How to write a literature review outline

How to write a literature review outline

Are you stuck in writing your literature review outline? Worry no more. This article highlights the tips on how to write a literature review outline.

If you have not come across a literature review assignment paper, be prepared for it. Though the outline resembles other types of research papers, it has some special features. Before learning the outline, it is important to know the definition, purpose, and importance of a literature review paper.

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What is a literature review?

Many students do not understand what literature review is. It is a type of academic writing that summarizes previous research on a topic within a certain time frame.

This type of academic writing requires the writer to analyze and read various sources that connect to the main subject. It also helps in presenting the unique publications of the research. A literature review should combine certain writing with the documents it has used.

A summary is a short-lived overview of important points in a published research work. It gives the research work unique and new meaning. A literature review can be a part of other assignments like dissertation papers or thesis but sometimes it can be a stand-alone assignment.

Purpose of a literature review

The main aim of a literature review is to synthesize and summarize ideas created by previous writers. This is achieved without adding new information or implementing any personal opinion. A literature review does not only aim at summarizing the source of information but also, to notice the central trend within all the publications.

Just like a research paper has a thesis statement that guides it, a literature review paper has the main organizing principle (MOP). The goal of the writing is to recognize the MOP and show how the other ideas point into it.

Importance of a literature review

  • It highlights the major topic with a specific area of subject
  • It explains and demonstrates research of a particular subject matter and the background
  • It helps in finding out key principles, themes, concepts, and researchers that exist within a certain topic
  • Helps in revealing the relationship between existing studies and ideas on a subject
  • Helps in revealing major controversial points and gaps in a topic
  • Helps in suggesting points that may lead to further research of a topic

How long should be a literature review outline?

When writing a literature review outline, it is important to know how long it should be. This helps in determining the number of words to fix in every section. In many cases, the length of your literature review depends on the instructions of your paper. Ensure you read the instructions of the literature review assignment carefully.

If your instructor has not provided any details for the literature review length, it should occupy 20 the 30% of your entire paper. When writing your literature review as a stand-alone assignment, the length should be specified in the instructions of the paper.

Literature review formatting, MLA, APA, and Chicago styles

While writing your literature review essay, ensure the format you use adheres to the referencing style provided by your instructor. If you are not sure, seek clarification to ensure you do not mess up anywhere. Ensure you are aware of;

  1. The type and number of sources you should review (journals, websites, articles, or published materials)
  2. The format you will use to cite the sources
  3. The length of your review
  4. If your review has a personal critique a summary or a synthesis
  5. Whether your review will have background information or subheadings for your sources

How to write a literature review APA outline

If you have been instructed or want to use APA style for your literature review outline, follow these rules;

  • Apply a margin of one inch
  • Use double spacing throughout the paper unless instructed otherwise
  • Ensure you select a readable font, the most preferred one is times new roman 12 point size
  • Put a header at the top of every page in capital letters, it should be the essay title limited to 50 characters or less, including punctuation and space
  • Include page numbers on the upper right corner of all the pages

When using this style, remember to include a page title. This should include; the title, author’s name, and the institution of affiliation. Ensure that your title is typed with lowercase and uppercase letters and centered at the upper side of the page. Use a maximum of 12 words.

To understand more, you can search for a literature review outline example of APA online. You will get the hidden facts about writing the essay type. 

While using MLA style, use the following guidelines;

  • Apply one-inch margin for your pages
  • Use double spacing in the entire paper
  • Leave ½ inch indent for all new paragraphs
  • The most preferred font for this style is times new roman 12 point size

Put a header at the top of the first page or on the title page. While using MLA style, it’s not necessary to use a title page. But if you wish, you can include one. The header in this format should have your name, your instructor’s name, class, course, section number, and the due date for the assignment.

Put a running head at the top right corner of every page. Include your last/ sir name and the page number on the running head. They should be separated by a space. Do not put abbreviations before the numbers.

For Chicago style in our literature review, apply the following guideline;

  • Set a page margin of one inch on both sides of your page
  • Use double spacing for the whole paper excluding figure captions, black quotes, notes, table titles, and entries within the references or bibliography
  • Paragraphs should not be separated by spaces
  • Choose a readable and clear font, preferably courier and times new roman not less than 10 font size
  • Include your full name, date, and class information in the title/cover page
  • Center your cover page and place it at the bottom leaving a 1/3 space
  • Place the page numbers on the right corner upper side

How to outline a literature review

Like the other types of academic papers, literature review follows a five-paragraph rule. This includes the body, introduction, and conclusion. Here are the components of an outline for literature review;

  1. Introduction

Introduce your concept in a few paragraphs. Ensure your introduction starts with a hook sentence that connects the reader to the entire essay. After outlining your concept, narrow your introduction to focus on the main organizing principle (MOP).

  1. Body paragraphs

Each body paragraph should focus on a specific source mentioned in the introduction. This should be structured in the most consistent way possible.

Body paragraphs should start with a topic sentence and then other supporting sentences. The points should be arranged chronologically, methodologically, theoretically, and thematically.

  • Chronologically

By breaking down sources into their publication date, you can keep a proper historical timeline. It can also help provide examples of a certain concept over time.

Try to analyze key debates, turning points, and patterns that have shaped the direction of the fields. Explain in your understanding why and how there have been certain developments in the field.

  • Theoretically

A literature review is mostly the foundation of a theoretical framework. You can apply it while discussing different theories, key concepts, and models. You may continue urging the relevance of specific theoretical approaches or combine various concepts of theory for your research framework.

  • Thematically

Instead of just following the timeline, try looking at the link between your sources and your MOP. Sometimes, the main idea may just be a glare from a piece of literature, while other times, the author will have to look for examples to prove their point.

For example, if you are reviewing themes concerning immigrant health care, the key themes may include; cultural attitudes, economic access, legal status, and language barriers.

  • Methodologically

A structure that uses the law-and-order approach is commonly used to structure a concept. For example, in George Orwell’s 1984 novel, he uses this method to describe the dangers of a dystopian society.

Another good example is Shelly’s novel where the character’s physical traits were revealed, forcing him to endure an isolated environment. By depicting these elements in a way that shows how they affected the overall impact, the writer can compare them.

If you decide to draw your sources from different fields or disciplines, you can use a variety of research methods. You can compare the conclusions and results that come out of using different approaches. For example;

  • Look at the results you got from quantitative versus qualitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by theoretical versus empirical scholarship
  • Divide your literature into cultural, historical, or sociological sources

As you write your body paragraphs, follow the following tips;

  • Synthesize and summarize

Ensure you give an overview of the main points for every source. Also, combine them into one writing for your literature review.

  • Interpret and analyze

Interpret other sources as you understand instead of only paraphrasing. This will help you get deep into the sources for your literature review.

  • Evaluate critically

Ensure you mention all the strengths and weaknesses of your sources. This will help the reader to understand your literature review and know any gaps in the field of research.

  • Structure your paragraphs in the correct way

Use topic sentences and transition words to connect, compare or contrast your points and ideas. Do not write extra-long paragraphs. Every paragraph should have three to four sentences.

  1. Conclusion

After presenting the findings in your body paragraphs, you can conclude your essay with three objectives.

Summarize the findings of your research by answering the question, what have you have learned. After this, show the significance of the information you have provided. For example, how it can be applied in current society.

Lastly, provide any areas that need further research. This means that the reader can predict where further research is heading to.

Literature review outline

Many students underestimate the importance of having a rough outline for their literature review. Having a rough outline will help avoid making the writing process more challenging. With this, it will be easier to follow the right format.

From the guide on how to write a literature review outline, you realize that every part plays a significant role in the essay. A literature review outline is a section of your essay that summarizes the main ideas of your review. While writing, ensure it meets its objectives and the introduction’s general structure.

It is important to bear in mind that a literature review outline is different from that of other essay types. This is because it does not provide any new ideas or information. It focuses on only existing research and studies relevant to the subject.

A literature review example

If you have no idea how a literature review essay looks like, worry not. Here is a literature review example that covers the topic of the Coronavirus.


  1. Do an introduction of the general topic; give the general background information about the virus, transmission, pathogenesis epidemiology, and treatment.
  2. Share your main reason for research, research question, for example, what is the potential role of biological or mechanical vectors in the transmission of coronavirus?
  3. Methodology of research; how the information was searched and the standard form used to extract data
  4. Outcomes/results expected
  5. The overall trend in literature and its topics, for example, the main treatment of the virus remains unknown but the vaccine to reduce its effects in the body has been found

Body section

Subject 1; this section provides a brief overview of the main findings of a particular study, as well as a review of the various aspects of the research.

Subject 2; this section presents a brief overview of the various aspects of a particular study, including an analysis of the key findings, methods, and procedures used in the study

Subject 3; a brief overview of the main findings and those of a particular study. A review of the various aspects of the study


  1. Show the relationships between the discussed pieces of literature, emphasize the trends, common patterns, and key themes
  2. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the different themes used
  3. State the studies that seem most influential
  4. Emphasize the main points of controversy and define the gaps yet to be covered
  5. Where possible, talk about how your study contributes to further research about the topic

This sample is a good guideline to help you learn how to do a literature review outline. If you need more to learn how to organize your literature review paper, seek help from the best assignment help website.

Steps for developing a good literature review outline

Whether you are writing a stand-alone or large research framework literature review outline, the writing remains the same.

Whether you are writing an essay, research paper, or a dissertation literature review outline, the format remains the same. You already know the rules to follow while writing a literature review and the basic outline. Here are the steps to take while handling the task;

  1. Identify the topic

This is the only area you will approach differently depending on whether you are writing a stand-alone or another work’s literature review. When writing a literature review as a part of another research project, search for literature related to your problem or the research questions.

When writing a stand-alone literature review, select a relevant topic and an essential topic from which you will be collecting literature. Look for engaging and debatable topics to handle. Here are a few examples of topics you can write about;

  • Physical and emotional survival in “Lord of the Flies” “Congo and Hatchet”
  • Corruption and power
  • Understanding moral dilemmas
  • Isolationism
  • Exploring racism in “to kill a Mockingbird”
  1. Conduct research

After defining a topic clearly, start collecting data and information for the review. You can start by collecting a list of keywords connected to your central question. This helps in making the entire process of research simple and getting relevant published works faster.

When you have a compiled list of keywords, use them to search for valid sources of information. Ensure you use only trusted sources of information such as online scientific databases, universities, and libraries, government sources among others.

  1. Prioritize and assess sources

When doing research, you are likely to find sources to include in your literature review. Many students make mistakes at this point trying to fit all the sources collected into their reviews. Evaluate all your sources and select the only relevant ones.

You might not be able to read every source, that’s why it is important to prioritize. When evaluating your sources, consider the following;

  • Credibility
  • Relevancy
  • Novelty
  • Key insights
  • Influence
  • Innovation

As you read the sources, remember to take important notes to incorporate later in the review. Place your citations early to be able to create annotated bibliography later after writing your literature review outline.

For each publication you come across, ask yourself the following questions;

  • What problem or question is the writer addressing?
  • What are the key concepts are and how they have been defined
  • What are the key methods, theories, and models? Has the research taken an innovative approach?
  • What are the conclusions and results of the studies?
  • Does the publication relate to other pieces of literature in the field? Does it challenge, confirm or add knowledge?
  • Does the publication add to your understanding of the field of study?
  • What are the key arguments and insights of the study?
  • What are the weaknesses and strengths of the research?
  1. Identify gaps, relationships, and key ideas

Before you move on to writing your literature review, establish the relationship between the existing studies. This will help you find the best literature review outline generator. It will also help you show how your research has contributed to the field. Here are some of the key points to remember at this stage;

  • The main theme
  • Debates and contradictions
  • Theories and influential studies
  • Patterns and trends
  • Gaps

Mentioned above are a few examples of what to consider. Common trends may include focusing on specific people from different regions. Contradictions may involve some disagreements concerning the outcomes and theories of a study. A gap refers to an area that has not fully been researched.

  1. Develop an outline

Developing an outline is one of the most important steps while writing a literature review essay. It is an easy way of organizing your text to ensure that you do not leave any information out. This guide has already discussed the basic structure and an example of a literature review outline.

  1. Write your literature review

After creating your citations, notes, sources, and a detailed outline, you can proceed to the writing stage. Follow the outline you created and the plan you have for your essay. Also, remember to follow all the instructions provided for the literature review paper.

  1. Final touches

This is the last part of writing your literature review outline. It involves editing and proofreading your work to get rid of plagiarism, poorly constructed sentences, and any grammatical errors. Take enough time in this stage if you want to score good grades in your literature review essay.

Before editing and proofreading, put your literature review aside for a day or two. This will give your mind space to relax and do it with a fresh mind. You can also give a friend or a family member your literature review essay to edit and proofread.

To sum up

Developing an outline is one of the major activities while writing a literature review essay. Many students have no idea about coming up with one. This article has discussed how to write a literature review outline to help stuck students.

A literature review essay follows the 5 paragraph structure just like any other academic paper. You should create a main organization principle (MOP) and come up with other ideas supporting it. Ensure your information begins from a broad perspective, then narrow it down to specific points.

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