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Literature review is a process of looking at what research has been done in a specific field of study.

In this lesson, we will explore how to work through the process of performing and writing a literature review.

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Do you realize how much information is out there? Yes, you may have an original and brilliant idea that can be researched, but you have to know what is out there before you start something, because your original and brilliant idea may have already been done!Literature review is the process and product of examining published material. The term is applied to both the act of reviewing published literature and the section of your own written work that discusses the research you did. Typically, this is the second section in a research article or book, after the introduction but before the methodology. This means that when a study is published, the literature review section will be included. The basic idea is you will review the literature in the field (‘process’) and then write a brief summary of the article and their findings (‘product’).There are two reasons to perform a literature review.

The first is found in the process of reading what is present in the field. You need to be familiar with the terminology of a field and what prior research and experiments relate to your own work. Maybe you can adapt your study to answer questions that others are having trouble with. The second reason is that writing down what is happening in the field gives readers a basic understanding of current research and points out the gap your research is going to fill.


Literature reviews are simultaneously the easiest and most frustrating part of a research study to complete. The process is collecting professional information (easy) and then sifting through dozens or hundreds of articles to find a few dozen good ones (frustrating). We will get into some tricks on how to cut down on the useless articles a little later.

Most literature reviews are done using online services, such as PsycInfo or ScienceDirect. At the top are search bars allowing you to search topics as broad as ‘Psychology’ or as specific as ‘Lysergic Acid Diethylamide Effects on Prenatal Rats.’ Obviously, the more specific you get, the fewer articles you will find, but the percentage of useful articles will be higher.You collect some relevant articles and kick out some of the useless ones. Now you have to write your literature review. You will read, not skim, your chosen articles and look for relevant information to your study in the articles’ methods, results, and discussion.

In your literature review, you’ll include a very brief summary of the most relevant and interesting parts of the research you read about. Sometimes you will focus only on the results, sometimes it will be on the studies’ participants, and sometimes it will just be what the researchers missed or didn’t look at.

What It Looks Like

Literature review excerpt
literature review excerpt

Above is an excerpt from my own dissertation. In a literature review, you can have headings (Human Minds) and subheadings (Learning). The researcher’s name (Huk) and the year he published his work (1999) are displayed in APA-style citation. The specifics of how all that works is a little more advanced than we need to get into in this lesson, but I thought it’d be good for you to get some exposure to what a proper literature review looks like.


In case you ever have to do a literature review, there are a couple of tricks that come with experience. These are a few things to keep in mind if you plan on earning an advanced degree in psychology (masters or higher) because you will likely write a dissertation or thesis in graduate school:

  • Look for alternate ways to say the same thing.
  • Don’t be afraid to expand your search – a paper focused on learning may need information on topics relating vision as well.
  • Use multiple databases.
  • It’s easy to burn out, so pace yourself with one to three articles a day. In one week, that’s 7-21.

Lesson Summary

A literature review is a process and product of examining published material. It is typically the second section in a research article or project. It involves locating articles and information relevant to your topic and then summarizing what you’ve found.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completing this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Describe the process of literature review
  • Explain why it is important to have a literature review in your research article
  • Identify some tricks that will help you when performing a literature review

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