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Literature reviews

Writing a literature review.

The following guide has been created for you by the  Student Learning Advisory Service . For more detailed guidance and to speak to one of our advisers, please book an  appointment  or join one of our  workshops . Alternatively, have a look at our  SkillBuilder  skills videos.   

Preparing a literature review involves:

  • Searching for reliable, accurate and up-to-date material on a topic or subject
  • Reading and summarising the key points from this literature
  • Synthesising these key ideas, theories and concepts into a summary of what is known
  • Discussing and evaluating these ideas, theories and concepts
  • Identifying particular areas of debate or controversy
  • Preparing the ground for the application of these ideas to new research

Finding and choosing material

Ensure you are clear on what you are looking for. ask yourself:.

  • What is the specific question, topic or focus of my assignment?
  • What kind of material do I need (e.g. theory, policy, empirical data)?
  • What type of literature is available (e.g. journals, books, government documents)?

What kind of literature is particularly authoritative in this academic discipline (e.g. psychology, sociology, pharmacy)?

How much do you need?

This will depend on the length of the dissertation, the nature of the subject, and the level of study (undergraduate, Masters, PhD). As a very rough rule of thumb – you may choose 8-10 significant pieces (books and/or articles) for an 8,000 word dissertation, up to 20 major pieces of work for 12-15,000 words, and so on. Bear in mind that if your dissertation is based mainly around an interaction with existing scholarship you will need a longer literature review than if it is there as a prelude to new empirical research. Use your judgement or ask your supervisor for guidance.

Where to find suitable material

Your literature review should include a balance between substantial academic books, journal articles and other scholarly publications. All these sources should be as up-to-date as possible, with the exception of ‘classic texts’ such as major works written by leading scholars setting out formative ideas and theories central to your subject. There are several ways to locate suitable material:

Module bibliography: for undergraduate dissertations, look first at the bibliography provided with the module documentation. Choose one or two likely looking books or articles and then scan through the bibliographies provided by these authors. Skim read some of this material looking for clues: can you use these leads to identify key theories and authors or track down other appropriate material?

Library catalogue search engine: enter a few key words to capture a range of items, but avoid over-generalisations; if you type in something as broad as ‘social theory’ you are likely to get several thousand results. Be more specific: for example, ‘Heidegger, existentialism’. Ideally, you should narrow the field to obtain just a few dozen results. Skim through these quickly to identity texts which are most likely to contribute to your study.

Library bookshelves: browse the library shelves in the relevant subject area and examine the books that catch your eye. Check the contents and index pages, or skim through the introductions (or abstracts, in the case of journal articles) to see if they contain relevant material, and replace them if not. Don’t be afraid to ask one of the subject librarians for further help. Your supervisor may also be able to point you in the direction of some of the important literature , but remember this is your literature search, not theirs.

Online: for recent journal articles you will almost certainly need to use one of the online search engines. These can be found on the ‘Indexing Services’ button on the Templeman Library website. Kent students based at Medway still need to use the Templeman pages to access online journals, although you can get to these pages through the Drill Hall Library catalogue. Take a look as well at the Subject Guides on both the Templeman and DHL websites.

Check that you have made the right selection by asking:

  • Has my search been wide enough to ensure that I have identified all the relevant material, but narrow enough to exclude irrelevant material?
  • Is there a good enough sample of literature for the level (PhD, Masters, undergraduate) of my dissertation or thesis?
  • Have I considered as many alternative points of view as possible?
  • Will the reader find my literature review relevant and useful?

Assessing the literature

Read the material you have chosen carefully, considering the following:

  • The key point discussed by the author: is this clearly defined
  • What evidence has the author produced to support this central idea?
  • How convincing are the reasons given for the author’s point of view?
  • Could the evidence be interpreted in other ways?
  • What is the author's research method (e.g. qualitative, quantitative, experimental, etc.)?
  • What is the author's theoretical framework (e.g. psychological, developmental, feminist)?
  • What is the relationship assumed by the author between theory and practice?
  • Has the author critically evaluated the other literature in the field?
  • Does the author include literature opposing their point of view?
  • Is the research data based on a reliable method and accurate information?
  • Can you ‘deconstruct’ the argument – identify the gaps or jumps in the logic?
  • What are the strengths and limitations of this study?
  • What does this book or article contribute to the field or topic?
  • What does this book or article contribute to my own topic or thesis?

As you note down the key content of each book or journal article (together with the reference details of each source) record your responses to these questions. You will then be able to summarise each piece of material from two perspectives:     

Content: a brief description of the content of the book or article. Remember, an author will often make just one key point; so, what is the point they are making, and how does it relate to your own research project or assignment?

Critical analysis: an assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the evidence used, and the arguments presented. Has anything conveniently been left out or skated over? Is there a counter-argument, and has the author dealt with this adequately? Can the evidence presented be interpreted another way? Does the author demonstrate any obvious bias which could affect their reliability? Overall, based on the above analysis of the author’s work, how do you evaluate its contribution to the scholarly understanding and knowledge surrounding the topic?    

Structuring the literature review

In a PhD thesis, the literature review typically comprises one chapter (perhaps 8-10,000 words), for a Masters dissertation it may be around 2-3,000 words, and for an undergraduate dissertation it may be no more than 2,000 words. In each case the word count can vary depending on a range of factors and it is always best, if in doubt, to ask your supervisor.

The overall structure of the section or chapter should be like any other: it should have a beginning, middle and end. You will need to guide the reader through the literature review, outlining the strategy you have adopted for selecting the books or articles, presenting the topic theme for the review, then using most of the word limit to analyse the chosen books or articles thoroughly before pulling everything together briefly in the conclusion.

Some people prefer a less linear approach. Instead of simply working through a list of 8-20 items on your book review list, you might want to try a thematic approach, grouping key ideas, facts, concepts or approaches together and then bouncing the ideas off each other. This is a slightly more creative (and interesting) way of producing the review, but a little more risky as it is harder to establish coherence and logical sequencing.

Whichever approach you adopt, make sure everything flows smoothly – that one idea or book leads neatly to the next. Take your reader effortlessly through a sequence of thought that is clear, accurate, precise and interesting. 

Writing up your literature review

As with essays generally, only attempt to write up the literature review when you have completed all the reading and note-taking, and carefully planned its content and structure. Find an appropriate way of introducing the review, then guide the reader through the material clearly and directly, bearing in mind the following:

  • Be selective in the number of points you draw out from each piece of literature; remember that one of your objectives is to demonstrate that you can use your judgement to identify what is central and what is secondary.
  • Summarise and synthesise – use your own words to sum up what you think is important or controversial about the book or article.
  • Never claim more than the evidence will support. Too many dissertations and theses are let down by sweeping generalisations. Be tentative and careful in the way you interpret the evidence.
  • Keep your own voice – you are entitled to your own point of view provided it is based on evidence and clear argument.
  • At the same time, aim to project an objective and tentative tone by using the 3rd person, (for example, ‘this tends to suggest’, ‘it could be argued’ and so on).
  • Even with a literature review you should avoid using too many, or overlong, quotes. Summarise material in your own words as much as possible. Save the quotes for ‘punch-lines’ to drive a particular point home.
  • Revise, revise, revise: refine and edit the draft as much as you can. Check for fluency, structure, evidence, criticality and referencing, and don’t forget the basics of good grammar, punctuation and spelling.

how many words should a literature review introduction be

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How Long Should A Literature Review Be In A 10000 Word Dissertation?

A dissertation, if put in simple words, is an elongated version of a research paper. Being a research paper, a dissertation consists of more or less the same chapters and components, which differ by their depth of research and the word count, of course.

Table of Contents

What are the main chapters of a dissertation?

  • Introduction : a brief intro of the topic or research problem, detailing the research question, thesis statement and research aims along with background of the topic.
  • Literature Review : a critical review of the existing literature available on the topic.
  • Methodologies : a description of the methods utilised in performing the research.
  • Analysis/Findings : an understanding of the findings and their subsequent analysis.
  • Conclusion : the ending of the dissertation, summing up the entire research with its justification, background and reinstatement of the research question.

In this article, we are going to lay an emphasis on the Literature Review chapter and explain how you can craft it better.

But first….Let Us Tell You How a Dissertation is divided!

To answer your question ‘how long should a literature review be in a 10,000 word dissertation’, the answer is 3,000 words. If you are wondering as to how we came to this figure, it is easy to understand that a literature review covers 30% of the total word count in a dissertation.

Therefore, for a dissertation that stretches up to 10,000 words, the 30% of it comes around to 3,000 words.

For your ease, we have listed down the breakdown of a dissertation in terms of word count percentage.

The findings/analysis can be separated into Findings/Results and Analysis/Discussions/ While doing this, you can consider 5% for the Findings/Results section while the Analysis/Discussions section makes up for the 30% of the word count.

Note : Please remember that this is a general and tentative breakdown and can vary from institute to institute. You will have to confirm from your university regarding the set percentage and make sure that you are aware of the given guidelines. Dissertation Writing Help can draft the specific guideline set according to your institute’s requirements.

How to Write a Dissertation Literature Review? What Is Its Importance?

As stated in the introduction of this article, a Literature Review consists of the critical review of all kinds of literature that is available on the topic. However, that’s only a one-line summary of it. In reality, it constitutes about 30% of your entire dissertation and makes up the most of your research.

You have to read across different literature that already exists and go through what others have written about your particular topic. As such, you can say that the literature review is based on secondary sources and does not concern any new discovery.

What does a literature review involve?

  • Updated and accurate material regarding the topic
  • In-depth reading and summarising of key points
  • A synthesis of the key points, concepts and theories
  • Evaluation of the concepts, theories and key points
  • Identification of the areas that can be debated upon

How to choose the material for research?

While narrowing down the proper stuff for conducting your research, you need to keep in mind the following characteristics:

  • The specific topic, focus and question of your assignment.
  • The kind of material you shall require, such as theories, policies, empirical data and methodologies.
  • The type of literature that is available such as journals, research articles, books etc.
  • The kind of literature that stands dominant in the field of study.
  • The room for research the topic offers.
  • The availability of good-enough samples for reference.
  • The consideration of alternative points of view.
  • The relevancy and degree of appropriation of the literature review with the audience

In the age of the internet, researching has become easier in a manner but complex too in the parallel, since students need to cut down the irrelevant and inaccurate sources too. It is always good to have some literature review samples by your side to reference, such as work done by some seniors on the same topic.

While researching, you as a student need to ensure that the topic neither becomes too broad or too specific, otherwise, your research will suffer in both cases.

A very important point that students often miss out on is that they do not consider the point of view of the audience. If the dissertation does not strike well to the reader, then it will fail to make an impact on the reader anyway, thus not securing appreciation. As such, the writing part should be done while keeping the reader in the mind too.

How to structure and write your literature review?

When you are writing a literature review for a dissertation UK based, you need to make sure that you follow the given format properly. You have to build your literature review around your key topic and be specific about the challenges and contributions it has.

Outline the strategy, present the topic theme and analyse all that you have studied and included in your core research. Do use your own voice but use evidence while making your claims and do not jot down any argument without any data. In the end, do not forget to proofread and edit!

If It Still Does Not Help, Hire Our Literature Review Writing Service

Writing a literature review all by yourself, especially if you do not have the experience or knowledge in doing so, can prove to be difficult and may put you under a lot of stress. It is always good to solicit assistance from someone who knows very well about the domain.

In such a circumstance, you can hire our Literature Review Writing Service that will resolve all of your literature review issues. We have a huge panel of writers who belong to different fields and have a substantial amount of experience in the research and writing field.

To find out more, all you have to do is get in touch with our customer support team through Live Chat, phone or email, as you please. Get started right away!

how many words should a literature review introduction be

Disclaimer: Kindly note that the work we provide is not the final version, it is research based work which you have to incorporate and edit according to your university requirements.

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How Long Is a Literature Review? (Quick Answer!)

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by  Antony W

February 9, 2023

how long is a literature review explained

Once you know how to write a literature review from scratch, you can confidently work on the introduction, the main body, and the conclusion. But how long is a literature review? 

How long a literature review is depends on purpose and audience. It can be 20 pages or more for a dissertation but shorter for regular assignments. Whether you write 4 or 20 pages, ensure you stick to the standard structure to score top grades.  

Key Takeaways 

  • A literature review for a thesis must not be more than 20% of the project’s length.
  • If you’re writing a 100 to 150 pages dissertation, you can make the review 40 to 60 pages long. 
  • An 8-page research paper should have a literature review of no more than 2 pages long.
  • For a 5,000-word journal article, the literature review section should be 1,200 to 2,000 words long.
  • A 25-page capstone project should have 5 to 6 pages literature review.

How Long is a Literature Review? (Understanding the Ideal Length)

The length of a literature review depends on the audience, purpose, and a student’s level of education. 

The literature review written by an undergraduate student is shorter unlike the review written by a PhD student. It gets even shorter for an essay – if your instructor ever ask you to include one.

Ideally, the average length of a literature review should be between 20 and 40 percent of the entire project.

For example, if your professor asks you to write a 10,000 words dissertation, 2,000 words of the total word count will be the literature review.

Literature Review Writing Help

The literature review chapter requires research, analysis, and synthesis. Given the depth of research involved and the structuring and writing process, it can take a while to get the work done.

If you have a few days left to complete the review but you have other more demanding assignments, take advantage of our literature review assignment help and one of our top writers will help you get the work done.

How Long Should a Thesis Literature Review Be?

A thesis is a research assignment written by undergraduates and postgraduates. Its length vary depending on the level of study.

A thesis written by Masters’ degree and Doctorate students is 60 to 100 pages long and the one written by Bachelor’s degree students is between 40 and 60 pages long.

The literature review for a project of this nature is at least 8 pages long or at most 20% of the overall word count of the project.

For example, if you’re writing a 40-page thesis, your literature review should be at least 8 pages. If your instructor states that you make your thesis 60 pages long, the literature review should be at most 12 pages. 

How Many Pages Should Journal Articles’ Literature Review Be?

Journal articles are not only shorter than books, but they’re also very specific in context because they focus on specific topics.

Because experts write them throughout the year, journal articles can present case studies, original research, methodologies, and short reports on specific areas or review articles.

The average length for journal articles is 5,000 words. As such, expect the length of the literature review to be at least 2 pages – or just a few more pages depending on how many words you write.

For example, a 5000-word journal article should have a literature review of no more than 2,000 words.

How Long is a Literature Review for a Capstone Project? 

Often written as part of a college or university course in the final year of middle or high school, a capstone project is an assignment that summaries a student’s experience.

The project requires students to select a topic, create a proposal, conduct research, and write the paper.

On average, a capstone project is 20 to 25 pages. While you can make the assignment longer, it should be no more than 45 pages.

How long the literature review section of the capstone project should be depends on the length of the assignment and/or the instructions issued by a teacher. For a 25-page capstone project, about 5 to 6 pages of literature review should be enough. 

What’s the Literature Review Length for Research Paper?

In a research paper, you argue a point by analyzing a perspective based on an individual perception. The assignment takes some time to complete because it requires both research and analytical skills.

A research can be long or short depending on the area of study. Shorter papers tend to be between 5 and 8 pages long, meaning you do have to go straight to the point in your writing, as you don’t have room for more words.

Because a research paper requires a closer examination of existing studies before the methodology chapter, it has to have a literature review.

The literature review for a research paper varies in length based on the nature of the assignment. For example, if your instructor asks you to write an 8-page research paper, you should have a 2-page literature review for the assignment.  

How Long is a Literature Review for a Dissertation?

A dissertation is a project completed as part of a postgraduate degree. Student have to present their findings on their area of study in a dissertation defense.

The length of the literature review for this assignment depends on the field of study, the topic selected, and the type of analysis required.

A dissertation is a 150 to 300 pages long project. The review for a project this big should be between 40 and 60 pages.

There is some flexibility here, so you don’t have to panic if your work doesn’t hit the 60-page target.

Final Thoughts

The takeaway from this post is that the length of a literature review depends on the type of project, the length of the project, and the level of study.

Also, it’s important to read the assignment brief provided by your instructor, as it helps to steer you in the right direction as you write the review.

About the author 

Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.

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The length of introductions vary depending on your disciplinary area and the nature of your project so before writing one, it may be wise to discuss length and expectations of content with your supervisor. It is also worth taking a look at a range of past theses in your area to see what is expected in your field.

The introduction to the whole thesis can make up roughly 10 per cent of the total word count. So if you are doing a PhD of 80,000 - 100,000 words, you may have a 8,000 - 10,000 word introduction. And if you are writing a Masters thesis of 15,000 - 20,000 words, your introduction could be 1,500 - 2,000 words long. Exegeses tend to be anywhere between seven to 12 pages in length (1.5 cm spacing) and include images and/or diagrams.

Theses that generally have longer introductions do so because they incorporate more substantial background information and/or an extended literature review section.

Theses that have shorter introductions, say eight to ten pages (1.5 spacing) or about 4000 words for a PhD, do so in order to give a broad overview of the research project which is typically followed by a longer background or literature review chapter. 

Regardless of the type of project you are doing or thesis you are writing, the introduction to the thesis or exegesis should give a broad overview of the project, as discussed in the page on introductions. 

Individual chapters should also have introductions. An introduction to a chapter that is 10,000 words long could be about two to three pages long, whereas in shorter theses the chapter introductions may only be a page or two, or even just a paragraph or two. The length varies depending on how much you need to establish for your reader to understand how the chapter contributes to your research and argument. 



Chapter introductions

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Research Paper Guide

How To Write A Literature Review

Last updated on: Feb 8, 2023

How to Write a Literature Review: Steps and Outline

By: Nathan D.

Reviewed By: Melisa C.

Published on: Jul 2, 2019

How to Write a Literature Review

So you’re working on your research paper, thesis, or dissertation and you come across an unfamiliar term – “Literature Review.”

It sounds like a challenging concept; however, with the help of this guide, you will be able to understand how to write a literature review as well as its format.

Literature reviews are usually written in the field of humanities, sciences, and social sciences. They are written as a part of different lab reports and experiments in science. It is a part of  research paper writing  and every student must include it in his paper.

How to Write a Literature Review

On this Page

What is a Literature Review

A literature review is a survey of the most relevant scholarly sources (journal articles, books, theses, etc.) that provide an insight into a particular topic. It gives a comprehensive look at the details about the topic, such as what has been said and by whom. Moreover, a literature review shows an overview of the key findings, central themes, revelations, developments, and different concepts regarding the research question.

A well-written literature review isn’t simply a listing of sources or a mere summary of different sources, instead it

  • Examines, analyzes and evaluates the text
  • Highlights different patterns and themes
  • Explains the current state of the problem at hand.

How Does a Literature Review Differ From a Research Paper?

A research paper is a piece of academic writing based on the author’s original research on a particular issue or topic. It focuses on developing a new argument through different steps and elements – literature review is one of them. A literature review serves as a basis of gaining in-depth information about the topic at hand.

When writing a literature review, you need to present new ideas. The aim is to summarize and evaluate the existing work done by others.

It is also different from an annotated bibliography as it summarizes and synthesizes different sources including books, journals, and articles.

What is the Purpose of Literature Review?

A literature review aims to provide people with a guide about a particular topic – it presents the writer’s viewpoint about the topic and their position. It also comes in handy when people don’t have the time to carry out extensive research, going through the literature review can help understand the latest trends in the field, previous studies, advancements, etc.

It is essential that the researcher understands the existing work that has been done in his field of interest and then establishes his research question.

How to Write a Literature Review?

‘How to write a literature review for a research paper?’

‘How to write a scientific literature review?’

‘How to write a psychology literature review?’

Get all the answers in the coming sections.

Just as any other piece of writing, some steps and criteria must be followed to write a literature review. There isn’t a set word count that you must meet; the length depends upon the overall word count of the paper. Or you can ask your professor and follow their instructions.

Here are some important steps that can help you start a literature review.

1. Understand the Requirements

Before you begin writing your assignment, make sure that you clearly understand the requirements. Take your time reading the prompt and clarify different aspects, such as the number of sources that you need to include. 

What type of sources should you incorporate? Are you required to provide a brief summary of the sources or critique and evaluate them? Should the literature review have subheadings, etc?

2. Go Through Literature Review Examples

To get an idea of what literature reviews should look like, go through the ones written for the discipline that you are interested in. It will help you get an idea of how to present and organize your research.

3. Narrow your Focus

To write a literature review, you are going to get involved in exhaustive research. If you stick with a wider topic, it will be difficult for you to go through different books and articles. With a more focused topic, you can easily gather relevant information.

4. Select your Sources

There are thousands of different articles, journals, and other sources available on each topic – you can’t expect to go through each one of them. To filter out the sources that are most relevant and useful to your research question, go through their abstracts and decide if you want to use it. Ask yourself the following questions when choosing a source:

  • What question is being addressed?
  • What are the key points, models, methodologies?
  • Are there some frameworks used?
  • What is the result of the study?
  • Strengths and weaknesses.
  • Contribution towards the field.

5. Cite the Sources

When you select a source, it is a good practice to write them down and cite them as you go - this helps avoid plagiarism. You can use APA, MLA, or any other format according to your requirements.

6. Figure Out the Literature Review Structure

When it comes to writing a literature review, you can outline it using various ways such as:

7. Drafting

A literature review comprises three sections – introduction, body, and conclusion. In the introduction, highlight the purpose and the focal point of your research.

The body incorporates the following points:

  • Brief description of the publication
  • Highlights its main points
  • Talks about the gaps in research
  • Assesses and evaluates how it contributed towards the overall topic

Conclude the literature review by discussing their significance.

Simply follow these steps to come up with an interesting literature review for your research paper. If you need help writing the rest of the components, check out this detailed blog on  research paper outline .

Literature Review Example


We hope that all of your queries were catered to in this blog, in case you are still confused about the writing process or need a professional essay writing service with your research, reach out to us. 5StarEssays is a specialized writing service that offers quality academic papers and writing assistance to students.

Get in touch with our customer support representative and place your  order  today!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is a literature review.

Typically, a literature review is between 2000 and 3000 words. But, its length depends on the scope of the work and the number of studies and research you have studied for your paper.

How many sources should a literature review have?

While there are no hard and fast rules regarding the number of sources added in the literature. However, if it is a standalone project and you are writing a 10-page literature review then it should examine at least 30 sources.

How many pages should a literature review be?

For a thesis or dissertation, the literature review must be at least 20 pages long. But, it solely depends on the length and scope of the work.

How old should sources be in a literature review?

Roughly, the sources should be no more than 10 years old for humanities, literature, art, and history papers.

What sources are not appropriate for a literature review?

Sources that you should not include in a literature review are magazines, non-published works, websites, and newspapers.

How long does it take to write a literature review?

It takes roughly 2 to 6 months to write a literature review. However, it depends on how many hours you dedicate to it each day and the length of the review.

Nathan D.

Masters Essay, College Admission Essay

Nathan completed his Ph.D. in journalism and has been writing articles for well-respected publications for many years now. His work is carefully researched and insightful, showing a true passion for the written word. Nathan's clients appreciate his expertise, deep understanding of the process, and ability to communicate difficult concepts clearly.

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Academia Insider

How long should a literature review be? Writing a literature review properly. 

Embarking on a journey through academic research, one is often faced with the question: How long should a thesis literature review be?

Typically, a literature review comprises 20-40% of the thesis, equating to around 20-40 pages, yet this can fluctuate based on the topic, field, and institutional guidelines. However, if the literature review is for an assignment/project report it only needs to be a few pages long.

A literature review represents a critical exploration of existing scholarship on a specific topic, serving as the backbone for dissertations, research articles, book chapters, conference papers, and more.

This comprehensive, concise, and well-structured survey of the current knowledge landscape provides insight into established findings, research methodologies, and highlights the gaps that your research aims to fill.

how many words should a literature review introduction be

The endeavor of writing a literature review not only deepens your understanding of your chosen area but also lays a strong foundation for your unique inquiry and contribution to the field.

How Long Should a Thesis Literature Review Be? Dissertation, research paper, journal article, and more

The length of a thesis literature review can vary based on the topic, research field, and guidelines provided by your institution.

However, as a general rule, it often comprises 20-40% of the thesis. This equates to around 20-40 pages.

However, if the literature review is for an assignment it only needs to be a few pages long. 

It’s crucial to ensure your review is comprehensive, concise, and well-structured, adequately summarizing existing research, identifying gaps, discussing limitations, and suggesting future research directions. 

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a critical examination of existing research on a particular topic. It is often the beginning of any area of study and is often used as the introduction to a dissertation. 

I have done one at the beginning of any research project, the beginning of my PhD and postdocs and in industry research positions. 

It involves analyzing relevant resources such as books, journal articles, and other scholarly works to gain a comprehensive understanding of the current knowledge in your area of interest.

For example, if your topic is the impact of social media on the mental health of younger generations, you’ll explore previous studies to understand established findings, methodologies, and gaps in the field.

The purpose is threefold: 

  • to comprehend what is already known,
  • to give your readers an overview of existing knowledge (showing where your research fits in), and
  • to identify any unexplored areas or gaps, thus allowing you to contribute something original to the field.

The process aids in refining your research question and defining your unique angle of inquiry.

How do I create a literature review?

Creating a literature review involves several key steps:

  • Conceptualize : Start by forming a conceptual framework. It’s an overview of the topic, helping you structure your review.
  • Synthesis : Synthesize the literature. Read, categorize, and summarize the material to create a narrative.
  • Analysis : This is your main body of work. Develop arguments and critique the literature.
  • Conclusion : Recap your findings, discussing the implications of your work and highlighting any limitations.
  • Future Research : If applicable, suggest areas for future research or policy actions based on your findings.
  • Introduction : Write the introduction last. It includes the importance of the topic, gaps in knowledge, and your motivation for the review.
  • Transparency : Always be transparent about limitations in your work and the body of evidence reviewed.

How many sources do you need in a literature review?

The number of sources required in a literature review can vary significantly depending on several factors such as:

  • the nature of your research topic,
  • the length of the literature review, and
  • the specific instructions from your professor or institution.

In general, it’s crucial to include a wide range of sources to fully capture the breadth of scholarship on your research topic.

For a dissertation or thesis, a literature review might involve dozens of sources. For a stand-alone literature review or an overview for a journal article, fewer sources might be appropriate. For instance, a PhD thesis literature review might require anywhere from 50 to 300+ sources.

My PhD thesis had 256 papers cited

Rather than focusing on a specific number, the key is to ensure that your literature review provides a comprehensive, balanced overview of existing scholarship on your research topic.

This should ideally include both seminal works and recent publications, highlighting any gaps your research aims to fill.

Remember, the quality of your sources is as important as the quantity.

Your literature review should demonstrate that you have critically engaged with a variety of scholarly sources to gain a deep understanding of your research topic.

What Makes a Good Literature Review?

A good literature review for a dissertation or thesis is a comprehensive survey of existing scholarship on a particular topic, demonstrating your understanding of current research in your field of study.

The length of a literature review can vary depending on the research topic and level of study, but the University of Kent suggests that for a PhD thesis, it could range up to 20 pages or more.

Start by organizing your literature review either thematically, chronologically, or by methodology.

An annotated bibliography can assist in this process.

You must summarize the main points of each source, focusing on its relevance to your research project. Scholarly sources are preferable; consult your instructor for the minimum number of sources required.

It is essential to identify a gap in knowledge within the existing scholarship, which your research aims to fill.

This should be highlighted in your review, underlining the significance and worthiness of your proposed research. It’s crucial that your review provides a complete overview of the current state of research and shows why your research is important.

Bear in mind the word count, as a concise, focused review is typically preferred.

Structure is key and the title page, introduction, and conclusion should be included. 

Despite the absence of a hard and fast rule on length, your review must provide a robust base of knowledge for your research, allowing readers to understand your research’s purpose and audience.

Wrapping up – How long should a literature review be?

The question “how long should a literature review be?” hinges on various factors, including the nature of the research project, area of study, and instructions from your instructor.

Whether it’s for a thesis, dissertation, or a research paper, writing a literature review requires a comprehensive survey of existing scholarship on your particular topic.

Remember, the length of a literature review is not a hard and fast rule; it could comprise anywhere from 20 pages to much more in a PhD thesis, or be a stand-alone brief overview in a journal article.

The structure of your review, whether thematically, chronologically, or by methodology, helps to summarize and highlight specific findings in the field of study.

Bear in mind the importance of identifying a gap in knowledge, which your research aims to fill.

Above all, your literature review should be a concise, scholarly synthesis of your research topic, providing a robust base of knowledge for your audience and demonstrating the significance and worthiness of your proposed research. 

how many words should a literature review introduction be

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.

Thank you for visiting Academia Insider.

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how many words should a literature review introduction be

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how many words should a literature review introduction be

Writing your Literature Review

[ Study Skills ] [ Writing Academically ] [ Dissertations ] [ Exams & Doing Research ] [ Plagiarism & Critical Thinking ] [ Reading & Note Taking ] [ Referencing & Scholarship ]

[ Assignment & Essay Writing ] [ Assignment Basics ] [ Writing Reflectively ]

The literature review must survey the existing research that is relevant to the question that is addressed by your research project. Your dissertation tutor may be able to give you some pointers but really it is down to you to go and find as much relevant information as possible.

It is not possible to give specific advice on writing a literature review simply because every literature review is different! However, some general guidance can be given:

For a 10,000 word piece of primary research the literature review is typically around 4,000 words in length. A piece of secondary research is usually in the form of an extended literature review.

How do you decide what is relevant? This can be tricky, but the main thing is to make decisions as you clarify the focus of your project.

It may be relevant to address:

  • research that focuses on the same subject as your own;
  • research that uses the same methodology as yours;
  • research that does not focus on the same subject but on a related subject whose relevance you can state clearly;
  • government guidance or professional frameworks that have some relationship to the subject of your study;
  • definition of key terms in your study which help to clarify its purpose.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it may help you to proceed. A common problem is that no-one else has done research in your particular area. This is when it is particularly important to look into studies in related areas or with comparable methodologies.


There is no one correct way to present a literature review (unless your dissertation tutor expresses a preference for one type of structure). The most important thing to remember is that the literature review must be structured clearly.

This usually means that you will need to think about how you intend to group the information you have found. It is often useful to include a mini-introduction that explains how the information will be structured.

Some literature reviews include sub-headings and some do not. If you want to use them check with your dissertation tutor.  Be aware that imprecise or overly  frequent sub-headings can reduce the clarity and readability of your work.

Criticality and Literature Reviews

To some extent a literature review is simply a well-organised account of the literature that you have discovered that is relevant to your study. However, it is usually appropriate to include some evaluation of this literature. This might involve:

  • criticism of the methodology of other research which draws attention to its strengths and weaknesses, or similarities / differences when compared to your own study;
  • commentary on the agreement or disagreement between the different sources that are contained within your literature review;
  • discussion of underlying problems that are common to the different sources that you have found.

This is not an exhaustive list of the ways that you can demonstrate criticality in a literature review.

Remember that it is not normally good to anticipate your own findings in the literature review. You can refer back to the literature review in your findings section.

Conclusion in a Literature Review

It is usually good to include a brief conclusion to summarize the key points in your evaluation of the existing literature.

Useful Websites

This  excellent guide  from the Writing Centre has essentially been written for an American audience, but the advice is fairly generic. This  guide  is directed specifically at Literature Reviews in Sport’s Science.

Back to top

The Royal Literary Fund

  • Essay Guide
  • Alex Essay Writing Tool
  • Dissertation Guide
  • Ask The Elephant

The structure of a literature review

A literature review should be structured like any other essay: it should have an introduction, a middle or main body, and a conclusion.


The introduction should:

  • define your topic and provide an appropriate context for reviewing the literature;
  • establish your reasons – i.e. point of view – for
  • reviewing the literature;
  • explain the organisation – i.e. sequence – of the review;
  • state the scope of the review – i.e. what is included and what isn’t included. For example, if you were reviewing the literature on obesity in children you might say something like: There are a large number of studies of obesity trends in the general population. However, since the focus of this research is on obesity in children, these will not be reviewed in detail and will only be referred to as appropriate.

The middle or main body should:

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

The conclusion should:

  • summarise the important aspects of the existing body of literature;
  • evaluate the current state of the literature reviewed;
  • identify significant flaws or gaps in existing knowledge;
  • outline areas for future study;
  • link your research to existing knowledge.

Privacy Overview


Literature reviews

  • Starting your literature review
  • Introduction

Structuring your reading

When to stop reading, how to organise a literature review, writing your literature review.

  • Developing your literature review
  • Writing systematic reviews

Useful links for literature reviews

  • Study Advice Helping students to achieve study success with guides, video tutorials, seminars and one-to-one advice sessions.

how many words should a literature review introduction be

  • Doing your literature review (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
  • Doing your literature review (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.
  • Literature searching guide A guide to finding articles, books and other materials on your subject
  • Doing your literature search video - University of Reading Brief video on literature searching from our Academic Liaison Librarians.
  • Royal Literary Fund: Writing a Literature Review A guide to writing literature reviews from the Royal Literary Fund
  • What it means to be a critical student A brief and very useful video tutorial from the University of Leicester.
  • Reading and notemaking LibGuide Expert guidance on managing your reading and making effective notes.
  • Dissertations and major projects LibGuide Expert guidance on planning, researching and writing dissertations and major projects.

how many words should a literature review introduction be

If you have thought about the areas you need to research and have conducted some searches for literature, you should be ready to set down some draft topic headings to structure your literature review.

Select one of your headings and choose a few key texts to read first - three is ideal to start with. Remember that you may eventually be writing about the same text under different headings, so bear that in mind when you are reading and making notes.

When you have finished reading your chosen texts, write a draft section summarising and commenting on what you have read, taking special care to show how it is relevant to your research. Then look to see what you need to discuss further, and do more reading to enable you to plug the gaps.

how many words should a literature review introduction be

Try to set limits on how long you will spend reading. Then plan backwards from your deadline and decide when you need to move on to other parts of your investigation e.g. gathering the data.

You need to show you have read the major and important texts in your topic, and that you have also explored the most up-to-date research. If you have demonstrated both of these, you are on the right lines.

If you keep coming across very similar viewpoints and your reading is no longer providing new information, this is a sign you have reached saturation point and should probably stop.

Be guided by your research questions. When reading, ask yourself, "How does this relate to my investigation?" If you are going off into unrelated areas, stop reading and refocus on your topic.

how many words should a literature review introduction be

Another thing you can do is to group what you have read into different topics or themes . These can provide useful headings when you come to write up your literature review. Use different coloured highlighters to identify which topic or heading each article fits into.

Be selective - you don't have to include everything you have read in your literature review. Only include research which is relevant and which helps you understand more about your own investigation. What you leave out won't be wasted as it helped you refine your understanding of the wider issues and identify what was relevant to your own investigation.

You don't have to refer to everything in the same depth in your literature review. You are usually expected to prioritise recent research. Some scientific research that was crucial in the past is now out of date. For instance, there may be a few older studies that were important in starting research in the field, but their methods have been surpassed by more accurate methods. You only need to demonstrate your awareness of these older, dated studies in a few sentences, then move on to discussing in greater depth the up-to-date methods and why they are more accurate.

Like an essay, a literature review has an introduction, main body, and conclusion.

Introduction : This explains the broad context of your research area and the main topics you are investigating. It briefly highlights the relevant issues or debates that have characterised your field of research.

It should also include some signposting for the reader, explaining the organisation / sequence of topics covered, and the scope of your survey.

Main body : An analysis of the literature according to a number of themes or topics that overlap with your research. It may have headings.

You can write your literature review one section at a time, but make sure you read through them all to check they link together and tell a coherent "story".

This should show how your research builds on what has been done before. Based on previous research, you provide justifications for what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how you are going to do it.

Conclusion : This should summarise the current state of the research in your field as analysed in the main body. It should identify any gaps or problems with the existing research, and explain how your investigation is going to address these gaps or build on the existing research.

  • The structure of a literature review (Royal Literary Fund) Guidance on structuring a literature review.
  • << Previous: Starting your literature review
  • Next: Developing your literature review >>
  • Last Updated: Aug 22, 2023 4:51 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.reading.ac.uk/literaturereview


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