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Starting your literature review

Information providing guidance on starting a literature review, including resources, techniques and approaches to searching the literature and writing the review.

Literature review structure

Literature reviews are located towards the beginning of the research text. Usually, they are either combined with the introduction or appear as a separate section following the introduction. (For more information, see Thesis and Dissertation Structure). 

Irrespective of its location, a literature review should be clearly structured. Particularly if it forms a thesis chapter, it needs to contain an introduction, body, and conclusion. 

The introduction usually: 

  • Defines your topic and/or provides an appropriate context for reviewing the literature; 
  • Establishes your reasons for reviewing the literature; 
  • Explains the organisation of the review; 
  • States the scope of the review – i.e. what is included and what is not included. 

The middle or main body usually: 

  • Organises the literature according to important themes; 
  • Provides insight into the relation between your chosen topic and the wider subject area e.g. between obesity in children and obesity in general; 
  • Moves from a wider view of the literature being reviewed, to the specific focus of your research. 

The conclusion usually: 

  • Summarises the important aspects of the existing body of literature; 
  • Evaluates the current state of the literature reviewed; 
  • Identifies significant flaws or gaps in existing knowledge; 
  • Outlines areas for future study; 
  • Links your research to existing knowledge


For more detailed information on structuring your literature review, watch the following series of four videos:

Writing critically and authoritatively

Developing a voice of authority 

An important part of writing a literature review is to construct your identity as a graduate researcher. In other words, when writing your literature review, you need to develop a voice of authority. 

Amongst other things, developing a voice of authority involves learning how to: 

  • develop a clear overall argument 
  • ensure effective organisation and linking of ideas 
  • use academic writing style and grammar 
  • integrate your references within your text accurately and effectively. 

For more information on how to write with authority, watch the following videos:


To see how your voice of authority can be developed according to the requirements of specific disciplines, carry out the following literature review activities:

Writing critically 

Another central part of developing your researcher identity is writing your literature review critically. Writing critically means that you do not simply summarise or find fault with pieces of literature. It also involves:

  • classifying, 
  • comparing,
  • contrasting, 
  • synthesising and  
  • evaluating the literature. 

In your review, your evaluation of the literature can be significantly enhanced by clearly indicating your stance or position towards the cited sources. This can be done through using accurate reporting verbs. For more information on indicating your stance, check the following resources:

Additional resources


PhD Up program

Research Writing Groups

Participating in a Research Writing Group will have many benefits to you and your writing, including: 

  • an avenue for regular feedback from your peers (in addition to that provided by your supervisor) 
  • develops a supportive network 
  • strengthens writing skills 
  • strengthens the academic community 
  • improves speaking and critical analysis skills 
  • enhances scholarly well-being 

If you would like to be part of a Research Writing Group, The Research Writing Group Kit has many resources to get you started, plus submit your details on the Request Research Advice form, and an academic skills advisor will be in contact. 

Request research writing support