For a range of print books on thesis writing.

Writing up your research is a crucial stage of any research project. This stage in the Sage Research Methods Project Planner , explains how to write academically, providing tips for writing up reports, dissertations, and theses, and guidance on how to write up different sections of your research paper.

Literature Searches

A literature search is a systematic search of the accredited sources and resources

"A literature search is a systematic search of the accredited sources and resources. It involves identifying paper and electronic sources relevant to your topic and method(s)..." (Hart, C. (2018). Doing a literature review: Releasing the research imagination. Los Angeles, CA: Sage, p. 3)

Scoping or Indicative Searches

Booth et al. define a Scoping search as "a type of literature search that seeks to determine rapidly and efficiently the scale of a predefined topic in order to inform subsequent review" (Booth, A., Sutton, A., & Papaioannou, D.(2016). Systematic approaches to a successful literature review, Los Angeles, CA, Sage, p. 314).

From Booth et al. Systematic approaches to a successful literature review . For both narrative (pp.111 - 114) and complex intervention searches (p. 114 - 115).

In Doing a literature review: Releasing the research imagination p. 12.

In Doing a literature review: Releasing the research imagination, pp. 93-106

Which sort of review of the literature is most suitable for your thesis topic - Narrative or Systematic?

Finding Resources for your Literature Review

There are two main approaches to finding literature

A good literature review will contain mostly high-quality, peer reviewed academic material such as journal articles, books and theses.

There are two main approaches to finding literature:

Your Academic Liaison Librarian can help you do the best search on the best Library databases for your topic

Library Search is the key to the Library's resources. Check out our guide to Library Search . Limit to Books/Ebooks.

Although the Databases will mainly provide you with access to journal articles, there are also ebook collections (type ebooks into the search box) and Reference Collections.

Access to records for over 1.2 billion items, including theses, books and articles from all parts of the world. There are links to full-text where this is available.

Te Puna Search provides a view of New Zealand libraries' holdings and the holdings of other libraries around the world.

The Library has a number of searchable Ebook databases, the main collection being Ebook Central . You can search for these using the Databases list on the Library site.

For a list of the most recently recieved books, both online and print, see New books .

Journal Articles

Library Search is the key to the Library's resources. Check out our guide to Library Search . Limit to Journal Articles.

BrowZine is a web and tablet application that allows you to browse, read, and monitor thousands of scholarly journals available from the University of Waikato Library.

Our subject specific databases will be your main source for academic journal articles. They are listed by broad subject area. They allow you to search for recent material quickly.

This page is a guide to finding theses completed at the University of Waikato and other Universities, both New Zealand and worldwide.

Search for full-text versions of all theses completed at the university of Waikato from 2006 onwards.

New Zealand’s most comprehensive selection of research papers and related resources. You can limit your search to theses.

Peer-reviewed and other research from universities, polytechnics, and research organisations throughout New Zealand.

Grey Literature

Grey literature (or gray literature) are materials and research produced by organizations outside of the traditional commercial or academic publishing and distribution channels ( Wikipedia ).

" Grey literature stands for manifold document types produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats that are protected by intellectual property rights, of sufficient quality to be collected and preserved by libraries and institutional repositories, but not controlled by commercial publishers; i.e. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body . (The Twelfth International Conference on Grey Literature, Prague, 2010).

Examples of grey literature in the Health field for instance, includes: conference abstracts, presentations, proceedings; regulatory data; unpublished trial data; government publications; reports (such as white papers, working papers, internal documentation); dissertations/theses; patents; and policies & procedures.

Includes definitions and a list of document types

Government Documents

Which government department deals with your topic? See Govt.nz https://www.govt.nz/ . Another way to get the best out of government publications - go to Government A-Z. Find the Government Department you think will help. Click on the link, and at the next page, choose website from the list under Contact . Then you can use the search box to search for your topic.

Digital Collections

University of Waikato Digital Collections


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