Research Paper Writing: How to Review Literature

September 9, 2016
HandMadeWritings Staff

Carrying out a comprehensive literature review is an important skill. It’s a major part of writing a research paper and carries over to tasks like creating evidence-based documents.


For many students, reviewing literature seems like a complicated task. Some of the aspects that research paper writers grapple with include:

  • Starting/planning the research
  • Selecting a topic subject
  • Evaluating sources
  • Conducting the actual review of sources

Yet a review of literature isn’t as hard as people set it out to be. So, in this post, I’ll explain the critical elements that you’d encounter. Also, I’ll show you how to work fast so that the review phase doesn’t eat up the time you need to work on a research paper.

Why do you need a literature review?

First, let’s define the literature review. The online writing lab, Purdue OWL, defines it as:

A critical summary of what the scientific literature says about your specific topic or question.

But simply put, a literature review allows you to read up on the latest studies related to your subject topic.

You need it because it usually forms the basis of further research. You might even conduct a review of the literature to justify writing a research paper.

How to review literature

Remember, some types of research make selecting the topic easy for you. Studies, such as meta-synthesis and meta-analysis would require you to come up with a research question beforehand. That way, coming up with the research topic is a no-brainer.

But, for the non-quantitative research, for example, selecting the topic is crucial to the review of the literature.

1. Choosing a topic

Choose a topic with a limited scope. One of the greatest mistakes novice researchers make is settling on an ambiguous/broad topic. Let’s say your course covers mental illnesses, for example. Also, let’s assume you choose a topic like, “Degenerative disorders.” You’d be thus forced to study conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.

But look at a research paper example, such as this one. See the way the researchers chose a particular topic. They’re still studying degenerative disorders, yes. But they focus on dementia thus making their findings more relevant to the given subject area.

Choose a topic that’s relevant to your subject area. One of the ways you can find an issue to tackle is by looking at the trending concerns that your subject discipline faces. If mental illness is your favorite subject, why not consider how it affects patients in a particular setting, for example. Say a study of variables in mental illness in an urban community.

Choose an interesting topic. That’s obvious. If the selected topic doesn’t interest you, in the first place, you’ll struggle to see the full literature review process through.

Consider broadening the topic. If however, your chosen topic turns out to be too narrow, you could expand it so that you find more related studies to support your literature review.

2. Looking for sources

Research Paper Writing- (2)

Most probably, you’d use an online library to search for literature. But be careful to choose the databases that are relevant to your subject area. You should use the scientific databases, for example, instead of the marketing portals when conducting a research on mental illness.

The other skill that you should learn is keywords usage. Online facilities, like Google Scholar, can direct you to millions of sources. However, it’s only through proper keyword queries can you bring up relevant sources.

If you’re struggling with this aspect, you could ask for research paper help that directs you on the best keyword combinations that will make finding sources easier.

It’s also good practice to choose current journal articles instead of books as sources. Articles are usually written by authoritative practitioners, which would add credence to your literature review. Also, textbooks are infamous for being a tad too generalized in their handling of topics. So, when you use a book as your source, you’d miss out on some aspects of your problem hence watering down your review.

Need help? Feel free to buy a research paper online from the professional writers at!

3. Gathering and evaluating literature

Once you’ve searched for the sources you need, read their summaries/abstracts to get a sense of what you’d be dealing with.

The initial skimming will enable you to categorize the sources according to what they tackle. After assigning them to different groups, you should go ahead and read all the articles to get the findings that each presents.

On reading, you should start evaluating the materials according to currency and relevance. A custom research paper is a good place to start when learning to evaluate sources. That’s because a research paper help can show you how to look out for the credibility and quality of arguments that journal articles contain.

4. Writing the literature review

Research Paper Writing- (3)

Even though your literature review could probably be a section in your research paper, it should still include the format of a formal piece of writing. It should have an introduction, body, and a conclusion. All these within the word-count limits your research paper prescribes.

In the introduction, provide a summary of the problem your paper’s dealing with. You should also indicate how you carried out your evaluation. You could show the criteria for inclusion or exclusion you used to find your literature, for example.

In the body, it’s advisable to review the sources in a thematic manner. After you break down your subject topic into sub-topics, the smaller themes will give you a sound basis to review your articles. Look at this research paper, for example. You’ll notice how the author has tackled aspects of mental illness in each paragraph of the review.

In the conclusion, give a summary of your findings. Identify any gaps in the research that you think should be solved through further studies. However, if your sources provided a sufficient insight into your subject area, the conclusion would serve as an appropriate section to introduce your conceptual framework.

5. Writing the bibliography/references list

The bibliography should list all the sources you used in your literature review. When you buy a research paper, you’ll notice that the reference lists are ordered alphabetically.

Good research papers inform major policy decisions. That’s why when you buy a research paper, the bibliography could contain up to hundreds of sources. That shows the amount of investigation that went into the review. Likewise, it’s advisable that you also gather as many sources as possible when reviewing literature.


Subscribe for special offers