How to Outline a Literature Review Step-by-Step

author By Mary Boies

A literature review is an academic writing task that contains reviews of credible or trusted sources for relevant information on a topic. Writing a literature review aims to summarize, synthesize, and critically analyze the concepts, thoughts, findings, and ideas of different authors without roping in your personal perspective, opinions, or ideas.

how to create a literature review outline

Writing a literature review is an opportunity for a student to demonstrate their research skills as well as their academic writing skills.

You will most likely need to write a number of literature reviews in your college life and even as you advance through graduate studies. You will write literature reviews for reports, thesis papers, dissertations, proposals, term papers, white papers, and research papers. Therefore, knowing how to write an excellent literature review is a valuable skill.

Probably the most important thing you need to write an excellent review is an outline. And in this post, we will share everything important you need to know about writing a literature review outline.

The Three Main Parts of a literature review outline

A well-written literature review gives a snapshot of what other authors have already covered regarding a topic, which helps establish the literature gap. Sometimes, it helps show the relationship between concepts or ideas and helps establish controversial elements of a topic worth considering going forward.

Drafting a well-structured outline is akin to having your literature review 50% done.

A proper literature review outline has three key elements- an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Your literature review will be incomplete if it doesn't have any of these elements.

1. Introduction

Your literature review outline must include an introduction. The introduction part of your outline should be easy to write. This is because it simply involves presenting the topic and providing background information on what you will review. In a nutshell, your introduction should give your reader a brief overview of the topic you will focus on. The introduction should also include reasons you chose the literature you chose to review.

2. Body

Your literature review outline must have a body element or section. The body section is the middle section, probably the most crucial part of your outline.

The body section of your outline should be divided into body paragraphs depending on the themes, ideas, and concepts covered in the literature. You should highlight the major point you will focus on in each body paragraph. Doing this will give your outline a nice flow. And a flowing outline almost always means a flowing literature review.

When outlining the body of a literature review, it is imperative to think of the most effective strategies to structure the paragraphs, which will determine how your literature review flows. The three commonly used strategies include:

3. Conclusion

After writing your literature review, you want to write a neat conclusion that wraps up everything nicely. So, the conclusion element is a must-have element in your literature review outline.

The conclusion must begin with a restatement of the thesis and a summary of all the major points. Finally, the last sentence in the conclusion is the closing statement. You should undoubtedly write a powerful closing statement to leave a lasting impression on your readers.

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How to Outline a Literature Review in 5 Steps

Follow the five steps below to write a proper literature review outline.

1. Brainstorm and research online

The first thing you need to do before you start writing a literature review outline is to brainstorm. Think clearly about the literature review instructions to identify the topic and what is needed of you.

Once you identify the topic, you should search for more information on Google. As you search for more information on the topic, you should skim through the various sources to learn more about the topic. You should also identify keywords and phrases in the texts to search for more relevant materials.

As you skim through the sources you find, keep thinking about the topic and going back to it to make sure you are on track. First, note everything relevant to your topic. Then, try to group the things you note down to clearly understand what you have discovered so far.

Of course, when you note essential topics, subtopics, ideas, or concepts, you should also capture where you have taken the information from.

2. Review your literature sources

After brainstorming and researching online, you will have a rough idea of what to do. You will have a couple of sources that you will have identified, plus subtopics or concepts of interest.

At this point, you should identify reliable sources from your sources. Then, you should conduct more detailed research on the topic in trusted online databases and libraries.

Your literature review must be based on reliable or trusted sources. While you can find such sources using a Google search, you should definitely search trusted online databases and libraries to find credible sources.

Once you have identified all the sources you need for your topic; you should re-read your topic and then examine the sources again to see if they are all relevant. Eliminate those that are not relevant and prioritize the remaining ones based on relevancy.

3. Decide what structure your literature review will take

Now, you have your topic, subtopic, reliable sources, and a rough idea of what you want to write. The next thing you need to do is decide on your review's structure.

You can take different approaches to writing a literature review. The approach you choose will determine the structure of your literature review outline. You should not attempt to write an academic paper outline before deciding your approach.

The simplest way to write a literature review is to divide it into three sections - introduction, body, and conclusion. And then, decide how you will include the information you have gathered in the body so that the information is flowing and coherent. Once you do this, you have written a very rough outline for your review.

4. Identify the main themes in your research

Identifying the main themes in your research and sources will help you write an excellent review. And to do this, you need to read through your selected literature many times to understand the links between concepts and the sources. You can take notes as you read to make the process enjoyable and fast. It will help you to make your review more logical and flowing. It will also help to simplify your literature review.

When identifying the main themes, note the main concepts and themes that recur throughout your sources. Ensure that you also note any gaps that you notice in the literature. Of course, you should also note any conflicts or contradictions you discover in the literature.

Noting all these things will make your literature review complete and useful. It will show your professor you have taken your time to go through credible sources to find and investigate all the relevant information that could be found about the topic.

5. Write the first draft of your outline

After completing the four steps above, you will have credible sources, citations, a rough outline, extra notes, themes, and patterns. All you need to do now is write your official or detailed outline. Writing your literature review outline at this point should be very easy because you have everything.

Organize everything you have gathered and put it in a structure to create your first outline. Ensure the structure has three parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

Read the section below to know how to structure your literature review outline. It has all the information you need.

Of course, after outlining your literature review, you should read and edit it to ensure it is error-free and easily understandable.

Video Illustration by Scribbr might help you visually envision your literature review outline.

How exactly to structure your literature review outline?

You should follow the conventional academic paper outline structure to present all the details you have gathered during your research. In this section, we will share a sample literature review outline that you can use as a template for your outline.

Sample literature review outline

Topic: COVID-19 transmission

As you can see, structuring a literature review is not very difficult. However, it must also be said that it is not very easy. If you can follow the instructions in this literature review outline guide, do so. If you feel that you need some help, simply order a literature review outline from us. It will be custom, properly formatted, and confidential. You can use it as a sample or any other way you please.

Tips for writing a literature review outline

To write an excellent literature review outline, you need to follow the right steps and format or structure your review correctly. If you do this, all the pieces of literature you decide to review will fit nicely in your outline, and in the review, you will write. Find out more about writing a quality literature review in the section below.

  1. Use credible sources: It is okay to use Google initially to find out more about the topic you want to write about. However, you should not get information from just any source you find on Google. Instead, only gather information, patterns, and trends from credible sources.
  2. Focus on very relevant information: You should make sure you do not overload your outline and your review with irrelevant information. So, gather only information that is very relevant to your topic. And in your outline, only include the information that must be there. All the other details that don�t deserve to be in your outline should be preserved for the actual review.
  3. Paraphrase generously: Do not just copy information from credible sources and include them in your outline. Instead, make sure you paraphrase everything that you can paraphrase to ensure your outline is original and without any plagiarism.
  4. Identifying gaps is important: Try as much as you can to identify gaps in the pieces of literature you decide to use. Identifying gaps will show your professor you fully understand what you are doing. In addition, it will ensure you get maximum points.
  5. Proofread and edit: It is important to proofread and edit your literature review outline before submitting it. Make sure it is simple and easy to understand. Also, eliminate all grammar mistakes and any other mistakes you find.

Final remarks

Writing a literature review outline is not the easiest thing to do. It is daunting, sometimes tiring, and arduous. Of course, the hardest part is the research part. However, you can do it by following the five steps, structure, and tips in this guide.

Writing a literature review outline following the information we have provided in this blog will help you write a quality literature review outline.

Suppose you lack the motivation to write your literature review outline; even after reading our guide, we can always help you. If you need help writing a literature review outline, you should contact us now. We have tutors and writers who are ready to provide you with all the help you need. Everything is written from scratch and based on your topic preference and research.

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