How to write a literature review outline

A literature review is an integral part of a research study. In fact, a research paper will never be complete without a literature review. And just any other thing, you will only achieve the best results if you have a plan which in this case is a literature review outline.

If you want to write an exhaustive literature review outline, you will have to come up with a perfect literature review outline. In this article, we have provided a complete guide on writing a literature review outline. From the definition, purpose, different types and how to do a literature review outline. Keep on reading to find out.

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Literature review definition

If you are required to write an undergraduate dissertation, you will undoubtedly be expected to begin with a literature review.  What is a literature review? A literature review is a process of searching for and evaluating the available literature on a certain subject or topic area. It establishes the advancements in relation to the subject or theme being discussed.

A literature review serves four primary purposes:

  • It conducts a review of the literature in your selected field of study.
  • It summarizes the information included in that literature.
  • It conducts a critical analysis of the data acquired by identifying gaps in present knowledge, demonstrating the limitations of theories and points of view, suggesting ideas for additional research, and analyzing areas of contention.
  • It organizes the literature.

A literature review demonstrates to your readers that you have a thorough understanding of your subject and understand how your research fits into and contributes to an established body of accepted knowledge.

The four primary jobs is as follows can be further elaborated as follows. A review of the literature:

  • Improves the legitimacy of your work by demonstrating familiarity with a body of knowledge;
  • Summarizes earlier research and establishes the connection between your idea and it;
  • Integrates and summarizes the available information about a subject;
  • Illustrate that you have benefited from the knowledge of others and that your study serves as a springboard for fresh ideas.

If you are obliged to write an undergraduate dissertation, you will likely be expected to begin with a literature review. A literature review is the process of searching for and evaluating the available literature on a certain subject or topic area. It establishes state of the art in relation to the subject or issue being discussed.

A literature review serves four primary purposes:

It conducts a critical analysis of the data acquired by identifying gaps in present knowledge, demonstrating the limitations of theories and points of view, suggesting ideas for additional research, and analyzing areas of contention.

It summarizes the information included in that literature.

It conducts a review of the literature in your selected field of study.

It organizes the literature.

A literature review demonstrates to your readers that you have a thorough understanding of your subject and that you understand how your research fits into and contributes to an established body of accepted knowledge.

integrates and summarizes the available information about a subject;

The purpose of outlining a literature review

There are numerous reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project.

  • Determine the necessity of additional research (justifying your research)
  • Recognize inconsistencies: gaps in research, contradictions between earlier studies, and unanswered issues left by previous research
  • Arrange your own research within the framework of existing literature, arguing for the need for additional investigation.
  • Identify areas of earlier scholarship to avoid repetition and to acknowledge the contributions of other academics.
  • Determine the relationship between several works in terms of their contribution to the subject and to other works.
  • Establish a foundation of knowledge on the subject

The key elements in a literature review outline

  1. Identify the gasp in the existing research.
  2. Show relationship between your study and previous studies or publications
  3. Identify the main research techniques and methodologies
  4. To provide a context for the current research
  5. To find out the key theories, ideas, concepts, themes, and ideas and draw similarities and differences.
  6. To explore pre-existing information in a particulate subject
  7. To identify and acknowledge key figures who have worked on the current topic
  8. To establish the most outstanding works done on the topic

Types of literature review

It is imperative to take into account knowledge in a certain topic in terms of three layers.  The three-layer to consider are

–    The primary studies conducted and published by researchers.

–     The research reviews summarize and offer new interpretations based on and frequently extend the findings from the initial studies.

–           The informal impressions, conclusions, opinions, and interpretations that become part of the field’s lore.

When writing a literature review, it is critical to keep in mind that this third layer of information is frequently acknowledged as “true,” despite the fact that it commonly has only a strained relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews.

For that reason, while literature reviews are intended to provide an overview and synthesis of the relevant sources you have consulted, there are a variety of ways you can take depending on the type of analysis you are conducting.

1.      Theoretical review

This form is used to evaluate the collection of theory that has been gathered in relation to a certain phenomenon, concept, issue, or theory. The theoretical literature review enables the extent to which existing ideas have been studied, their relationships, and the development of new hypotheses to test the identification of current theories. This format is frequently used to demonstrate a deficit of relevant theories or to demonstrate that current theories are insufficient to address new or emerging research difficulties. The analytical unit may be a single theoretical concept or a complete theory or framework.

2.      Systemic evaluation

This form provides an overview of existing evidence that reflects a clearly defined research question using predefined and standardized methods to identify and critically assess relevant research and collect, report, and analyze data from the studies included in the review.

The aim is to document, assess deliberately, and scientifically synthesize all of the research on a clearly specified research problem.

It typically focuses on a very particular and often cause-and-effect empirical question, such as: “How much does A help B?” This sort of literature review is used mostly to examine previous research findings in clinical medicine and the associated domains of health but is being used more and more in social sciences.

3.      Historical review

Few things are separated from the historical precedent. The purpose of historical literature reviews is to study research conducted over a given period of time.  A concept, subject, phenomena, and theory in literature often first emerge and then follow its development within a discipline’s research.

The aim is to put the study in a historical context in order to demonstrate familiarity with the latest advancements and to indicate the prospective areas for future research.

4.      Argumentative review

This form selectively explores literature to support or reject an argument, an assumption deeply embedded or a philosophical dilemma previously found in the literature. The aim is to produce a review of research that establishes an alternative point of view. Given the significant nature of some social science research, argumentative literature analysis methodologies can be a legitimate and valuable type of discourse. Nevertheless, they can also add bias-related issues by making summary statements such as those found in systematic reviews.

5.      Methodological review

A review does not always focus on what someone said (the research findings), but on how they came up with whatever they said [analytical method].

The review of analytical methods provides a framework for understanding at different levels [i.e., subject areas, theory, and methods of data collection and analysis and research approaches], how scientists use varied critiques of knowledge from the conceptual and field-related materials in the field of epistemology and ontology, qualitative and quantitative integration.

This approach helps highlight ethical concerns that you should recognize and consider while developing your own study.

6.      Integrative review

Considered a type of study that integrates, examines, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in order to produce new frameworks and perspectives on the topic. All studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems are included in the body of literature.

In terms of clarity, rigor, and replication, a well-done integrative review satisfies the same standards as primary research in terms of clarity, rigor, and replication. In the social sciences, this is the most common type of review.


The key elements of a literature review outline

1.      Introduction

The introduction should:

  • establish your reasons – i.e., point of view – for
  • explain the organization – i.e., sequence – of the review;
  • reviewing the literature;
  • State the scope of the review – what is and isn’t covered. For example, if you were examining the literature on childhood drug abuse, you might state something like: There have been several studies of drug abuse in the general population. However, because this research focuses on childhood drug abuse, these will not be reviewed in detail and will only be alluded to as needed.
  • define your topic and provide an appropriate context for reviewing the literature;

2.      The body

Organize the literature by common themes; provide insight into the relationship between your chosen topic and the larger subject area, for example, between obesity in children and obesity in general;

From a broad overview of the material being read, narrow your emphasis to the precise area of your research.

The main body of a literature review should

3.      Conclusion

A conclusion in the literature review should

  • link your research to existing knowledge.
  • evaluate the current state of the literature reviewed;
  • outline areas for future study;
  • summarize the important aspects of the existing body of literature;
  • identify significant flaws or gaps in existing knowledge

How to write a literature review outline

Students frequently underestimate the significance of pre-planning the framework of their papers. This, however, is not a good strategy. A basic APA literature review outline (or other style outlines) will not only help you follow the correct format and structure, but it will also make the writing process easier and guarantee that you include all of the relevant information without leaving anything out.

Create your outline using the broad introduction-body-conclusion structure in mind, and make sure that each part accomplishes its specific objectives. However, it is vital to understand that a literature review plan differs from other forms of essay outlines in that it does not include fresh material. It concentrates on current research that is pertinent to the main theme.


1.      Identify the main theme

This is probably the only difference you’ll notice depending on whether your literature review is part of a research paper or a separate project entirely. If you are writing a literature review as part of another project, you must look for literature that is relevant to your key research questions and topic. If you are writing it as a stand-alone task, you must select a meaningful topic and primary issue for which you will collect literature.

2.      Search for the relevant sources

Make a keyword list.

Begin by compiling a list of keywords relevant to your study issue. Include a list of synonyms and similar terms for each of the primary topics or variables you’re interested in. If you come across new terms throughout your literature search, you can add them to this list.

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


  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • Google Scholar
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering, and computer science)
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Your university’s library catalog

You can refine your search by using Boolean operators:

AND to discover sources with more than one term

OR to find sources with one of a number of synonyms

NOT to exclude results containing certain terms

Read the abstract to see if an article is related to your search. When you find a useful book or article, look through the bibliography to find other sources.

Take notice of repeated citations to determine the most important articles on your topic. If you notice that the same authors, books, or articles keep appearing in your reading, take the initiative of checking them out.

3.      Evaluate the sources

Sources should be evaluated and chosen.

You won’t be able to read everything that has been published on the subject—you’ll have to decide which sources are most relevant to your questions.

Consider the following questions for each publication:

What are the main ideas, and how are they defined?

What question or problem is the author attempting to answer?

What are the study’s findings and conclusions?

What is the publication’s relationship to other publications in the field? Is it confirming, adding to, or challenging existing knowledge?

What are the most important theories, models, and methods? Is the research based on recognized frameworks or takes a novel approach?

What are the research’s strengths and weaknesses?

How does the publication help you grasp the subject? What are its main points and arguments?

Make certain that the sources you utilize are reliable and that you have studied any landmark studies and critical theories in your field of study.

The extent of your review will be determined by your topic and discipline: in the sciences, you would often just study contemporary literature, whereas literature. In the humanities, you may take a lengthy historical perspective (for example, to trace how a concept has changed in meaning over time).

Google Scholar can tell you how many times an article has been cited—a high citation count indicates that the piece has been important in the subject and should undoubtedly be included in your literature study.

4. Take notes and make sure to reference your sources.

While reading, make short notes that you can incorporate into the content of your literature review later.

To avoid plagiarism, it is critical to maintaining track of your sources with citations. An annotated bibliography, in which you assemble full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and commentary for each source, can be useful. This helps you remember what you read and saves you time later on.

3. Determine themes, arguments, and gaps.

To begin developing the argument and structure of your literature review, you must first establish the links and connections between the sources you’ve read. You can look for the following items based on your reading and notes:

Trends and patterns (in theory, procedure, or outcome): Do particular approaches gain or lose popularity over time?

Where do sources disagree?

Themes: What are the recurring questions or topics throughout the literature?

What are the gaps in the literature? Are there any flaws that should be addressed?

Are there any seminal publications: are there any theories or studies that altered the course of the field?

4.      Write down your literature reviews outline

The body of a literature review can be organized in a variety of ways. Before you begin writing, you should have a common idea of your strategy.


Several of these tactics may be combined depending on the duration of your literature review (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).


As implied by the name, this style of structuring is concerned with the methods employed to convey the fundamental theme. For instance, George Orwell employs a law-and-order strategy in “1984” to demonstrate the risks of a dystopia for a social species.


Mary Shelley reveals the character’s physical characteristics as disgusting and terrifying in “Frankenstein,” forcing him to suffer in an isolated situation. By comparing the numerous approaches used to depict the MOP, the writer can assess its harshness, ethicality, and overall impact.


Rather than using the “timeline technique,” another possibility is to examine the relationship between your MOP and your sources. Occasionally, the central concept of a work of literature may pop out at you. Occasionally, the author may be required to search out examples to bolster their argument.

A skilled writer will typically arrange their sources in ascending order of strength. For instance, in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the whole work revolves around racism; in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” racism is just one of several recurring themes.


The simplest method is to trace the topic’s evolution over time. However, if you use this technique, be cautious to avoid merely listing and summarizing sources in chronological order.

Analyze patterns, turning points, and critical disputes that have affected the field’s path. Provide your explanation for how and why specific events occurred.


A literature review usually serves as the foundation for developing a theoretical framework. It can be used to debate various hypotheses, models, and definitions of important topics.

You may argue for the validity of a particular theoretical approach, or you could mix several theoretical principles to build a framework for your research.

5.      Write the literature review.

Your literature review, like any other academic paper, should include an introduction, the main body, and a conclusion. What you include in each section is determined by the purpose of your literature review. Use the guide listed above on how to write a literature review’s introduction, body, and conclusion.

6.      Review Your work

  • Sentences should flow smoothly and logically.
  • Look at the topic sentences of each paragraph. If you were to read only these sentences, would you find that your paper presented a clear position, logically developed, from beginning to end? The topic sentences of each paragraph should indicate the main points of your literature review.
  • Check to make sure that you have not plagiarized in any form

To wrap up

Writing a literature review outline is usually recursive. In other words, it is a back-and-forth process. You are most likely to discover new research questions as you review the literature. This is normal, so don’t feel like you are doing it all wrong. This guide should help you navigate writing a literature review outline. Should you have any challenges writing an outline for literature review, contact our expert writers today.










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