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How to Format a Literature Review

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Okay. So you've got to do a literature review format. You clear your table, sit on your favorite chair and get ready to issue a ‘thumbs up or down' as you go through the pages on a book of poetry or novel. Wait, are you done with your ‘literature review?' This is so wrong. A literature review refers to any collection of data on a topic; it doesn't have to be necessarily famous literary works. The review doesn't exactly mean that your reader is seeking to hear your personal opinion. Now all this brings us to the big question ‘what then is a literature review?' A literature review is a summarized and organized pattern of information sources.

It combines both the synthesis and the summary. The synthesis is the reshuffling of information while the summary is just a recap of the critical information from different sources. The interpretation could be new or could as well combine both the new and old information. The literature review could also advise the reader on the most relevant concepts depending on the situation.

Literature reviews are different from other academic research papers. Academic research papers usually focus on developing a new argument and could contain a literature review as a part of it. Of note, research papers use the literature as support for the new idea you'll come up with. However, literature reviews, focus on doing a summary and synthesis of other people's ideas without adding any new information.

Purpose of Literature Reviews

  • They give you an easy guide to specific topics.

  • They keep you up to date with what is current in the field.

  • They provide a solid background in case you want to do a research paper investigation.

  • The credibility of a writer in terms of depth and breadth is emphasized in literature reviews.

What to Do Before Starting on Your Literature Review Format

  • Seek Clarity

If the instructor is not very specific, seek more clarification. Answer questions like;

  • What number of sources to include?

  • Types of information sources

  • How to evaluate your sources

  • Find Models

Take your time and look for some of the literature reviews in your area of study and then read them carefully to get the idea of the assumptions and themes to help you organize and grasp how to format a literature review in your field of study.

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    Narrow Your Topic

Several articles and books have been written in most areas of study. Once you narrow your topic, it will be much easier to control the information sources you are required to read for you to understand the survey best. Besides, your instructor doesn't expect you to read everything. Limiting your scope makes the task easier. If you find yourself stuck, ask for your professor's guidance.

  • Timeline of Your Resources

Some reviews expect you to use only the most recent sources for your literature review format. For instance, drugs in the medical field are re-manufactured too often. This method can also be applied to help you consider what many scholars are currently interested in.

Literature Review Format APA

Literature review format APA is mostly used when writing a review paper format on a scientific topic. Most social and behavioral sciences use the APA format standard guidelines; psychology, sociology, neuroscience, anthropology and many more. There are other styles to use like the MLA but if you're not sure, consult your instructor first. The APA format style is the most used citation style to help prevent plagiarism.

Below is a guide on what is a literature review APA:

  1. Paper length; the paper length should be short. This is possible through being direct clear and professional in your writing.

  2. Use of headings; in the literature review format APA there are five different levels of headings

  • Level 1; this is the largest heading size and is your paper's title. The titled should be bolded, centered at the middle of the page with appropriate capitalization.

  • Level 2; this should be smaller than the title. Use appropriate capitalization, bold letters and placed at the left lower margin.

  • Level 3; this should be smaller than the level 2 heading. It is indented from the left side margin, bold and uppercase letter is placed in the first word.

  • Level 4; it usually is smaller than the level 3 heading. Italicized bolded and indented in from the left margin. Uppercase is used on only the first letter of the heading

  • Level 5; it is usually the smallest heading. Italicized indented and uppercase on the first letter of the heading.

The above guidelines should be able to help you understand best what is a literature review APA format.

Strategies on How to Format a Literature Review

  • Find a focus

While reading widely but selectively in your topic of choice, try considering the significant themes and aspects that will help sync your information sources together.

  • What to expect

You need to convey to your readers what to expect in the literature review by using simple statements that will drive your reader to your main organizing principle.

  • Organizing your body

Once you have all the requirements for your article review format, you need to consider how you'll present the sources appropriately. You could focus the situation much further by creating an organizational method.

Consider the following ways of organizing resources:

  1. Chronology; if your review follows a chronological order; you could write the materials based on their publishing dates.

  2. By publication; this is applicable only when the order demonstrates a particular trend.

  3. By trend; organize your sources according to trends then have subsections based on eras within that period.

  4. Thematic; this focuses on specific topics rather than the time progression.

  5. Methodological; in this case, the focus factor is not dependent on the material content but preferably on the methods of the researcher.

Besides these sections, you could also consider the current situation, history and standards.


You already have the guidelines on how to format a literature review, and now the ball is on your court. Spend more time to read and revise on the basic techniques and APA styles required to be an expert writer. If you still find it challenging to come up with a literature review on your own, turn to a professional writer to help you with your review paper format.

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