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

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

Define the research question

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.

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, the initial search terms are "Piper methysticum anxiety" or "Piper methysticum anxiolytic", although these may change over time. For instance, kavalactones are the primary active ingredient in kava, so we may also search for "kavalactones anxiety".

Tools like the Litmaps Seed Map provide an efficient way to discover new sources by visualizing connected papers based on the number of citations and their date of publication.

Literature review research paper on anti-anxiety activities of Kava used as seed in Litmaps tool, connected to related articles, all organized by date and number of citations.

In this example of a literature review focused on the anti-anxiety activities of Kava, we use the Litmaps Seed Map tool. The most recent and relevant papers can be easily identified by considering the date and number of citations.

Set of example papers and recommended related articles on the same topic, represented as dots and connected by lines.

Litmaps Discover visualizes how sources are connected and provides links to similar papers.

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, like this example literature review on Kava.

Table of contents for literature review example paper on kava.

In this example of a literature review on Kava, the authors clearly organize the collected sources by type of study and further subdivide based on application. The discussion evaluates the evidence altogether and addresses gaps in the literature.

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.

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

About the Author
Marina Kisley

Marina Kisley

Marina is a researcher and science communicator based in Wellington, New Zealand. She runs Consciously Natural, where she writes in-depth articles about the science behind natural health topics.