Literature Reviews

Literature review: A report of information from journal articles that focus on the topic of interest. Often used to determine gaps in the literature, and it includes an analysis and interpretation of the published information.

Literature reviews can be a standalone document or it can be a component of another document (e.g. lab report).


Lit Professions That Use Literature Reviews


Physicians perform literature reviews to determine the most effective treatment for their specific patient.


Psychologists perform literature reviews to keep up to date in their field and to determine treatment options for their patients.

basic scientist

Basic scientists perform literature reviews to determine research gaps prior to completing studies and to stay up to date in their field.

pharmaceutical INDUSTRY

Pharmaceutical companies perform literature reviews to  discover and support potential medications.

Tips and Tricks



Refrain from picking a broad topic for your literature review as you will risk having too much information which can be ovewhelming.

Perform your research methodically

Use the journal articles - "How do I search for one" tab to learn how to search efficiently. Organize your research such that each body's information is easy to find.

Synthesize & criticize 

Take your research information and make your own conclusions and critically analyze (refer to critical appraisal tab) the information. DO NOT JUST summarize the research, but some summarizing is required.

Tell a story

Ensure that your information and your conclusions flow such that it is easy for the reader to follow. Telling a story using your information is the easiest way to do this.

How to Synthesize and Critique?



  • In the introduction, provide a combined summary of the background information from the articles used in each body subheading.

  • Provide summarized information from articles in each body paragraph but ensure you synthesize most of the information.


  • Compare and contrast journal articles. 

    • Identify the differences and controversies in opinions
    • Use a synthesis matrix to help.
  • Find holes/gaps in the current literature surrounding the topic of interest.

  • Based on the results and conclusions of multiple papers, make your own conclusions on the topic of interest with evidence to support them.

Synthesis Matrix

What is it? Why do you use it?

  • It is used to help you record the main points/ideas/themes of journal articles and allows you to determine how the journal articles related to one another

  • After determining how your journal articles relate to one another you can start to determine how you will combine them into a narrative/story that leads to your own conclusion.

  • Example

    • Topic: Endothelium Dysfunction is a Major Risk Factor in the Development of Peripheral Artery Disease in Diabetic Patients

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Helpful links for writing a literature review:

Link 1

Link 2


Literature Review Outline

What is it? Why do you use it?

  • It is used to help you organize your thoughts and information, making it easier for when you start writing your literature review!

  • It will help you figure out where information from the different articles you have read fit into the 3 themes you have chosen

  • For the 4930 course, Dr. C will provide you with feedback to help point you in the right direction for your literature review! (this is super helpful, so take the time to do it properly!)

  • This outline can be applied to not just literature reviews—you may find it useful for other assignments in other courses as well!

  • Remember: This is just to help you organize your ideas. Feel free to change your body sections and points later if you feel it no longer fits with your theme!

  • Example: Click Me!

Formatting & Organizing Your Literature Review

Use This Analogy to Help You Understand What a Literature Review Aims to Do...

Have you heard of the Burkean parlor metaphor? The metaphor says that you walk into a parlor, and there are different people talking about different things at different tables. You try to understand what's going on... You walk over to a table and join an academic conversation that began way before your time. The people conversing are authors that have published findings throughout the years and are having a conversation through time. In literature reviews, it is your responsibility to help the reader, the person who walks into the parlor, understand what is happening at all those tables.

How Should I Organize My Literature Review?

A lot of students organize their paper based on the author...


However, this format lacks synthesis. Instead, your paper should be organized by themes. To help you understand how to do this, refer to the graphics below.


The big bubble represents all the literature on your topic, with the size of the bubble depending on how broad your topic is. As you read articles, you can identify themes within them, and start breaking up the large bubble into smaller bubbles (themes)


Each bucket represents a theme. As you collect more sources (articles), you can place them in the appropriate theme bucket.

How Should I Organize My Literature Review? Cont.

TIP: Read all your sources before you start writing! But don't go overboard with sources either! Having an extensive source list can make for a messy, irrelevant review!


This theme-based organization (rather than an author-based organization) is idea driven. You can then label each theme (i.e. the bubbles/buckets) and make them into subheadings. You then want to take all the sources from each bubble/bucket (theme) and organize them into the main points for each body section. 

Overall, this is what your literature review should look like:

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Note: An author can appear in multiple body sections as long as the information is relevant to the theme of each body section. 

How Do I Structure My Lit Review?




Notice how the triangles for the introduction and body sections are upside down. This means that you want to start general and be more specific as the paper progresses. 



  • Provides background information/general knowledge to prepare readers for the more specific content later on

  • As you near the end, the content should become more and more specific in regards to the topic of your paper



  • Each small triangle represents a theme (subheading)

  • Each body section should start off broad and become more specific (upside down triangle!)

  • Overall, the entire body section should also flow from general to specific (Notice how there is a big triangle that encapsulates the smaller triangles? This means that your body sections should all still be related and tell a story even though each section discusses a separate theme!) 

  • Notice that the triangles overlap! There should be a smooth transition in content when you move from one theme to the next



  • This section is different from the rest! You want to start off specific and become broader towards the end

  • Start by discussing the main findings/ideas and how it relates to the overall objective of your paper (specific)

  • Then go on to discuss any gaps in the literature, future directions, and implications for science  (broad—how it applies to the overall field of study)

Cisco, J. (2014). Teaching the literature review: A practical approach for college instructors. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 2(3), 41-57.