Have a language expert improve your writing

Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.

  • Knowledge Base

Methodology

  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

Instantly correct all language mistakes in your text

Upload your document to correct all your mistakes in minutes

upload-your-document-ai-proofreader

Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

Here's why students love Scribbr's proofreading services

Discover proofreading & editing

Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

Receive feedback on language, structure, and formatting

Professional editors proofread and edit your paper by focusing on:

  • Academic style
  • Vague sentences
  • Style consistency

See an example

how to do a literature review paper

To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

Open Google Slides Download PowerPoint

If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

McCombes, S. (2023, September 11). How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates. Scribbr. Retrieved April 2, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/literature-review/

Is this article helpful?

Shona McCombes

Shona McCombes

Other students also liked, what is a theoretical framework | guide to organizing, what is a research methodology | steps & tips, how to write a research proposal | examples & templates, what is your plagiarism score.

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Writing a Literature Review

OWL logo

Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.

Introduction:

  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

Conclusion:

  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The .gov means it’s official. Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.

The site is secure. The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

  • Publications
  • Account settings

Preview improvements coming to the PMC website in October 2024. Learn More or Try it out now .

  • Advanced Search
  • Journal List
  • PLoS Comput Biol
  • v.9(7); 2013 Jul

Logo of ploscomp

Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

Marco pautasso.

1 Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), CNRS, Montpellier, France

2 Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB), FRB, Aix-en-Provence, France

Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications [1] . For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively [2] . Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every single new paper relevant to their interests [3] . Thus, it is both advantageous and necessary to rely on regular summaries of the recent literature. Although recognition for scientists mainly comes from primary research, timely literature reviews can lead to new synthetic insights and are often widely read [4] . For such summaries to be useful, however, they need to be compiled in a professional way [5] .

When starting from scratch, reviewing the literature can require a titanic amount of work. That is why researchers who have spent their career working on a certain research issue are in a perfect position to review that literature. Some graduate schools are now offering courses in reviewing the literature, given that most research students start their project by producing an overview of what has already been done on their research issue [6] . However, it is likely that most scientists have not thought in detail about how to approach and carry out a literature review.

Reviewing the literature requires the ability to juggle multiple tasks, from finding and evaluating relevant material to synthesising information from various sources, from critical thinking to paraphrasing, evaluating, and citation skills [7] . In this contribution, I share ten simple rules I learned working on about 25 literature reviews as a PhD and postdoctoral student. Ideas and insights also come from discussions with coauthors and colleagues, as well as feedback from reviewers and editors.

Rule 1: Define a Topic and Audience

How to choose which topic to review? There are so many issues in contemporary science that you could spend a lifetime of attending conferences and reading the literature just pondering what to review. On the one hand, if you take several years to choose, several other people may have had the same idea in the meantime. On the other hand, only a well-considered topic is likely to lead to a brilliant literature review [8] . The topic must at least be:

  • interesting to you (ideally, you should have come across a series of recent papers related to your line of work that call for a critical summary),
  • an important aspect of the field (so that many readers will be interested in the review and there will be enough material to write it), and
  • a well-defined issue (otherwise you could potentially include thousands of publications, which would make the review unhelpful).

Ideas for potential reviews may come from papers providing lists of key research questions to be answered [9] , but also from serendipitous moments during desultory reading and discussions. In addition to choosing your topic, you should also select a target audience. In many cases, the topic (e.g., web services in computational biology) will automatically define an audience (e.g., computational biologists), but that same topic may also be of interest to neighbouring fields (e.g., computer science, biology, etc.).

Rule 2: Search and Re-search the Literature

After having chosen your topic and audience, start by checking the literature and downloading relevant papers. Five pieces of advice here:

  • keep track of the search items you use (so that your search can be replicated [10] ),
  • keep a list of papers whose pdfs you cannot access immediately (so as to retrieve them later with alternative strategies),
  • use a paper management system (e.g., Mendeley, Papers, Qiqqa, Sente),
  • define early in the process some criteria for exclusion of irrelevant papers (these criteria can then be described in the review to help define its scope), and
  • do not just look for research papers in the area you wish to review, but also seek previous reviews.

The chances are high that someone will already have published a literature review ( Figure 1 ), if not exactly on the issue you are planning to tackle, at least on a related topic. If there are already a few or several reviews of the literature on your issue, my advice is not to give up, but to carry on with your own literature review,

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is pcbi.1003149.g001.jpg

The bottom-right situation (many literature reviews but few research papers) is not just a theoretical situation; it applies, for example, to the study of the impacts of climate change on plant diseases, where there appear to be more literature reviews than research studies [33] .

  • discussing in your review the approaches, limitations, and conclusions of past reviews,
  • trying to find a new angle that has not been covered adequately in the previous reviews, and
  • incorporating new material that has inevitably accumulated since their appearance.

When searching the literature for pertinent papers and reviews, the usual rules apply:

  • be thorough,
  • use different keywords and database sources (e.g., DBLP, Google Scholar, ISI Proceedings, JSTOR Search, Medline, Scopus, Web of Science), and
  • look at who has cited past relevant papers and book chapters.

Rule 3: Take Notes While Reading

If you read the papers first, and only afterwards start writing the review, you will need a very good memory to remember who wrote what, and what your impressions and associations were while reading each single paper. My advice is, while reading, to start writing down interesting pieces of information, insights about how to organize the review, and thoughts on what to write. This way, by the time you have read the literature you selected, you will already have a rough draft of the review.

Of course, this draft will still need much rewriting, restructuring, and rethinking to obtain a text with a coherent argument [11] , but you will have avoided the danger posed by staring at a blank document. Be careful when taking notes to use quotation marks if you are provisionally copying verbatim from the literature. It is advisable then to reformulate such quotes with your own words in the final draft. It is important to be careful in noting the references already at this stage, so as to avoid misattributions. Using referencing software from the very beginning of your endeavour will save you time.

Rule 4: Choose the Type of Review You Wish to Write

After having taken notes while reading the literature, you will have a rough idea of the amount of material available for the review. This is probably a good time to decide whether to go for a mini- or a full review. Some journals are now favouring the publication of rather short reviews focusing on the last few years, with a limit on the number of words and citations. A mini-review is not necessarily a minor review: it may well attract more attention from busy readers, although it will inevitably simplify some issues and leave out some relevant material due to space limitations. A full review will have the advantage of more freedom to cover in detail the complexities of a particular scientific development, but may then be left in the pile of the very important papers “to be read” by readers with little time to spare for major monographs.

There is probably a continuum between mini- and full reviews. The same point applies to the dichotomy of descriptive vs. integrative reviews. While descriptive reviews focus on the methodology, findings, and interpretation of each reviewed study, integrative reviews attempt to find common ideas and concepts from the reviewed material [12] . A similar distinction exists between narrative and systematic reviews: while narrative reviews are qualitative, systematic reviews attempt to test a hypothesis based on the published evidence, which is gathered using a predefined protocol to reduce bias [13] , [14] . When systematic reviews analyse quantitative results in a quantitative way, they become meta-analyses. The choice between different review types will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, depending not just on the nature of the material found and the preferences of the target journal(s), but also on the time available to write the review and the number of coauthors [15] .

Rule 5: Keep the Review Focused, but Make It of Broad Interest

Whether your plan is to write a mini- or a full review, it is good advice to keep it focused 16 , 17 . Including material just for the sake of it can easily lead to reviews that are trying to do too many things at once. The need to keep a review focused can be problematic for interdisciplinary reviews, where the aim is to bridge the gap between fields [18] . If you are writing a review on, for example, how epidemiological approaches are used in modelling the spread of ideas, you may be inclined to include material from both parent fields, epidemiology and the study of cultural diffusion. This may be necessary to some extent, but in this case a focused review would only deal in detail with those studies at the interface between epidemiology and the spread of ideas.

While focus is an important feature of a successful review, this requirement has to be balanced with the need to make the review relevant to a broad audience. This square may be circled by discussing the wider implications of the reviewed topic for other disciplines.

Rule 6: Be Critical and Consistent

Reviewing the literature is not stamp collecting. A good review does not just summarize the literature, but discusses it critically, identifies methodological problems, and points out research gaps [19] . After having read a review of the literature, a reader should have a rough idea of:

  • the major achievements in the reviewed field,
  • the main areas of debate, and
  • the outstanding research questions.

It is challenging to achieve a successful review on all these fronts. A solution can be to involve a set of complementary coauthors: some people are excellent at mapping what has been achieved, some others are very good at identifying dark clouds on the horizon, and some have instead a knack at predicting where solutions are going to come from. If your journal club has exactly this sort of team, then you should definitely write a review of the literature! In addition to critical thinking, a literature review needs consistency, for example in the choice of passive vs. active voice and present vs. past tense.

Rule 7: Find a Logical Structure

Like a well-baked cake, a good review has a number of telling features: it is worth the reader's time, timely, systematic, well written, focused, and critical. It also needs a good structure. With reviews, the usual subdivision of research papers into introduction, methods, results, and discussion does not work or is rarely used. However, a general introduction of the context and, toward the end, a recapitulation of the main points covered and take-home messages make sense also in the case of reviews. For systematic reviews, there is a trend towards including information about how the literature was searched (database, keywords, time limits) [20] .

How can you organize the flow of the main body of the review so that the reader will be drawn into and guided through it? It is generally helpful to draw a conceptual scheme of the review, e.g., with mind-mapping techniques. Such diagrams can help recognize a logical way to order and link the various sections of a review [21] . This is the case not just at the writing stage, but also for readers if the diagram is included in the review as a figure. A careful selection of diagrams and figures relevant to the reviewed topic can be very helpful to structure the text too [22] .

Rule 8: Make Use of Feedback

Reviews of the literature are normally peer-reviewed in the same way as research papers, and rightly so [23] . As a rule, incorporating feedback from reviewers greatly helps improve a review draft. Having read the review with a fresh mind, reviewers may spot inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and ambiguities that had not been noticed by the writers due to rereading the typescript too many times. It is however advisable to reread the draft one more time before submission, as a last-minute correction of typos, leaps, and muddled sentences may enable the reviewers to focus on providing advice on the content rather than the form.

Feedback is vital to writing a good review, and should be sought from a variety of colleagues, so as to obtain a diversity of views on the draft. This may lead in some cases to conflicting views on the merits of the paper, and on how to improve it, but such a situation is better than the absence of feedback. A diversity of feedback perspectives on a literature review can help identify where the consensus view stands in the landscape of the current scientific understanding of an issue [24] .

Rule 9: Include Your Own Relevant Research, but Be Objective

In many cases, reviewers of the literature will have published studies relevant to the review they are writing. This could create a conflict of interest: how can reviewers report objectively on their own work [25] ? Some scientists may be overly enthusiastic about what they have published, and thus risk giving too much importance to their own findings in the review. However, bias could also occur in the other direction: some scientists may be unduly dismissive of their own achievements, so that they will tend to downplay their contribution (if any) to a field when reviewing it.

In general, a review of the literature should neither be a public relations brochure nor an exercise in competitive self-denial. If a reviewer is up to the job of producing a well-organized and methodical review, which flows well and provides a service to the readership, then it should be possible to be objective in reviewing one's own relevant findings. In reviews written by multiple authors, this may be achieved by assigning the review of the results of a coauthor to different coauthors.

Rule 10: Be Up-to-Date, but Do Not Forget Older Studies

Given the progressive acceleration in the publication of scientific papers, today's reviews of the literature need awareness not just of the overall direction and achievements of a field of inquiry, but also of the latest studies, so as not to become out-of-date before they have been published. Ideally, a literature review should not identify as a major research gap an issue that has just been addressed in a series of papers in press (the same applies, of course, to older, overlooked studies (“sleeping beauties” [26] )). This implies that literature reviewers would do well to keep an eye on electronic lists of papers in press, given that it can take months before these appear in scientific databases. Some reviews declare that they have scanned the literature up to a certain point in time, but given that peer review can be a rather lengthy process, a full search for newly appeared literature at the revision stage may be worthwhile. Assessing the contribution of papers that have just appeared is particularly challenging, because there is little perspective with which to gauge their significance and impact on further research and society.

Inevitably, new papers on the reviewed topic (including independently written literature reviews) will appear from all quarters after the review has been published, so that there may soon be the need for an updated review. But this is the nature of science [27] – [32] . I wish everybody good luck with writing a review of the literature.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to M. Barbosa, K. Dehnen-Schmutz, T. Döring, D. Fontaneto, M. Garbelotto, O. Holdenrieder, M. Jeger, D. Lonsdale, A. MacLeod, P. Mills, M. Moslonka-Lefebvre, G. Stancanelli, P. Weisberg, and X. Xu for insights and discussions, and to P. Bourne, T. Matoni, and D. Smith for helpful comments on a previous draft.

Funding Statement

This work was funded by the French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) through its Centre for Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity data (CESAB), as part of the NETSEED research project. The funders had no role in the preparation of the manuscript.

  • Resources Home 🏠
  • Try SciSpace Copilot
  • Search research papers
  • Add Copilot Extension
  • Try AI Detector
  • Try Paraphraser
  • Try Citation Generator
  • April Papers
  • June Papers
  • July Papers

SciSpace Resources

How To Write A Literature Review - A Complete Guide

Deeptanshu D

Table of Contents

A literature review is much more than just another section in your research paper. It forms the very foundation of your research. It is a formal piece of writing where you analyze the existing theoretical framework, principles, and assumptions and use that as a base to shape your approach to the research question.

Curating and drafting a solid literature review section not only lends more credibility to your research paper but also makes your research tighter and better focused. But, writing literature reviews is a difficult task. It requires extensive reading, plus you have to consider market trends and technological and political changes, which tend to change in the blink of an eye.

Now streamline your literature review process with the help of SciSpace Copilot. With this AI research assistant, you can efficiently synthesize and analyze a vast amount of information, identify key themes and trends, and uncover gaps in the existing research. Get real-time explanations, summaries, and answers to your questions for the paper you're reviewing, making navigating and understanding the complex literature landscape easier.

Perform Literature reviews using SciSpace Copilot

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything from the definition of a literature review, its appropriate length, various types of literature reviews, and how to write one.

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a collation of survey, research, critical evaluation, and assessment of the existing literature in a preferred domain.

Eminent researcher and academic Arlene Fink, in her book Conducting Research Literature Reviews , defines it as the following:

“A literature review surveys books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated.

Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have explored while researching a particular topic, and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within a larger field of study.”

Simply put, a literature review can be defined as a critical discussion of relevant pre-existing research around your research question and carving out a definitive place for your study in the existing body of knowledge. Literature reviews can be presented in multiple ways: a section of an article, the whole research paper itself, or a chapter of your thesis.

A literature review paper

A literature review does function as a summary of sources, but it also allows you to analyze further, interpret, and examine the stated theories, methods, viewpoints, and, of course, the gaps in the existing content.

As an author, you can discuss and interpret the research question and its various aspects and debate your adopted methods to support the claim.

What is the purpose of a literature review?

A literature review is meant to help your readers understand the relevance of your research question and where it fits within the existing body of knowledge. As a researcher, you should use it to set the context, build your argument, and establish the need for your study.

What is the importance of a literature review?

The literature review is a critical part of research papers because it helps you:

  • Gain an in-depth understanding of your research question and the surrounding area
  • Convey that you have a thorough understanding of your research area and are up-to-date with the latest changes and advancements
  • Establish how your research is connected or builds on the existing body of knowledge and how it could contribute to further research
  • Elaborate on the validity and suitability of your theoretical framework and research methodology
  • Identify and highlight gaps and shortcomings in the existing body of knowledge and how things need to change
  • Convey to readers how your study is different or how it contributes to the research area

How long should a literature review be?

Ideally, the literature review should take up 15%-40% of the total length of your manuscript. So, if you have a 10,000-word research paper, the minimum word count could be 1500.

Your literature review format depends heavily on the kind of manuscript you are writing — an entire chapter in case of doctoral theses, a part of the introductory section in a research article, to a full-fledged review article that examines the previously published research on a topic.

Another determining factor is the type of research you are doing. The literature review section tends to be longer for secondary research projects than primary research projects.

What are the different types of literature reviews?

All literature reviews are not the same. There are a variety of possible approaches that you can take. It all depends on the type of research you are pursuing.

Here are the different types of literature reviews:

Argumentative review

It is called an argumentative review when you carefully present literature that only supports or counters a specific argument or premise to establish a viewpoint.

Integrative review

It is a type of literature review focused on building a comprehensive understanding of a topic by combining available theoretical frameworks and empirical evidence.

Methodological review

This approach delves into the ''how'' and the ''what" of the research question —  you cannot look at the outcome in isolation; you should also review the methodology used.

Systematic review

This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research and collect, report, and analyze data from the studies included in the review.

Meta-analysis review

Meta-analysis uses statistical methods to summarize the results of independent studies. By combining information from all relevant studies, meta-analysis can provide more precise estimates of the effects than those derived from the individual studies included within a review.

Historical review

Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, or phenomenon emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and identify future research's likely directions.

Theoretical Review

This form aims to examine the corpus of theory accumulated regarding an issue, concept, theory, and phenomenon. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories exist, the relationships between them, the degree the existing approaches have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested.

Scoping Review

The Scoping Review is often used at the beginning of an article, dissertation, or research proposal. It is conducted before the research to highlight gaps in the existing body of knowledge and explains why the project should be greenlit.

State-of-the-Art Review

The State-of-the-Art review is conducted periodically, focusing on the most recent research. It describes what is currently known, understood, or agreed upon regarding the research topic and highlights where there are still disagreements.

Can you use the first person in a literature review?

When writing literature reviews, you should avoid the usage of first-person pronouns. It means that instead of "I argue that" or "we argue that," the appropriate expression would be "this research paper argues that."

Do you need an abstract for a literature review?

Ideally, yes. It is always good to have a condensed summary that is self-contained and independent of the rest of your review. As for how to draft one, you can follow the same fundamental idea when preparing an abstract for a literature review. It should also include:

  • The research topic and your motivation behind selecting it
  • A one-sentence thesis statement
  • An explanation of the kinds of literature featured in the review
  • Summary of what you've learned
  • Conclusions you drew from the literature you reviewed
  • Potential implications and future scope for research

Here's an example of the abstract of a literature review

Abstract-of-a-literature-review

Is a literature review written in the past tense?

Yes, the literature review should ideally be written in the past tense. You should not use the present or future tense when writing one. The exceptions are when you have statements describing events that happened earlier than the literature you are reviewing or events that are currently occurring; then, you can use the past perfect or present perfect tenses.

How many sources for a literature review?

There are multiple approaches to deciding how many sources to include in a literature review section. The first approach would be to look level you are at as a researcher. For instance, a doctoral thesis might need 60+ sources. In contrast, you might only need to refer to 5-15 sources at the undergraduate level.

The second approach is based on the kind of literature review you are doing — whether it is merely a chapter of your paper or if it is a self-contained paper in itself. When it is just a chapter, sources should equal the total number of pages in your article's body. In the second scenario, you need at least three times as many sources as there are pages in your work.

Quick tips on how to write a literature review

To know how to write a literature review, you must clearly understand its impact and role in establishing your work as substantive research material.

You need to follow the below-mentioned steps, to write a literature review:

  • Outline the purpose behind the literature review
  • Search relevant literature
  • Examine and assess the relevant resources
  • Discover connections by drawing deep insights from the resources
  • Structure planning to write a good literature review

1. Outline and identify the purpose of  a literature review

As a first step on how to write a literature review, you must know what the research question or topic is and what shape you want your literature review to take. Ensure you understand the research topic inside out, or else seek clarifications. You must be able to the answer below questions before you start:

  • How many sources do I need to include?
  • What kind of sources should I analyze?
  • How much should I critically evaluate each source?
  • Should I summarize, synthesize or offer a critique of the sources?
  • Do I need to include any background information or definitions?

Additionally, you should know that the narrower your research topic is, the swifter it will be for you to restrict the number of sources to be analyzed.

2. Search relevant literature

Dig deeper into search engines to discover what has already been published around your chosen topic. Make sure you thoroughly go through appropriate reference sources like books, reports, journal articles, government docs, and web-based resources.

You must prepare a list of keywords and their different variations. You can start your search from any library’s catalog, provided you are an active member of that institution. The exact keywords can be extended to widen your research over other databases and academic search engines like:

  • Google Scholar
  • Microsoft Academic
  • Science.gov

Besides, it is not advisable to go through every resource word by word. Alternatively, what you can do is you can start by reading the abstract and then decide whether that source is relevant to your research or not.

Additionally, you must spend surplus time assessing the quality and relevance of resources. It would help if you tried preparing a list of citations to ensure that there lies no repetition of authors, publications, or articles in the literature review.

3. Examine and assess the sources

It is nearly impossible for you to go through every detail in the research article. So rather than trying to fetch every detail, you have to analyze and decide which research sources resemble closest and appear relevant to your chosen domain.

While analyzing the sources, you should look to find out answers to questions like:

  • What question or problem has the author been describing and debating?
  • What is the definition of critical aspects?
  • How well the theories, approach, and methodology have been explained?
  • Whether the research theory used some conventional or new innovative approach?
  • How relevant are the key findings of the work?
  • In what ways does it relate to other sources on the same topic?
  • What challenges does this research paper pose to the existing theory
  • What are the possible contributions or benefits it adds to the subject domain?

Be always mindful that you refer only to credible and authentic resources. It would be best if you always take references from different publications to validate your theory.

Always keep track of important information or data you can present in your literature review right from the beginning. It will help steer your path from any threats of plagiarism and also make it easier to curate an annotated bibliography or reference section.

4. Discover connections

At this stage, you must start deciding on the argument and structure of your literature review. To accomplish this, you must discover and identify the relations and connections between various resources while drafting your abstract.

A few aspects that you should be aware of while writing a literature review include:

  • Rise to prominence: Theories and methods that have gained reputation and supporters over time.
  • Constant scrutiny: Concepts or theories that repeatedly went under examination.
  • Contradictions and conflicts: Theories, both the supporting and the contradictory ones, for the research topic.
  • Knowledge gaps: What exactly does it fail to address, and how to bridge them with further research?
  • Influential resources: Significant research projects available that have been upheld as milestones or perhaps, something that can modify the current trends

Once you join the dots between various past research works, it will be easier for you to draw a conclusion and identify your contribution to the existing knowledge base.

5. Structure planning to write a good literature review

There exist different ways towards planning and executing the structure of a literature review. The format of a literature review varies and depends upon the length of the research.

Like any other research paper, the literature review format must contain three sections: introduction, body, and conclusion. The goals and objectives of the research question determine what goes inside these three sections.

Nevertheless, a good literature review can be structured according to the chronological, thematic, methodological, or theoretical framework approach.

Literature review samples

1. Standalone

Standalone-Literature-Review

2. As a section of a research paper

Literature-review-as-a-section-of-a-research-paper

How SciSpace Discover makes literature review a breeze?

SciSpace Discover is a one-stop solution to do an effective literature search and get barrier-free access to scientific knowledge. It is an excellent repository where you can find millions of only peer-reviewed articles and full-text PDF files. Here’s more on how you can use it:

Find the right information

Find-the-right-information-using-SciSpace

Find what you want quickly and easily with comprehensive search filters that let you narrow down papers according to PDF availability, year of publishing, document type, and affiliated institution. Moreover, you can sort the results based on the publishing date, citation count, and relevance.

Assess credibility of papers quickly

Assess-credibility-of-papers-quickly-using-SciSpace

When doing the literature review, it is critical to establish the quality of your sources. They form the foundation of your research. SciSpace Discover helps you assess the quality of a source by providing an overview of its references, citations, and performance metrics.

Get the complete picture in no time

SciSpace's-personalized-informtion-engine

SciSpace Discover’s personalized suggestion engine helps you stay on course and get the complete picture of the topic from one place. Every time you visit an article page, it provides you links to related papers. Besides that, it helps you understand what’s trending, who are the top authors, and who are the leading publishers on a topic.

Make referring sources super easy

Make-referring-pages-super-easy-with-SciSpace

To ensure you don't lose track of your sources, you must start noting down your references when doing the literature review. SciSpace Discover makes this step effortless. Click the 'cite' button on an article page, and you will receive preloaded citation text in multiple styles — all you've to do is copy-paste it into your manuscript.

Final tips on how to write a literature review

A massive chunk of time and effort is required to write a good literature review. But, if you go about it systematically, you'll be able to save a ton of time and build a solid foundation for your research.

We hope this guide has helped you answer several key questions you have about writing literature reviews.

Would you like to explore SciSpace Discover and kick off your literature search right away? You can get started here .

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. how to start a literature review.

• What questions do you want to answer?

• What sources do you need to answer these questions?

• What information do these sources contain?

• How can you use this information to answer your questions?

2. What to include in a literature review?

• A brief background of the problem or issue

• What has previously been done to address the problem or issue

• A description of what you will do in your project

• How this study will contribute to research on the subject

3. Why literature review is important?

The literature review is an important part of any research project because it allows the writer to look at previous studies on a topic and determine existing gaps in the literature, as well as what has already been done. It will also help them to choose the most appropriate method for their own study.

4. How to cite a literature review in APA format?

To cite a literature review in APA style, you need to provide the author's name, the title of the article, and the year of publication. For example: Patel, A. B., & Stokes, G. S. (2012). The relationship between personality and intelligence: A meta-analysis of longitudinal research. Personality and Individual Differences, 53(1), 16-21

5. What are the components of a literature review?

• A brief introduction to the topic, including its background and context. The introduction should also include a rationale for why the study is being conducted and what it will accomplish.

• A description of the methodologies used in the study. This can include information about data collection methods, sample size, and statistical analyses.

• A presentation of the findings in an organized format that helps readers follow along with the author's conclusions.

6. What are common errors in writing literature review?

• Not spending enough time to critically evaluate the relevance of resources, observations and conclusions.

• Totally relying on secondary data while ignoring primary data.

• Letting your personal bias seep into your interpretation of existing literature.

• No detailed explanation of the procedure to discover and identify an appropriate literature review.

7. What are the 5 C's of writing literature review?

• Cite - the sources you utilized and referenced in your research.

• Compare - existing arguments, hypotheses, methodologies, and conclusions found in the knowledge base.

• Contrast - the arguments, topics, methodologies, approaches, and disputes that may be found in the literature.

• Critique - the literature and describe the ideas and opinions you find more convincing and why.

• Connect - the various studies you reviewed in your research.

8. How many sources should a literature review have?

When it is just a chapter, sources should equal the total number of pages in your article's body. if it is a self-contained paper in itself, you need at least three times as many sources as there are pages in your work.

9. Can literature review have diagrams?

• To represent an abstract idea or concept

• To explain the steps of a process or procedure

• To help readers understand the relationships between different concepts

10. How old should sources be in a literature review?

Sources for a literature review should be as current as possible or not older than ten years. The only exception to this rule is if you are reviewing a historical topic and need to use older sources.

11. What are the types of literature review?

• Argumentative review

• Integrative review

• Methodological review

• Systematic review

• Meta-analysis review

• Historical review

• Theoretical review

• Scoping review

• State-of-the-Art review

12. Is a literature review mandatory?

Yes. Literature review is a mandatory part of any research project. It is a critical step in the process that allows you to establish the scope of your research, and provide a background for the rest of your work.

But before you go,

  • Six Online Tools for Easy Literature Review
  • Evaluating literature review: systematic vs. scoping reviews
  • Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review
  • Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples

You might also like

Consensus GPT vs. SciSpace GPT: Choose the Best GPT for Research

Consensus GPT vs. SciSpace GPT: Choose the Best GPT for Research

Sumalatha G

Literature Review and Theoretical Framework: Understanding the Differences

Nikhil Seethi

Types of Essays in Academic Writing - Quick Guide (2024)

Grad Coach

How To Write An A-Grade Literature Review

3 straightforward steps (with examples) + free template.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewed By: Dr. Eunice Rautenbach | October 2019

Quality research is about building onto the existing work of others , “standing on the shoulders of giants”, as Newton put it. The literature review chapter of your dissertation, thesis or research project is where you synthesise this prior work and lay the theoretical foundation for your own research.

Long story short, this chapter is a pretty big deal, which is why you want to make sure you get it right . In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to write a literature review in three straightforward steps, so you can conquer this vital chapter (the smart way).

Overview: The Literature Review Process

  • Understanding the “ why “
  • Finding the relevant literature
  • Cataloguing and synthesising the information
  • Outlining & writing up your literature review
  • Example of a literature review

But first, the “why”…

Before we unpack how to write the literature review chapter, we’ve got to look at the why . To put it bluntly, if you don’t understand the function and purpose of the literature review process, there’s no way you can pull it off well. So, what exactly is the purpose of the literature review?

Well, there are (at least) four core functions:

  • For you to gain an understanding (and demonstrate this understanding) of where the research is at currently, what the key arguments and disagreements are.
  • For you to identify the gap(s) in the literature and then use this as justification for your own research topic.
  • To help you build a conceptual framework for empirical testing (if applicable to your research topic).
  • To inform your methodological choices and help you source tried and tested questionnaires (for interviews ) and measurement instruments (for surveys ).

Most students understand the first point but don’t give any thought to the rest. To get the most from the literature review process, you must keep all four points front of mind as you review the literature (more on this shortly), or you’ll land up with a wonky foundation.

Okay – with the why out the way, let’s move on to the how . As mentioned above, writing your literature review is a process, which I’ll break down into three steps:

  • Finding the most suitable literature
  • Understanding , distilling and organising the literature
  • Planning and writing up your literature review chapter

Importantly, you must complete steps one and two before you start writing up your chapter. I know it’s very tempting, but don’t try to kill two birds with one stone and write as you read. You’ll invariably end up wasting huge amounts of time re-writing and re-shaping, or you’ll just land up with a disjointed, hard-to-digest mess . Instead, you need to read first and distil the information, then plan and execute the writing.

Free Webinar: Literature Review 101

Step 1: Find the relevant literature

Naturally, the first step in the literature review journey is to hunt down the existing research that’s relevant to your topic. While you probably already have a decent base of this from your research proposal , you need to expand on this substantially in the dissertation or thesis itself.

Essentially, you need to be looking for any existing literature that potentially helps you answer your research question (or develop it, if that’s not yet pinned down). There are numerous ways to find relevant literature, but I’ll cover my top four tactics here. I’d suggest combining all four methods to ensure that nothing slips past you:

Method 1 – Google Scholar Scrubbing

Google’s academic search engine, Google Scholar , is a great starting point as it provides a good high-level view of the relevant journal articles for whatever keyword you throw at it. Most valuably, it tells you how many times each article has been cited, which gives you an idea of how credible (or at least, popular) it is. Some articles will be free to access, while others will require an account, which brings us to the next method.

Method 2 – University Database Scrounging

Generally, universities provide students with access to an online library, which provides access to many (but not all) of the major journals.

So, if you find an article using Google Scholar that requires paid access (which is quite likely), search for that article in your university’s database – if it’s listed there, you’ll have access. Note that, generally, the search engine capabilities of these databases are poor, so make sure you search for the exact article name, or you might not find it.

Method 3 – Journal Article Snowballing

At the end of every academic journal article, you’ll find a list of references. As with any academic writing, these references are the building blocks of the article, so if the article is relevant to your topic, there’s a good chance a portion of the referenced works will be too. Do a quick scan of the titles and see what seems relevant, then search for the relevant ones in your university’s database.

Method 4 – Dissertation Scavenging

Similar to Method 3 above, you can leverage other students’ dissertations. All you have to do is skim through literature review chapters of existing dissertations related to your topic and you’ll find a gold mine of potential literature. Usually, your university will provide you with access to previous students’ dissertations, but you can also find a much larger selection in the following databases:

  • Open Access Theses & Dissertations
  • Stanford SearchWorks

Keep in mind that dissertations and theses are not as academically sound as published, peer-reviewed journal articles (because they’re written by students, not professionals), so be sure to check the credibility of any sources you find using this method. You can do this by assessing the citation count of any given article in Google Scholar. If you need help with assessing the credibility of any article, or with finding relevant research in general, you can chat with one of our Research Specialists .

Alright – with a good base of literature firmly under your belt, it’s time to move onto the next step.

Need a helping hand?

how to do a literature review paper

Step 2: Log, catalogue and synthesise

Once you’ve built a little treasure trove of articles, it’s time to get reading and start digesting the information – what does it all mean?

While I present steps one and two (hunting and digesting) as sequential, in reality, it’s more of a back-and-forth tango – you’ll read a little , then have an idea, spot a new citation, or a new potential variable, and then go back to searching for articles. This is perfectly natural – through the reading process, your thoughts will develop , new avenues might crop up, and directional adjustments might arise. This is, after all, one of the main purposes of the literature review process (i.e. to familiarise yourself with the current state of research in your field).

As you’re working through your treasure chest, it’s essential that you simultaneously start organising the information. There are three aspects to this:

  • Logging reference information
  • Building an organised catalogue
  • Distilling and synthesising the information

I’ll discuss each of these below:

2.1 – Log the reference information

As you read each article, you should add it to your reference management software. I usually recommend Mendeley for this purpose (see the Mendeley 101 video below), but you can use whichever software you’re comfortable with. Most importantly, make sure you load EVERY article you read into your reference manager, even if it doesn’t seem very relevant at the time.

2.2 – Build an organised catalogue

In the beginning, you might feel confident that you can remember who said what, where, and what their main arguments were. Trust me, you won’t. If you do a thorough review of the relevant literature (as you must!), you’re going to read many, many articles, and it’s simply impossible to remember who said what, when, and in what context . Also, without the bird’s eye view that a catalogue provides, you’ll miss connections between various articles, and have no view of how the research developed over time. Simply put, it’s essential to build your own catalogue of the literature.

I would suggest using Excel to build your catalogue, as it allows you to run filters, colour code and sort – all very useful when your list grows large (which it will). How you lay your spreadsheet out is up to you, but I’d suggest you have the following columns (at minimum):

  • Author, date, title – Start with three columns containing this core information. This will make it easy for you to search for titles with certain words, order research by date, or group by author.
  • Categories or keywords – You can either create multiple columns, one for each category/theme and then tick the relevant categories, or you can have one column with keywords.
  • Key arguments/points – Use this column to succinctly convey the essence of the article, the key arguments and implications thereof for your research.
  • Context – Note the socioeconomic context in which the research was undertaken. For example, US-based, respondents aged 25-35, lower- income, etc. This will be useful for making an argument about gaps in the research.
  • Methodology – Note which methodology was used and why. Also, note any issues you feel arise due to the methodology. Again, you can use this to make an argument about gaps in the research.
  • Quotations – Note down any quoteworthy lines you feel might be useful later.
  • Notes – Make notes about anything not already covered. For example, linkages to or disagreements with other theories, questions raised but unanswered, shortcomings or limitations, and so forth.

If you’d like, you can try out our free catalog template here (see screenshot below).

Excel literature review template

2.3 – Digest and synthesise

Most importantly, as you work through the literature and build your catalogue, you need to synthesise all the information in your own mind – how does it all fit together? Look for links between the various articles and try to develop a bigger picture view of the state of the research. Some important questions to ask yourself are:

  • What answers does the existing research provide to my own research questions ?
  • Which points do the researchers agree (and disagree) on?
  • How has the research developed over time?
  • Where do the gaps in the current research lie?

To help you develop a big-picture view and synthesise all the information, you might find mind mapping software such as Freemind useful. Alternatively, if you’re a fan of physical note-taking, investing in a large whiteboard might work for you.

Mind mapping is a useful way to plan your literature review.

Step 3: Outline and write it up!

Once you’re satisfied that you have digested and distilled all the relevant literature in your mind, it’s time to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard). There are two steps here – outlining and writing:

3.1 – Draw up your outline

Having spent so much time reading, it might be tempting to just start writing up without a clear structure in mind. However, it’s critically important to decide on your structure and develop a detailed outline before you write anything. Your literature review chapter needs to present a clear, logical and an easy to follow narrative – and that requires some planning. Don’t try to wing it!

Naturally, you won’t always follow the plan to the letter, but without a detailed outline, you’re more than likely going to end up with a disjointed pile of waffle , and then you’re going to spend a far greater amount of time re-writing, hacking and patching. The adage, “measure twice, cut once” is very suitable here.

In terms of structure, the first decision you’ll have to make is whether you’ll lay out your review thematically (into themes) or chronologically (by date/period). The right choice depends on your topic, research objectives and research questions, which we discuss in this article .

Once that’s decided, you need to draw up an outline of your entire chapter in bullet point format. Try to get as detailed as possible, so that you know exactly what you’ll cover where, how each section will connect to the next, and how your entire argument will develop throughout the chapter. Also, at this stage, it’s a good idea to allocate rough word count limits for each section, so that you can identify word count problems before you’ve spent weeks or months writing!

PS – check out our free literature review chapter template…

3.2 – Get writing

With a detailed outline at your side, it’s time to start writing up (finally!). At this stage, it’s common to feel a bit of writer’s block and find yourself procrastinating under the pressure of finally having to put something on paper. To help with this, remember that the objective of the first draft is not perfection – it’s simply to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, after which you can refine them. The structure might change a little, the word count allocations might shift and shuffle, and you might add or remove a section – that’s all okay. Don’t worry about all this on your first draft – just get your thoughts down on paper.

start writing

Once you’ve got a full first draft (however rough it may be), step away from it for a day or two (longer if you can) and then come back at it with fresh eyes. Pay particular attention to the flow and narrative – does it fall fit together and flow from one section to another smoothly? Now’s the time to try to improve the linkage from each section to the next, tighten up the writing to be more concise, trim down word count and sand it down into a more digestible read.

Once you’ve done that, give your writing to a friend or colleague who is not a subject matter expert and ask them if they understand the overall discussion. The best way to assess this is to ask them to explain the chapter back to you. This technique will give you a strong indication of which points were clearly communicated and which weren’t. If you’re working with Grad Coach, this is a good time to have your Research Specialist review your chapter.

Finally, tighten it up and send it off to your supervisor for comment. Some might argue that you should be sending your work to your supervisor sooner than this (indeed your university might formally require this), but in my experience, supervisors are extremely short on time (and often patience), so, the more refined your chapter is, the less time they’ll waste on addressing basic issues (which you know about already) and the more time they’ll spend on valuable feedback that will increase your mark-earning potential.

Literature Review Example

In the video below, we unpack an actual literature review so that you can see how all the core components come together in reality.

Let’s Recap

In this post, we’ve covered how to research and write up a high-quality literature review chapter. Let’s do a quick recap of the key takeaways:

  • It is essential to understand the WHY of the literature review before you read or write anything. Make sure you understand the 4 core functions of the process.
  • The first step is to hunt down the relevant literature . You can do this using Google Scholar, your university database, the snowballing technique and by reviewing other dissertations and theses.
  • Next, you need to log all the articles in your reference manager , build your own catalogue of literature and synthesise all the research.
  • Following that, you need to develop a detailed outline of your entire chapter – the more detail the better. Don’t start writing without a clear outline (on paper, not in your head!)
  • Write up your first draft in rough form – don’t aim for perfection. Remember, done beats perfect.
  • Refine your second draft and get a layman’s perspective on it . Then tighten it up and submit it to your supervisor.

Literature Review Course

Psst… there’s more!

This post is an extract from our bestselling Udemy Course, Literature Review Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

You Might Also Like:

How To Find a Research Gap (Fast)

38 Comments

Phindile Mpetshwa

Thank you very much. This page is an eye opener and easy to comprehend.

Yinka

This is awesome!

I wish I come across GradCoach earlier enough.

But all the same I’ll make use of this opportunity to the fullest.

Thank you for this good job.

Keep it up!

Derek Jansen

You’re welcome, Yinka. Thank you for the kind words. All the best writing your literature review.

Renee Buerger

Thank you for a very useful literature review session. Although I am doing most of the steps…it being my first masters an Mphil is a self study and one not sure you are on the right track. I have an amazing supervisor but one also knows they are super busy. So not wanting to bother on the minutae. Thank you.

You’re most welcome, Renee. Good luck with your literature review 🙂

Sheemal Prasad

This has been really helpful. Will make full use of it. 🙂

Thank you Gradcoach.

Tahir

Really agreed. Admirable effort

Faturoti Toyin

thank you for this beautiful well explained recap.

Tara

Thank you so much for your guide of video and other instructions for the dissertation writing.

It is instrumental. It encouraged me to write a dissertation now.

Lorraine Hall

Thank you the video was great – from someone that knows nothing thankyou

araz agha

an amazing and very constructive way of presetting a topic, very useful, thanks for the effort,

Suilabayuh Ngah

It is timely

It is very good video of guidance for writing a research proposal and a dissertation. Since I have been watching and reading instructions, I have started my research proposal to write. I appreciate to Mr Jansen hugely.

Nancy Geregl

I learn a lot from your videos. Very comprehensive and detailed.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. As a research student, you learn better with your learning tips in research

Uzma

I was really stuck in reading and gathering information but after watching these things are cleared thanks, it is so helpful.

Xaysukith thorxaitou

Really helpful, Thank you for the effort in showing such information

Sheila Jerome

This is super helpful thank you very much.

Mary

Thank you for this whole literature writing review.You have simplified the process.

Maithe

I’m so glad I found GradCoach. Excellent information, Clear explanation, and Easy to follow, Many thanks Derek!

You’re welcome, Maithe. Good luck writing your literature review 🙂

Anthony

Thank you Coach, you have greatly enriched and improved my knowledge

Eunice

Great piece, so enriching and it is going to help me a great lot in my project and thesis, thanks so much

Stephanie Louw

This is THE BEST site for ANYONE doing a masters or doctorate! Thank you for the sound advice and templates. You rock!

Thanks, Stephanie 🙂

oghenekaro Silas

This is mind blowing, the detailed explanation and simplicity is perfect.

I am doing two papers on my final year thesis, and I must stay I feel very confident to face both headlong after reading this article.

thank you so much.

if anyone is to get a paper done on time and in the best way possible, GRADCOACH is certainly the go to area!

tarandeep singh

This is very good video which is well explained with detailed explanation

uku igeny

Thank you excellent piece of work and great mentoring

Abdul Ahmad Zazay

Thanks, it was useful

Maserialong Dlamini

Thank you very much. the video and the information were very helpful.

Suleiman Abubakar

Good morning scholar. I’m delighted coming to know you even before the commencement of my dissertation which hopefully is expected in not more than six months from now. I would love to engage my study under your guidance from the beginning to the end. I love to know how to do good job

Mthuthuzeli Vongo

Thank you so much Derek for such useful information on writing up a good literature review. I am at a stage where I need to start writing my one. My proposal was accepted late last year but I honestly did not know where to start

SEID YIMAM MOHAMMED (Technic)

Like the name of your YouTube implies you are GRAD (great,resource person, about dissertation). In short you are smart enough in coaching research work.

Richie Buffalo

This is a very well thought out webpage. Very informative and a great read.

Adekoya Opeyemi Jonathan

Very timely.

I appreciate.

Norasyidah Mohd Yusoff

Very comprehensive and eye opener for me as beginner in postgraduate study. Well explained and easy to understand. Appreciate and good reference in guiding me in my research journey. Thank you

Maryellen Elizabeth Hart

Thank you. I requested to download the free literature review template, however, your website wouldn’t allow me to complete the request or complete a download. May I request that you email me the free template? Thank you.

Submit a Comment Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

  • Print Friendly

Have a language expert improve your writing

Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, automatically generate references for free.

  • Knowledge Base
  • Dissertation
  • What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples

What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples

Published on 22 February 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 7 June 2022.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research.

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarise sources – it analyses, synthesises, and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

Instantly correct all language mistakes in your text

Be assured that you'll submit flawless writing. Upload your document to correct all your mistakes.

upload-your-document-ai-proofreader

Table of contents

Why write a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1: search for relevant literature, step 2: evaluate and select sources, step 3: identify themes, debates and gaps, step 4: outline your literature review’s structure, step 5: write your literature review, frequently asked questions about literature reviews, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a dissertation or thesis, you will have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position yourself in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your dissertation addresses a gap or contributes to a debate

You might also have to write a literature review as a stand-alone assignment. In this case, the purpose is to evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of scholarly debates around a topic.

The content will look slightly different in each case, but the process of conducting a literature review follows the same steps. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

The only proofreading tool specialized in correcting academic writing

The academic proofreading tool has been trained on 1000s of academic texts and by native English editors. Making it the most accurate and reliable proofreading tool for students.

how to do a literature review paper

Correct my document today

Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research objectives and questions .

If you are writing a literature review as a stand-alone assignment, you will have to choose a focus and develop a central question to direct your search. Unlike a dissertation research question, this question has to be answerable without collecting original data. You should be able to answer it based only on a review of existing publications.

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research topic. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list if you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can use boolean operators to help narrow down your search:

Read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

To identify the most important publications on your topic, take note of recurring citations. If the same authors, books or articles keep appearing in your reading, make sure to seek them out.

You probably won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on the topic – you’ll have to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your questions.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models and methods? Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • How does the publication contribute to your understanding of the topic? What are its key insights and arguments?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible, and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can find out how many times an article has been cited on Google Scholar – a high citation count means the article has been influential in the field, and should certainly be included in your literature review.

The scope of your review will depend on your topic and discipline: in the sciences you usually only review recent literature, but in the humanities you might take a long historical perspective (for example, to trace how a concept has changed in meaning over time).

Remember that you can use our template to summarise and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using!

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It’s important to keep track of your sources with references to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography, where you compile full reference information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

You can use our free APA Reference Generator for quick, correct, consistent citations.

To begin organising your literature review’s argument and structure, you need to understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly-visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat – this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organising the body of a literature review. You should have a rough idea of your strategy before you start writing.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarising sources in order.

Try to analyse patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organise your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text, your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

If you are writing the literature review as part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate your central problem or research question and give a brief summary of the scholarly context. You can emphasise the timeliness of the topic (“many recent studies have focused on the problem of x”) or highlight a gap in the literature (“while there has been much research on x, few researchers have taken y into consideration”).

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, make sure to follow these tips:

  • Summarise and synthesise: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole.
  • Analyse and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole.
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources.
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transitions and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts.

In the conclusion, you should summarise the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasise their significance.

If the literature review is part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate how your research addresses gaps and contributes new knowledge, or discuss how you have drawn on existing theories and methods to build a framework for your research. This can lead directly into your methodology section.

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a dissertation , thesis, research paper , or proposal .

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarise yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your  dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the ‘Cite this Scribbr article’ button to automatically add the citation to our free Reference Generator.

McCombes, S. (2022, June 07). What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved 2 April 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/thesis-dissertation/literature-review/

Is this article helpful?

Shona McCombes

Shona McCombes

Other students also liked, how to write a dissertation proposal | a step-by-step guide, what is a theoretical framework | a step-by-step guide, what is a research methodology | steps & tips.

Reference management. Clean and simple.

Literature review

Literature review for thesis

How to write a literature review in 6 steps

How do you write a good literature review? This step-by-step guide on how to write an excellent literature review covers all aspects of planning and writing literature reviews for academic papers and theses.

Systematic literature review

How to write a systematic literature review [9 steps]

How do you write a systematic literature review? What types of systematic literature reviews exist and where do you use them? Learn everything you need to know about a systematic literature review in this guide

Literature review explained

What is a literature review? [with examples]

Not sure what a literature review is? This guide covers the definition, purpose, and format of a literature review.

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Literature Reviews

What this handout is about.

This handout will explain what literature reviews are and offer insights into the form and construction of literature reviews in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.

Introduction

OK. You’ve got to write a literature review. You dust off a novel and a book of poetry, settle down in your chair, and get ready to issue a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” as you leaf through the pages. “Literature review” done. Right?

Wrong! The “literature” of a literature review refers to any collection of materials on a topic, not necessarily the great literary texts of the world. “Literature” could be anything from a set of government pamphlets on British colonial methods in Africa to scholarly articles on the treatment of a torn ACL. And a review does not necessarily mean that your reader wants you to give your personal opinion on whether or not you liked these sources.

What is a literature review, then?

A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area, and sometimes information in a particular subject area within a certain time period.

A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.

But how is a literature review different from an academic research paper?

The main focus of an academic research paper is to develop a new argument, and a research paper is likely to contain a literature review as one of its parts. In a research paper, you use the literature as a foundation and as support for a new insight that you contribute. The focus of a literature review, however, is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions.

Why do we write literature reviews?

Literature reviews provide you with a handy guide to a particular topic. If you have limited time to conduct research, literature reviews can give you an overview or act as a stepping stone. For professionals, they are useful reports that keep them up to date with what is current in the field. For scholars, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the writer in his or her field. Literature reviews also provide a solid background for a research paper’s investigation. Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field is essential to most research papers.

Who writes these things, anyway?

Literature reviews are written occasionally in the humanities, but mostly in the sciences and social sciences; in experiment and lab reports, they constitute a section of the paper. Sometimes a literature review is written as a paper in itself.

Let’s get to it! What should I do before writing the literature review?

If your assignment is not very specific, seek clarification from your instructor:

  • Roughly how many sources should you include?
  • What types of sources (books, journal articles, websites)?
  • Should you summarize, synthesize, or critique your sources by discussing a common theme or issue?
  • Should you evaluate your sources?
  • Should you provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history?

Find models

Look for other literature reviews in your area of interest or in the discipline and read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or ways to organize your final review. You can simply put the word “review” in your search engine along with your other topic terms to find articles of this type on the Internet or in an electronic database. The bibliography or reference section of sources you’ve already read are also excellent entry points into your own research.

Narrow your topic

There are hundreds or even thousands of articles and books on most areas of study. The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to get a good survey of the material. Your instructor will probably not expect you to read everything that’s out there on the topic, but you’ll make your job easier if you first limit your scope.

Keep in mind that UNC Libraries have research guides and to databases relevant to many fields of study. You can reach out to the subject librarian for a consultation: https://library.unc.edu/support/consultations/ .

And don’t forget to tap into your professor’s (or other professors’) knowledge in the field. Ask your professor questions such as: “If you had to read only one book from the 90’s on topic X, what would it be?” Questions such as this help you to find and determine quickly the most seminal pieces in the field.

Consider whether your sources are current

Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. In the sciences, for instance, treatments for medical problems are constantly changing according to the latest studies. Information even two years old could be obsolete. However, if you are writing a review in the humanities, history, or social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be what is needed, because what is important is how perspectives have changed through the years or within a certain time period. Try sorting through some other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to consider what is currently of interest to scholars in this field and what is not.

Strategies for writing the literature review

Find a focus.

A literature review, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not the sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that you will not just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them, one at a time. No. As you read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider instead what themes or issues connect your sources together. Do they present one or different solutions? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? How well do they present the material and do they portray it according to an appropriate theory? Do they reveal a trend in the field? A raging debate? Pick one of these themes to focus the organization of your review.

Convey it to your reader

A literature review may not have a traditional thesis statement (one that makes an argument), but you do need to tell readers what to expect. Try writing a simple statement that lets the reader know what is your main organizing principle. Here are a couple of examples:

The current trend in treatment for congestive heart failure combines surgery and medicine. More and more cultural studies scholars are accepting popular media as a subject worthy of academic consideration.

Consider organization

You’ve got a focus, and you’ve stated it clearly and directly. Now what is the most effective way of presenting the information? What are the most important topics, subtopics, etc., that your review needs to include? And in what order should you present them? Develop an organization for your review at both a global and local level:

First, cover the basic categories

Just like most academic papers, literature reviews also must contain at least three basic elements: an introduction or background information section; the body of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, finally, a conclusion and/or recommendations section to end the paper. The following provides a brief description of the content of each:

  • Introduction: Gives a quick idea of the topic of the literature review, such as the central theme or organizational pattern.
  • Body: Contains your discussion of sources and is organized either chronologically, thematically, or methodologically (see below for more information on each).
  • Conclusions/Recommendations: Discuss what you have drawn from reviewing literature so far. Where might the discussion proceed?

Organizing the body

Once you have the basic categories in place, then you must consider how you will present the sources themselves within the body of your paper. Create an organizational method to focus this section even further.

To help you come up with an overall organizational framework for your review, consider the following scenario:

You’ve decided to focus your literature review on materials dealing with sperm whales. This is because you’ve just finished reading Moby Dick, and you wonder if that whale’s portrayal is really real. You start with some articles about the physiology of sperm whales in biology journals written in the 1980’s. But these articles refer to some British biological studies performed on whales in the early 18th century. So you check those out. Then you look up a book written in 1968 with information on how sperm whales have been portrayed in other forms of art, such as in Alaskan poetry, in French painting, or on whale bone, as the whale hunters in the late 19th century used to do. This makes you wonder about American whaling methods during the time portrayed in Moby Dick, so you find some academic articles published in the last five years on how accurately Herman Melville portrayed the whaling scene in his novel.

Now consider some typical ways of organizing the sources into a review:

  • Chronological: If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials above according to when they were published. For instance, first you would talk about the British biological studies of the 18th century, then about Moby Dick, published in 1851, then the book on sperm whales in other art (1968), and finally the biology articles (1980s) and the recent articles on American whaling of the 19th century. But there is relatively no continuity among subjects here. And notice that even though the sources on sperm whales in other art and on American whaling are written recently, they are about other subjects/objects that were created much earlier. Thus, the review loses its chronological focus.
  • By publication: Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on biological studies of sperm whales if the progression revealed a change in dissection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies.
  • By trend: A better way to organize the above sources chronologically is to examine the sources under another trend, such as the history of whaling. Then your review would have subsections according to eras within this period. For instance, the review might examine whaling from pre-1600-1699, 1700-1799, and 1800-1899. Under this method, you would combine the recent studies on American whaling in the 19th century with Moby Dick itself in the 1800-1899 category, even though the authors wrote a century apart.
  • Thematic: 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 instance, the sperm whale review could focus on the development of the harpoon for whale hunting. While the study focuses on one topic, harpoon technology, it will still be organized chronologically. The only difference here between a “chronological” and a “thematic” approach is what is emphasized the most: the development of the harpoon or the harpoon technology.But more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. For instance, a thematic review of material on sperm whales might examine how they are portrayed as “evil” in cultural documents. The subsections might include how they are personified, how their proportions are exaggerated, and their behaviors misunderstood. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point made.
  • Methodological: A methodological approach differs from the two above in that the focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it focuses on the “methods” of the researcher or writer. For the sperm whale project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of whales in American, British, and French art work. Or the review might focus on the economic impact of whaling on a community. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed. Once you’ve decided on the organizational method for the body of the review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out. They should arise out of your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period. A thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue.

Sometimes, though, you might need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. Put in only what is necessary. Here are a few other sections you might want to consider:

  • Current Situation: Information necessary to understand the topic or focus of the literature review.
  • History: The chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Methods and/or Standards: The criteria you used to select the sources in your literature review or the way in which you present your information. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed articles and journals.

Questions for Further Research: What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

Begin composing

Once you’ve settled on a general pattern of organization, you’re ready to write each section. There are a few guidelines you should follow during the writing stage as well. Here is a sample paragraph from a literature review about sexism and language to illuminate the following discussion:

However, other studies have shown that even gender-neutral antecedents are more likely to produce masculine images than feminine ones (Gastil, 1990). Hamilton (1988) asked students to complete sentences that required them to fill in pronouns that agreed with gender-neutral antecedents such as “writer,” “pedestrian,” and “persons.” The students were asked to describe any image they had when writing the sentence. Hamilton found that people imagined 3.3 men to each woman in the masculine “generic” condition and 1.5 men per woman in the unbiased condition. Thus, while ambient sexism accounted for some of the masculine bias, sexist language amplified the effect. (Source: Erika Falk and Jordan Mills, “Why Sexist Language Affects Persuasion: The Role of Homophily, Intended Audience, and Offense,” Women and Language19:2).

Use evidence

In the example above, the writers refer to several other sources when making their point. A literature review in this sense is just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence to show that what you are saying is valid.

Be selective

Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the review’s focus, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological.

Use quotes sparingly

Falk and Mills do not use any direct quotes. That is because the survey nature of the literature review does not allow for in-depth discussion or detailed quotes from the text. Some short quotes here and there are okay, though, if you want to emphasize a point, or if what the author said just cannot be rewritten in your own words. Notice that Falk and Mills do quote certain terms that were coined by the author, not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. But if you find yourself wanting to put in more quotes, check with your instructor.

Summarize and synthesize

Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each paragraph as well as throughout the review. The authors here recapitulate important features of Hamilton’s study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study’s significance and relating it to their own work.

Keep your own voice

While the literature review presents others’ ideas, your voice (the writer’s) should remain front and center. Notice that Falk and Mills weave references to other sources into their own text, but they still maintain their own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with their own ideas and their own words. The sources support what Falk and Mills are saying.

Use caution when paraphrasing

When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author’s information or opinions accurately and in your own words. In the preceding example, Falk and Mills either directly refer in the text to the author of their source, such as Hamilton, or they provide ample notation in the text when the ideas they are mentioning are not their own, for example, Gastil’s. For more information, please see our handout on plagiarism .

Revise, revise, revise

Draft in hand? Now you’re ready to revise. Spending a lot of time revising is a wise idea, because your main objective is to present the material, not the argument. So check over your review again to make sure it follows the assignment and/or your outline. Then, just as you would for most other academic forms of writing, rewrite or rework the language of your review so that you’ve presented your information in the most concise manner possible. Be sure to use terminology familiar to your audience; get rid of unnecessary jargon or slang. Finally, double check that you’ve documented your sources and formatted the review appropriately for your discipline. For tips on the revising and editing process, see our handout on revising drafts .

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.

Jones, Robert, Patrick Bizzaro, and Cynthia Selfe. 1997. The Harcourt Brace Guide to Writing in the Disciplines . New York: Harcourt Brace.

Lamb, Sandra E. 1998. How to Write It: A Complete Guide to Everything You’ll Ever Write . Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Rosen, Leonard J., and Laurence Behrens. 2003. The Allyn & Bacon Handbook , 5th ed. New York: Longman.

Troyka, Lynn Quittman, and Doug Hesse. 2016. Simon and Schuster Handbook for Writers , 11th ed. London: Pearson.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Make a Gift

Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library

  • Collections
  • Research Help

YSN Doctoral Programs: Steps in Conducting a Literature Review

  • Biomedical Databases
  • Global (Public Health) Databases
  • Soc. Sci., History, and Law Databases
  • Grey Literature
  • Trials Registers
  • Data and Statistics
  • Public Policy
  • Google Tips
  • Recommended Books
  • Steps in Conducting a Literature Review

What is a literature review?

A literature review is an integrated analysis -- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings and other relevant evidence related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents a synthesis of the evidence that provides background information on your topic and shows a association between the evidence and your research question.

A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment.  Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
  • Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.

APA7 Style resources

Cover Art

APA Style Blog - for those harder to find answers

1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.

Your literature review should be guided by your central research question.  The literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

  • Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow.  Is it manageable?
  • Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.
  • If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor and your class mates.

2. Decide on the scope of your review

How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

  • This may depend on your assignment.  How many sources does the assignment require?

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.

Make a list of the databases you will search. 

Where to find databases:

  • use the tabs on this guide
  • Find other databases in the Nursing Information Resources web page
  • More on the Medical Library web page
  • ... and more on the Yale University Library web page

4. Conduct your searches to find the evidence. Keep track of your searches.

  • Use the key words in your question, as well as synonyms for those words, as terms in your search. Use the database tutorials for help.
  • Save the searches in the databases. This saves time when you want to redo, or modify, the searches. It is also helpful to use as a guide is the searches are not finding any useful results.
  • Review the abstracts of research studies carefully. This will save you time.
  • Use the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
  • Check with your professor, or a subject expert in the field, if you are missing any key works in the field.
  • Ask your librarian for help at any time.
  • Use a citation manager, such as EndNote as the repository for your citations. See the EndNote tutorials for help.

Review the literature

Some questions to help you analyze the research:

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions.
  • Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited? If so, how has it been analyzed?

Tips: 

  • Review the abstracts carefully.  
  • Keep careful notes so that you may track your thought processes during the research process.
  • Create a matrix of the studies for easy analysis, and synthesis, across all of the studies.
  • << Previous: Recommended Books
  • Last Updated: Jan 4, 2024 10:52 AM
  • URL: https://guides.library.yale.edu/YSNDoctoral
  • USC Libraries
  • Research Guides

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

  • 5. The Literature Review
  • Purpose of Guide
  • Design Flaws to Avoid
  • Independent and Dependent Variables
  • Glossary of Research Terms
  • Reading Research Effectively
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
  • Broadening a Topic Idea
  • Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
  • Academic Writing Style
  • Choosing a Title
  • Making an Outline
  • Paragraph Development
  • Research Process Video Series
  • Executive Summary
  • The C.A.R.S. Model
  • Background Information
  • The Research Problem/Question
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Citation Tracking
  • Content Alert Services
  • Evaluating Sources
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Tiertiary Sources
  • Scholarly vs. Popular Publications
  • Qualitative Methods
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Insiderness
  • Using Non-Textual Elements
  • Limitations of the Study
  • Common Grammar Mistakes
  • Writing Concisely
  • Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Footnotes or Endnotes?
  • Further Readings
  • Generative AI and Writing
  • USC Libraries Tutorials and Other Guides
  • Bibliography

A literature review surveys prior research published in books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have used in researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within existing scholarship about the topic.

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.

Importance of a Good Literature Review

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:

  • Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
  • Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
  • Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.

Given this, the purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
  • Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2011; Knopf, Jeffrey W. "Doing a Literature Review." PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January 2006): 127-132; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012.

Types of Literature Reviews

It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally among scholars that become part of the body of epistemological traditions within the field.

In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.

Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].

Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.

Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.

Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem . Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?" This type of literature review is primarily applied to examining prior research studies in clinical medicine and allied health fields, but it is increasingly being used in the social sciences.

Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

NOTE : Most often the literature review will incorporate some combination of types. For example, a review that examines literature supporting or refuting an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem related to the research problem will also need to include writing supported by sources that establish the history of these arguments in the literature.

Baumeister, Roy F. and Mark R. Leary. "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews."  Review of General Psychology 1 (September 1997): 311-320; Mark R. Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147; Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2006; Torracro, Richard. "Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples." Human Resource Development Review 4 (September 2005): 356-367; Rocco, Tonette S. and Maria S. Plakhotnik. "Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks: Terms, Functions, and Distinctions." Human Ressource Development Review 8 (March 2008): 120-130; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Thinking About Your Literature Review

The structure of a literature review should include the following in support of understanding the research problem :

  • An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
  • Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
  • An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.

The critical evaluation of each work should consider :

  • Provenance -- what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
  • Methodology -- were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
  • Objectivity -- is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness -- which of the author's theses are most convincing or least convincing?
  • Validity -- are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

II.  Development of the Literature Review

Four Basic Stages of Writing 1.  Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? 2.  Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. 3.  Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. 4.  Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.

Consider the following issues before writing the literature review: Clarify If your assignment is not specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1.  Roughly how many sources would be appropriate to include? 2.  What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? 3.  Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? 4.  Should I evaluate the sources in any way beyond evaluating how they relate to understanding the research problem? 5.  Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history? Find Models Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read, such as required readings in the course syllabus, are also excellent entry points into your own research. Narrow the Topic The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that's available about the topic, but you'll make the act of reviewing easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the USC Libraries Catalog for recent books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research. For example, a book surveying the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may include a chapter on the role Egypt has played in mediating the conflict, or look in the index for the pages where Egypt is mentioned in the text. Consider Whether Your Sources are Current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.

III.  Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

Chronology of 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 Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more 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. Thematic [“conceptual categories”] A thematic literature review is the most common approach to summarizing prior research in the social and behavioral sciences. Thematic reviews are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time, although the progression of time may still be incorporated into 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 would still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The difference in this example between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: themes related to the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note 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 being made. Methodological 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.

Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. However, only include what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship about the research problem.

Here are examples of other sections, usually in the form of a single paragraph, you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:

  • Current Situation : Information necessary to understand the current topic or focus of the literature review.
  • Sources Used : Describes the methods and resources [e.g., databases] you used to identify the literature you reviewed.
  • History : The chronological progression of the field, the research literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Selection Methods : Criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed [i.e., scholarly] sources.
  • Standards : Description of the way in which you present your information.
  • Questions for Further Research : What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

IV.  Writing Your Literature Review

Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.

Use Evidence A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid. Be Selective Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information, but that are not key to understanding the research problem, can be included in a list of further readings . Use Quotes Sparingly Some short quotes are appropriate if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, is not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for using your own words in reviewing the literature. Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work and the work of others. Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.

V.  Common Mistakes to Avoid

These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.

  • Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
  • You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
  • Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
  • Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
  • Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
  • Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
  • Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.

Cook, Kathleen E. and Elise Murowchick. “Do Literature Review Skills Transfer from One Course to Another?” Psychology Learning and Teaching 13 (March 2014): 3-11; Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . London: SAGE, 2011; Literature Review Handout. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012; Randolph, Justus J. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review." Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. vol. 14, June 2009; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.

Writing Tip

Break Out of Your Disciplinary Box!

Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue? You don’t want to substitute a thorough review of core research literature in your discipline for studies conducted in other fields of study. However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.

Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Just Review for Content!

While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating. Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:

  • How are they organizing their ideas?
  • What methods have they used to study the problem?
  • What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
  • What sources have they cited to support their conclusions?
  • How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?

When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem.

Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1 998.

Yet Another Writing Tip

When Do I Know I Can Stop Looking and Move On?

Here are several strategies you can utilize to assess whether you've thoroughly reviewed the literature:

  • Look for repeating patterns in the research findings . If the same thing is being said, just by different people, then this likely demonstrates that the research problem has hit a conceptual dead end. At this point consider: Does your study extend current research?  Does it forge a new path? Or, does is merely add more of the same thing being said?
  • Look at sources the authors cite to in their work . If you begin to see the same researchers cited again and again, then this is often an indication that no new ideas have been generated to address the research problem.
  • Search Google Scholar to identify who has subsequently cited leading scholars already identified in your literature review [see next sub-tab]. This is called citation tracking and there are a number of sources that can help you identify who has cited whom, particularly scholars from outside of your discipline. Here again, if the same authors are being cited again and again, this may indicate no new literature has been written on the topic.

Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2016; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

  • << Previous: Theoretical Framework
  • Next: Citation Tracking >>
  • Last Updated: Apr 3, 2024 8:36 AM
  • URL: https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide
  • Search This Site All UCSD Sites Faculty/Staff Search Term
  • Contact & Directions
  • Climate Statement
  • Cognitive Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Adjunct Faculty
  • Non-Senate Instructors
  • Researchers
  • Psychology Grads
  • Affiliated Grads
  • New and Prospective Students
  • Honors Program
  • Experiential Learning
  • Programs & Events
  • Psi Chi / Psychology Club
  • Prospective PhD Students
  • Current PhD Students
  • Area Brown Bags
  • Colloquium Series
  • Anderson Distinguished Lecture Series
  • Speaker Videos
  • Undergraduate Program
  • Academic and Writing Resources

Writing Research Papers

  • Writing a Literature Review

When writing a research paper on a specific topic, you will often need to include an overview of any prior research that has been conducted on that topic.  For example, if your research paper is describing an experiment on fear conditioning, then you will probably need to provide an overview of prior research on fear conditioning.  That overview is typically known as a literature review.  

Please note that a full-length literature review article may be suitable for fulfilling the requirements for the Psychology B.S. Degree Research Paper .  For further details, please check with your faculty advisor.

Different Types of Literature Reviews

Literature reviews come in many forms.  They can be part of a research paper, for example as part of the Introduction section.  They can be one chapter of a doctoral dissertation.  Literature reviews can also “stand alone” as separate articles by themselves.  For instance, some journals such as Annual Review of Psychology , Psychological Bulletin , and others typically publish full-length review articles.  Similarly, in courses at UCSD, you may be asked to write a research paper that is itself a literature review (such as, with an instructor’s permission, in fulfillment of the B.S. Degree Research Paper requirement). Alternatively, you may be expected to include a literature review as part of a larger research paper (such as part of an Honors Thesis). 

Literature reviews can be written using a variety of different styles.  These may differ in the way prior research is reviewed as well as the way in which the literature review is organized.  Examples of stylistic variations in literature reviews include: 

  • Summarization of prior work vs. critical evaluation. In some cases, prior research is simply described and summarized; in other cases, the writer compares, contrasts, and may even critique prior research (for example, discusses their strengths and weaknesses).
  • Chronological vs. categorical and other types of organization. In some cases, the literature review begins with the oldest research and advances until it concludes with the latest research.  In other cases, research is discussed by category (such as in groupings of closely related studies) without regard for chronological order.  In yet other cases, research is discussed in terms of opposing views (such as when different research studies or researchers disagree with one another).

Overall, all literature reviews, whether they are written as a part of a larger work or as separate articles unto themselves, have a common feature: they do not present new research; rather, they provide an overview of prior research on a specific topic . 

How to Write a Literature Review

When writing a literature review, it can be helpful to rely on the following steps.  Please note that these procedures are not necessarily only for writing a literature review that becomes part of a larger article; they can also be used for writing a full-length article that is itself a literature review (although such reviews are typically more detailed and exhaustive; for more information please refer to the Further Resources section of this page).

Steps for Writing a Literature Review

1. Identify and define the topic that you will be reviewing.

The topic, which is commonly a research question (or problem) of some kind, needs to be identified and defined as clearly as possible.  You need to have an idea of what you will be reviewing in order to effectively search for references and to write a coherent summary of the research on it.  At this stage it can be helpful to write down a description of the research question, area, or topic that you will be reviewing, as well as to identify any keywords that you will be using to search for relevant research.

2. Conduct a literature search.

Use a range of keywords to search databases such as PsycINFO and any others that may contain relevant articles.  You should focus on peer-reviewed, scholarly articles.  Published books may also be helpful, but keep in mind that peer-reviewed articles are widely considered to be the “gold standard” of scientific research.  Read through titles and abstracts, select and obtain articles (that is, download, copy, or print them out), and save your searches as needed.  For more information about this step, please see the Using Databases and Finding Scholarly References section of this website.

3. Read through the research that you have found and take notes.

Absorb as much information as you can.  Read through the articles and books that you have found, and as you do, take notes.  The notes should include anything that will be helpful in advancing your own thinking about the topic and in helping you write the literature review (such as key points, ideas, or even page numbers that index key information).  Some references may turn out to be more helpful than others; you may notice patterns or striking contrasts between different sources ; and some sources may refer to yet other sources of potential interest.  This is often the most time-consuming part of the review process.  However, it is also where you get to learn about the topic in great detail.  For more details about taking notes, please see the “Reading Sources and Taking Notes” section of the Finding Scholarly References page of this website.

4. Organize your notes and thoughts; create an outline.

At this stage, you are close to writing the review itself.  However, it is often helpful to first reflect on all the reading that you have done.  What patterns stand out?  Do the different sources converge on a consensus?  Or not?  What unresolved questions still remain?  You should look over your notes (it may also be helpful to reorganize them), and as you do, to think about how you will present this research in your literature review.  Are you going to summarize or critically evaluate?  Are you going to use a chronological or other type of organizational structure?  It can also be helpful to create an outline of how your literature review will be structured.

5. Write the literature review itself and edit and revise as needed.

The final stage involves writing.  When writing, keep in mind that literature reviews are generally characterized by a summary style in which prior research is described sufficiently to explain critical findings but does not include a high level of detail (if readers want to learn about all the specific details of a study, then they can look up the references that you cite and read the original articles themselves).  However, the degree of emphasis that is given to individual studies may vary (more or less detail may be warranted depending on how critical or unique a given study was).   After you have written a first draft, you should read it carefully and then edit and revise as needed.  You may need to repeat this process more than once.  It may be helpful to have another person read through your draft(s) and provide feedback.

6. Incorporate the literature review into your research paper draft.

After the literature review is complete, you should incorporate it into your research paper (if you are writing the review as one component of a larger paper).  Depending on the stage at which your paper is at, this may involve merging your literature review into a partially complete Introduction section, writing the rest of the paper around the literature review, or other processes.

Further Tips for Writing a Literature Review

Full-length literature reviews

  • Many full-length literature review articles use a three-part structure: Introduction (where the topic is identified and any trends or major problems in the literature are introduced), Body (where the studies that comprise the literature on that topic are discussed), and Discussion or Conclusion (where major patterns and points are discussed and the general state of what is known about the topic is summarized)

Literature reviews as part of a larger paper

  • An “express method” of writing a literature review for a research paper is as follows: first, write a one paragraph description of each article that you read. Second, choose how you will order all the paragraphs and combine them in one document.  Third, add transitions between the paragraphs, as well as an introductory and concluding paragraph. 1
  • A literature review that is part of a larger research paper typically does not have to be exhaustive. Rather, it should contain most or all of the significant studies about a research topic but not tangential or loosely related ones. 2   Generally, literature reviews should be sufficient for the reader to understand the major issues and key findings about a research topic.  You may however need to confer with your instructor or editor to determine how comprehensive you need to be.

Benefits of Literature Reviews

By summarizing prior research on a topic, literature reviews have multiple benefits.  These include:

  • Literature reviews help readers understand what is known about a topic without having to find and read through multiple sources.
  • Literature reviews help “set the stage” for later reading about new research on a given topic (such as if they are placed in the Introduction of a larger research paper). In other words, they provide helpful background and context.
  • Literature reviews can also help the writer learn about a given topic while in the process of preparing the review itself. In the act of research and writing the literature review, the writer gains expertise on the topic .

Downloadable Resources

  • How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [ PDF ]
  • Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [ PDF ]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – literature review) [ PDF ]

Further Resources

How-To Videos     

  • Writing Research Paper Videos
  • UCSD Library Psychology Research Guide: Literature Reviews

External Resources

  • Developing and Writing a Literature Review from N Carolina A&T State University
  • Example of a Short Literature Review from York College CUNY
  • How to Write a Review of Literature from UW-Madison
  • Writing a Literature Review from UC Santa Cruz  
  • Pautasso, M. (2013). Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review. PLoS Computational Biology, 9 (7), e1003149. doi : 1371/journal.pcbi.1003149

1 Ashton, W. Writing a short literature review . [PDF]     

2 carver, l. (2014).  writing the research paper [workshop]. , prepared by s. c. pan for ucsd psychology.

Back to top

  • Research Paper Structure
  • Formatting Research Papers
  • Using Databases and Finding References
  • What Types of References Are Appropriate?
  • Evaluating References and Taking Notes
  • Citing References
  • Writing Process and Revising
  • Improving Scientific Writing
  • Academic Integrity and Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Writing Research Papers Videos

Banner

Write a Literature Review

1. narrow your topic and select papers accordingly, 2. search for literature, 3. read the selected articles thoroughly and evaluate them, 4. organize the selected papers by looking for patterns and by developing subtopics, 5. develop a thesis or purpose statement, 6. write the paper, 7. review your work.

  • Resources for Gathering and Reading the Literature
  • Resources for Writing and Revising
  • Other Useful Resources

Ask Us: Chat, email, visit or call

Click to chat: contact the library

Get Assistance

The library offers a range of helpful services.  All of our appointments are free of charge and confidential.

  • Book an appointment

Consider your specific area of study. Think about what interests you and what interests other researchers in your field.

Talk to your professor, brainstorm, and read lecture notes and recent issues of periodicals in the field.

Limit your scope to a smaller topic area (ie. focusing on France's role in WWII instead of focusing on WWII in general).

  • Four Steps to Narrow Your Research Topic (Video) This 3-minute video provides instructions on how to narrow the focus of your research topic.
  • Developing a Research Question + Worksheet Use this worksheet to develop, assess, and refine your research questions. There is also a downloadable PDF version.

Define your source selection criteria (ie. articles published between a specific date range, focusing on a specific geographic region, or using a specific methodology).

Using keywords, search a library database.

Reference lists of recent articles and reviews can lead to other useful papers.

Include any studies contrary to your point of view.

Evaluate and synthesize the studies' findings and conclusions.

Note the following:

  • Assumptions some or most researchers seem to make
  • Methodologies, testing procedures, subjects, material tested researchers use
  • Experts in the field: names/labs that are frequently referenced
  • Conflicting theories, results, methodologies
  • Popularity of theories and how this has/has not changed over time
  • Findings that are common/contested
  • Important trends in the research
  • The most influential theories

Tip: If your literature review is extensive, find a large table surface, and on it place post-it notes or filing cards to organize all your findings into categories.

  • Move them around if you decide that (a) they fit better under different headings, or (b) you need to establish new topic headings.
  • Develop headings/subheadings that reflect the major themes and patterns you detected

Write a one or two sentence statement summarizing the conclusion you have reached about the major trends and developments you see in the research that has been conducted on your subject.

  • Templates for Writing Thesis Statements This template provides a two-step guide for writing thesis statements. There is also a downloadable PDF version.
  • 5 Types of Thesis Statements Learn about five different types of thesis statements to help you choose the best type for your research. There is also a downloadable PDF version.
  • 5 Questions to Strengthen Your Thesis Statement Follow these five steps to strengthen your thesis statements. There is also a downloadable PDF version.

Follow the organizational structure you developed above, including the headings and subheadings you constructed.

Make certain that each section links logically to the one before and after.

Structure your sections by themes or subtopics, not by individual theorists or researchers.

  • Tip: If you find that each paragraph begins with a researcher's name, it might indicate that, instead of evaluating and comparing the research literature from an analytical point of view, you have simply described what research has been done.

Prioritize analysis over description.

  • For example, look at the following two passages and note that Student A merely describes the literature, whereas Student B takes a more analytical and evaluative approach by comparing and contrasting. You can also see that this evaluative approach is well signaled by linguistic markers indicating logical connections (words such as "however," "moreover") and phrases such as "substantiates the claim that," which indicate supporting evidence and Student B's ability to synthesize knowledge.

Student A: Smith (2000) concludes that personal privacy in their living quarters is the most important factor in nursing home residents' perception of their autonomy. He suggests that the physical environment in the more public spaces of the building did not have much impact on their perceptions. Neither the layout of the building nor the activities available seem to make much difference. Jones and Johnstone make the claim that the need to control one's environment is a fundamental need of life (2001), and suggest that the approach of most institutions, which is to provide total care, may be as bad as no care at all. If people have no choices or think that they have none, they become depressed.

Student B: After studying residents and staff from two intermediate care facilities in Calgary, Alberta, Smith (2000) came to the conclusion that except for the amount of personal privacy available to residents, the physical environment of these institutions had minimal if any effect on their perceptions of control (autonomy). However, French (1998) and Haroon (2000) found that availability of private areas is not the only aspect of the physical environment that determines residents' autonomy. Haroon interviewed 115 residents from 32 different nursing homes known to have different levels of autonomy (2000). It was found that physical structures, such as standardized furniture, heating that could not be individually regulated, and no possession of a house key for residents limited their feelings of independence. Moreover, Hope (2002), who interviewed 225 residents from various nursing homes, substantiates the claim that characteristics of the institutional environment such as the extent of resources in the facility, as well as its location, are features which residents have indicated as being of great importance to their independence.

  • How to Integrate Critical Voice into Your Literature Review (Video)
  • Look at the topic sentences of each paragraph. If you were to read only these sentences, would you find that your paper presented a clear position, logically developed, from beginning to end? The topic sentences of each paragraph should indicate the main points of your literature review.
  • Make an outline of each section of the paper and decide whether you need to add information, to delete irrelevant information, or to re-structure sections.
  • Read your work out loud. That way you will be better able to identify where you need punctuation marks to signal pauses or divisions within sentences, where you have made grammatical errors, or where your sentences are unclear.
  • Since the purpose of a literature review is to demonstrate that the writer is familiar with the important professional literature on the chosen subject, check to make certain that you have covered all of the important, up-to-date, and pertinent texts. In the sciences and some of the social sciences it is important that your literature be quite recent; this is not so important in the humanities.
  • Make certain that all of the citations and references are correct and that you are referencing in the appropriate style for your discipline. If you are uncertain which style to use, ask your professor.
  • Check to make sure that you have not plagiarized either by failing to cite a source of information, or by using words quoted directly from a source. (Usually if you take three or more words directly from another source, you should put those words within quotation marks, and cite the page.)
  • Text should be written in a clear and concise academic style; it should not be descriptive in nature or use the language of everyday speech.
  • There should be no grammatical or spelling errors.
  • Sentences should flow smoothly and logically.
  • << Previous: Start Here
  • Next: Resources for Gathering and Reading the Literature >>
  • Last Updated: Jan 8, 2024 2:25 PM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.uoguelph.ca/LiteratureReview

Suggest an edit to this guide

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

What is a Literature Review? How to Write It (with Examples)

literature review

A literature review is a critical analysis and synthesis of existing research on a particular topic. It provides an overview of the current state of knowledge, identifies gaps, and highlights key findings in the literature. 1 The purpose of a literature review is to situate your own research within the context of existing scholarship, demonstrating your understanding of the topic and showing how your work contributes to the ongoing conversation in the field. Learning how to write a literature review is a critical tool for successful research. Your ability to summarize and synthesize prior research pertaining to a certain topic demonstrates your grasp on the topic of study, and assists in the learning process. 

Table of Contents

  • What is the purpose of literature review? 
  • a. Habitat Loss and Species Extinction: 
  • b. Range Shifts and Phenological Changes: 
  • c. Ocean Acidification and Coral Reefs: 
  • d. Adaptive Strategies and Conservation Efforts: 
  • How to write a good literature review 
  • Choose a Topic and Define the Research Question: 
  • Decide on the Scope of Your Review: 
  • Select Databases for Searches: 
  • Conduct Searches and Keep Track: 
  • Review the Literature: 
  • Organize and Write Your Literature Review: 
  • Frequently asked questions 

What is a literature review?

A well-conducted literature review demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with the existing literature, establishes the context for their own research, and contributes to scholarly conversations on the topic. One of the purposes of a literature review is also to help researchers avoid duplicating previous work and ensure that their research is informed by and builds upon the existing body of knowledge.

how to do a literature review paper

What is the purpose of literature review?

A literature review serves several important purposes within academic and research contexts. Here are some key objectives and functions of a literature review: 2  

  • Contextualizing the Research Problem: The literature review provides a background and context for the research problem under investigation. It helps to situate the study within the existing body of knowledge. 
  • Identifying Gaps in Knowledge: By identifying gaps, contradictions, or areas requiring further research, the researcher can shape the research question and justify the significance of the study. This is crucial for ensuring that the new research contributes something novel to the field. 
  • Understanding Theoretical and Conceptual Frameworks: Literature reviews help researchers gain an understanding of the theoretical and conceptual frameworks used in previous studies. This aids in the development of a theoretical framework for the current research. 
  • Providing Methodological Insights: Another purpose of literature reviews is that it allows researchers to learn about the methodologies employed in previous studies. This can help in choosing appropriate research methods for the current study and avoiding pitfalls that others may have encountered. 
  • Establishing Credibility: A well-conducted literature review demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with existing scholarship, establishing their credibility and expertise in the field. It also helps in building a solid foundation for the new research. 
  • Informing Hypotheses or Research Questions: The literature review guides the formulation of hypotheses or research questions by highlighting relevant findings and areas of uncertainty in existing literature. 

Literature review example

Let’s delve deeper with a literature review example: Let’s say your literature review is about the impact of climate change on biodiversity. You might format your literature review into sections such as the effects of climate change on habitat loss and species extinction, phenological changes, and marine biodiversity. Each section would then summarize and analyze relevant studies in those areas, highlighting key findings and identifying gaps in the research. The review would conclude by emphasizing the need for further research on specific aspects of the relationship between climate change and biodiversity. The following literature review template provides a glimpse into the recommended literature review structure and content, demonstrating how research findings are organized around specific themes within a broader topic. 

Literature Review on Climate Change Impacts on Biodiversity:

Climate change is a global phenomenon with far-reaching consequences, including significant impacts on biodiversity. This literature review synthesizes key findings from various studies: 

a. Habitat Loss and Species Extinction:

Climate change-induced alterations in temperature and precipitation patterns contribute to habitat loss, affecting numerous species (Thomas et al., 2004). The review discusses how these changes increase the risk of extinction, particularly for species with specific habitat requirements. 

b. Range Shifts and Phenological Changes:

Observations of range shifts and changes in the timing of biological events (phenology) are documented in response to changing climatic conditions (Parmesan & Yohe, 2003). These shifts affect ecosystems and may lead to mismatches between species and their resources. 

c. Ocean Acidification and Coral Reefs:

The review explores the impact of climate change on marine biodiversity, emphasizing ocean acidification’s threat to coral reefs (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2007). Changes in pH levels negatively affect coral calcification, disrupting the delicate balance of marine ecosystems. 

d. Adaptive Strategies and Conservation Efforts:

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the literature review discusses various adaptive strategies adopted by species and conservation efforts aimed at mitigating the impacts of climate change on biodiversity (Hannah et al., 2007). It emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary approaches for effective conservation planning. 

how to do a literature review paper

How to write a good literature review

Writing a literature review involves summarizing and synthesizing existing research on a particular topic. A good literature review format should include the following elements. 

Introduction: The introduction sets the stage for your literature review, providing context and introducing the main focus of your review. 

  • Opening Statement: Begin with a general statement about the broader topic and its significance in the field. 
  • Scope and Purpose: Clearly define the scope of your literature review. Explain the specific research question or objective you aim to address. 
  • Organizational Framework: Briefly outline the structure of your literature review, indicating how you will categorize and discuss the existing research. 
  • Significance of the Study: Highlight why your literature review is important and how it contributes to the understanding of the chosen topic. 
  • Thesis Statement: Conclude the introduction with a concise thesis statement that outlines the main argument or perspective you will develop in the body of the literature review. 

Body: The body of the literature review is where you provide a comprehensive analysis of existing literature, grouping studies based on themes, methodologies, or other relevant criteria. 

  • Organize by Theme or Concept: Group studies that share common themes, concepts, or methodologies. Discuss each theme or concept in detail, summarizing key findings and identifying gaps or areas of disagreement. 
  • Critical Analysis: Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each study. Discuss the methodologies used, the quality of evidence, and the overall contribution of each work to the understanding of the topic. 
  • Synthesis of Findings: Synthesize the information from different studies to highlight trends, patterns, or areas of consensus in the literature. 
  • Identification of Gaps: Discuss any gaps or limitations in the existing research and explain how your review contributes to filling these gaps. 
  • Transition between Sections: Provide smooth transitions between different themes or concepts to maintain the flow of your literature review. 

Conclusion: The conclusion of your literature review should summarize the main findings, highlight the contributions of the review, and suggest avenues for future research. 

  • Summary of Key Findings: Recap the main findings from the literature and restate how they contribute to your research question or objective. 
  • Contributions to the Field: Discuss the overall contribution of your literature review to the existing knowledge in the field. 
  • Implications and Applications: Explore the practical implications of the findings and suggest how they might impact future research or practice. 
  • Recommendations for Future Research: Identify areas that require further investigation and propose potential directions for future research in the field. 
  • Final Thoughts: Conclude with a final reflection on the importance of your literature review and its relevance to the broader academic community. 

what is a literature review

Conducting a literature review

Conducting a literature review is an essential step in research that involves reviewing and analyzing existing literature on a specific topic. It’s important to know how to do a literature review effectively, so here are the steps to follow: 1  

Choose a Topic and Define the Research Question:

  • Select a topic that is relevant to your field of study. 
  • Clearly define your research question or objective. Determine what specific aspect of the topic do you want to explore? 

Decide on the Scope of Your Review:

  • Determine the timeframe for your literature review. Are you focusing on recent developments, or do you want a historical overview? 
  • Consider the geographical scope. Is your review global, or are you focusing on a specific region? 
  • Define the inclusion and exclusion criteria. What types of sources will you include? Are there specific types of studies or publications you will exclude? 

Select Databases for Searches:

  • Identify relevant databases for your field. Examples include PubMed, IEEE Xplore, Scopus, Web of Science, and Google Scholar. 
  • Consider searching in library catalogs, institutional repositories, and specialized databases related to your topic. 

Conduct Searches and Keep Track:

  • Develop a systematic search strategy using keywords, Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT), and other search techniques. 
  • Record and document your search strategy for transparency and replicability. 
  • Keep track of the articles, including publication details, abstracts, and links. Use citation management tools like EndNote, Zotero, or Mendeley to organize your references. 

Review the Literature:

  • Evaluate the relevance and quality of each source. Consider the methodology, sample size, and results of studies. 
  • Organize the literature by themes or key concepts. Identify patterns, trends, and gaps in the existing research. 
  • Summarize key findings and arguments from each source. Compare and contrast different perspectives. 
  • Identify areas where there is a consensus in the literature and where there are conflicting opinions. 
  • Provide critical analysis and synthesis of the literature. What are the strengths and weaknesses of existing research? 

Organize and Write Your Literature Review:

  • Literature review outline should be based on themes, chronological order, or methodological approaches. 
  • Write a clear and coherent narrative that synthesizes the information gathered. 
  • Use proper citations for each source and ensure consistency in your citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.). 
  • Conclude your literature review by summarizing key findings, identifying gaps, and suggesting areas for future research. 

The literature review sample and detailed advice on writing and conducting a review will help you produce a well-structured report. But remember that a literature review is an ongoing process, and it may be necessary to revisit and update it as your research progresses. 

Frequently asked questions

A literature review is a critical and comprehensive analysis of existing literature (published and unpublished works) on a specific topic or research question and provides a synthesis of the current state of knowledge in a particular field. A well-conducted literature review is crucial for researchers to build upon existing knowledge, avoid duplication of efforts, and contribute to the advancement of their field. It also helps researchers situate their work within a broader context and facilitates the development of a sound theoretical and conceptual framework for their studies.

Literature review is a crucial component of research writing, providing a solid background for a research paper’s investigation. The aim is to keep professionals up to date by providing an understanding of ongoing developments within a specific field, including research methods, and experimental techniques used in that field, and present that knowledge in the form of a written report. Also, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the scholar in his or her field.  

Before writing a literature review, it’s essential to undertake several preparatory steps to ensure that your review is well-researched, organized, and focused. This includes choosing a topic of general interest to you and doing exploratory research on that topic, writing an annotated bibliography, and noting major points, especially those that relate to the position you have taken on the topic. 

Literature reviews and academic research papers are essential components of scholarly work but serve different purposes within the academic realm. 3 A literature review aims to provide a foundation for understanding the current state of research on a particular topic, identify gaps or controversies, and lay the groundwork for future research. Therefore, it draws heavily from existing academic sources, including books, journal articles, and other scholarly publications. In contrast, an academic research paper aims to present new knowledge, contribute to the academic discourse, and advance the understanding of a specific research question. Therefore, it involves a mix of existing literature (in the introduction and literature review sections) and original data or findings obtained through research methods. 

Literature reviews are essential components of academic and research papers, and various strategies can be employed to conduct them effectively. If you want to know how to write a literature review for a research paper, here are four common approaches that are often used by researchers.  Chronological Review: This strategy involves organizing the literature based on the chronological order of publication. It helps to trace the development of a topic over time, showing how ideas, theories, and research have evolved.  Thematic Review: Thematic reviews focus on identifying and analyzing themes or topics that cut across different studies. Instead of organizing the literature chronologically, it is grouped by key themes or concepts, allowing for a comprehensive exploration of various aspects of the topic.  Methodological Review: This strategy involves organizing the literature based on the research methods employed in different studies. It helps to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of various methodologies and allows the reader to evaluate the reliability and validity of the research findings.  Theoretical Review: A theoretical review examines the literature based on the theoretical frameworks used in different studies. This approach helps to identify the key theories that have been applied to the topic and assess their contributions to the understanding of the subject.  It’s important to note that these strategies are not mutually exclusive, and a literature review may combine elements of more than one approach. The choice of strategy depends on the research question, the nature of the literature available, and the goals of the review. Additionally, other strategies, such as integrative reviews or systematic reviews, may be employed depending on the specific requirements of the research.

The literature review format can vary depending on the specific publication guidelines. However, there are some common elements and structures that are often followed. Here is a general guideline for the format of a literature review:  Introduction:   Provide an overview of the topic.  Define the scope and purpose of the literature review.  State the research question or objective.  Body:   Organize the literature by themes, concepts, or chronology.  Critically analyze and evaluate each source.  Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the studies.  Highlight any methodological limitations or biases.  Identify patterns, connections, or contradictions in the existing research.  Conclusion:   Summarize the key points discussed in the literature review.  Highlight the research gap.  Address the research question or objective stated in the introduction.  Highlight the contributions of the review and suggest directions for future research.

Both annotated bibliographies and literature reviews involve the examination of scholarly sources. While annotated bibliographies focus on individual sources with brief annotations, literature reviews provide a more in-depth, integrated, and comprehensive analysis of existing literature on a specific topic. The key differences are as follows: 

References 

  • Denney, A. S., & Tewksbury, R. (2013). How to write a literature review.  Journal of criminal justice education ,  24 (2), 218-234. 
  • Pan, M. L. (2016).  Preparing literature reviews: Qualitative and quantitative approaches . Taylor & Francis. 
  • Cantero, C. (2019). How to write a literature review.  San José State University Writing Center . 

Paperpal is an AI writing assistant that help academics write better, faster with real-time suggestions for in-depth language and grammar correction. Trained on millions of research manuscripts enhanced by professional academic editors, Paperpal delivers human precision at machine speed.  

Try it for free or upgrade to  Paperpal Prime , which unlocks unlimited access to premium features like academic translation, paraphrasing, contextual synonyms, consistency checks and more. It’s like always having a professional academic editor by your side! Go beyond limitations and experience the future of academic writing.  Get Paperpal Prime now at just US$19 a month!

Related Reads:

  • Empirical Research: A Comprehensive Guide for Academics 
  • How to Write a Scientific Paper in 10 Steps 
  • Life Sciences Papers: 9 Tips for Authors Writing in Biological Sciences
  • What is an Argumentative Essay? How to Write It (With Examples)

6 Tips for Post-Doc Researchers to Take Their Career to the Next Level

Self-plagiarism in research: what it is and how to avoid it, you may also like, do plagiarism checkers detect ai content, word choice problems: how to use the right..., how to avoid plagiarism when using generative ai..., what are journal guidelines on using generative ai..., types of plagiarism and 6 tips to avoid..., how to write an essay introduction (with examples)..., similarity checks: the author’s guide to plagiarism and..., what is a master’s thesis: a guide for..., authorship in academia: ghost, guest, and gift authorship, should you use ai tools like chatgpt for....

Libraries | Research Guides

Literature reviews, what is a literature review, learning more about how to do a literature review.

  • Planning the Review
  • The Research Question
  • Choosing Where to Search
  • Organizing the Review
  • Writing the Review

A literature review is a review and synthesis of existing research on a topic or research question. A literature review is meant to analyze the scholarly literature, make connections across writings and identify strengths, weaknesses, trends, and missing conversations. A literature review should address different aspects of a topic as it relates to your research question. A literature review goes beyond a description or summary of the literature you have read. 

  • Sage Research Methods Core Collection This link opens in a new window SAGE Research Methods supports research at all levels by providing material to guide users through every step of the research process. SAGE Research Methods is the ultimate methods library with more than 1000 books, reference works, journal articles, and instructional videos by world-leading academics from across the social sciences, including the largest collection of qualitative methods books available online from any scholarly publisher. – Publisher

Cover Art

  • Next: Planning the Review >>
  • Last Updated: Jan 17, 2024 10:05 AM
  • URL: https://libguides.northwestern.edu/literaturereviews

Conduct a literature review

What is a literature review.

A literature review is a summary of the published work in a field of study. This can be a section of a larger paper or article, or can be the focus of an entire paper. Literature reviews show that you have examined the breadth of knowledge and can justify your thesis or research questions. They are also valuable tools for other researchers who need to find a summary of that field of knowledge.

Unlike an annotated bibliography, which is a list of sources with short descriptions, a literature review synthesizes sources into a summary that has a thesis or statement of purpose—stated or implied—at its core.

How do I write a literature review?

Step 1: define your research scope.

  • What is the specific research question that your literature review helps to define?
  • Are there a maximum or minimum number of sources that your review should include?

Ask us if you have questions about refining your topic, search methods, writing tips, or citation management.

Step 2: Identify the literature

Start by searching broadly. Literature for your review will typically be acquired through scholarly books, journal articles, and/or dissertations. Develop an understanding of what is out there, what terms are accurate and helpful, etc., and keep track of all of it with citation management tools . If you need help figuring out key terms and where to search, ask us .

Use citation searching to track how scholars interact with, and build upon, previous research:

  • Mine the references cited section of each relevant source for additional key sources
  • Use Google Scholar or Scopus to find other sources that have cited a particular work

Step 3: Critically analyze the literature

Key to your literature review is a critical analysis of the literature collected around your topic. The analysis will explore relationships, major themes, and any critical gaps in the research expressed in the work. Read and summarize each source with an eye toward analyzing authority, currency, coverage, methodology, and relationship to other works. The University of Toronto's Writing Center provides a comprehensive list of questions you can use to analyze your sources.

Step 4: Categorize your resources

Divide the available resources that pertain to your research into categories reflecting their roles in addressing your research question. Possible ways to categorize resources include organization by:

  • methodology
  • theoretical/philosophical approach

Regardless of the division, each category should be accompanied by thorough discussions and explanations of strengths and weaknesses, value to the overall survey, and comparisons with similar sources. You may have enough resources when:

  • You've used multiple databases and other resources (web portals, repositories, etc.) to get a variety of perspectives on the research topic.
  • The same citations are showing up in a variety of databases.

Additional resources

Undergraduate student resources.

  • Literature Review Handout (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
  • Learn how to write a review of literature (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Graduate student and faculty resources

  • Information Research Strategies (University of Arizona)
  • Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students (NC State University)
  • Oliver, P. (2012). Succeeding with Your Literature Review: A Handbook for Students [ebook]
  • Machi, L. A. & McEvoy, B. T. (2016). The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success

Graustein, J. S. (2012). How to Write an Exceptional Thesis or Dissertation: A Step-by-Step Guide from Proposal to Successful Defense [ebook]

Thomas, R. M. & Brubaker, D. L. (2008). Theses and Dissertations: A Guide to Planning, Research, and Writing

  • PRO Courses Guides New Tech Help Pro Expert Videos About wikiHow Pro Upgrade Sign In
  • EDIT Edit this Article
  • EXPLORE Tech Help Pro About Us Random Article Quizzes Request a New Article Community Dashboard This Or That Game Popular Categories Arts and Entertainment Artwork Books Movies Computers and Electronics Computers Phone Skills Technology Hacks Health Men's Health Mental Health Women's Health Relationships Dating Love Relationship Issues Hobbies and Crafts Crafts Drawing Games Education & Communication Communication Skills Personal Development Studying Personal Care and Style Fashion Hair Care Personal Hygiene Youth Personal Care School Stuff Dating All Categories Arts and Entertainment Finance and Business Home and Garden Relationship Quizzes Cars & Other Vehicles Food and Entertaining Personal Care and Style Sports and Fitness Computers and Electronics Health Pets and Animals Travel Education & Communication Hobbies and Crafts Philosophy and Religion Work World Family Life Holidays and Traditions Relationships Youth
  • Browse Articles
  • Learn Something New
  • Quizzes Hot
  • This Or That Game New
  • Train Your Brain
  • Explore More
  • Support wikiHow
  • About wikiHow
  • Log in / Sign up
  • Education and Communications
  • College University and Postgraduate
  • Academic Writing

How to Do a Literature Review

Last Updated: March 27, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed. . Alexander Ruiz is an Educational Consultant and the Educational Director of Link Educational Institute, a tutoring business based in Claremont, California that provides customizable educational plans, subject and test prep tutoring, and college application consulting. With over a decade and a half of experience in the education industry, Alexander coaches students to increase their self-awareness and emotional intelligence while achieving skills and the goal of achieving skills and higher education. He holds a BA in Psychology from Florida International University and an MA in Education from Georgia Southern University. There are 13 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 320,363 times.

Some people might think of a literature review as reading a book and then giving it a thumbs up or thumbs down. Nope, not so. A literature review is a review of various pieces of literature on one topic, ranging from series of books to shorter pieces like pamphlets. Sometimes, the literary review is a part of a larger research paper. Its purpose is to prevent duplication of efforts, resolve conflicts, and point the way for further research.

Before Writing

Step 1 Clarify your professor's requirements.

  • How many sources should you include? Does he/she want a specific number of each type? Do they have to be at least semi-current?
  • In discussing your themes, are you just summarizing or critiquing? Some reviews require a thesis, some may not.
  • Should you offer your opinion on your sources?
  • Do you need to provide background information, such as definitions or histories, to aid in your audience's understanding?
  • Is there a page or word requirement?

Step 2 Narrow your topic.

  • Get current. If you are writing a review in the humanities, history, or social sciences, you can afford to be less concerned with timing (in fact, changing opinions throughout history may be an aspect of your paper). But if you are writing a literary review for the sciences, say, on treating diabetes, information from 5 years ago could already be obsolete. Sort through current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. [2] X Trustworthy Source University of North Carolina Writing Center UNC's on-campus and online instructional service that provides assistance to students, faculty, and others during the writing process Go to source

Step 3 Find a focus.

  • Read between the lines. You're not necessarily looking for explicit content. Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? Are your sources all prescribing to one specific theory? Do you see trends being revealed? This will help you structure your paper immensely, zeroing in on what will give your paper purpose.

Step 4 Construct your thesis.

  • For example, "Current trends in [topic] are A, B, and C," or "The X Theory is assumed by most sources from 1985 on." Stating something like this begs a few questions, making your review more interesting and meaningful: How will trends change in the future? What if the assumed theories are wrong?
  • Again, this is not new information. You are not analyzing the material and coming up with your own, fresh perspective on it. You are simply acting like a computer--noting patterns, holes, and assumptions all your sources are taking.

Step 5 Assess your sources.

  • What are the author's credentials? How are their arguments supported (narratives, statistics, historical findings, etc.)?
  • Is the author's perspective unbiased and objective? Are they ignoring any data to make their points seem stronger?
  • How persuasive are they? Do any of their points leave a bit to be desired?
  • Does their work lead to a greater understanding of the subject? [5] X Research source

Constructing Your Paper

Step 1 Start with a solid introduction.

  • Help the reader along by letting them know what kind of ride they're in for. If you are employing a thesis statement, place it toward the end of your introductory paragraph. At the end, your reader should be anticipating getting into the evidence and bulk of your paper.

Step 2 Organize the body.

  • Arrange it chronologically. If you are dealing with varying opinions by era or changing trends over time, chronological organization may make the most sense.
  • Arrange it by publication. This organizational method fares well if each publication has a different stance. If there is a natural progression (radical to conservative, for example) between the sources, this works swimmingly.
  • Arrange it by trend. If you are noticing patterns in your sources, arranging them by the trends they suggest may be the most obvious structure. Certain sources may, together, suggest one pattern that shifts over time, region, or other variable.
  • Arrange it thematically. This highly depends on your thesis statement and what sources you have chosen. If you are choosing a focus that is more abstract ("Colonialism is depicted as evil," for example), the subsections may be arranged on the different methods employed to put the theme across.

Step 3 Come to a clear conclusion.

  • You may make your conclusion suggestive. Where might the discussion proceed if someone else picked it up where you left off? What are the consequences of the patterns and holes in today's sources?

Step 4 Use evidence.

  • However, use quotes sparingly. The survey nature of the literature review does not allow for in-depth discussion or detailed quotes from the text. [10] X Trustworthy Source University of North Carolina Writing Center UNC's on-campus and online instructional service that provides assistance to students, faculty, and others during the writing process Go to source Some short ones are fine, sure, but all in all, it should be written by you.

Step 5 Keep your own voice.

  • When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author’s information or opinions accurately and in your own words. [12] X Trustworthy Source University of North Carolina Writing Center UNC's on-campus and online instructional service that provides assistance to students, faculty, and others during the writing process Go to source Then, relate it to the context of your review.
  • Some professors may require that you evaluate the sources and conclude which pieces add the greatest contribution to the field. If yours is keen on this, determine your take in the introduction and string it throughout your paper.

Revising Your Work

Step 1 Review the guidelines.

  • Does your instructor require APA formatting? What should your margins be? Headers, footers, footnotes, and page numbers? How do they want your name, headings, and subheadings? How do they want your works cited page?

Step 2 Check for coherent flow and transitions.

  • With everything said as clear as day, does it flow together? Do you transition well not only from paragraph to paragraph, but from sentence to sentence? Be sure your evidence lines up with the support and your arrangement of sources flows logically.
  • Eliminate useless jargon or slang. You may have grown an entirely new vocabulary during this endeavor, but your professor has not. Write a paper that can be read by the masses. Don't make it overly esoteric.

Step 3 Proofread your work.

  • It's best to have someone else go over your work, too. You may have read it so many times you can no longer see you lapsed into Portuguese absent-mindedly. A different set of eyes can locate mistakes you may not have seen, ask questions you didn't realize were left unaddressed, or seek clarification on the foggier points.

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • Use correct citations. Your assignment will likely specify what kinds of formats you should use for citations within the text. Often, professors are looking for strict use of these formats as part of the grade. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Outline your literature review. It will help you order your thoughts into an organized presentation, making the paper ultimately easier to write. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

how to do a literature review paper

  • Avoid plagiarism. Using your own words will help you avoid plagiarism, which many academic departments take very seriously. Evidence of plagiarism can get students suspended or otherwise disciplined (this includes a failing paper). Make sure to correctly attribute any direct quotes. Thanks Helpful 14 Not Helpful 3

You Might Also Like

Write

  • ↑ https://guides.lib.uoguelph.ca/c.php?g=130964&p=5000948
  • ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/literature-reviews/
  • ↑ https://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149
  • ↑ https://library.concordia.ca/help/writing/literature-review.php
  • ↑ http://guides.library.ucsc.edu/content.php?pid=364099&sid=2979684
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/conducting_research/writing_a_literature_review.html
  • ↑ https://www.ed.ac.uk/institute-academic-development/study-hub/learning-resources/literature-review
  • ↑ https://www.unr.edu/writing-speaking-center/student-resources/writing-speaking-resources/editing-and-proofreading-techniques
  • How to Conduct Academic Research
  • How to Create a Successful Project (for School)
  • How to Begin Writing a Research Paper
  • How to Be More Analytical
  • How to Find Primary Source Documents
  • How to Complete a Project on Time

About This Article

Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed.

To do a literature review, start by finding a variety of reliable sources that all relate to one topic or theme. Then, read through the sources and come up with a thesis statement for your paper. Once you have your thesis, explain how the sources you used back up your thesis in the body of your literature review. You can arrange the sources chronologically, by publication, or even thematically. For help writing an introduction and conclusion for a literature review, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

  • Send fan mail to authors

Reader Success Stories

Maryam Lawal

Maryam Lawal

Nov 12, 2016

Did this article help you?

how to do a literature review paper

Jul 7, 2016

Galal Sheher

Galal Sheher

Oct 22, 2016

Alljey Gimpes

Alljey Gimpes

Jun 15, 2016

Jvert Smith

Jvert Smith

Oct 4, 2018

Am I a Narcissist or an Empath Quiz

Featured Articles

What to Do When a Dog Attacks

Trending Articles

What Is My Favorite Color Quiz

Watch Articles

Make Sticky Rice Using Regular Rice

  • Terms of Use
  • Privacy Policy
  • Do Not Sell or Share My Info
  • Not Selling Info

wikiHow Tech Help Pro:

Develop the tech skills you need for work and life

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • View all journals
  • My Account Login
  • Explore content
  • About the journal
  • Publish with us
  • Sign up for alerts
  • Review Article
  • Open access
  • Published: 02 April 2024

How do we study misogyny in the digital age? A systematic literature review using a computational linguistic approach

  • Lara Fontanella   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-5441-0035 1 ,
  • Berta Chulvi 2 , 3 ,
  • Elisa Ignazzi 4 ,
  • Annalina Sarra 5 &
  • Alice Tontodimamma 1  

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications volume  11 , Article number:  478 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

Metrics details

  • Cultural and media studies

Nowadays, despite centuries of striving for equality, women still face higher levels of discrimination compared to men in nearly every aspect of life. Recently, this systemic inequality has manifested in cyberspace through the proliferation of abusive content that is even more aggressive than what one would expect in the 21st century. Various research disciplines are now attempting to characterise this new manifestation of misogyny. The endeavour to comprehend this phenomenon has resulted in a significant increase in publications from several fields, including Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, Psychology, and Computer Science. This paper presents a systematic review of multidisciplinary research on misogyny from the years 1990 to 2022, encompassing a total of 2830 articles retrieved from the Scopus database as of December 31, 2022. The literature is thoroughly analysed using three approaches: bibliometric analysis, topic detection, and qualitative analysis of the documents. The findings suggest that the analysis of online misogyny has been the primary driver behind the exponential growth in publications in this field. Additionally, the results of the topic analysis and topic interaction reveal a limited connection between the areas of knowledge that are necessary to fully grasp this complex phenomenon.

Similar content being viewed by others

how to do a literature review paper

The old-new epistemology of digital journalism: how algorithms and filter bubbles are (re)creating modern metanarratives

Luca Serafini

how to do a literature review paper

The dark web privacy dilemma: linguistic diversity, talkativeness, and user engagement on the cryptomarket forums

Zhicong Chen, Xiang Meng & Cheng-Jun Wang

how to do a literature review paper

Community and authority in ROAR Magazine

Introduction.

Nowadays, regardless of centuries of fighting for equality, women continue to face a disproportionate amount of discrimination compared to men across various contexts. Women and girls encounter prejudice, sexist attitudes, open discrimination, and violence throughout their lives, while the extent of these experiences varies by location, identity, and culture. Disgust, intolerance, or entrenched prejudice, serving to legitimise women’s oppression, persist even in countries often alleged to be post-patriarchal, like the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom (Manne, 2017 ). The all-pervasive form of hostility and aversion against women and girls is referred to as misogyny, a term derived from the Ancient Greek word “mĩsoguniã”, which means hatred of women. According to Allen ( 2021 ), misogyny has a disputed definition. Some authors offer a definition of misogyny that, in some respects, overlaps with the concept of sexism. For example, Code ( 2000 ) defines misogyny as any of the following acts or feelings: sexual and physical violence against women, exclusion of women, promotion of patriarchy, belittlement, and marginalisation of women. In this approach, the promotion of patriarchy, broadly conceptualised as a system or systems producing and reproducing gendered and intersectional inequalities, is clearly the spread of a sexist mentality. Here, sexism is linked to the acceptance of sex-role stereotypes and can manifest at various levels: individual, organisational, institutional, and cultural (VandenBos, 2015 ). In the same line of reasoning, Jukes ( 1993 ) states that misogyny can be obvious and explicit at times, but it can also be subtle and insidious. However, the subtle expression of misogyny is more linked to sexist attitudes than to the expression of hate. Other authors, such as Manne ( 2017 ), set out a clear distinction between sexism and misogyny. In her book, “Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny”, Kate Manne ( 2017 ) describes misogyny as the patriarchal order’s “law enforcement” branch, which rewards “good” women who adhere to social norms while punishing those who disobey. Sexism, on the other hand, is viewed as the “justificatory” branch, which rationalises and justifies male dominance through beliefs, theories, stereotypes, and cultural narratives that portray women as naturally inferior. This conceptual debate is due to two reasons. First, the fact that misogyny is strictly linked to the concepts of patriarchy and sexism, and second, the evidence that our societies are facing new ways of conveying misogynistic content in the form of open denigration of women.

Focusing on the link between concepts that describe women’s discrimination, it is evident that the powerful dynamics of a patriarchal society contribute to the development of a sexist culture, and this leads to the oppression of women both in their personal lives and within societal institutions (Millet, 1970 ). Additionally, hostile and benevolent sexism (Glick and Fiske, 1997 ) functions to preserve patriarchy and conventional gender norms. Benevolent sexism manifests through subjectively positive attitudes towards women in traditional roles, encompassing protective paternalism, idealisation, and a desire for intimacy. On the other hand, hostile sexism is expressed in a blatant and resentful way toward women who violate traditional roles and includes the negative equivalents of each dimension of benevolent sexism: dominant paternalism, derogatory beliefs, and heterosexual hostility. The aforementioned patriarchal culture legitimises openly misogynistic expressions, which represent the most extreme manifestation of aggression against women.

In this complex dynamic, studies from different disciplines tend to use different terminology when examining hostility towards women. Specifically, research in psychology is more inclined to use terms related to sexism, especially in distinguishing between hostile and benevolent sexism, and the notion of patriarchy is extensively examined in social science, particularly in sociological studies. The concept of misogyny is more commonly used in communication studies and computational science. The findings reported in the Supplementary Material provide evidence of the emphasis of different disciplines on different concepts.

Regarding the emergence of new ways of transmitting misogynistic content, the rise of interactive social media has been widely considered (Moloney and Love, 2018 ; Rubio Martìn and Gordo Lòpez, 2021 ; Tranchese and Sugiura, 2021 ).

Misogyny on the internet is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, legislation pertaining to women’s online safety dates back to the Beijing Declaration in 1995. However, it was not until the events of Gamergate Footnote 1 (Massanari, 2020 ) in August 2014 that the mainstream media and academic research took notice. In fact, in the gaming community, 2014 saw the emergence of the controversy and online movement known as “Gamergate”. It started out as a reaction to questions about ethics in video game journalism, but it soon turned into a harassment campaign directed at female journalists. The movement brought attention to misogyny, sexism, and the need for diversity in the gaming industry.

With the development of social networks, the historical aversion to women has become articulated through new modes of communication and social interaction. While digital spaces have amplified female voices, online platforms have notoriously facilitated the spread of misogynistic content: women’s systematic inequality and discrimination have been replicated in cyberspace in the form of abusive content much more aggressive than we would have expected in the 21st century (Bates, 2021 ). The online realm provides ample opportunities for misogyny to be linguistically expressed in various ways, ranging from subtle forms such as social exclusion and discrimination to more severe forms like sexual objectification and violent threats (Anzovino et al., 2018 ). Studies examining online misogynistic discourse have employed different terminology, such as “gender cyber hatred” (Jane, 2017 ), “cyber harassment” (Citron, 2014 ), “technological violence” (Ostini and Hopkins, 2015 ), “gender trolling” (Mantilla, 2013 ), “e-bile”, and “gender hate speech” (Jane, 2015 ). Other scholars (see, for instance, Ging and Siapera, 2018 ) chose to use a broader definition of misogyny which almost always results in some form of harm, either directly, in the form of psychological, professional, or physical harm, or indirectly, making the internet a less equal, less safe, or less inclusive space for women and girls.

Our study aims to investigate the current state of research on misogyny. For this purpose, we focus on the scientific literature on this subject during the period between 1990 and 2022. To the best of our knowledge, our study is the first systematic review on misogyny which combines three approaches: bibliometrics, topic detection, and qualitative analysis of the documents.

For the bibliometric research, we first analyse the existing literature extracted from the Scopus database within the misogyny research field by exploiting bibliometric tools. Bibliometric analysis provides a systematic, transparent, and replicable manner to investigate extant literature in a given field and discover the progress of disciplinary research from a macro perspective, supporting future research directions. Using bibliometric methods, we explore the main lines of research in the scientific literature on misogyny and offer a summary of the research activity in terms of the volume of work and evolution over time, as well as in terms of the social, intellectual and conceptual structures of this research area.

Although bibliometric tools provide a broad overview of current research, they cannot deliver detailed insights into studies in the literature based on semantic content analysis. In order to conduct an in-depth semantic analysis, it is necessary to supplement bibliometric methods with text-mining techniques (Hu et al., 2014 ). In accordance, our work employs topic analysis based on the Latent Dirichlet Allocation method (LDA; Blei et al., 2003 ) in order to identify the most prevalent latent themes in misogyny literature. LDA is gaining popularity among scholars in diverse fields (Alghamdi and Alfalqi, 2015 ). Two important findings emerge from a topic model: a list of topics (i.e., clusters of words that appear frequently together) and a list of documents that are strongly associated with each topic. As a result, this method offers a probabilistic quantification of relevance for both the identification of topics and the classification of documents, making it useful for locating interpretable topics with semantic meaning and assigning these topics to literature documents (Tontodimamma et al., 2021 ). According to Suominen and Toivanen ( 2016 ), the main innovation of topic modelling in categorising scientific knowledge is that it essentially eliminates the need to fit knowledge that is brand-new to the world into definitions that are already well-established.

Finally, we complement the study with a qualitative analysis aimed to discover the sociological perspective of the literature on online misogyny, on the one hand, and the computational aspects, on the other hand.

Bibliometric analyses

Bibliographic dataset.

For the analysis, we use a bibliometric dataset covering the period 1990–2022, retrieved from the Scopus database on 31 December 2022. Since we focus on the broad spectrum of scientific research on misogyny, the bibliographic dataset was extracted by looking for publications containing terms related to the generic query “misogyn*” in the content of the title, abstract, and keywords. All types of publications were included in the search, and 2830 documents were retrieved. The top publication fields include Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, Psychology, and Computer Science.

Information about document distribution by research field is given in the Supplementary Material , along with the document distribution by source and the ranking of the most productive countries and authors.

Research activity

The evolution over time of the number of published documents shows remarkable growth (see Fig. 1 ). We found out that the number of published documents has increased dramatically over time. Since 1992, it has been possible to distinguish two distinct phases. A gradual increase in publications occurred during the first phase, which lasted from 1990 to 2010. The second phase, from 2010 to 2022, has a higher growth rate, indicating increased interest. This finding aligns with the three-stage development theory (Price, 1963 ) of productivity on a particular subject. Small increments in the scientific literature are documented during the precursor period when some scholars begin publishing research on a new topic. The number of papers increases exponentially in the second phase as the topic expands and draws a growing number of scientists, as many facets of the subject remain unexplored. Finally, in the third phase, the curve aspect shifts from exponential to logistic, testifying to a stabilisation in production and a consolidation of the body of knowledge.

figure 1

Number of publications on misogyny per year: observed and expected temporal evolution according to exponential growth.

To verify the rapid increase, we fit an exponential growth curve to the data. The yearly rate of change in this model is 13.1%, demonstrating how research on misogyny might be cast in the second phase of development: although more research is being released, there is still space for improvement in many areas.

It is noteworthy to highlight that, as shown in the Supplementary Material , the research on misogyny from 1990 to 2002 follows a similar trend as sexism and has a slightly higher yearly growth rate compared to patriarchy. However, when considering only the five years prior to 2022, a more noticeable rise in the volume of published research on misogyny becomes evident, with a twofold increase in the number of published documents.

Social Structure of research on misogyny: collaboration network

To capture the essential characteristics of the misogyny research field, with a specific emphasis on collaborative efforts among different authors, we construct the authors’ collaboration network. We used the Bibliometrix R package, for performing network analysis and visualisation (Aria and Cuccurullo, 2017 ). Within the collaboration network, researchers act as nodes, and the connections between them (edges) represent co-authorships on articles. The node size is indicative of the authors’ productivity, measured in terms of the number of manuscripts authored or co-authored. The edges are weighted according to the frequency of co-authorship. Figure 2 visually illustrates the collaboration network among authors, highlighting the most significant cliques, each distinguished by different colours. The term “clique” is commonly employed to identify highly interconnected groups of elements, such as nodes or vertices, within a network. In our context, a “clique” signifies a group of authors who closely and frequently collaborate with one another compared to their counterparts, thereby creating a densely interconnected structure within the network. The most central scholars, with the highest number of connections, are Elisabetta Fersini, Paolo Rosso, Bilal Ghanem and Viviana Patti, who are also among the most proficient authors in the field of research on misogyny, as shown in the Supplementary Material . The noteworthy aspect is that the densest subgraphs link authors whose research falls under the computer science category.

figure 2

Authors’ collaboration network.

Intellectual Structure of research on misogyny: citation analysis

The top five documents with the highest number of citations are: “Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures” (Massanari, 2017 ), “Down girl: The logic of misogyny” (Manne, 2017 ), “Attitudinal antecedents of rape myth acceptance: A theoretical and empirical re-examination” (Lonsway and Fitzgerald, 1995 ), “Post-postfeminism?: new feminist visibilities in postfeminist times” (Gill, 2016 ) and “Beauty and Misogyny Harmful Cultural Practices in the West” (Jeffreys, 2005 ). These works investigate misogyny from various angles.

Manne’s book explores the logic of misogyny, which “primarily targets women because they are women in a man’s world ” (Manne, 2017 , p. 64). Manne argues that misogyny still exists in alleged post-patriarchal cultures and has taken different forms since legal equality, requiring women to be moral “givers” and validating a sense of entitlement among privileged men. Misogyny often takes the form of taking from women what they supposedly owe men and preventing women from competing for positions of power and authority traditionally held by men. In addition, Manne examines various examples of rape culture, including online harassment.

Considering attitudes toward sexual violence, Lonsway and Fitzgerald investigate the relationship between misogyny and rape myth acceptance. Here, rape myths can be defined as “attitudes and beliefs that are generally false but are widely and persistently held, and that serve to deny and justify male sexual aggression against women” (Lonsway and Fitzgerald, 1994 , pag. 134).

From a feminist perspective, Jeffreys argues that some Western beauty practices (e.g., makeup, high-heeled shoes, breast implants) should be included in the United Nations’ definition of harmful traditional/cultural practices due to the damaging effects they have on women’s health, the creation of sexual difference, and the enforcement of female deference. Gill’s article contends that it is crucial to examine how the media portrays feminism and to delve into the complexities of a cultural moment that seems to be characterised by a range of feminist ideologies (both contemporary and traditional), as well as a resurgence of anti-feminist attitudes and prevalent misogyny.

Massanari’s research centres on online misogyny and is based on a long-term participant-observation and ethnographic study of Reddit’s culture and community. The research specifically focuses on the #Gamergate and The Fappening cases. The Fappening involved the illegal distribution of nude photos of celebrities via anonymous image-board 4chan and Reddit, while #Gamergate was ostensibly about ethics in gaming journalism but became a campaign of harassment against female and minority game developers, journalists, and critics. The study highlights how Reddit’s design, algorithm, and platform politics implicitly support toxic technocultures, providing a fertile ground for anti-feminist and misogynistic movements to flourish. Online misogyny is also discussed in the papers with the highest number of local citations (i.e., citations from other documents within our bibliographic dataset): “#MasculinitySoFragile: Culture, structure, and networked misogyny” (Banet-Weiser and Miltner, 2016 ), “Back to the kitchen, cunt: Speaking the unspeakable about online misogyny” (Jane, 2014 ), and “Drinking male tears: language, the Manosphere, and networked harassment” (Marwick and Caplan, 2018 ).

Conceptual Structure of research on misogyny

To understand the conceptual structure of the research on misogyny, we initially performed an exploratory analysis of the textual content of the keywords chosen by the authors.

Figure 3 shows the most used keywords, after removing the term “misogyny”. Besides the extensive terms gender, feminism and sexism, we find keywords related to the phenomenon of violence against women, to the emerging theme of the Manosphere and to the classical theme of patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity. It is also worth noting the presence of several keywords strictly linked to the online diffusion of misogynistic content.

figure 3

Most used keywords.

To deepen the analysis, a conceptual structure map (see Fig. 4 ) of the literature on misogyny was created using the Bibliometrix R package (Aria and Cuccurullo, 2017 ), which enables performing multiple correspondence analysis (MCA, Greenacre and Blasius, 2006 ) and hierarchical clustering. MCA, in particular, allows the generation of a low-dimensional Euclidean representation of the original data matrix by performing a homogeneity analysis of the “documents by keywords” indicator matrix, which is constructed by taking into account a dummy variable for each keyword. The words are plotted on a two-dimensional plane, where closer words have a more consistent distribution across the documents.

figure 4

Conceptual map of research on misogyny.

The two dimensions of the maps that emerged from the MCA can be interpreted as follows. The first dimension separates keywords emphasising the problem of misogyny in general and on social media platforms (on the right) from those related to the methodological aspects of the automatic detection of misogynistic language (on the left). The second dimension separates keywords emphasising the problem of misogyny from a general point of view (on the upper) from those related to the Manosphere and Incels ( involuntary celibates ) and their presence on the Reddit platform (on the bottom). Figure 4 also displays the results obtained through a hierarchical cluster analysis carried out adopting the method of average linkage on the factorial coordinates obtained through MCA. Five clusters emerge from the conceptual structure map. The orange cluster refers to publications related to the automatic detection of misogynistic content through machine learning and deep learning techniques. The green cluster displays the connection between misogyny and hate speech and the exploitation of Natural Language Processing (NLP) methodologies to investigate these phenomena. The blue cluster refers to the intersectionality of research on misogyny. The red cluster is strictly linked to studies of the presence of misogynistic content on social media. Finally, the purple cluster is related to publications dealing with the topics of the Manosphere and the Incel phenomenon.

Research themes in misogyny literature

A topic modelling approach is exploited to investigate the textual content of title, abstract and authors’ keywords to give extra insight into multiple latent themes emerging from the literature on misogyny. To reveal the themes, research interests and trends of studies in the existing misogyny literature, we rely on the LDA model.

Topic analysis: LDA model

LDA is an unsupervised machine-learning-based algorithm allowing to discovery of latent (unobserved) “topics” in large unstructured text datasets (Blei et al., 2003 ). Previous research applied LDA to bibliometrics as an efficient tool for understanding a field’s rich underlying topical structure (see, among others, Suominen and Toivanen, 2016 , Tontodimamma et al., 2021 ). The idea behind LDA is that documents contain multiple topics, and each topic is represented as a probability distribution over terms in a fixed vocabulary, with different topics represented by different probabilities of words in the vocabulary. LDA generative process specifies a joint distribution of hidden and observed variables. The algorithm aims to estimate the posterior distribution of the hidden variables given the observed data, but exact inference is intractable, requiring approximate inference algorithms like sampling-based and variational algorithms (Blei et al., 2003 ; Steyvers and Griffiths, 2006 ). To employ LDA, the user needs to specify the number of latent topics in the corpus and two hyperparameters that control how documents and words contribute to topics. A detailed explanation of the LDA algorithm can be found in the studies by Blei ( 2012 ) and Steyvers and Griffiths ( 2006 ).

In our analysis, we use LDA to model a corpus with each document consisting of the publication title, abstract, and keywords. LDA analysis was performed through the Fitlda Matlab routine, available in the Text Analytics Toolbox (MATLAB, 2022 ).

Topic interpretation

The themes generated by LDA are hidden variables that require proper interpretation, typically done by examining the top keywords associated with each topic (Steyvers and Griffiths, 2006 ). To this end, Figs. 5 and 6 show the most important words for each topic, with importance determined by normalising the posterior word probabilities for each topic by the geometric mean of the posterior probabilities for the word across all topics. The topics are ranked based on their estimated likelihood of being observed in the entire dataset. Section 2 of the Supplementary Material contains the list of the most significant terms and their relevance measurements. The twelve selected topics address crucial areas of research on misogyny and can be summarised as follows.

figure 5

Word clouds for topics 1–6.

figure 6

Word clouds for topics 7–12.

Topic 1 revolves around a comprehensive discussion on the feminist perspective of the misogyny phenomenon and addresses the root causes of misogyny and gender-based discrimination. The primary focus is on patriarchal male gender privilege and its role in perpetuating misogyny. This topic covers a range of issues related to gender inequality, such as the leadership gap between men and women, women’s rights, and the intersection of misogyny with other forms of oppression.

Topic 2 focuses on how misogyny is expressed in literary works from the early and medieval periods to the modern era. Overall, this topic highlights the role of novels, prose, tales, and fiction in shaping societal attitudes and beliefs about gender and how this has influenced the treatment of women throughout history.

Along similar lines, Topic 3 centres on the study of misogyny in relation to the representation of women in films and on how it influences the portrayal of women on visual media.

Topic 4 is focused on the study of misogyny within the realm of politics and examines how misogyny can be perpetuated within political systems and movements. In particular, the inclusion of terms like “American”, “white”, and “altright” suggests that research included in this topic might focus on the ways in which misogyny is manifested in American politics, particularly within white nationalist and alternative-right movements.

Topic 5 is centred on the study of masculinity and how it relates to misogyny. In particular, the word “hegemonic” suggests that this topic may focus on how dominant forms of masculinity reinforce misogyny and gender-based discrimination.

Topic 6 pertains to the research on women’s rights, including reproductive rights, family law, and access to healthcare, particularly within legal and political systems and on how these systems can either promote or hinder gender equality.

The latent theme of Topic 7 seems to refer to a broad subject area that encompasses issues related to education, sexuality, and sexual identity. Additionally, the related terms suggest a focus on the ways in which sexuality is addressed within educational institutions, including schools and universities.

Topic 8 is a subject area that focuses on the study of digital misogyny, which refers to the ways in which sexism and gender-based discrimination are perpetuated through online and digital media platforms.

The set of words linked to Topic 9 clearly indicates studies focusing on the subject of sexual violence and harassment.

Research included in Topic 10 is related to the investigation of misogyny in the context of music and religion.

Topic 11 appears to be focused on the intersection of misogyny and racism, particularly as it relates to the misogynoir phenomenon.

Finally, Topic 12 deals with the identification and classification of online misogyny.

Topic interactions

By modelling each document as a mixture of several topics and each topic as a combination of words, the LDA technique assigns topics to documents. In our analysis, we awarded the top three document-topic probabilities to each document in this study as long as the probabilities are greater than 0.2. We developed a topic relationship network by considering the topic co-occurrence matrix. The topic network is depicted in Fig. 7 , along with node centrality measures. The nodes are coloured according to their degree, and the edges are weighted depending on co-occurrences. The stronger the link, the thicker the line. Edges with weights less than the average number of co-occurrences have been omitted. The investigation of the linkages reveals relationships between research fronts, emphasising the multidisciplinary character of research on misogyny. The highest degrees are associated with the first three topics, which encompass broader themes dealing with the feminist perspectives of patriarchal society (Topic 1) and the representation of women in literary works (Topic 2) and cinema (Topic 3). Moreover, the latter two topics show the strongest interconnection. Lower degrees are associated with more specialistic research fronts related to the presence of misogyny in music and religion, the misogynoir phenomenon, and the recent field of misogyny detection in computational sciences. In particular, the theme of automatic identification of misogynistic content (Topic 12) is only linked to the research dealing with digital misogyny (Topic 8). A high betweenness, measuring the extent to which the node is part of paths that connect an arbitrary pair of nodes in the network, is associated with Topics 5 and 6, dealing with the study of masculinity and how it relates to misogyny and to research on women rights, respectively. These findings suggest that those research areas are more effective and accessible in the network and form the densest bridges with other nodes.

figure 7

Topic co-occurence network for the publications on misogyny and nodes’ centrality measures.

Topic temporal evolution

The temporal evolution of the scientific productivity for each topic can be captured through Fig. 8 . The temporal trend of most topics agrees with exponential growth. However, looking at Topic 2, related to studies of misogyny in literary works, we notice how the number of publications in the last period falls below the number expected according to the exponential law. Conversely, the number of published documents for Topics 8 and 12 shows a sudden rise starting from 2018. This trend testifies to the increasing interest in the study of online misogyny and the related techniques for automatic detection and identification. A relatively more contained rise in the size of publications is recorded for Topics 10 related to the investigation of misogyny in the context of music and religions.

figure 8

Number of publications on misogyny for each topic: observed and expected distributions according to exponential growth.

The appearance and development of new fields of interest and innovative ideas in the research activity on misogyny are confirmed by the heatmaps provided in the Supplementary Material , which show the number of documents, by years, assigned to the identified topics.

Sociological research on online misogyny

To improve our comprehension of the ongoing research on the online dissemination of misogynistic content, we utilised a more specific selection query in our search of the original set of documents, which targeted terms associated with the online environment. We limited our search to articles published in journals categorised under the Social Science subject area. After analysing 277 articles, we identified 187 that were suitable for our study.

Among these documents, four articles provide a review of the literature on online misogyny from different perspectives. Moloney and Love ( 2018 ) review the way online misogyny is conceptualised in the social scientific literature within feminist media studies. The authors identify four different terms that are used to describe different types of online misogyny: online sexual harassment, gendertrolling, e-bile, and disciplinary rhetoric. They also examine the sociological perspective and introduce the concept of “virtual manhood acts” (VMAs), which is situated within the broader context of critical gender theory. VMAs are examples of technologically facilitated misogyny that occur in online social spaces: textual and visual cues are exploited to signal a masculine self, enforce traditional gender norms, oppress women, and restrict men to predefined gender roles. Bosch and Gil-Juarez ( 2021 ) conducted both a systematic review of 33 articles found in Web of Science and a traditional review of academic, institutional, and feminist-activist publications. Their findings show that the majority of aggressors in online gender-based violence are cis-hetero-patriarchal men, who are mostly known to the victims and are often partners or ex-partners. The types of violence range from sexual insults and threats to sexual and high-tech violence. Rubio Martìn and Gordo Lòpez ( 2021 ) provide an overview of the most recent academic literature within the feminist technosocial literature, specifically related to sexual and gender-based violence in digital environments. In addition to discussing the contemporary antecedents of this perspective and presenting current positions and the most representative studies on topics related to online misogyny, the authors demonstrate the potential of the feminist technosocial approach for analysing digital environments and their designs. The main conclusion drawn is that both the values of a misogynistic culture and the possibilities for its reproduction and dissemination are embedded in the design and architecture of digital platforms. The article also highlights the increasing relevance of hybrid realities that result from the synergies between the physical and digital realms, as they enable amplified discourses and actions of online misogyny. Faith ( 2022 ) investigates how gender, technology, and development are interconnected by analysing various works from different fields, including feminist technology studies, gender and development, feminist criminology, and ICT for development. The study also draws data from sources such as civil society, news reports, and international organisations, like the UN, to examine online violence. The author argues for a critical research approach to better understand the complex and opaque power dynamics that shape the digital economy and how it affects gender and development goals.

The articles on online misogyny, which were found in the Social Science category, underwent a manual annotation process to extract various pieces of information. Regarding the different methodologies and techniques used to investigate online misogyny, our findings indicate that discourse analysis and content analysis are the primary methodologies employed in social science literature. Several studies utilise in-depth interviews and surveys to examine the individuals targeted by and responsible for online misogyny. Additionally, digital ethnography, corpus linguistics, and network analysis are also employed. The most analysed social media platforms include Twitter, Reddit and Facebook. Further details on the methodological approaches and the social networks are provided in the Supplementary Material . The subsequent sections delve into details regarding target victims, misogynistic groups, and potential measures to counteract online misogyny.

Targets of online misogyny

Scholars studying online misogyny have identified various target groups that are particularly vulnerable to misogynistic content. These groups include female politicians, journalists, celebrities, influencers, musicians, gamers and developers, YouTubers, university students, and women who have been sexually assaulted. By focusing on specific target groups, research helps in achieving a more nuanced understanding of the ways in which online misogyny manifests and the specific harms that it causes.

Studies on online misogyny directed towards female politicians have concentrated on analysing the experiences of women from various countries, examining the types of misogynistic content directed towards them and the platforms on which it is disseminated. Silva-Paredes and Ibarra Herrera ( 2022 ), using a corpus-based critical discourse analysis, explore abuse received by a Chilean right-wing female politician. Phipps and Montgomery ( 2022 ) conducted an investigation into the portrayal of Nancy Pelosi as the monstrous feminine in the deeply misogynistic attack advertisements of Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential re-election campaign. In light of the prevalent misogynistic and anti-feminist depictions of Senator Hillary Clinton across all types of media, Ritchie ( 2013 ) examines how online media continues to have the power to create harmful representations of female politicians and the consequences for the political campaigns of women and for the democratic process as a whole. Focusing on Canadian politicians, Wagner ( 2022 ) discusses how online harassment is a gendered phenomenon. The study, drawing upon interviews with 101 people from diverse genders, racial/ethnic identities, sexual orientations, and partisan affiliations, shows that women are more aware of online harassment than men and how it succeeds in making women feel they are in a hostile political environment. Saluja and Thilaka ( 2021 ), analysing the Twitter discourse referring to three well-known female politicians in India, reveal similar findings, emphasising how female politicians are subjected to a different and distinct pattern of reception compared to their male counterparts. Instances of misogynistic or sexist hate speech and abusive language against female politicians in Japan are investigated in Fuchs and Schäfer ( 2021 ).

The research conducted by Chen et al. ( 2020 ) through in-depth interviews with 75 female journalists from Germany, India, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the USA revealed that those journalists frequently encounter online gendered harassment. The harassment, which includes sexist comments that criticise, attack, marginalise, stereotype, or threaten them based on their gender or sexuality, has led to some female journalists being subjected to misogynistic attacks and even threats of sexual violence. The study suggests that this kind of harassment limits their level of interaction with their audience without being attacked or sexually undermined.

By examining the findings of the qualitative in-depth interview of 48 female journalists, Similar findings are reported by Koirala ( 2020 ), whose study, based on the qualitative in-depth interview of 48 female journalists in Nepal, highlights how some of them tolerate harassment by being ‘strong like a man’, while many avoid social media platforms to keep free of such abusive behaviour. Along the same lines, Rego ( 2018 ) analyses Twitter conversations with Indian journalists and argues that social media platforms constitute convenient havens of harassment against assertive women.

Ghaffari ( 2022 ), analysing user-generated comments on the Instagram profile of a female American celebrity, shows how women are required to suppress their feelings and limit their authentic online presentation to maintain the outward countenance that matches the stereotypical gender roles in audiences’ state of mind. The research conducted by Döring and Mohseni ( 2019 ) supports these findings, focusing on video producers on YouTube. Their study found that female video producers are more likely to receive negative comments compared to male producers, but only if they display their sexuality or address feminist topics. However, if they conform to traditional gender role expectations, they do not experience this kind of negative feedback.

The emergence of female gamers in video game communities has led to a rise in misogynistic attacks against those who challenge the traditional hypermasculine culture of gaming. The 2014 #gamergate incident is a prime example of this, where a group of gamers opposed “Social Justice Warriors” who highlighted discrimination and exclusion in the gaming industry. Female gamers were subject to death threats, rape threats, and doxxing, where their private information was shared online (Tomkinson and Harper, 2015 ). The video gaming community has a long history of gender-based attacks on women, which serve to create a toxic environment for them when making and playing video games. According to Jenson and De Castell ( 2021 ), who approach the subject from a feminist perspective, video games have been predominantly masculine and gendered spaces. Repeated displays of aggression, referred to as “shock and awe”, perpetuate and legitimise gendered hostility. These displays also help to preserve exclusionary media practices designed to maintain the status quo.

The Manosphere

Numerous articles on online misogyny examine the Manosphere, a collection of websites and social media groups that endorse misogynistic beliefs. These networks are not uniform but consist of multiple misogynistic groups with differing perspectives and degrees of violence, which are associated with far-right, homophobic, and racist ideologies (Dickel and Evolvi, 2022 ). Despite their variations, all these groups portray feminism as innately discriminatory and threatening to men (Farci and Righetti, 2019 ). The Manosphere adheres to the beliefs of a ‘gynocentric order’ and the Red Pill ideology, a metaphor derived from the movie The Matrix, in which the protagonist’s eyes are opened to reality upon taking the “red pill”. Although these groups may have distinct beliefs, many members use the term misandry, referring to the hate against men, which has ideological and community-building functions. It reinforces a misogynistic belief system that portrays feminism as a movement that hates men and boys (Marwick and Caplan, 2018 ). The use of misandry caters to both extremist misogynistic subcultures and moderate men’s rights groups. It enables these groups to adopt the language of identity politics, positioning men as the silenced victims of reverse discrimination in all aspects of political, economic, and social life and solidifying their sense of entitlement (Farci and Righetti, 2019 ).

Men’s rights activists employ a personal action frame to construct a plausible but fictional narrative of men’s oppression (Carian, 2022 ). The movement against feminism revolves around advocating for men’s rights while denying that gendered violence exists (Garcìa-Mingo et al., 2022 ). The Manosphere engages in a crucial ideological effort that normalises, trivialises, and legitimises sexual violence against women in various forms (Garcìa-Mingo et al. 2022 ). Some of the primary themes of this ideology are: criticising and verbally abusing women, downplaying or not taking seriously accusations or reports of rape, depicting #MeToo as a feminist plot, portraying men as victims, and advocating for the restoration of patriarchal values (Dickel and Evolvi, 2022 ). Hopton and Langer ( 2022 ), analysing Twitter content to understand how the Manosphere constructs masculinity and femininity, identify three discursive strategies: co-opting discourses of oppression, naming power, and disavowal by disaggregation. These strategies are used to position men as victims, portray women as monstrous others, and re-establish gendered power hierarchies through continuous references to rape in their discourse.

One of the main groups in the Manosphere, the Incels, believes in a hetero-patriarchal racial hierarchy and justifies their lack of sexual activity through ideas rooted in biological determinism and victimisation by women and feminism (Lindsay, 2022 ). Scotto di Carlo’s analysis of Incels (Scotto di Carlo, 2023 ) reveals a conflation of apparently sarcastic metaphors, dark humour, and misogyny to describe women, as well as unique self-representations of forum participants that do not conform to typical ‘us vs them’ identity pattern (van Dijk, 1998 ): instead of highlighting the positive qualities of their in-group, the Incels describe themselves in a derogatory manner, leading to a spiral of self-pity and self-contempt that can foster a sense of brotherhood within the community. These findings stem from a content-discourse analysis of posts from threads specifically discussing women on an incel forum and from the study of nominations and predications of self-representations used in the ‘Introductions’ thread of the same forum. Halpin ( 2022 ), drawing on a qualitative analysis of comments made on a popular Incel discussion board, demonstrates how the group uses its perceived subordinate status to justify their misogyny and legitimise its degradation of women. Conducting an ethnographic content analysis of incel-identified subreddits and using femmephobia as a lens, Menzie ( 2022 ) examines how Incels employ heteropatriarchal conceptions of femininity to devalue women and to describe the social conditions that force them to remain celibate. The study focuses on the symbolic actors constructed by Incels, namely Stacy, who represents the most attractive women, Becky, who represents women of ordinary or moderate attractiveness, and Chad, who represents dominant alpha males. Five themes emerge from the analysis. First, Incels use these symbolic gendered actors to describe a sex deficit most men suffer, implying their own undesirability. Second, Incels’ femmephobia towards hyper-feminine women for not fitting heteropatriarchal requirements is evident in “Stacy”.Third, “Becky” shows a more flexible femmephobia towards women of different appearances who uphold “unrealistic standards” and date men more attractive than themselves or rely on feminism to cope with not attracting the same men as Stacy. Through “Chad”, the fourth topic examines the idea of masculinity, incorporating feelings of jealousy and recognition of victimisation under societal conditions that allow women to exploit men financially or emotionally. Finally, the analysis reveals how Incels prioritise partner display as a symbol of wealth. Along the same lines, Koller and Heritage ( 2020 ) analysed a textual corpus created from threads posted and commented on by Incels. The study examined keywords, word frequencies, and concordance lines to explore the representation of gendered social actors. The findings suggest that Incels position different groups of men in a hierarchy in which conventionally attractive men occupy the top position. Female social actors are not placed in a similar hierarchy. Furthermore, an additional appraisal analysis of the most frequently occurring male and female social actors reveals that men are judged as unable to function, while women are viewed as immoral, dishonest, and capable of causing harm to men.

Chang ( 2022 ), analysing the discourses circulating on a Reddit forum for self-proclaimed Incels, explores the perceptions created by the term “femoid”, a derogatory term generated by Incels to refer to women, constructing them as an abject “monstrous-feminine”, serving a dehumanising function and thus justifying the violence enacted upon them. Tranchese and Sugiura ( 2021 ) focus on the similarities between the language used in pornography and that of Incels, arguing that both are different manifestations of the same misogyny. Their study involves a linguistic analysis that compares a collection of posts from an Incel subreddit community with a reference collection of posts from 688 subreddits covering other subjects. From a different perspective, Byerly ( 2020 ) investigated news media language in the coverage of Incel behaviour associated with sexual aggression. The study employs qualitative textual analysis on a sample of 70 articles obtained using keyword combinations ‘incels and violence’, ‘incels and social media’, and ‘incels and sexism’ from 29 distinct news sources across 6 countries throughout the years 2018 and 2019. Research findings indicate that news stories emphasise the role of social media in helping Incels find each other and form online communities. Additionally, specific social media sites served as locations to amplify misogynistic attitudes and to boast about their murders. Speckhard et al. ( 2021 ) conducted a study that involved gathering information on Incels’ social and personal lives, adherence to incel ideology, opinions on incel-related violence, support for violent actions, and beliefs regarding the classification of Incels as violent extremists. The data was collected through a Google Forms survey that was distributed to active adult members of a prominent Incel forum. The final sample under analysis comprises 272 respondents who self-identify as Incels. The findings demonstrate that while most of them do not advocate violence and are non-violent, those who strongly hold misogynistic beliefs are more likely to endorse violent actions. Participation in Incel online forums, which validate their viewpoints, could also lead to an increase in their misogyny. O’Donnell and Shor ( 2022 ) investigated how misogynistic Incels discuss mass violence committed by their peers. Through qualitative content analysis of comments related to the 2018 Toronto van attack, in which self-declared Incel Alek Minassian drove a van into pedestrians, killing 10 and injuring 16, they found that a large majority of self-proclaimed Incels expressed support for such violence, as well as violence in general. Incels believed that mass violence was a means to achieve four main goals: gaining more attention, seeking revenge, reinforcing traditional masculinity, and bringing about political change.

MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), a separatist group within the Manosphere, also promotes a misogynistic agenda. Unlike Men’s Rights Activists and Incels, MGTOWs focus on individualistic and self-empowering actions, encouraging men to lead a self-sufficient life away from women. Jones et al. ( 2020 ), using content and thematic analyses of a corpus of tweets from three of the most active MGTOW users on Twitter, have linked the MGTOW ideology with toxic masculinity, showing that the online harassment it generates is deeply misogynistic and upholds heterosexual and hegemonic masculinity. The authors note that, although misogyny and violence produced by MGTOW are not extreme, the group’s appeals to rational thinking make them appear to be common sense. Wright et al. ( 2020 ) delve deeper into the structural underpinnings and nature of MGTOW debate within their discussion forums, including leadership, moderation, in-group dynamics, and the discursive form of debates, and how this contributes to the propagation of misogyny and different calls to action. The authors conducted a content analysis of comments in the official MGTOW website’s forum and a digital ethnographic approach. Their findings showed that discussions primarily revolve around women and the MGTOW community. When discussing women, users did so in an openly misogynistic way. When discussing MGTOW, conversations sought to define and rationalise it as an ideology, both for individuals and the collective. The authors also note that the communicative form was mainly communitarian, with strong group bonding, ties, and engagement.

Countering online misogyny

Strategies and tactics used by women to cope with and address gender violence online are diverse and sometimes activated simultaneously. Some of these strategies prioritise self-care and protection, while others focus on resistance and challenging such violence. From a self-care perspective, it is crucial to adopt mitigation measures that reduce harm and minimise risks, such as assessing online identities, adopting pseudonyms or collective identities, using masks, strengthening accounts, creating distance, silencing or erasing sensitive content (Bosch and Gil-Juarez, 2021 ). In the research by Chen et al. ( 2020 ), it is shown how female journalists have developed multiple strategies for coping with abuse, including modifying their social media postings, altering their reporting subjects, and utilising technological tools to prevent offensive comments on their public pages.

Merely prioritising self-care is insufficient; an active approach should be taken to resist and transform the current state of online misogyny. This involves engaging in actions that challenge the status quo and strive for meaningful change, with the ultimate goal of repoliticising the internet and social media with, for, and from a feminist perspective (Bosch and Gil-Juarez, 2021 ). From this standpoint, social media platforms can give space to the promotion of gender-based harassment but can also serve as crucial spaces for feminist education and activism and for the formation of a feminist counter-public that directly contests a misogynistic culture (Sills et al. 2016 ). In this perspective, Kurasawa et al. ( 2021 ) discuss a new form of feminist activism called evidentiary activism, which uses evidence of gender-based online violence (GBOV). Evidentiary activism engages with existing formal evidentiary cultures by advocating for legislative and regulatory reforms to address GBOV, promoting platform-based technological solutions, and challenging conventional notions of user privacy and anonymity. In addition, it involves contributing to and embracing informal evidentiary cultures, which use evidence as a tool for cultural and political mobilisation against GBOV. Strategies used include publicising instances of GBOV, highlighting the moral implications of such violence, and fostering feminist digital citizenship. As an example of online feminist activism, Kim ( 2017 ) explored the role of the 2015 hashtag #iamafeminist in promoting feminist identification and activism against misogyny in South Korea. The hashtag persisted for three months by addressing current gender issues and promoting activism both online and offline. The article by Shesterina and Fedosova ( 2021 ) examines the methods used by female bloggers to promote feminist ideas on Instagram. The authors found that while many posts are logically argued, female bloggers often use emotional manipulation and persuasion techniques to promote their ideas. The study identifies both the main topics in support of feminism, such as domestic violence and gender stereotypes, victim blaming, and the most common attitudes that female bloggers challenge in their posts (e.g., “gender roles are determined by nature”, “a woman must obey a man”, “female intelligence is worse than male”, “all women are hysterical”). The authors also describe the lexical means and rhetorical techniques commonly used in female blogs, such as metaphors, allusions, appeals, and rhetorical questions. The language used is generally colloquial, making texts easier to read, but it also includes harsh criticism and increased emotionality compared to traditional journalistic texts.

However, according to Jane ( 2016 ), taking matters into one’s own hands when faced with online harassment may have limited effectiveness and is not a sufficient solution to the problem of gendered cyber-hate. This approach shifts the responsibility from the perpetrators to the targets and the private sphere rather than addressing the broader social issue. The author suggests that a combination of feminist activism efforts, including a revised approach to collectivism, is needed to enact the necessary legislative and corporate changes to combat gendered online hate. The study by Davis and Santillana ( 2019 ) examines the potential and limitations of digital media activism in raising awareness about gender-based harassment using the case study of Las Morras, a Mexico City-based feminist media group. The study demonstrates the paradoxical role of networked digital media as an activist tool. While it rapidly circulated a critique of misogyny, it also attracted negative attention, leading to the group’s eventual demise due to doxing, trolling, and personal threats directed at its members.

Megalians, a cyberfeminist community in South Korea, utilised the technique of “mirroring” to combat online misogyny (Jeong and Lee, 2018 , Moon et al., 2022 , Yang and Lee, 2022 ). This practice involved mimicking the language of misogynistic online communities and reversing the roles of perpetrators and victims. Megalians also used parodies to subvert the humour and power dynamic that men often used to make fun of women. By appropriating and using the language of misogynists, they aimed to strip men of their ability to use misogynistic speech for their own entertainment. This approach also exposed the absurdity and ridiculousness of the misogynistic rhetoric. However, the success of mirroring is not clear-cut. In fact, while Megalians’ voices were heard in society, the strong message and crude language proved divisive and polarising (Kim, 2021 ).

An alternative strategy for addressing misogyny is to use social re-norming and appeal to the empathy of those engaging in harassing behaviour. The goal of re-norming is to challenge cultural attitudes and beliefs that tolerate or encourage violence against women and to promote new standards of behaviour that prioritise respect, equality, and safety for all individuals. One example of this approach is the experiment conducted by Whiley et al. ( 2023 ) on Twitter. Their experiment aimed to inform misogynistic offenders that their sexist language was disapproved of by the majority of people. However, this intervention did not result in a reduction in the number or frequency of sexist Tweets or users, nor did it affect the tone or emotional intensity of subsequent tweets. In contrast, research has demonstrated the efficacy of creative humour, such as that used by the IncelTears subreddit to ridicule Incels, in promoting (dis)affiliative and informative functions (Dynel, 2020 ).

Computational science research on online misogyny

In this section, we focus on documents on misogyny classified by Scopus in the “Computer Science” subject area. A total of 196 documents were found; 30 documents were excluded as they were off-topic. Two surveys were identified in the retrieved documents, which centre on the automated detection of online misogyny. In one survey, Shushkevich and Cardiff ( 2019 ) present an examination of techniques for identifying misogyny in social media through automation. Meanwhile, Sultana et al. ( 2021 ) conducted a systematic literature review of prior research to reveal different aspects of misogyny and sexist humour and to create a codebook for annotation purposes.

Automatic detection of misogyny

Manual classification of the retrieved articles reveals a wealth of valuable information regarding the automatic detection of misogyny. This includes details about the social networks that are being analysed, the primary techniques employed, and the availability of datasets.

In line with research in the social science area (see Section 4), Twitter (with 95 publications) and Reddit (with 46 publications) continue to be the most commonly used sources, even in the area of computational science. The number of studies dealing with Facebook and Instagram is very limited. Researchers frequently prioritise the study of Twitter (now rebranded X) and Reddit above other social media platforms due to their historically liberal provision of Application Programming Interface (API) access. Furthermore, Reddit, which has been described as ’a community of communities’ (Massanari, 2017 , p. 331), has a diverse array of subreddits that cater to different interests, some of which foster misogynistic beliefs. However, the new pricing plans for using the Twitter API, introduced in March 2023, are expected to significantly affect research. A survey conducted by the Coalition for Independent Technology Research Footnote 2 outlines the potential consequences of discontinuing free and affordable API access. These drawbacks include the disruption of research on the dissemination of harmful content. A similar survey on the impact of Reddit’s recent API changes Footnote 3 emphasises how researchers are concerned about interruptions in their research resulting from API modifications. It is worth noting that only one study (Semenzin and Bainotti, 2020 ) reports the results of research on Telegram, which, in fact, has become a widely used platform for the dissemination of abusive and misogynistic content due to its high degree of anonymity and limited content-moderation policies (Guhl and Davey, 2020 ).

The automatic detection of misogyny typically utilises various techniques, with pre-trained deep-learning models and multimodal models being the most commonly employed. Other techniques include machine learning algorithms such as SVM, Naïve Bayes, or Random Forest. Additionally, some documents rely on convolutional neural network models. More details on the published documents employing the different techniques are provided in the Supplementary Material .

Four articles employ the use of lexicons for automatic detection of misogyny. Attanasio and Pastor ( 2020 ) propose misogyny lexicons for automatic misogyny identification in order to improve sentence embedding similarity. Hurtlex (Bassignana et al. 2018 ), which is a lexicon of offensive, aggressive, and hateful words in more than 50 languages, is exploited for misogyny identification in the studies by Chiril et al. ( 2022 ) and Pamungkas et al. ( 2018 ). Kwarteng et al. ( 2022 ) created a specific lexicon around misogynoir.

Taxonomies and guidelines

When releasing annotated datasets, a crucial aspect is to clearly outline the guidelines for categorising misogynistic language. Four articles in the retrieved documents address this issue (Anzovino et al., 2018 , Guest et al., 2021 , Sultana et al., 2021 , Zeinert et al., 2021 ).

Sultana et al. ( 2021 ) proposed eleven categories to classify misogynistic remarks: Discredit (slurring over women with no other larger intention), Stereotyping (description of women’s physical appeal and/or comparisons to narrow standards), Sexual harassment (to physically assert power over women), Threats of violence (intent to physically assert power over women or to intimidate and silence women through threats of violence), Dominance (to preserve male control, protect male interest and exclude women from the conversation), Derailing (to justify abuse, reject male responsibility, and attempt to disrupt the conversation in order to refocus it), Victim blaming (blaming the victims for the problems they are facing), Mixed bias (gender bias might be mixed with other kinds of biases like religious or racial), Sexual objectification (evoke sexual imagery), and Damning (contains prayers to hurt women). Regarding the expression of misogyny using humour, this research proposes eight categories of jokes: Devaluation of personal characteristics, Women’s place in the private sphere, Violence against women, Feminist backlash, Sexual objectification, Excluding and/or objectifying humour, Transphobic Jokes and Cruel or Humiliation. All the categories proposed in Anzovino et al. ( 2018 ) are included in Sultana et al. ( 2021 ). The same occurs with categories proposed by Zeinert et al. ( 2021 ), except for the interesting concept of neosexism. Neosexism is a concept defined in Francine Tougas et al. ( 1999 ), and presents as the belief that women have already achieved equality and that discrimination of women does not exist. Neosexism was the most common form of misogyny present in the dataset of Zeinert et al. ( 2021 ). Guest et al. ( 2021 ) define four categories of misogynistic content: misogynistic pejoratives, descriptions of misogynistic treatment, acts of misogynistic derogation and gendered personal attacks against women.

Evaluation campaigns

A number of the documents on misogyny that fall within the Computer Science subject area were produced in connection with various evaluation campaigns. These campaigns include EVALITA (Evaluation of NLP and Speech Tools for Italian), IberLEF (Iberian Languages Evaluation Forum), SemEval (International Workshop on Semantic Evaluation), and FIRE (Forum for Information Retrieval Evaluation). The EVALITA campaign includes the Automatic Misogyny Identification (AMI) task (Fersini et al. 2018 ). The IberLEF annual campaign features the EXIST task, which is sEXism Identification in Social neTworks (Rodrìguez-Sanchez et al. 2021 ). SemEval has a task called MAMI, which is Multimedia Automatic Misogyny Identification (Fersini et al., 2022 ). Lastly, FIRE includes the Arabic Misogyny Identification (ArMI) task (Mulki and Ghanem, 2022 ).

Thanks to these evaluation campaigns, datasets for automatic misogyny detection in multiple languages are now available. Specifically, the AMI task made available two datasets, in English and Italian, downloaded from Twitter. The EXIST task provided datasets of tweets in both English and Spanish. The dataset released for the MAMI challenge comprises memes that were downloaded from popular social media platforms such as Twitter and Reddit, as well as from websites dedicated to meme creation and sharing. Lastly, the ArMI task provided a dataset of tweets written in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and various Arabic dialects.

The bibliometric analysis reveals that research on misogyny has witnessed exponential growth from 2010 to 2022. This growth can be attributed to various areas of research, but one prominent factor contributing to this trend is the increased attention given to the online dissemination of hate towards women. Several findings support this initial conclusion.

Firstly, the analysis indicates that the most productive authors in the field of misogyny research come from the area of computer science. This suggests that experts in this field have been actively investigating and publishing on the topic, further driving the growth of research in this area.

Moreover, examining the topics covered in the analysed documents provides additional evidence for the influence of online misogyny. Topic 8, which is related to digital misogyny, and Topic 12, which focuses on the automatic identification of misogyny in social media, have experienced significantly higher growth compared to the broader field of misogyny research (as depicted in Fig. 8 ). This finding indicates that the study of misogyny in online platforms and the development of methods to detect misogyny in social media have gained considerable attention within the research community.

The major role that online misogyny plays in the development of the area supports the idea that the research seeks to delineate the contours of a new face of misogyny, the latest manifestation of hate towards women which is expressed more crudely and more openly on social networks because they facilitate anonymity and a greater distance from the victims.

Another conclusion drawn from the analysis of the conceptual structure of misogyny research (Fig. 4) and the interactions between topics (Fig. 7 ) is that the research focused on the automatic detection of misogyny in online platforms (Topic 12) exhibits weak connections with other conceptual areas that address different aspects of the phenomenon. This area of research only demonstrates some conceptual relation to the broader study of online misogyny (Topic 8). This presents a significant challenge, considering that qualitative analysis of sociological research emphasises the growing relevance of hybrid realities resulting from the synergies between the physical and digital realms, not just in violence against women but also in specific domains such as politics. Moreover, the lack of relationship between Topic 12, which focuses on the automatic detection of misogyny, and Topic 9, which explores violence against women and the concept of Manosphere (primarily a digital phenomenon), is particularly noteworthy. This suggests that research in the computational science domain may not be adequately addressing the most extreme manifestations of online misogyny. Furthermore, it also indicates that the tools offered by computational linguistics are underutilised in social science-led research.

In general, the absence of stronger connections between certain topics that attract the attention of various disciplines could be seen as a sign of the practical challenges encountered in interdisciplinary research. For instance, Topic 6, which focuses on the study of women’s rights within legal and political systems, exhibits very weak relationships with Topics 8 and 12, despite qualitative sociological research emphasising the need to consider the new dynamics emerging in virtual spaces. Another illustration can be found in the qualitative review of computational science literature. It becomes apparent that this research area relies on the definition of taxonomies that would benefit from clarification through collaboration with social science research. For instance, the inclusion of stereotypes against women as part of the types of misogyny raises the question of whether the concept of misogyny should be reserved for the most extreme forms of hatred or should encompass the wide range of sexist attitudes and gender symbolic constructions derived from a patriarchal culture.

The main conclusion drawn from this work is that research across different disciplines is addressing a new facet of misogyny, a revitalised version of outdated beliefs about women’s inferiority that circulate in novel forms within the online realm. Understanding the characteristics and functions of this new expression of misogyny poses a challenge that necessitates an interdisciplinary approach, leveraging the strengths of different areas of knowledge to effectively address it.

The above-mentioned lack of collaboration between different areas prevents the establishment of connections that would enrich the analysis of the way misogyny is disseminated today in both the virtual and real world. For example, social science knowledge in combination with computational discourse analysis or NLP technologies could be used to study the connections and similarities between agents disseminating misogyny online and mainstream social actors such as political parties or religious organisations. In the same way, the similarity between misogynist discourses and those of left-leaning feminists in open battle against other fractions of the feminist movement could also be monitored and would allow for a more complex view of the phenomenon. For both approaches, it is necessary that social science knowledge strongly rooted in the study of social relations be combined with the new methodologies that computer science offers for the analysis of discourse produced naturally in digital or real communicative exchanges, such as in parliaments, rallies or interviews.

Data availability

Data sharing is not applicable to this research, as no data were generated. The analysed data were retrieved from the commercial Web of Science (WOS) and Scopus databases, following the search procedure detailed in the Supplementary Material .

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jan/11/gamergate-a-brief-history-of-a-computer-age-war , https://time.com/3510381/gamergate-faq/

https://independenttechresearch.org/letter-twitters-new-api-plans-will-devastate-public-interest-research/

https://independenttechresearch.org/reddit-survey-results/

Alghamdi R, Alfalqi K (2015) A survey of topic modeling in text mining. Int J Adv Comput Sci Appl 6(1):147–153

Google Scholar  

Allen A (2021) Feminist perspectives on power. In: Zalta E (ed) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University

Anzovino M, Fersini E, Rosso P (2018) Automatic identification and classification of misogynistic language on Twitter. In: Silberztein M, Atigui F, Kornyshova E et al (eds) Natural language processing and information systems (NLDB) 2018. Lecture notes in computer science, vol 10859. Springer, Cham, pp. 57–64

Aria M, Cuccurullo C (2017) bibliometrix: an R-tool for comprehensive science mapping analysis. J Informetr 11(4):959–975

Article   Google Scholar  

Attanasio G, Pastor E (2020) PoliTeam @ AMI: improving sentence embedding similarity with misogyny lexicons for automatic misogyny identification in Italian tweets. In: Proceedings of the 7th evaluation campaign of natural language processing and speech tools for Italian (EVALITA 2020) (eds Basile V, Croce D, Maro M, Passaro LC) CEUR workshop proceedings, vol 2765, Accademia University Press, Torino

Banet-Weiser S, Miltner KM (2016) #MasculinitySoFragile: culture, structure, and networked misogyny. Fem Media Stud 16(1):171–174

Bassignana E, Basile V, Patti V (2018) Hurtlex: a multilingual lexicon of words to hurt. In: Proceedings of the fifth Italian Conference on Computational Linguistics (CLiC-it 2018), Torino, December 10–12, 2018, (eds Cabrio E, Mazzei A, Tamburini F) CEUR Workshop Proceedings, vol 2253, Accademia University Press, Torino, Italy

Bates L (2021) Men who hate women: from incels to pickup artists: the truth about extreme misogyny and how it affects us all. Sourcebooks, Naperville, IL

Blei DM (2012) Probabilistic topic models. Commun ACM 55(4):77–84

Blei DM, Ng AY, Jordan MI (2003) Latent Dirichlet allocation. J Mach Learn Res 3(1):993–1022

Bosch NV, Gil-Juarez A (2021) Un acercamiento situado a las violencias machistas online y a las formas de contrarrestarlas. Rev Estud Fem 29(3). https://doi.org/10.1590/1806-9584-2021V29N374588

Byerly CM(2020) Incels online reframing sexual violence Commun Rev 23(4):290–308

Carian EK(2022) "We’re all in this together”: leveraging a personal action frame in two men’s rights forums Mobilization 27(1):47–68

Chang W(2022) The monstrous-feminine in the incel imagination: Investigating the representation of women as “femoids” on /r/Braincels Fem Media Stud 22(2):254–270

Article   MathSciNet   Google Scholar  

Chen GM, Pain P, Chen VY(2020) ‘You really have to have a thick skin’: a cross-cultural perspective on how online harassment influences female journalists Journalism 21(7):877–895

Chiril P, Pamungkas E, Benamara F (2022) Emotionally informed hate speech detection: a multi-target perspective. Cogn Comput 14(1):322–352

Citron DK (2014) Hate crimes in cyberspace. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Book   Google Scholar  

Code L (2000) Encyclopedia of feminist theories. Routledge, London

Davis S, Santillana M(2019) From the streets to the screen to nowhere: Las morras and the fragility of networked digital activism Westminst Pap Commun Cult 14(1):18–32

Dickel V, Evolvi G (2022) “Victims of feminism”: exploring networked misogyny and #MeToo in the manosphere. Fem Media Stud https://doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2022.2029925

Döring N, Mohseni MR(2019) Male dominance and sexism on YouTube: results of three content analyses Fem Media Stud 19(4):512–524

Dynel M(2020) Vigilante disparaging humour at r/IncelTears: humour as critique of incel ideology Language Commun 74:1–14

Faith B(2022) Tackling online gender-based violence; understanding gender, development, and the power relations of digital spaces Gend Technol Dev 26(3):325–340

Farci M, Righetti N(2019) Italian men’s rights activism and online backlash against feminism Rass Ital Sociol 60(4):765–781

Fersini E, Nozza D, Rosso P (2018) Overview of the EVALITa 2018 task on automatic misogyny identification (AMI). In: CEUR workshop proceedings (eds Caselli T, Novielli N, Patti V, Rosso P) vol 2263 (CEUR-WS), Accademia University Press, Torino

Fersini E, Gasparini F, Rizzi G et al (2022) SemEval-2022 Task 5: multimedia automatic misogyny identification. In: Proceedings of the 16th international workshop on Semantic Evaluation (SemEval-2022) (eds Emerson G, Schluter N, Stanovsky G. et al) Association for Computational Linguistics, pp. 533–549

Francine Tougas F, Brown R, Beaton AM (1999) Neosexism among women: the role of personally experienced social mobility attempts. Personal Soc Psychol Bull 25(12):1487–1497

Fuchs T, Schäfer F(2021) Normalizing misogyny: hate speech and verbal abuse of female politicians on Japanese Twitter Jpn Forum 33(4):553–579

Garcìa-Mingo E, Fernàndez SD, Tomàs-Forte S (2022) (Re)configurando el imaginario sobre la violencia sexual desde el antifeminismo: el trabajo ideològico de la manosfera española. Polit Sociedad 59(1). https://doi.org/10.5209/poso.80369

Ghaffari S(2022) Discourses of celebrities on Instagram: digital femininity, self-representation and hate speech Crit Discourse Stud 19(2):161–178

Gill R (2016) Post-postfeminism?: new feminist visibilities in postfeminist times. Fem Media Stud 16(4):610–630

Ging D, Siapera E (2018) Special issue on online misogyny. Fem Media Stud 18(4):515–524

Glick P, Fiske ST (1997) Hostile and benevolent sexism: measuring ambivalent sexist attitudes toward women. Psychol Women Q 21(1):119–135

Greenacre M, Blasius J (2006) Multiple correspondence analysis and related methods. Chapman and Hall/CRC, New York

Guest E, Vidgen B, Mittos A et al An expert annotated dataset for the detection of online misogyny. In: Proceedings of the 16th conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: main volume. Association for Computational Linguistics, pp. 1336–1350 (2021)

Guhl J, Davey J (2020) A safe space to hate: white supremacist mobilisation on telegram. Technical report. ISD Global

Halpin M(2022) Weaponized subordination: how incels discredit themselves to degrade women Gend Soc 36(6):813–837

Hopton K, Langer S(2022) “Kick the XX out of your life”: an analysis of the manosphere’s discursive constructions of gender on Twitter Fem Psychol 32(1):3–22

Hu Y, Boyd-Graber J, Satinoff B (2014) Interactive topic modeling. Mach Learn 95(3):423–469

Jane EA(2014) Back to the kitchen, cunt: speaking the unspeakable about online misogyny Continuum 28(4):558–570

Jane EA (2015) Flaming? What flaming? The pitfalls and potentials of researching online hostility. Ethics Inf Technol 17(1):65–87

Jane EA(2016) Online misogyny and feminist digilantism Continuum 30(3):284–297

Jane EA (2017) Misogyny online: a short (and Brutish) history. Sage, London

Jeffreys S (2005) Beauty and misogyny: harmful cultural practices in the West. Routledge, New York, NY, USA

Jenson J, De Castell S(2021) Patriarchy in play: video games as gendered media ecologies Explor Media Ecol 20(2):195–212

Jeong E, Lee J(2018) We take the red pill, we confront the DickTrix: online feminist activism and the augmentation of gendered realities in South Korea Fem Media Stud 18(4):705–717

Jones C, Trott V, Wright S(2020) Sluts and soyboys: MGTOW and the production of misogynistic online harassment New Media Soc 22(10):1903–1921

Jukes A (1993) Why men hate women. Free Association Books Ltd, London

Kim J(2017) #iamafeminist as the “mother tag”: feminist identification and activism against misogyny on Twitter in South Korea Fem Media Stud 17(5):804–820

Kim Y(2021) Mirroring misogyny in Hell Choson: Megalia, womad, and Korea’s feminism in the age of digital populism Eur J Korean Stud 20(2):101–133

Koirala S(2020) Female journalists’ experience of online harassment: a case study of Nepal Media Commun 8(1):47–56

Koller V, Heritage F(2020) Incels, in-groups, and ideologies. The representation of gendered social actors in a sexuality-based online community J Language Sex 9(2):152–178

Kurasawa F, Rondinelli E, Kilicaslan G(2021) Evidentiary activism in the digital age: on the rise of feminist struggles against gender-based online violence Inf Commun Soc 24(14):2174–2194

Kwarteng J, Perfumi S, Farrell T et al (2022) Misogynoir: challenges in detecting intersectional hate. Soc Netw Anal Min 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13278-022-00993-7

Lindsay A(2022) Swallowing the Black Pill: Involuntary Celibates’ (Incels) anti-feminism within Digital Society Int J Crime Justice Soc Democr 11(1):210–224

Lonsway KA, Fitzgerald LF (1994) Rape myths: in review. Psychol Women Q 18:133–164

Lonsway KA, Fitzgerald LF (1995) Attitudinal antecedents of rape myth acceptance: a theoretical and empirical reexamination. J Personal Soc Psychol 68(4):704–711

Manne K (2017) Down girl: the logic of misogyny. Oxford Academic, New York

Mantilla K (2013) Gendertrolling: misogyny adapts to new media. Fem Stud 39(2):563–571

Marwick AE, Caplan R(2018) Drinking male tears: language, the manosphere, and networked harassment Fem Media Stud 18(4):543–559

Massanari A (2017) #Gamergate and The Fappening: how Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures. New Media Soc 19(3):329–346

Massanari AL (2020) Gamergate. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, pp. 1–5

MATLAB (2022) MATLAB version R2022b. The MathWorks Inc., Natick, MA

Menzie L(2022) Stacys, Beckys, and Chads: the construction of femininity and hegemonic masculinity within incel rhetoric Psychol Sex 13(1):69–85

Millet K (1970) Sexual Politics. Doubleday, New York, NY

Moloney ME, Love TP (2018) Assessing online misogyny: perspectives from sociology and feminist media studies. Sociol Compass 12(5):e12,577

Moon YE, Kim HH, Park D (2022) “Can I become a true feminist?”: an interpretive analysis on the mirroring experience of young Korean women. Fem Media Stud https://doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2022.2042830

Mulki H, Ghanem B (2022) Working notes of the workshop Arabic Misogyny Identification (ArMI-2021). In: Proceedings of the 13th annual meeting of the Forum for Information Retrieval Evaluation. Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, pp. 7–8

O’Donnell C, Shor E(2022) "This is a political movement, friend”: why “incels” support violence Br J Sociol 73(2):336–351

Article   PubMed   Google Scholar  

Ostini J, Hopkins S (2015) Online harassment is a form of violence. The Conversation 8: 1–4

Pamungkas EW, Cignarella AT, Basile V et al (2018) Automatic identification of misogyny in English and Italian Tweets at EVALITA 2018 with a multilingual hate lexicon. In: Proceedings of the sixth evaluation campaign of natural language processing and speech tools for Italian. Final workshop (EVALITA 2018), Turin co-located with the fifth Italian conference on Computational Linguistics (CLiC-it 2018), Turin (eds Caselli T, Novielli N, Patti V, Rosso P) December 12–13, 2018, CEUR Workshop Proceedings, vol 2263, Accademia University Press, Torino, Italy

Phipps EB, Montgomery F(2022) "Only YOU Can Prevent This Nightmare, America”: Nancy Pelosi as the monstrous-feminine in Donald Trump’s YouTube attacks Women’s Stud Commun 45(3):316–337

Price DJ (1963) Little science, big science. Columbia University Press, New York

Rego R(2018) Changing forms and platforms of misogyny: sexual harassment of women journalists on twitter Media Watch 9(3):472–485

Ritchie J(2013) Creating a monster: Online media constructions of Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Primary Campaign, 2007-8 Fem Media Stud 13(1):102–119

Rodrìguez-Sanchez FJ, Carrillo-de Albornoz J, Plaza L (2021) Overview of EXIST 2021: sEXism Identification in Social neTworks. Proces Leng Nat 67:195–207

Rubio Martìn MJ, Gordo Lòpez A (2021) La perspectiva tecnosocial feminista como antídoto para la misoginia online. Rev Esp Sociol 30(3). https://doi.org/10.22325/fes/res.2021.64

Saluja N, Thilaka DN(2021) Women leaders and digital communication: gender stereotyping of female politicians on Twitter J Content Community Commun 13(7):227–241

Scotto di Carlo G(2023) An analysis of self-other representations in the incelosphere: between online misogyny and self-contempt Discourse Soc 34(1):3–21

Semenzin S, Bainotti L (2020) The use of telegram for non-consensual dissemination of intimate images: gendered affordances and the construction of masculinities. Soc Media + Soc 6(4):2056305120984,453

Shesterina AM, Fedosova OA (2021) Promotion of feminist ideas in instagram texts. Vestnik Mosk Univ Seriya 10 Zhurnalistika 2021(4):114–134

Shushkevich E, Cardiff J (2019) Automatic misogyny detection in social media: a survey. Comput Sist 23(4):1159–1164

Sills S, Pickens C, Beach K(2016) Rape culture and social media: young critics and a feminist counterpublic Fem Media Stud 16(6):935–951

Silva-Paredes D, Ibarra Herrera D (2022) Resisting anti-democratic values with misogynistic abuse against a Chilean right-wing politician on Twitter: the #CamilaPeluche incident Discourse Commun 16(4):426–444

Speckhard A, Ellenberg M, Morton J, Ash A (2021) Involuntary Celibates’ experiences of and grievance over sexual exclusion and the potential threat of violence among those active in an Online Incel Forum. J Strateg Secur 14(2):89–121

Steyvers M, Griffiths T (2006) Probabilistic topic models. In: Landauer T, McNamara D, Dennis S et al (eds) Latent semantic analysis: a road to meaning. Lawrence Erlbaum

Sultana S, Sarker J, Bosu A (2021) A Rubric to identify misogynistic and sexist texts from software developer communications. In: Proceedings of the 15th ACM/IEEE International Symposium on Empirical Software Engineering and Measurement (ESEM). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA

Suominen A, Toivanen H (2016) Map of science with topic modeling: comparison of unsupervised learning and human-assigned subject classification. J Assoc Inf Sci Technol 67(10). https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.23596

Tomkinson S, Harper T(2015) The position of women in video game culture: Perez and Day’s Twitter Incident Continuum 29(4):617–634

Tontodimamma A, Nissi E, Sarra A (2021) Thirty years of research into hate speech: topics of interest and their evolution. Scientometrics 126(157–179):69–81

Tranchese A, Sugiura L(2021) "I don’t hate all women, just those stuck-up bitches”: how incels and mainstream pornography speak the same extreme language of misogyny Violence Against Women 27(14):2709–2734

Article   PubMed   PubMed Central   Google Scholar  

van Dijk TA (1998) Editorial: discourse and ideology. Discourse Soc 9(3):307–308

VandenBos GR (ed) (2015) APA dictionary of psychology, 2nd edn. American Psychological Association

Wagner A(2022) Tolerating the trolls? Gendered perceptions of online harassment of politicians in Canada Fem Media Stud 22(1):32–47

Whiley LA, Walasek L, Juanchich M(2023) Contributions to reducing online gender harassment: social re-norming and appealing to empathy as tried-and-failed techniques Fem Psychol 33(1):83–104

Wright S, Trott V, Jones C(2020) ‘The pussy ain’t worth it, bro’: assessing the discourse and structure of MGTOW Inf Commun Soc 23(6):908–925

Yang S, Lee K(2022) The intertextuality and interdiscursivity of “mirroring” in South Korean cyberfeminist posts Discourse Soc 33(5):671–689

Zeinert P, Inie N, Derczynski L (2021) Annotating online misogyny. In: Proceedings of the 59th annual meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 11th international joint conference on natural language processing (vol 1: Long Papers). Association for Computational Linguistics, pp. 3181–3197

Download references

Acknowledgements

This research was undertaken as part of the ICOMIC (Identifying and Counteracting Online Misogyny in Cyberspace) Project funded by EU Next Generation, MUR-Fondo Promozione e Sviluppo-DM 737/2021

Author information

Authors and affiliations.

Department of Legal and Social Sciences, G. d’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara, Chieti-Pescara, Italy

Lara Fontanella & Alice Tontodimamma

PRHLT, Universitat Politècnica de València, Valencia, Spain

Berta Chulvi

Social Psychology Department, Universitat de València, Valencia, Spain

Department of Neuroscience, Imaging and Clinical Sciences, G. d’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara, Chieti-Pescara, Italy

Elisa Ignazzi

Department of Philosophical, Pedagogical and Economic-Quantitative Sciences, G. d’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara, Chieti-Pescara, Italy

Annalina Sarra

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Contributions

LF and BC contributed to the study conception and design, with LF leading the study supervision. LF, BC, and AS contributed to the writing of the manuscript. LF, EI, and AT developed the dataset and conducted the statistical analysis. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lara Fontanella .

Ethics declarations

Competing interests.

The authors declare no competing interests.

Ethics approval

Ethical approval was not required as the study did not involve human participants.

Informed consent

Informed consent was not required as the study did not involve human participants.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary material, rights and permissions.

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ .

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article.

Fontanella, L., Chulvi, B., Ignazzi, E. et al. How do we study misogyny in the digital age? A systematic literature review using a computational linguistic approach. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 11 , 478 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-024-02978-7

Download citation

Received : 14 July 2023

Accepted : 18 March 2024

Published : 02 April 2024

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-024-02978-7

Share this article

Anyone you share the following link with will be able to read this content:

Sorry, a shareable link is not currently available for this article.

Provided by the Springer Nature SharedIt content-sharing initiative

Quick links

  • Explore articles by subject
  • Guide to authors
  • Editorial policies

how to do a literature review paper

IMAGES

  1. 50 Smart Literature Review Templates (APA) ᐅ TemplateLab

    how to do a literature review paper

  2. √ Free APA Literature Review Format Template

    how to do a literature review paper

  3. how to write a literature review outline

    how to do a literature review paper

  4. Helping You in Writing a Literature Review Immaculately

    how to do a literature review paper

  5. 50 Smart Literature Review Templates (APA) ᐅ TemplateLab

    how to do a literature review paper

  6. 50 Smart Literature Review Templates (APA) ᐅ TemplateLab

    how to do a literature review paper

VIDEO

  1. Systematic Literature Review Paper

  2. Systematic Literature Review Paper presentation

  3. How To Do Literature Review With Ai Tools Step by Step Tutorial

  4. Why to do Literature Review?| Research Methods in Education,

  5. LITERATURE REVIEW #short TIP

  6. Read Research paper in mins

COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Literature Review

    Examples of literature reviews. Step 1 - Search for relevant literature. Step 2 - Evaluate and select sources. Step 3 - Identify themes, debates, and gaps. Step 4 - Outline your literature review's structure. Step 5 - Write your literature review.

  2. Writing a Literature Review

    Writing a Literature Review. A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels ...

  3. Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

    Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications .For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively .Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every ...

  4. How To Write A Literature Review

    1. Outline and identify the purpose of a literature review. As a first step on how to write a literature review, you must know what the research question or topic is and what shape you want your literature review to take. Ensure you understand the research topic inside out, or else seek clarifications.

  5. How To Write A Literature Review (+ Free Template)

    Okay - with the why out the way, let's move on to the how. As mentioned above, writing your literature review is a process, which I'll break down into three steps: Finding the most suitable literature. Understanding, distilling and organising the literature. Planning and writing up your literature review chapter.

  6. PDF How to Write a Literature Review

    A literature review is a review or discussion of the current published material available on a particular topic. It attempts to synthesizeand evaluatethe material and information according to the research question(s), thesis, and central theme(s). In other words, instead of supporting an argument, or simply making a list of summarized research ...

  7. What is a Literature Review?

    A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research. There are five key steps to writing a literature review: Search for relevant literature. Evaluate sources. Identify themes, debates and gaps.

  8. How to Write a Literature Review: Six Steps to Get You from ...

    Step One: Decide on your areas of research: Before you begin to search for articles or books, decide beforehand what areas you are going to research. Make sure that you only get articles and books in those areas, even if you come across fascinating books in other areas. A literature review I am currently working on, for example, explores ...

  9. How to write a superb literature review

    The best proposals are timely and clearly explain why readers should pay attention to the proposed topic. It is not enough for a review to be a summary of the latest growth in the literature: the ...

  10. Writing a literature review

    How to write a literature review in 6 steps. How do you write a good literature review? This step-by-step guide on how to write an excellent literature review covers all aspects of planning and writing literature reviews for academic papers and theses.

  11. Literature Reviews

    A literature review, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not the sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that you will not just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them, one at a time. No. As you read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider instead ...

  12. How to Write a Literature Review: 3 Minute Step-by-step Guide

    Don't know how to write a literature review or where to begin? This video will give you a quick run-through of the 5 steps you need to follow when writing a ...

  13. Steps in Conducting a Literature Review

    A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment. Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you. ... Your literature review should be guided by your central research question. The literature represents background and research developments related to a ...

  14. 5. The Literature Review

    A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories.A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that ...

  15. Writing a Literature Review

    Identify and define the topic that you will be reviewing. 2. Conduct a literature search. 3. Read through the research that you have found and take notes. 4. Organize your notes and thoughts; create an outline. 5. Write the literature review itself and edit and revise as needed.

  16. Seven Steps to Writing a Literature Review

    Seven Steps to Writing a Literature Review. 1. Narrow your topic and select papers accordingly; 2. Search for literature; 3. Read the selected articles thoroughly and evaluate them; 4. Organize the selected papers by looking for patterns and by developing subtopics; 5. Develop a thesis or purpose statement; 6. Write the paper; 7. Review your work

  17. How to write the literature review of your research paper

    The main purpose of the review is to introduce the readers to the need for conducting the said research. A literature review should begin with a thorough literature search using the main keywords in relevant online databases such as Google Scholar, PubMed, etc. Once all the relevant literature has been gathered, it should be organized as ...

  18. What is a Literature Review? How to Write It (with Examples)

    A literature review is a critical analysis and synthesis of existing research on a particular topic. It provides an overview of the current state of knowledge, identifies gaps, and highlights key findings in the literature. 1 The purpose of a literature review is to situate your own research within the context of existing scholarship ...

  19. What is a Literature Review?

    A literature review is a review and synthesis of existing research on a topic or research question. A literature review is meant to analyze the scholarly literature, make connections across writings and identify strengths, weaknesses, trends, and missing conversations. A literature review should address different aspects of a topic as it ...

  20. Writing a Literature Review Research Paper: A step-by-step approach

    A literature review is a surveys scholarly articles, books and other sources relevant to a particular. issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, providing a description, summary, and ...

  21. Conduct a literature review

    Step 2: Identify the literature. Start by searching broadly. Literature for your review will typically be acquired through scholarly books, journal articles, and/or dissertations. Develop an understanding of what is out there, what terms are accurate and helpful, etc., and keep track of all of it with citation management tools.

  22. Writing a Literature Review

    Include References/Works Cited List. As you are writing the literature review you will mention the author names and the publication years in your text, but you will still need to compile comprehensive citations for each entry at the end of your review. Follow APA, MLA, or Chicago style guidelines, as your course requires.

  23. How to Do a Literature Review: 13 Steps (with Pictures)

    1. Clarify your professor's requirements. Some instructors may ask you to do a literature review and not get more specific than that. Or, maybe they did and you were playing Plants vs Zombies. Either way, knowing precisely what your professor is looking for is the first step to getting that A. [1]

  24. How do we study misogyny in the digital age? A systematic literature

    Moloney and Love review the way online misogyny is conceptualised in the social scientific literature within feminist media studies. The authors identify four different terms that are used to ...

  25. Exploring the Relationship between Resilience and Possible ...

    Abstract. Exploring the Relationship between Resilience and Possible selves from the Literature on the Possible Selves of Young People: A Scoping Literature Review AbstractYoung people face many challenges as they journey through adolescence and into emerging adulthood; unemployment, mental health issues, substance misuse and family disintegration to name a few.