Apr 06 2021

How to Outline a Literature Review in 5 Steps

Adela Belin photo Adela Belin Content strategist and writer
Study Effectively

Have you ever had to write a literature review, not knowing what it is or how to write it, and then failed miserably on paper and in the eyes of your professor?

But first -- why should one have to write a stellar literature review?

Original: SourceYes, it absolutely does!

The purpose of writing a literature review is to summarize and analyze the ideas and concepts of the author, without bringing your personal opinions and ideas into the review.

In this article, you will learn how to outline a literature review in five simple steps.

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What are the Elements of a Literature Review Outline

The objective of a literature review is to identify a central trend, theme, principle, or concept that exists in the publication. This gives the plot a meaning and highlights the significance of the topic within the specific subject area, which eventually ties the entire text together.

Literature reviews help in finding the relationship between two existing ideas and recognizes major gaps and controversial elements within the topic.

The best way to deliver a top-notch literature review is to construct a well-structured outline.

3 Key Elements of a Literature Review Outline


The introduction of this paper should give a basic gist about your topic, have a strong thesis statement, and should establish the purpose of writing about your chosen topic.

Additionally, you should also include your point of view about the subject matter as well as the process or methodology that you’ll use to frame your literature review.

It is also a good idea to write the outcome you would expect to see by the end of your paper, for your professor to understand what you want to achieve from this.


The body paragraph of a literature review can be approached using different approaches. This portion of the review analyzes and interprets the different findings that relate to the literature, as well as includes the central theme that ties it together as a whole.

Always remember to use transition words, as well as subheadings, to make it easier for your professor to be able to understand the systematic flow of words.

Here are three of the most important ones that have been used to effectively structure the body paragraph of a literature review:


This approach is the simplest as you write the review based on the overall timeline which starts at the beginning, to the end.

In this approach, you can identify the development and growth of the chosen topic or a particular concept that you have examined over time. Keep in mind not to list down all the events in order, but to rather analyze important patterns, major themes, or key turning points in chronological order.


Very different from the timeline approach, in this, you are required to examine, elaborate, and find a link between your sources and your chosen literary text.

The thematic approach revolves around the central issue or dispute which are organized into subsections that address each aspect of the issue(s). These are analyzed in-depth and are time-consuming.


This type of approach is to understand the methods used to define or analyze a certain concept. By presenting the methods, you can compare them based on the severity, the sociological or cultural impacts, the qualitative or quantitative nature, the ethicality of the literature, and so on.


Summarize all your important points into a short paragraph, point out the strengths and weaknesses that you’ve gathered after researching the literature you analyzed, and emphasize the significance of writing a literature review on this chosen text.

5 Steps to Outline a Literature Review

Now that you know what goes into a literature review outline, let’s take a look at how you can outline a literature review in five steps.

Original: SourceNarrow down on your topic

Before you start looking for literary texts to analyze, you need to figure out a clear and defined topic. Based on this topic, you can start searching for relevant literature that surrounds your chosen topic or the question that is to be analyzed.

During the search for your literature review topic, consider subject matters that are interesting to you, or something that you would want to know in-depth about. You can also look for popular texts that could have multiple sources to work with.

To make this process easier, you should:

  1. Start writing down keywords that are related and relevant to your topic of choice. List any synonyms or related terms that you think would help in narrowing down your topic. As you keep searching for your literature, you can add any other keywords that come your way.
  2. Ask yourself questions and brainstorm topic ideas that can lead to you figuring out your chosen topic, or talk to your professor if you require their guidance.
  3. Try mapping out the concepts for your outline by creating a graphic map with all the ideas and concepts that you would want to include in the review. Make it a point to incorporate all of these ideas while writing your literature review.

Review relevant sources

When you have your topic picked out, the first thing you should do is to use your compiled list of keywords to search for relevant literature and sources. At this time, it is crucial to use trusted sources like libraries, published research papers, and online databases.

After finding credible sources for your literature review, take a minute to see if your topic is actually related to the sources that you’ve found. Assess these sources and prioritize them according to what is relevant, what fits, and what doesn’t.

Map out a structure

For outlining the body of your literature review, multiple approaches can be used to create a proper, well-organized structure, which we have discussed in the above section.

Before you begin, you should have a rough idea about how you would wish to start your literature review. No academic paper should be attempted before having a proper plan for framing the content of your paper.

Through this organized skeleton structure of the paper, you can quickly and easily identify the points that you want to be included.

Identifying key themes and patterns

Read your literature multiple times to understand the connections and the relationship between the sources you’ve used and the text that needs to be analyzed.

This will help you have a solid knowledge about the subject before you start writing, as well as create a proper flow of ideas to make writing your literature review a simpler process.

Some of the things you need to look out for during this process include:

  • themes and concepts that recur throughout the literature;
  • debates or contradictions that include conflicts around the theories present in the text;
  • gaps and weaknesses in the literature that needs to be filled or addressed;
  • trends and patterns that are prevalent and are an important portion of the review.

Working on this point will help show your professor that you can contribute a major portion of ideas and knowledge through your research, to the already existing content.

Here’s a useful video by Scribbr on identifying themes in literature

Write your draft and proofread

At this point, you can start writing your literature review. Since you have all your sources, citations, a complete detailed outline, and extra notes, figuring out which point needs to go in which section will become a much smoother process.

All you need to do now is to follow your plan and maintain the structure that you have created to draft your review.

Most students neglect to revise and proofread their paper, which can cause unnecessary avoidable errors that bring down the entire quality and authority of your submission. Make sure to check for spelling and grammatical mistakes as well as the flow of your sentences.

Check to make sure that there is no portion in your literature review that has been plagiarized. This can happen if you have failed to cite a source or reference, or if you have used (copied) phrases directly from another source.

Proofreading your submissions before sending them out will help you pinpoint these mistakes.

Final thoughts

Writing a literature review is intimidating and not anywhere near to being an easy process, but it can be made simpler if you know the correct strategies and have appropriate ideas to deal with tough academic papers like these.

So, keep these five effective steps in mind to create a top-notch literature review that will leave your professor impressed.

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last edit at Sep 25 2021