Literature Review: Outline and Example 

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Literature Review Outline

Literature Review Definition

When writing an essay for academic purposes, you may have to enumerate, evaluate, illustrate and clarify your findings. A research paper has a theoretical base to determine its nature. A background check helps your readers understand the reason your research was necessary in the first place. In short, you create a rationale that shows why it is so important to conduct the study.

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So, what exactly is a literature review? A literature review is a comprehensive summary of the research procedure and findings on a topic. The summary conveys a landscape to inform readers that the author appreciates previous research findings on the topic at hand.

In short, the literature review provides an overview of the significant writings and sources of information about a given topic. Such sources may include websites, books, scholarly journal articles, and reports from authoritative institutions. Sometimes, the review can be embedded in a longer research paper, while it can stand alone in other cases.

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Why is a Literature Review Important?

The literature review justifies the research as an overview of the research topic. The review summarizes the sources without which writing the research paper would be impossible. And it proves to the readers that the research is worth their time.

Other purposes of a literature review include:

  • Place the research in the proper context
  • Justification of the research
  • Acknowledge previous research findings, theories, hypotheses, and points of view on the topic.
  • Sort out the objective scientific truth from the heresies and misconceptions
  • Highlight mistakes in previous research and scholarly works
  • Fit in the research into existing knowledge
  • Contribute to the furthering of knowledge in a given topic

Types of Literature Review

Literature reviews take several forms. Your choice of a literature review outline depends on its suitability to your research approach. The main types of literature reviews include:

1. Narrative literature review

The narrative type is the traditional literature review that critiques previous sources and summarizes the research paper. The narrative provides an overview of the topic and concludes. Further, it highlights the inconsistencies of the last research papers to give a conclusive verdict.

2. Scoping literature review

Scoping means finding the extent of existing research on a given topic. Scholars see this literature as helpful in examining new evidence and posing more questions on existing evidence. 

Plus, scoping reviews are essential when addressing detailed systematic research. It’s different from a systematic literature review because the former is based on general research questions while the latter deals with specific questions.

3. Systematic literature review

A well-defined review provides a detailed overview of the data and timeframes for the research. Systematic literature review outlines are found in two categories: the meta-synthesis and the meta-analysis.

Meta-synthesis evaluates and interprets the findings of non-statistical qualitative research. It’s ideal for inductive research methods.

Then, the meta-analysis examines the quantitative and statistical techniques. Conclusions are drawn from statistical patterns and relationships. This type of literature review is standard for deductive research approaches.

4. Integrative

Integrative literature reviews synthesize and critique the available secondary data about a research topic to enable the generation of new perspectives. The option is ideal for researchers and authors not using primary data.

5. Argumentative literature review

This review examines different types of literature to refute or support a claim. The author then takes philosophical approaches based on assumptions to establish their point of view. However, the argumentative literature review is weak because it is associated with biased claims.

6. Theoretical literature review

This type focuses on the pools of theories that accumulate around a topic. It establishes the existing theories and relations between them. Then, the outline includes an account of the development and testing of these hypotheses.

What are the Elements of the Literature Review Outline

A literature review outline is the standard structure of an essay. The outline includes an introduction, the main body, and a conclusion. However, each part of the review can be broader depending on the scope or type of research paper you are writing.

The main elements of a literature review outline include the following:

  • Introduction: The introduction gives the reader a quick view of the research paper. Also, it provides a little background information, central themes, or the general organization of the research.
  • Body: The body section discusses and examines the data and knowledge sources used in the research. An author organizes the sources thematically, chronologically, or methodologically depending on the structuring approach they take.
  • Conclusion: The author ends the review by drawing a solid conclusion from the findings. Then, they give recommendations and open up a scholarly discussion.

Steps to Outline a Literature Review

  • Find an exciting research topic
  • Research widely from multiple certified sources
  • Create a logical structure for your paper. Choose a structural approach that fits a proper presentation of facts
  • Edit your work thoroughly to remove any errors and common mistakes
  • Format the literature review into the appropriate style, with proper citation and bibliography

Approaches to Structuring a Literature Review Outline

The body of a literature review can be disorganized unless you design it correctly. If you want to make it easier and orderly, you can work it out methodically, theoretically, thematically, or chronologically.

  • Chronological Approach: Highlights the sequence of relevant events and knowledge from the earliest to the latest. 
  • Thematic Approach: Links sources to the research paper by their topics and subsections. In short, this approach organizes the sources depending on how closely related they are.
  • Methodological Approach: Analyzes the methods of research based on their ethical, cultural, qualitative, or quantitative nature.
  • Theoretical Approach: Gives you the freedom to write about various models and theories. Literature review forms the basis of any theoretical framework. So, you can comment on different theories and define the concepts demanded by the topic. 

Literature Review Outline Example

 Get inspiration from our sample literature review outline to write up a solid paper:

Sample Literature Review Outline:

Title: Research in Classical Literature


  • Hook


  • Definition of Classical Literature
  • Chronological Trends in the development of classical literature
  • Seminal research studies in classical literature
  • Research on Classical Characters
  • Research on the styles of classical literature
  • Research on the themes of classical literature


  • The future of research in classical literature

Literature Review Outline: Writing Tips

  • Choose authoritative sources of information
  • Only use updated and fact-checked data
  • Solve the gaps in your paper
  • Be a little more creative
  • Edit your work thoroughly

How to Write a Good Literature Review

A few necessary details go into writing a killer literature review. The approach applies to the stand-alone literature review paper and the one embedded within a large project. Here are things to remember if you want to write a literature review that draws your professor’s attention.

  • Know the topic well
  • Immerse into in-depth research
  • Prioritize the most important sources
  • Examine all the gaps, ideas, and relationships of related topical arguments by different scholars
  • Write a plausible outline
  • Write clearly and comprehensively
  • Remember to proofread your work


A literature review can make or break your research paper. Whether writing a solo review or incorporating it into an extensive research project, you must give a proper outline. The literature review outline is the architecture that guides you in examining sources of knowledge.

Here is a sample of a poverty research paper that features an outline, 1200+ words, APA in-text citations and a list of credible references that is worth exploring.

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