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Library Guides

Dissertations 3: Literature Reviews: Structure

Structure your Work

Uncertain about how to structure your literature review? Have a look at this revelatory video by Dr Jodie Salter and the University of Guelph. 

Video Link: Writing the Literature Review: A Banquet Hall Analogy 

Structure of a literature review

A literature review should have an introduction, main body and a conclusion.

As shown in the video, above, the body should NOT be organised author by author (for that, there are annotated bibliographies). Instead, it should be organised by topic (normally, from general background to specific aspects of the subject your dissertation is dealing with). Some paragraphs can be organised chronologically (for example outlining the development of an idea throughout time), by method, by sector, or other criteria.  


This should be a paragraph that can include some of the following: 

  • Outlining the scope of your literature review – sources, topics to be discussed / the aims of your review. 

  • Where/how does your topic fit into the wider subject area. 

  • Why the topic is important- is it an area of current interest/significance? 

  • Highlight the relevant issues or debates that have characterised your field of research. 

  • Has the topic been widely researched? Or not? 

  • Signposting for the reader, explaining the organisation / sequence of topics covered in the review. 


  • Provide strong sentences at beginnings of paragraphs: every paragraph shall deal with a topic or make a point.  

  • Signpost, showing the direction of your writing, and indicating your critical take on the sources you present.  

  • Use you own voice to comment on and evaluate the literature. 

  • Identify gaps in the literature.  

  • Write "so what" summary sentences throughout the review to help the reader understand how the sections of your review are relevant to your research. 

  • Use language to show confidence or caution, as appropriate: e.g. There is clearly a link... OR This suggests a possible link... 

  • Avoid "he/she said...": always name the authors. Vary the reporting words. See the guide on Academic Voice and Language for more guidance on logic, signposting, reporting words etc.  


  • State how your literature review has met the review aim(s) outlined in the introduction. 

  • Summarise and synthesise the main issues/themes that the literature review has presented in relation to your topic area and research questions. 

  • If the literature review is part of a dissertation, underline the gaps identified in the literature. This provides a rationale for your chosen dissertation topic.