Literature Review Example

A literature review is a summary of the existing knowledge and research on a particular subject. By identifying gaps in the literature, it provides a foundation for future research. As such, it’s a crucial first step in any research project.

What is a literature review?

A literature review serves several purposes:

Looking at existing examples of literature reviews is beneficial to get a clear understanding of what they entail. Find examples of a literature review by using an academic search engine (e.g. Google Scholar). As a starting point, search for your keyword or topic along with the term "literature review".

Example of literature review

Identify the research question or topic, making it as narrow as possible. In this example of a literature review, we review the anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) activity of Piper methysticum, or Kava.

Let's walk through the steps in the process with this literature review example.

Define the research question

First, identify the research question or topic, making it as narrow as possible. In this literature review example, we're examining the effects of urbanization on the migration of birds.

Search for relevant literature

Searching for relevant studies is arguably the most important aspect of the literature review.

Start by identifying keywords and phrases related to the topic and use them to search academic journals and databases (Google Scholar, BASE, PubMed, etc.). For our example, you might start with "the effects of urbanization on bird migration", but after researching the field, discover that other terms like "avian migration" and "avian populations" are more commonly used.

Search for your keywords in Litmaps to find some initial articles to explore the field from. You can then use Litmaps to find additinal sources and curate a whole library of literature on your topic.

Search for your keywords in Litmaps, and select a starting article. This will return a visualization containing suggestions for relevant articles on your literature review topic. Review these to start curating your library.

Evaluate the sources

Evaluate the relevance and quality of the sources found by reading abstracts of the most relevant articles. Additionally, consider the publication venue, year of publication and other salient measures to identify the reliability and relevance of the source.

Read and analyze the sources

Take notes on the key findings, methodologies, and theoretical frameworks used in the studies.

Use a research-friendly note-taking software, like Obsidian, that provide #tags to keep track of key concepts.

Organize the literature

Organize the literature according to themes, subtopics, or categories, which will help outline the layout of the literature review.

Note on an example paper with summary and using tags to organize.

Tag keywords using a tool like Obsidian to help organize papers into subtopics for the review.

Write the literature review

Summarize and synthesize the findings from the sources analyzed. Start with an introduction that defines the research question, followed by the themes, subtopics, or categories identified. After that, provide a discussion or conclusion that addresses any gaps in the literature to motivate future research. Lastly, edit and revise your review to ensure it is well-structured, clear, and concise.

The example below is from a review paper, which includes a table comparing the different sources evaluated. Such tables can be useful if you are conducting a comprehensive review.

Table of contents for literature review example paper on kava.

If you're conducting a comprehensive review, you can include a table of sources reviewed in your process, like the one above from this publication.

Cite and reference the sources

Lastly, cite and reference the sources used in the literature review. Consider any referencing style requirements of the institution or journal you're submitting to. APA is the most common. However, you may need to familiarize yourself with other citation styles such as MLA, Chicago, or MHRA depending on your venue. See the image below for a literature review example APA of references.

To cite references you've saved in Litmaps, you can move your saved articles from Litmaps to a reference manager (i.e. Zotero, Mendeley, EndNote, etc.) and then export their bibliography from there. Here's how to export articles from Litmaps.

Table of contents for literature review example paper on kava.

Use a reference manager tool like Zotero to easily export which makes them easy to manage, like in this APA literature review example.


A successful literature review tells a brief story about the topic at hand and leaves the reader a clear notion of what has been covered. Most importantly, a literature review addresses any gaps in the field and frames newly presented research. Understand the key steps and look at literature review examples in order to create a high quality review.

Header image Forest & Kim Starr, used under Creative Commons BY 3.0