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Literature Review Outline: Structure, Format & Examples

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A literature review outline is a structured plan of the key elements that should be included in your overview of existing literature. The outline helps to organize the literature review and ensure that all relevant information is covered.

Creating an outline for a literature review is a skill that every student or researcher should possess. If you are new to preparing research outlines, do not know their main parts, or are wondering about ways of organizing information in them, read this article and learn about how to write a literature review outline. The guide also discusses the definition, structure, approaches, and tips relevant to composing a literature review outline. Additionally, you will reinforce your understanding of key concepts through various examples of literature review outlines that are offered.

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What Is a Literature Review Outline?

A literature review outline is a sketch highlighting how you will convey information about your findings after evaluating and interpreting studies. In other words, it offers a rough overview of the sources you have analyzed in the paper. 

Think of a literature outline as a general skeleton of what your full review should look like including the specifics of each part. Its purpose is to assist you in developing ideas, performing research and presenting your findings logically. Specifically, a literary review outline helps you sum up the arguments that you want to emphasize or what you will talk about in your study.

Elements of Literature Review Outline

Now that you know what a literature review outline means, you need to understand the major parts that must be incorporated. In general, it is organized in a similar way to a standard academic essay outline template with three key elements including an introduction, body, and conclusion. You may include subheadings within each part to divide them up into meaningful segments. An outline of a literature review has:

  1. Introduction Hooks the reader and offers an overview of your topic.
  2. Body Comprises headings, subheadings, and paragraphs for mapping out your argument.
  3. Conclusion Summarizes your key points.


To create an effective introduction for a literature review, attract readers with a hook. This can be a quotation, example, or question. Introduce the research topic by briefly mentioning key concepts and describing your perspective. Discuss the literature you will review and provide hints about your fundamental concept. Overall, the introduction should bring interest to your research topic and provide readers with an understanding of what to expect in the text.

In addition to outlining the key components of your literature review, it's important to address any debates or concerns related to your topic. This provides context and helps readers understand the significance of your exploration. Be sure to mention the importance of your research in your literature review outline and articulate your problem statement or research question

Keep in mind that references should be included in the subsequent sections of your review.


The body of your review is where you analyze and interpret results to support your argument. This section should be well-organized and provide a clear and thorough analysis of the gathered studies. 

Structure the information consistently and synthesize the main points while also evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of your sources.  You can use one of the approaches described in the next section to structure your information in body paragraphs.

Ensure your work flows systematically and is easier to understand by using transitions words, headings, and subheadings. In your literature review outline, introduce each article you have used for the project and provide a brief description. Briefly explain the relationship between the texts and your dissertation topic, and highlight how the papers are interrelated.


The conclusion is where you present your final evaluation. Begin by identifying the main themes you have discovered and their line of research. Then, mention any strengths and weaknesses you have found in the literature and highlight your work’s significance to existing knowledge. In general, the conclusion of your outline for a literature review should briefly:

  1. Identify major agreements and disagreements in the studies reviewed.
  2. Provide an in-depth explanation of your findings.
  3. Describe any gaps or areas that require further research.
  4. Offer recommendations for future study.
  5. Provide your overall perspective on the issue.
  6. Clarify the importance of the topic within the current academic discourse.

Once you build an outline, your next step is to create a literature review itself. Check out our helpful blog with step-by-step guidance on how to write a literature review

Literary Review Outline: Main Approaches

Before composing the outline of a literary review, you should think about the various ways of arranging your points. Generally, there are 4 major options for organizing information when writing a literature review outline. The format you choose depends on your specific inquiry, aims, and other requirements. These approaches include:

  1. Theoretical
  2. Chronological
  3. Thematic
  4. Methodological.

Putting together your work well simplifies the entire process. Also remember to follow one structure consistently to avoid confusions with your flow. For example, if you decide to organize your work chronologically, make sure that you use this layout across your paper.

Theoretical Approach

A theoretical approach to literature review involves examining existing literature through a specific theoretical framework. Here, you need to view the literature through the lens of a particular theory or theories to gain a deeper understanding of your research question. 

Theoretical approach can help identify patterns and inconsistencies not apparent through other methods. It’s especially useful if you are dealing with multiple theories or perspectives. 

Divide your discussion into headings or subheadings following a particular order as shown below in the example:

  1. Theory A
    1. Brief description.
  2. Theory B
    1. Brief description, etc.

This is accompanied with brief discussions of each framework and their relevance to your paper. Look at this diagram for better understanding:

Theoretical Approach to a Literature Review Outline

Chronological Approach

Chronological approach (linear approach) is the simplest way of structuring your body section. Start with older studies and work towards more recent ones. This streamlines the analysis of debates about your topic over time as you write your literature review outline. Additionally, the linear organization enables you to identify those texts that have had a profound impact on your field.

Arrange your sources in a chronological order to understand how your theme has changed over time. Using this approach, you focus on important turning points rather than all events. 

Here is a pictorial illustration of this model.

Chronological Approach to a Literature Review Outline

Thematic Approach

Thematic approach to an outline for a literature review involves grouping your works by themes. Here, researchers determine specific patterns or subjects to arrange sources thematically. 

Use the themes you have identified as headings or subheadings in your body paragraphs.Then, summarize the relevant information under each theme to keep your discussion organized and easy-to-follow. This allows you to place all sources focusing on a similar topic together which makes it easier to ascertain where differences in opinions or perspectives arise. It is a commonly used structure across diverse fields.

Consider the following diagram for further explanation.

Thematic Approach to a Literature Review Outline

Methodological Approach

With the methodological approach, your literature review outline is organized based on specific research methodologies applied in the studies. This model is useful when you need to investigate research questions related to particular methods, such as qualitative or quantitative study

This approach allows researchers to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of various methods, and identify any gaps or areas where further investigation is needed. You will later use your revelations when designing a research study and writing a methodology

Have a look at the diagram below to organize your review methodologically:

Methodological Approach to a Literature Review Outline

Literature Review Outline Template

If creating an outline is still challenging for you at this point, don’t worry because you can use a ready-made literature review outline template. Most institutions usually provide completed models. This makes your work easier because you will just fill in the details for each section. 

The format can be APA, MLA, Chicago, or Harvard, which is generally specified in the task instructions. Thus, you should not face any difficulties finding a particular layout that may be applied to literature review when writing a dissertation

Still, you can use the following outline for literature review template example and include relevant information according to your work.

  • Introduction
    • Identify your topic and its importance in the field
    • Describe your reasons for conducting the review
    • Explain how your appraisal is organized
    • Highlight your work’s objective i.e., what you will cover
  • Body
    • Theme 1. Offer an overview of your first theme
      • Sub-theme. Narrow your analysis using studies related to this section
        • Study 1
        • Study 2
        • Study 3
      • Sub-theme. Same as above
        • Study 4
        • Study 5
        • Study 6
      • Continue until you expand all sub-themes under your first major theme
        • You can use the same studies whenever they are needed to explain a specific subject
    • Theme 2. Same procedure as above
      • Repeat the major themes and their underlying topics until you have fully described each one of them
  • Conclusion
    • Explain what your review contributes to the field
    • Identify the strengths and weaknesses of studies
    • Describe the gaps you have located
    • State the next steps for research to solve the identified issues

How to Write a Literature Review Outline

It is not easy to write an outline for a literature review, particularly if this is your first time. However, don’t be discouraged because like all other formal tasks you have done up to now, preparing an outline successfully necessitates following a correct procedure and organization. 

With that in mind, we offer a step-by-step guideline on how to outline a literature review. Follow the process below to create an excellent piece.

  1. Select a topic. The initial step entails picking a topic of interest or a theme you are knowledgeable about. Choosing something you know helps in identifying relevant studies, which makes the writing process easier and more exciting. Focus on current and well-researched subjects as this makes finding sources less stressful. Also, be certain that you narrow down your issue to ensure it is specific and can be reviewed meaningfully.
  2. Search the body of literature. When you have a theme, the next step is identifying relevant studies related to your topic as you continue preparing your literature review outline. Limit your exploration to reliable databases such as JSTOR, NCBI, EBSCO, or Elsevier among others to find trusted sources. Your school library is also a very good place for searching manuscripts. If you are unsure about this process, ask a librarian or your professor for assistance. Remember to focus on useful and recent manuscripts not older than 5 years unless the instructions state otherwise or your topic requires earlier articles. The number of documents depends on your task guidelines. After selecting documents for your outline, evaluate them to see if they are applicable to your subject.
  3. Create a structure. To write a literature review outline effectively, you need to develop a well-organized and proper structure. Use one of the approaches discussed previously to organize your information. However, before starting, ensure that you understand how to begin your outline by using the created sketch to identify the main arguments to be included in it.
  4. Identify key concepts and themes. You also need to understand the arguments presented in your sources. Achieving this requires that you read all the texts you found repeatedly to digest and grasp their arguments. Be selective at first by looking at important sections such as abstracts, summaries, discussions, and conclusions to get an idea of point of views. Take notes of the main facts you find as this will assist in incorporating relevant texts into your work. After gaining insights into the major points of a study, you can now engage in deeper reading by covering all sections in detail.
  5. Compose an outline for a literature review. At this point, you can fill in your details to the sketch you created earlier by figuring out the arguments that are applicable to various sections. Your work now is simply to follow and maintain the structure you developed and draft your outline. Remember to proofread your plan and eliminate grammatical or other errors. Note that the aforementioned stages are described in a linear fashion. In reality, you may need to reformulate, reorganize, or recheck information and make several adjustments to your lit review outline. Thus, it may be necessary to revise specific parts of your paper regularly before delivering the best piece.

Literature Review Outline Examples

Reading a literature review outline sample to grasp the key ideas about this type of work is also important. Carefully examining these examples helps you gain insights into how well-structured pieces are prepared. Remember to check samples concerning your field of study to avoid confusion when developing your own. Additionally, your institution may have specific requirements for what you should cover. Thus, use the following samples of literature review outlines to augment your knowledge.

Literature review outline example 1

Literature review outline example

Literature review outline sample 2

Sample of a literature review outline

Example of literature review outline 3

Example of a literature review outline

Literature Review Outline Writing Tips

Now that you have a good idea about developing an outline for a literature review, it is important to provide you with additional useful information. Remember that you must cover everything stated in your instructions and clarify things you are not sure of. Here are the essential tips to keep in mind:

  1. Structure Develop a cohesive and logical structure as this allows you and others to easily understand which points are covered.
  2. Topic Highlight your topic first to demonstrate what your work is about.
  3. Format Ensure that you use an appropriate listing format to highlight major sections and their subheadings when writing a literature review outline. You can use different number layouts for the main sections and different listing designs for their subheadings. Regardless of your choice, be consistent throughout the paper.
  4. Ideas Each bullet list or paragraph should deal with one idea.
  5. Sections Ensure that all sections are linked to each other logically or your paper flows coherently.
  6. Citations Include in-text citations of information borrowed from outside studies to support your points.
  7. Sources Use only peer-reviewed articles as evidence for your arguments.

Bottom Line on Literature Review Outline

This guide has shared various tips and steps on how to do a literature review outline. Generally, these kinds of scholarly papers offer a clear logical structure of your work’s main sections. They help you to establish an effective blueprint by demonstrating the relevant parts and points to be covered later when creating an actual project. Use the information provided to write an outline for a literature review based on your case and objectives. If you face any challenges while completing your piece, remember to read the examples offered here for further insights or go back to specific sections for clarifications.

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FAQ About Literature Review Outline

1. How long is a literature review outline?

The length of a literature review outline depends on your work’s scope, type, and needed details. Comprehensive works such as thesis and dissertations may necessitate lengthier plans than class assignments. Generally, an outline takes a single page. However, there is no formula for how long this section should be. Use your judgment and consult your instructor regarding what is expected.

2. How to write a good literature review outline?

An outline for a literature review should not just summarize essential information. Rather, it should develop an argument by identifying ideas about your topic and their evolution in the academic discourse of relevant studies. A good outline should also mention any theoretical conflicts and methodological weaknesses found in sources.

3. What is a literature review outline purpose?

A literature review outline offers an overview of readings on a specific topic to help you establish a stand in your study field. Another purpose of this writing is to provide a reader with a view of past research. This shows your audience which direction the scholarly debate about a particular theme is heading in the context of current studies.

Article posted on:Mar 8, 2023
Article updated on:Jul 19, 2024


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