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Conducting a Literature Review

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Ways to organize your review

Chronologically by Events 
If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. For example, a literature review that focuses on continuing research about the emergence of German economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union.

By Publication Date
Order your sources by publication date if the order demonstrates an important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on environmental studies of brown fields if the progression revealed, for example, a change in the soil collection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies.

Thematically (“conceptual categories”)
Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic review. For example, a review of the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics could focus on the development of online political satire. While the study focuses on one topic, the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics, it will still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The only difference here between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note however that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point made.

A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. For the Internet in American presidential politics project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of American presidents on American, British, and French websites. Or the review might focus on the fundraising impact of the Internet on a particular political party. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

Adapted from Michael Pearce's LibGuide

Elements of a Good Literature Review


  • Defines or identifies the topic, issue, or area of concern and why it is important.
  • Points out trends in what has been published about the topic, or conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in research and scholarship.
  • Includes major theorists and landmark theories.
  • States the reason (and point of view) for writing the review; explains the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and the organization of the review; mentions the scope of the literature (what is included and not included).


  • Categorizes and organizes the literature (empirical research, theory, meta-analysis) in similar group. For example, qualitative versus quantitative approaches, conclusions of authors, chronological, etc.
  • Summarizes individual studies or articles.
  • Provides a synthesis of the research reviewed.
  • Provides the reader with strong "umbrella" sentences at the beginnings of paragraphs, "signposts" throughout, and brief "so what" summary sentences at intermediate points in the review to aid in understanding comparisons and analysis


  • Summarize major contributions of significant studies and articles.
  • Point out major methodological flaws or gaps in the research, inconsistencies in theory and findings, and areas for future study.

Adapted from: