Steps in Developing Literature Review

By Anthony M. Wanjohi:

There are a number of steps one should consider when developing literature. These include the following: seeking clarification, establishing the sources of information, considering whether the sources are current, critically analyzing the content and considering organization of literature.

Seeking Clarification about Literature Review

Before embarking on review of literature, first seek clarification from your supervisor regarding the organization of your literature (whether to provide subheadings based on themes and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history), number of sources (local and international sources) and the approach to take in presenting literature. This will safe you the headache of running to and fro with your supervisor(s). Preferably, make use of your institution’s research guidelines.

Establishing the Sources of Literature

Once you have concepts or keywords or parameters, it becomes easier to retrieve information from both informal and formal sources.  Informal sources include contact with peers, colleagues, other researchers, your Faculty members, Librarian, and your supervisor(s). Just as important as the network of informal contacts are the formal sources, including: books, scholarly, popular journals, research papers, theses, World Wide Web (Internet) articles, bibliographies, encyclopedias, handbooks, maps, newspapers, government legislation, statistics, conference proceedings, specific sources, such as ERIC documents on Education.

Considering whether the Literature Sources are Current

Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. In the sciences, for instance, treatments for medical problems are constantly changing according to the latest studies. Information even two years old could be obsolete. However, if you are writing a review in the humanities, history, or social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be what is needed, because what is important is how perspectives have changed through the years or within a certain time period. Try sorting through some other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects.

Critically Analyzing the Content of Literature

As you select and use sources, critically analyze the content: This include establishing whether research is based on established fact, determining the significance of work in terms of models or theories, ascertaining the limitations of the study, finding out whether there are any flaws in the methodology, determining the facts, arguments, points of view, looking at any new findings, ascertaining the reliability and accuracy of the findings.

Considering organization of Literature

After getting related literature on your topic, consider organizing the information into themes. You can ask yourself: What are the most important subtopics that your review needs to include? And in what order should you present them? Develop an organization for your review at both a global and local level. In essence, most of reviews are organized thematically based on the study parameters or objective areas of the study. Other reviews bear theoretical (not based on observation) and empirical (based on observable, tangible evidence). Preferably, consult your institution’s research guidelines or specific terms of reference.

To help you come up with an overall organizational framework for your review, consider the following two typical ways of organizing the sources into a review:

Chronological. If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. A better way to organize the sources chronologically is to examine them under trends, such as the history of your research problem. Then your review would have subsections according to eras within this period.

Thematic. This is the most common approach of organizing literatureThematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic review. More authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A thematic review has subtopics based upon factors that are related to the theme or issue. These issues are basically the study parameters or key concepts or study objectives areas.

Drawing an Outline of Literature Review

Once you settle on the approach to use in presenting literature (either chronologically or thematically), outline the review as follows:  Introduction (introduce the chapter), Review of theories (review theories forming the basis of your study), Empirical review (review of past studies), Critique (highlight on strengths and weaknesses of the past studies), Summary ( a brief exposure of the studies covered and a justification of your study).


In order to draw the right outline of any literature review, it is important to seek guidance from your instructor as each institution has a research guideline which provides a specific research outline.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *