Four Ways to Structure Your Literature Review

The literature review is a critical part of any research project. It provides a comprehensive overview of the existing body of knowledge on a topic, and how that knowledge has been developed over time. A literature review can be structured in a number of ways, depending on the purpose and scope of the work. In general, a literature review should be organized around a central question or theme and use a logical approach to synthesizing and evaluating the existing body of work.

In determining the structure of your literature review, it is important to consider the approach you will take. There are four common approaches to organizing a literature review: theoretical, thematic, methodological, and chronological.

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What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a written overview of the existing research on a topic. A literature review is a critical component of a dissertation, thesis, or journal article. It can be used to:

– Assess the current state of knowledge on a topic

– Identify gaps in the existing research

– Inform future research directions

The best structure for a literature review depends on the purpose of the review and the audience. Ultimately, it is up to the researcher to decide which type of literature review is best suited for their needs.

Four Common Literature Review Structures


A theoretical literature review is a comprehensive survey of all the theories that relate to a particular area of research. It includes both published and unpublished works and covers both classic and contemporary theory.

Theoretical literature reviews can be divided into two main types: those that focus on a specific theory, and those that adopt a more general approach. In the former case, the review will critically assess the chosen theory and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. In the latter case, the review will survey all the major theories in the field and identify common themes and areas of disagreement.

Theoretical literature reviews can be conducted at any stage in a research project, but they are usually most helpful when developing your research question and methodology. A good theoretical literature review will help to situate your research within the wider field, and to identify the gaps in current knowledge that your research aims to fill.

Example of a Theoretical Literature Review: Burnout in nursing: A theoretical review.


A thematic literature review is an evaluation of existing research on a particular topic, with a focus on themes or patterns that emerge from the work as a whole. This type of review can be helpful in identifying gaps in the current body of knowledge, or in pointing out areas where future research may be needed. In order to write a successful thematic literature review, it is important to select a manageable topic and to carefully read and analyze the existing body of work on that topic. It is also crucial to identify and articulate the main theme or pattern that emerges from the literature; this will be the focus of your review.

Example of a Thematic Literature Review: The ethics of digital well-being: A thematic review.


A methodological literature review is a detailed and comprehensive assessment of all the research methods used in a particular area of study. It involves critically evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of different research methods, and determining which method is best suited to answering a specific research question. A methodological literature review is an important tool for any researcher, as it helps to identify the most appropriate research methods for their particular area of inquiry.

Research methods can be broadly classified into two categories: qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative methods are those that aim to gather an in-depth understanding of a phenomenon, often through interviews, observations, or case studies. Quantitative methods, on the other hand, focus on collecting large amounts of data that can be analyzed statistically. A methodological literature review might compare the findings of a single approach or compare the results that have emerged in both approaches.

Example of a Methodological Review: Social media data for conservation science: A methodological overview.


A chronological literature review is a type of review that looks at the development of a particular topic or idea over time. This can be helpful in understanding how an issue has evolved or changed over time and provide insights into current debates on the topic. In order to write a chronological literature review, you will need to identify and locate relevant sources that cover the topic in question. Once you have gathered your sources, you will need to read and analyze them in order to identify key trends and developments. Finally, you will need to synthesize this information in a way that tells a coherent story about the evolution of the topic.

Example of a Chronological Review: Historical development of definitions of information literacy: A literature review of selected resources.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Literature Review Structure

When choosing a literature review structure, there are several factors to consider.

1.     Purpose of the literature review. Is it to provide an overview of the field, or is it to evaluate a specific theory or research methodology?

2.     Audience for the literature review. Will it be read by scholars in the field, or is it intended for a general audience?

3.     Scope of the literature review. What time period should the sources cover? What types of sources do you need to identify? Are you focusing on a specific research method or theory?

4.     Resources available. What sources will be used, and how will they be accessed? Will you include gray literature? Will you evaluate the quality of the sources?

With these considerations in mind, you can choose a literature review structure that best suits your needs.


Literature reviews are an essential part of any research project. Understanding the different types of structures and how to select the best structure for your specific project is key to ensuring that you create the most effective review possible. We hope this guide has given you a better understanding of what literature reviews are, how they can be used, and which type is right for your needs.

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