How to Write a Literature Review for Your Thesis

While writing a literature review for your PhD thesis or dissertation, you will have to dig past literature on your topic throughly.

Simple steps to write a literature review for PhD thesis:

  • Prepare upto 10 research questions.
  • Keep ready with topic’s keywords.
  • The length is a quarter of whole thesis.
  • Gather Primary and Secondary Sources
  • Take sources from all channels.
  • Save every source weblink on your laptop.
  • Never deviate from your topic of research.
  • Prepare summaries for each source.
  • Finally, derive conclusions.

Advanced tips to write a literature review for PhD thesis

Where to start

You must first take it into consideration about the date bases that your professors are recommending you.

A lot of people start the literature review by quickly searching google scholar with some keywords. The issue with this is that you got so many results.

These bunch of results are not in a way going to help you and are not relevant either. Those results are not sometimes specific to the questions that you need to answer your review.

You need to ask you tutors or supervisor or professor to search rightly and which portal you must use. Come up with central research questions.

What this does is that these central research questions will refer strongly to the title of the review.

By answering these questions you can basically say that you have answered basic questions.

You must also talk to your classmates and colleagues when you are doing a literature review. There are chances that you may do your Ph.D. literature review in isolation.

Do meet your friends and ask them whether they have come across your literature questions. You must also choose bibliography. For a lot of PhD, scholars bibliography is quite intimidating.

You can use some software for the purpose of bibliography.

How to search for resources?

After choosing research questions, carefully use keyword terms in your PhD literature review.. There are chances that you may not use right key terms.

So take care that you are using appropriate key terms or keywords that are relevant to the research questions.

The best way to know that you used the wrong keyword in your PhD literature review  is that when you end up with lot many results. This says that your keyword is way too general.

So you need to pull with a narrow keyword to get the right rich results. Sometimes you may not find even though you use right key terms.

In such a case you must make sure to change the search portal that you are using. Do not rely on only one portal.

Have lots of journals, magazines which your tutor or supervisors suggest. Also check the results carefully. Pick up the right result for your literature review.

The best way to know the right result is that see that the article has lots of citations and the very latest one that is highly trending.

And also make sure that the article is a peer-reviewed journal. To know this you can go to the about section of the article’s journal and check whether that is peer-reviewed or not.

Peer review is nothing but it speaks the academic originality. It is not that you just read the title of the article but try to read the abstract and a few lines at the beginning of the article.

See whether that article matches to your research questions and keywords so that it matches to your literature review piece.

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There are some sources that you can do this. They are with the help of Zotero and Mendeley.  Zotero is the add on the google chrome which will store all the bibliography of the articles you are coming across.

You do not need to write them on an extra piece of paper or store them on your folders. It all gets stored in the cloud any amount of them.

You can access at any point of time unlimited.

Picking up right sources

You must understand how many sources that you are going to quote in your PhD literature review. Also, it depends now on 20, 30 or 40. Ask you a lecturer or PhD supervisor about this. Use Zotero for this.

Make sure you are picking up right sources that are written by established scholars with good citations.

Try to pick up resources also from direct journals which are written directly about your topic. You can also take from authored books.

Read actively and review literature thoroughly.

Always read the articles analytically by keeping the keywords in mind. Try to compare different articles that you are reading to get a good literature review for your thesis. This will really help your PhD literature review.

Try to constantly exercise your brain by thinking in an analytical way. Try to engage what is going on in the filed that you have chosen.

Many scholars make mistake by just highlighting the text while they read but forget to take notes about why they have highlighted.

Probably you may think that you can remember later why have you highlighted a particular text but after some days, when you look into the article you do not remember why it was worth highlighting.

Again constantly thinking about the relevance and validity of what you are reading, try to talk to your PhD supervisor.

Structure of the PhD literature review for thesis

Use subheadings in your literature review clearly. This will help you to navigate properly. The essential central research questions can act as subheadings at the beginning.

If your supervisor is telling you not to use subheading and asks you flow through a paragraph, you can do it at the end. But particularly while doing a PhD review it is good to have good subheadings.

Use the technique of color coding in the literature review so that you know which color represents what. And also go with cross-referencing.

Keep always connected how critics are bringing up the topic differently by comparing and contrasting in order to position yourself in the field of research.

The other common mistake in literature review is keeping block quotations. Use only essential quotations.

The problem with block quotation is that critic’s work is very difficult to understand just by reading block quotations.

Always put block quotations in your own words.  You need to just slow down and read the chapter.

Say to yourself a challenge, give yourself 4 sentences and understand the chapter what is going on.  If there are particularly important quotations, then you can include. Always make yourself comments while doing a literature review. You can delete them later.

Use footnotes. This is useful to understand better though it is something outside the parameters. The next important thing is the bibliography and the works that are cited.

Works cited are those specifically analyzed in the review. The bibliography is something a larger work if you want to come back and review and if you want to double check the source.

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It tells what the review is about. what points it addresses and what is the conclusion that you are going to give.

It is not an introduction to what you are going to do but the abstract is much more complete than that and it is usually to 100 to 150 words in length followed by keywords.


It is an overview of the literature review. You can also list some subheadings and describe briefly about each.

Bonus helpful tips

Take short notes always. Do not read everything line by line. Look for reviews and major journals. Set some deadlines.

You may limit your review. For PhD length will vary. Avoid being remorse. Do not be too lengthy. Be focused.

Why literature review?

The main reason that you want to do literature review or submitting dissertation is to improve your understanding so that you can follow your work based on your understanding. During PhD, you are expected to be more knowledgeable more than your PhD supervisor.

It is because you are going to be an expert in that particular field. Another important thing why you need to do a literature review is to demonstrate knowledge.

This demonstration is useful when you want to depend on your thesis with your opponent. Also, you do this review to give the reader what is happening in the context of research in the field of professionalism.

One of the major checks that you need to see when you start your literature review is that you need to collect good quality of resources. Quality means relevancy.

Be narrow. Take the field of specialization rightly. There are different types of resources like dissertations, thesis, magazines, newspapers, recordings, online articles, conferences, peer-reviewed works, technical works and journals, and standards.

 Make sure they are of good quality. When professors see your literature review, they see references. You must cite peer-reviewed journals. Use more resources.

The source must not come from one domain. You must make sure that your resources are coming from different geographical backgrounds.

This shows that your review is of quality from various resources. The bad resources are Wikipedia and lecturer notes etc.

A literature review is trying to cover major concepts of the literature of your topic. Make sure that your review is up to date. This is all important to do. Extract and present well.

Any literature review asks this question whether it gives a good understanding of topics. Once you did your review you must start with resources screening list.

This is based on the idea to regroup all the sources. If you only depend on google scholar, you are not sure whether have you covered fully.

You can look at Elsevier or government or google scholar and many other portals.  Keep on growing with the exploration of domains to have better coverage of review. Also, make sure you have to use keywords.

This is also called a literature survey.

Literature review must have at least 100 references and later on pick right ones. Also, make sure the quality of citations. Google scholar will list all the citations.

It does not mean that a document with zero citations is not of quality. It can also help you more with more intelligence.

So keep in mind citations are everything when comes to quality.

Hello, My name is Syam, Asst. Professor of English and Mentor for Ph.D. students worldwide. I have worked years to give you these amazing tips to complete your Ph.D. successfully. Having put a lot of efforts means to make your Ph.D. journey easier. Thank you for visiting my Ph.D. blog.