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PALNI Information Literacy Modules

Set of 14 modules available for use as LMS or LibGuide versions

Module 13: Literature Reviews


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(JESHOOTS.COM, Unsplash)

Have you been assigned a literature review and have no idea what it is or where to start? Don't fret! In this module, what literature reviews are and some tips on how to write them will be reviewed. You’ll then complete an activity and quiz to improve comprehension. 

Learning Outcomes

After completing this module, you will be able to: 

  • List different ways to organize a literature review.
  • Discuss what should be included in each section of a literature review.
  • Successfully write a literature review.

What is a Literature Review?

So, what is a literature review? It’s exactly what it says—it’s a review of the published literature on a specific topic. When writing a literature review, you want to read and write about everything you can possibly find regarding your topic, which typically consists of books and scholarly articles written by experts in the field you are researching.

By conducting your literature review, you’ll find patterns and trends in the professional literature, influential people and studies, and also identify any gaps in the research that can help you recognize areas that can be studied in the future. 

Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

According to Scribbir (2020) there are four main ways you can structure your literature review, so choose the way that is most appropriate for your topic. Each of the four ways will allow you to identify trends and patterns in the literature, which is one of the main purposes of writing a literature review. 

  • Chronologically: Writing about the sources in order from oldest to newest. This structure answers the questions: what were some of the first studies that were conducted regarding your topic and how has the research or topic evolved over time? 
  • Thematically: Structuring your sources by theme, such as methodology, populations studied, concept addressed, etc. 
  • Methodologically: Organizing your sources by which methods were utilized in the studies you are reading about. Did scholars investigate your topic in similar or different ways? Was one methodology utilized more than others? Are there other methodologies that have yet to be studied? 
  • Theoretically: Identifying and discussing opposing theories regarding your topic.  

Writing the Literature Review

In the introduction, you need to establish your research question, give a brief background on the topic if you’re not writing chronologically, state the importance of your topic and why the reader should care about it, and lastly discuss the scope of your literature review. 

In the body of your literature review (which should be the longest part of your paper), you are going to summarize, synthesize, and analyze each source. Analyze means to break something down into parts (like you’ll do for each source) and synthesize means to bring things together (how you’ll explain how different sources relate to one another). You’ll evaluate each source’s strengths and weaknesses. Have any patterns in the research emerged? Do studies support earlier studies, or contradict them? Are there influential studies that always get mentioned? If so, be sure to read those!

It’s important when writing the body of your literature review that you use topic sentences and transitions so that your lit review has a logical flow. 

Last is the conclusion section. Here is where you’ll summarize major findings, discuss the implications of the published research, and identify research gaps, or areas of future research. You want to make sure that your literature review is exhaustive, meaning you’ve attempted to find all the published research on your topic—you don’t want to leave anything important out! 

Tips and Tricks

  • Start early! Don't procrastinate!  In order to find everything that has been written on your topic, you’ll probably have to utilize interlibrary loan services and request articles and books from other libraries in the United States. Did I mention this service is free? It can take a few days to a few weeks to receive those sources, so make sure you are allowing yourself enough time to do a thorough job. 
  • You only need to start off with one substantial article—once you’ve found that, be sure to look at the sources that are cited in the article’s bibliography, and then you can find those. If you don’t know how to find sources in a bibliography, that’s a great time to schedule an appointment with a reference librarian!
  • Think of all the possible synonyms that could be used to describe your search terms. Are you writing about teenagers? If so, you should also search for young adults, adolescents, and teens. You want to make sure you’re including words in your search that various authors writing about your topic are using.  Has your topic been studied globally? Don’t forget to include different spelling variations of your search terms. Failing to use synonyms and spelling variations could mean you miss some important literature!
  • Look in more than one place. Are you unfamiliar with the variety of databases your library subscribes to? Again, this is a great time to make an appointment with a librarian! They can suggest numerous places you can look so that your research is in-depth enough to be exhaustive. 
  • Don’t forget to use Google Scholar. It has a great feature which tells you how many times a source has been cited, so this can be very helpful in identifying pivotal studies that you want to make sure you include in your review. 
  • Utilize your friendly librarian! They help students with research every day, so they are sure to teach you some tips and tricks to make your research process more enjoyable!  

Citation from Google 


The content for this module was drawn from the following sources:

Klohe, K., Koudou, B. G., Fenwick, A., Fleming, F., Garba, A., Gouvras, A., Harding-Esch, E. M., Knopp, S., Molyneux, D., D’Souza, S., Utzinger, J., Vounatsou, P., Waltz, J., Zhang, Y., & Rollinson, D. (2021). A systematic literature review of schistosomiasis in urban and peri-urban settings. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 15(2), 1–19.

Plachouri, K.-M., Florou, V., & Gorgeous, S. (2019). Therapeutic strategies for pigmented purpuric dermatoses: A systematic literature review. Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 30(2), 105-109.

Scribbir. (2020). How to write a good literature review. [Video].

Traylor, A. M., Stahr, E., & Salas, E. (2020). Team coaching: Three questions and a look ahead: A systematic literature review. International Coaching Psychology Review, 15(2), 54–68.

Activity and Quiz

See the Google doc here for activity and quiz questions and answers. Please note, this document is stored on the PALNI team drive and is only accessible to those who work in a PALNI school.


Creative Commons License

All of the PALNI Information Literacy Modules are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.