4 Tips for writing a literature review

library stacksLiterature reviews are common elements in academic writing, found in dissertations or theses, but also in journal articles, book introductions, book chapters, and even course exercises. Despite its prevalence in academia, the process of writing a literature review is often daunting to an academic author.

In her recent TAA webinar, “Demystifying the Literature Review”, Dr. Daveena Tauber, founder of Scholar Studio, shared four tips that can make the process easier.

Tip #1: Respond to the literature as you read rather than waiting until you’re done reading.

According to Tauber, one of the key purposes of a literature review is to identify and describe a “gap” in the literature. By employing advanced reading and notetaking skills during the reading process, the researcher can evaluate the strength of the literature individually or collectively.

Tip #2: Always record the author, year, and page number next to any quote, paraphrase, or note.

Common methods for conducting a literature review include either the use of a spreadsheet or notes to organize the sources. Regardless of the method used to collect the resources, Tauber advises the inclusion of these details – author, year, and page number – with each entry to make it easy to locate the source again, when necessary.

Tip #3: Use synthesis (rather than summary) as the main structure of the literature review.

Tauber suggests to researchers that you “use summary as an ‘ingredient’ in your literature review rather than as the entire review”. Instead of summarizing the individual sources, she advises to “identify ‘buckets’ of literature within your larger literature review to create a way to organize sources or suggest an organizational structure for the literature review itself”.

Tip #4: Synthesis sounds different in different fields. Read literature reviews in your field.

Applying this tip to your literature review process requires reading as a writer. Look at other literature reviews in your field to evaluate the writing style used. Tauber notes, “In the sciences, synthesis may sound like summary, but the citations show that there are areas of debate or consensus.”

For these tips and more about the literature review process, see the complete webinar in the TAA Presentations on Demand library.


Eric SchmiederEric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.