Research Library


The Literature Review Formula: Key Steps for Academic Excellence

calendarOct 5, 2023 |clock16 Mins Read

The literature review within an academic research paper stands to provide an understanding of existing literature and discourse within an area of study, this knowledge and information is presented as a comprehensive report. The relevant research is collected and summarised, this gives the author the opportunity to identify prior research, avoid plagiarism, identify the gaps in research and conflicts of previous studies, and justify the author’s research question and statement. This critical evaluation of existing research and debate dictates the researcher’s reviewing stance on their own research question. In this blog, we dissect how to write a compelling and comprehensive literature review for your next academic paper. 

How to identify relevant resources for the literature review?

The first step to locating relevant academic resources for your literature review is to identify the key terminologies and concepts within your research question or statement. One of the most simple methods of finding relevant resources is to use boolean operators which are simple words like AND, OR, NOT etc. These produce more focused search results. It is also important to limit your searches to credible academic databases like: 

There are criteria to decide whether a source is relevant and credible enough to be included in a literature review, the P.R.O.V.E.N. method serves as a guide for researchers on what to assess when locating sources. 

P - Purpose: Why was the source created? 

  • Does the information exist to inform, entertain, persuade or sell? Are the authors stating the purpose or attempting to disguise it? 
  • Why is the information published in this medium? (Book, journal article etc.)
  • Who is the target audience?

R - Relevance: The value of the source

  • Is the source appropriate to utilise within your assignment?
  • How beneficial is this source? Does it add new information or support your argument?

O - Objectivity: How reasonable is the information? 

  • What kind of language are the authors utilising? Is it offensive, emotional or strong? 
  • Are the authors influenced by their opinions or perspectives? Do they state this clearly or attempt to disguise this?
  • Does the piece offer multiple perspectives? Are the authors critiquing these perspectives constructively? 

V - Verifiability: Accuracy of the information

  • Is the information supported with facts? Does it cite other sources and are they credible?
  • What do experts state about this topic? Is this information found in other sources as well?
  • Does the material misinterpret other sources or present false evidence? 

E - Expertise: Authority of authors and source

  • Are the authors credible? Do they have educational credentials related to the topic, and are they affiliated with institutions? 
  • Is their expertise recognised by other authors? 
  • Is the source peer-reviewed? 

N - Newness: Age of information

  • Is your topic within an area that requires current research? Or are older sources still relevant and valid? 
  • When was the source first published? 
  • Are there newer sources that add new information? 


How to analyse and critique sources for a literature review? 

To utilise a specific source in a literature review, it has to be thoroughly analysed and critiqued. The academic paper would need to be checked for accuracy, reliability, and credibility; to effectively do so, there are 4 simple steps that compare certain sections of an academic paper with specific questions. 

  1. Look at the abstract, then the discussion sections

What is the significance of the conclusions and are they accurate?
Have the authors stated the limitations of the study?
Is the design appropriate for the research question?

  1. Go through the methods section

Do the methods address potential bias?
Are there appropriate “controls” within the study?
Were the methods cited and described in detail?
Do the authors state the limitations of the selected methods?

  1. Go through the results section

Were the results expected or anticipated by the authors and researchers?
Does the data support the outcome?
Has the author accurately presented the data?

  1. Evaluate the discussion and conclusion sections

Is there a clear explanation of the hypothesis being supported or refuted?
Are the limitations of the study accurately addressed?
Other points to consider: Are there any ethical concerns? Have the authors cited themselves? Are there any financial or ethical conflicts of interest associated with the industry?

How to organise a literature review? 

The organisation of a literature review is dependent on the area of study and scope that the academic paper will be covering. There are 3 approaches to organise a literature review which are thematic, chronological, and methodological as depicted in the infographic below.

Common mistakes to avoid in a literature review

Literature reviews often come with their fair share of pitfalls and common mistakes. Whether you're a seasoned scholar or beginning to navigate the world of academic writing, it's important to understand the strategies to steer clear of these pitfalls and create literature reviews that stand out for their clarity, depth, and impact. 

  1. Relying on low-quality sources

Avoid using non-academic sources like blog posts, opinion pieces, and publications by advocacy groups. These sources should only be included if they are of significance as they are not objective or research-based. 

  1. Lack of seminal literature

Seminal literature is essentially the research paper that previously highlighted and elevated the area of study and serves as the theoretical foundation of a strong literature review. Most students and authors focus on including timely research rather than crediting the origin, furthermore, seminal literature can be easily found on Google Scholar

  1. Lack of current literature

A strong literature review is a balanced comparison of seminal and current scholarly research, this comparison thoroughly evaluates the timeline, discoveries and discrepancies between the time periods. 

  1. Focus on descriptions

A good literature review evaluates and synthesises research papers instead of providing brief descriptions. 

Writing the conclusion of a literature review

The conclusion of a literature review section should summarise key findings, concepts and debates in the area of study. Since the conclusion of the literature review does not conclude the entire research paper, it is beneficial to include opportunities for future studies to further explore and dissect existing literature or gaps. You can also use this section to highlight your own research question to smoothly lead to the next section of your academic paper. 


What is the purpose of a literature review? 
The purpose of a literature review is to collect, evaluate and synthesise existing research and information within a specific area of study to support, argue or evaluate a thesis statement while also identifying the gaps in existing research.

What citation style to use for a literature review? 
Literature reviews should contain in-text citations which should be referenced in the paper’s bibliography section. As for the citation style, this is dependent on the discipline and institution as it varies. 

What is the significance of critiquing literature? 
Critiquing literature is important because not all published research can be considered reliable. Arguments and the interpretation of data can be biased or justified inefficiently.

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