How To Write Literature Review Outline. Planning Guide With Samples

How to write literature review outline. Writing guide + template and samples

A literature review is the foundation for any research project, whether it’s a short paper, a scientific publication, or a Master’s thesis. It’s usually one of the first steps of completing the project and is liable to cause major writer’s block. With so many sources available on any topic, how do you organize your thoughts and prove your topic is relevant and exciting? That’s where outlining comes into play. Today, we talk about structuring the first chapter of your research project, share a basic literature review outline sample or two, and provide actionable tips from SpeedyPaper expert academics.

What is a literature review outline?

As the name suggests, a literature review is a compilation of reference information you collect, process, and analyze to synthesize the topic of your research project and formulate the main questions and tasks. It should be broad enough to introduce the general direction of your research and yet narrow enough to highlight the new insights your work can deliver.

A literary review outline helps complete the research and pre-writing stages of your project. As you accumulate interesting data and ideas from sources, you can compare and categorize them, creating a rough framework for the first chapter. Once you’ve collected enough information, you can analyze it and plan what you want to include in a review and in which order.

An outline for a literature review can be as detailed or as generic as you want it to be. Like most chapters of your research project, it will likely have a short introduction and conclusion, bracketing the main body subsections. But that’s too rough an outline to be helpful. On the other hand, planning a specific number of paragraphs for each subsection and formulating topic sentences for all of them may also be counterproductive. In most cases, a list of the main sections and subsections and their main ideas should be enough to guide your writing unless your professor requires a formal outline.

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper:
After skimming the samples of literature review outlines, try reverse outlining a literature review in a capstone project, thesis, or dissertation on your topic. It will help you better grasp the structure and impact of each section and assist you in outlining your literature review.

The elements of a literature review outline

If you read one of our guides on how to write an essay outline, you remember that each paper unerringly includes three primary sections: introduction, body, and conclusion. And that’s exactly what a literature review outline begins from. If you consider the first chapter of your research project a self-contained expository piece, you’ll see how it works:

  • Introduction will present your topic and outline the layout of the literature review. But most importantly, the introduction for a literature review must include your thesis—the goal of your research. Within the first paragraph or two, you should explain to the readers what you set out to do and why it’s important to you and to the world.
  • Body of the literature review outline will likely comprise several sections, which you can structure thematically, chronologically, or methodologically (more on this later). Body sections must provide enough reliable data to present the current state of the field, prove your research is relevant, and highlight the gaps in knowledge. Think of it as an extended expository essay.
  • Conclusion should process the main points of the review and reiterate the aims of your research, leading the readers to a list of research questions or hypotheses. But unlike essay conclusions, the final part of the literature review should be a lead-in to the next section of your paper, usually a methodology overview.

Note that the distinctions between the introduction, body, and conclusion in a literature review may not be as stark as in a 5-paragraph essay. They can blend with each other and span several passages as long as each element fulfills its primary purpose.

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper:
Keep the word count requirements in mind when outlining the literature review. For a 40-page project, a literature review can take around 10 pages, two or three of which can be devoted to the introduction and conclusion, while the body will take over the remaining seven to eight pages.

Literature review outline template

Let’s take a closer look at what an outline could look like and what each of the three main elements should include. Here’s a basic example of literature review outline that should fit most topics:

1. Introduction

  • Topic presentation
  • Brief overview of the chapter
  • Research aims

2. Body

  • Theoretical foundations

Basic concepts

Key theories

Theoretical models

  • Empirical evidence

Review of major studies

Analysis of existing data

  • Knowledge gaps

Inconsistencies and contradictions

The potential of extra research

3. Conclusion

  • Summary of the key facts
  • Relevance of the research
  • Research questions
  • Hypotheses

If you choose this template to create a literature review, replace the placeholders with specific information. For instance, if you’re researching the impact of streaming services on the entertainment business, the section on basic concepts should include definitions of streaming with examples of services, box office revenue, etc.

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper:
A literature review is not a creative writing assignment, so following a standard outline is a good idea, as it will help readers, including your advisor, make sense of the topic without wasting extra time to make sense of your unique writing style choices.

Literary review outline: main approaches

When you write a literature review outline, settling on the right order of body sections and subsections is usually among the most challenging tasks. With too much information to cram into a short chapter, you need to be extra careful to keep it cohesive and clear. To make this job easier, you can choose one of the three common outlining approaches that are suited to different research fields and topics:

  • The chronological approach isn’t reserved for History classes, as it can be used for any topic dealing with changes occurring over a period of time. For example, you can assess the presidential election campaigns throughout the 21st century, detailing the specifics of each one chronologically, starting with the elections of 2000 and finishing with the latest election cycle.
  • The thematic approach is the most common, as you merely need to categorize reference information into several major topics and present them in a logical order. Each following section should be a logical continuation of the previous one. For instance, when describing the environmental effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the environment, you can devote one section to the positives, like reduced air pollution and smog, and another section to the negatives, like the waste generated by face masks.
  • The methodological approach is more obscure but still quite useful for soft and hard sciences, as it requires grouping reference data by methodologies used across different studies. For instance, if you’re writing a paper on evaluating happiness, you can split the literature review into two sections, dedicating one segment to quantitative studies with questionnaires and statistical analysis and another to qualitative research that uses semi-structured interviews.

To make a better sense of different approaches, check out the literature review outline example section and see the difference between the two samples.

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper:
The first approach that comes to mind may not be the best choice for your paper, so try to imagine what chronological, methodological, and thematic outlines would look like before making the final decision. This simple exercise can shed new light on the problem and help your project stand out.

Literature review outline examples

Check out the chronological and thematic literature review outlines SpeedyPaper experts have developed to help guide your pre-writing process. As you’ll notice, both samples deal with the environmental consequences of the pandemic, but shifting between the two outlining approaches makes the outcomes very different.

Here’s a thematic literature review outline:

The Environmental Effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic on a Global Scale

1. Introduction

  • The pandemic created unique production and transportation circumstances
  • Researchers collected air and water pollution analysis results
  • Exploration of the pandemic’s environmental effects can guide new ecological initiatives

2. Body

  • Changes in consumption and production

The global recession reduced industrial but increased medical production and waste

Layoffs and salary decreases changed the consumer buying profiles

Despite the changes, consumerism still makes a significant impact on the environment

  • Lockdown’s impact on transportation

Remote work and education reduced traffic emissions

International travel reduction improved air quality

The increase in delivery services did not counteract the positive effects

3. Conclusion

  • Researchers present contradictory data on the environmental impact of the pandemic
  • Changes in production, transportation, and consumption had both positive and negative effects on the environment
  • Further research is necessary to better understand the issue to address potential future healthcare crises

This is a chronological literature review sample:

The Evolution of the Environmental Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic

1. Introduction

  • The Covid-19 pandemic changed the global ecological landscape for several years
  • Its effects on the environment evolved along with the changing national policies
  • Assessing the dynamics of these changes is relevant for predicting and addressing future global healthcare crises

2. Body

  • The environmental impact of Covid-2019 in 2020-2021

Transportation and industrial CO2 emissions

Medical waste and microplastics

  • The environmental effects of Covid-2019 in 2022

Transportation and industrial CO2 emissions

Medical waste and microplastics

  • The environmental impact of Covid-2019 in 2023 and beyond

Transportation and industrial CO2 emissions

Medical waste and microplastics

3. Conclusion

  • Between 2020 and 2024, CO2 emissions and medical waste changed along with the current pandemic policies
  • Researchers are more focused on the short-term positive effects than on the lingering negative ecological impact of the pandemic
  • Further research is necessary to assess the complex relationships between different pandemic-related factors and their ecological impact

As you can see, a chronological approach can be much easier to accomplish, as it lets you assess the same issues across different periods. However, it can only work if you have sufficient reference data to use for each timeframe. On the other hand, a thematic approach is more flexible, as you are free to choose two or more major points to address. Besides, you can always switch to assessing strengths and weaknesses (or pros and cons) of any subject if you cannot properly categorize your data.

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper:
Although we didn’t include them in the literature review outline examples above, you should cite the sources to be used for each point of your outline. Knowing which references to pull up will significantly speed up your writing process.

How to write a literature review outline

Although we can roughly split writing a literature review outline into five steps, you’ll often need to take them simultaneously, constantly assessing and reassessing your decisions and switching between reading, note-taking, and writing. Still, if you complete all five steps, you should have a workable outline at the end.

Formulate the title and thesis

Don’t worry too much about the wording and specifics. At first, you only need a rough approximation to guide your outlining and writing, especially if you don’t know much about the issue. Still, even a quick skim of a Wikipedia article should give you enough to go on to put together the topic and the main idea of your paper. Just remember to come back and adjust them if you decide to switch your focus or direction.

Research the topic and take notes

Remember to use credible sources for your research. Ideally, you want to use extended publications in peer-reviewed journals, though you can also use textbooks, respectable periodicals, and other trustworthy sources. As you read them, take note of pertinent facts by saving them to a separate file or by using a reference management system like Mendeley. If you prefer the old-school way of taking notes, keep publication data close at hand for in-line citations.

Choose the outlining approach

Any fast essay writer will tell you that you need to keep the three outline approaches in mind while researching the topic. Although you can decide on one of them before you start reading, you can also let the reference data guide your decision. For instance, if you find solid data for different periods, a chronological approach is preferable, but if you want to focus on research quality, a methodological outline could be best.

Categorize reference information

Once you choose an outline approach, create categories for each of the major sections (methodologies, periods, or themes) and organize your notes accordingly. You can end up using some sources across different categories, so remember to keep track of the author and year of publication to avoid unintended borrowings. Besides, you may not use some of the facts you find at all, but keeping them organized will help you choose the most valuable and impactful data points to use in your paper.

Create an outline

If you complete all the previous steps, you should be able to write your literature review outline in no time. Merely summarize the main ideas of each of the sections and subsections of the introduction, body, and conclusion. Shuffle them until the order makes sense, and you’ll have your outline. All that’s left to do is run it past your professor or advisor and get their go-ahead on writing the literature review.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, our recommendations and literature review outline samples will help you complete this task quickly and hassle-free, but if you’re still unsure how to proceed, you can always pay for literature review written by professionals. It will save you time and money and ensure high marks from your professors.

SpeedyPaper is the best coursework writing service to use for literature reviews, capstone projects, research papers, and theses. All you need to do is get in touch, and we’ll match you with the right expert to take over your task. Don’t hestitate and get one step closer to school success.

Let us create a literature review outline for you
Trust our experts to deliver top-grade results
Order now