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How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

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To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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Literature reviews

  • Introduction
  • Conducting your search
  • Store and organise the literature
  • Evaluate and critique the literature
  • Different subject areas

Finding literature reviews on your topic

Find reviews

  • Run your search in the database
  • Limit the results to review or literature review -  often found under Document type

If there is no option to limit to reviews try adding the word "review" to your search.

  • Go to the Advanced search of the database

  • Type  review  into a search line and change the field option to Title

Note: The results may include book reviews using this method.

Useful databases to find review articles

  • Annual reviews online Annual Reviews publishes analytic reviews in focused disciplines within the biomedical, physical, and social sciences. The reviews cover significant developments in the different fields.
  • Web of Science Go to the Advanced Search to set the document type to "Review". Web of Science covers the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities.
  • Scopus Click on Limit to change the Document type to Review. Scopus is a multidisciplinary abstract and citation database of peer reviewed literature, book reviews and conference proceedings.
  • Subject guides These guides list recommended databases useful for your particular subject area.
  • << Previous: Different subject areas
  • Last Updated: Dec 15, 2023 12:09 PM
  • URL: https://guides.library.uq.edu.au/research-techniques/literature-reviews

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Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.

Introduction:

  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

Conclusion:

  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

  • UConn Library
  • Literature Review: The What, Why and How-to Guide
  • Writing Literature Review: Useful Sites

Literature Review: The What, Why and How-to Guide — Writing Literature Review: Useful Sites

  • Getting Started
  • Introduction
  • How to Pick a Topic
  • Strategies to Find Sources
  • Evaluating Sources & Lit. Reviews
  • Tips for Writing Literature Reviews
  • Citation Resources
  • Other Academic Writings

Literature Reviews: Useful Sites

The majority of these sites focus on literature reviews in the social sciences unless otherwise noted. For systematic literature reviews, we recommend you to contact directly your subject librarian for help.

  • [REMOVE] How to Write a Historiography (Literature Review for History) This is an excellent site to learn how to write this particular literature review in History.

Writing Tutorials & Other Resources

  • Literature Review Online Tutorial (North Carolina State University Libraries)
  • Literature Review Tutorial (CQ University-Australia)
  • Paraphrase: Write it in Your Own Words (OWL Purdue Writing Lab)
  • Quoting and Paraphrasing (UW-Madison's Writing Center)
  • Synthesize the Literature Review: A Research Journey Presentation from Harvard's Graduate School of Education on synthesizing literature.

Where to Find Stand-Alone Lit. Reviews

Annual Review's journals are journals that specialize to publish stand-alone literature reviews for a particular subject or field. Check out the links below to see example of how literature reviews are written in different fields.

  • Annual Review of Anthropology
  • Annual Review of Political Science
  • Annual Review of Sociology
  • Sample Literature Review From Annual Review of Sociology
  • [REMOVE] List of eJournals for Annual Reviews in a variety of subject fields List of annual review journals. As you scan the list, notice the ones that listed your specific subject area.

Resources for Writing

Uconn writing center.

  • Writing Center: Graduate Student Support Learn what type of services are offered to support graduate students' writing needs
  • << Previous: Tips for Writing Literature Reviews
  • Next: Citation Resources >>
  • Last Updated: Sep 21, 2022 2:16 PM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.uconn.edu/literaturereview

Creative Commons

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Literature Reviews

What this handout is about.

This handout will explain what literature reviews are and offer insights into the form and construction of literature reviews in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.

Introduction

OK. You’ve got to write a literature review. You dust off a novel and a book of poetry, settle down in your chair, and get ready to issue a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” as you leaf through the pages. “Literature review” done. Right?

Wrong! The “literature” of a literature review refers to any collection of materials on a topic, not necessarily the great literary texts of the world. “Literature” could be anything from a set of government pamphlets on British colonial methods in Africa to scholarly articles on the treatment of a torn ACL. And a review does not necessarily mean that your reader wants you to give your personal opinion on whether or not you liked these sources.

What is a literature review, then?

A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area, and sometimes information in a particular subject area within a certain time period.

A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.

But how is a literature review different from an academic research paper?

The main focus of an academic research paper is to develop a new argument, and a research paper is likely to contain a literature review as one of its parts. In a research paper, you use the literature as a foundation and as support for a new insight that you contribute. The focus of a literature review, however, is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions.

Why do we write literature reviews?

Literature reviews provide you with a handy guide to a particular topic. If you have limited time to conduct research, literature reviews can give you an overview or act as a stepping stone. For professionals, they are useful reports that keep them up to date with what is current in the field. For scholars, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the writer in his or her field. Literature reviews also provide a solid background for a research paper’s investigation. Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field is essential to most research papers.

Who writes these things, anyway?

Literature reviews are written occasionally in the humanities, but mostly in the sciences and social sciences; in experiment and lab reports, they constitute a section of the paper. Sometimes a literature review is written as a paper in itself.

Let’s get to it! What should I do before writing the literature review?

If your assignment is not very specific, seek clarification from your instructor:

  • Roughly how many sources should you include?
  • What types of sources (books, journal articles, websites)?
  • Should you summarize, synthesize, or critique your sources by discussing a common theme or issue?
  • Should you evaluate your sources?
  • Should you provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history?

Find models

Look for other literature reviews in your area of interest or in the discipline and read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or ways to organize your final review. You can simply put the word “review” in your search engine along with your other topic terms to find articles of this type on the Internet or in an electronic database. The bibliography or reference section of sources you’ve already read are also excellent entry points into your own research.

Narrow your topic

There are hundreds or even thousands of articles and books on most areas of study. The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to get a good survey of the material. Your instructor will probably not expect you to read everything that’s out there on the topic, but you’ll make your job easier if you first limit your scope.

Keep in mind that UNC Libraries have research guides and to databases relevant to many fields of study. You can reach out to the subject librarian for a consultation: https://library.unc.edu/support/consultations/ .

And don’t forget to tap into your professor’s (or other professors’) knowledge in the field. Ask your professor questions such as: “If you had to read only one book from the 90’s on topic X, what would it be?” Questions such as this help you to find and determine quickly the most seminal pieces in the field.

Consider whether your sources are current

Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. In the sciences, for instance, treatments for medical problems are constantly changing according to the latest studies. Information even two years old could be obsolete. However, if you are writing a review in the humanities, history, or social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be what is needed, because what is important is how perspectives have changed through the years or within a certain time period. Try sorting through some other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to consider what is currently of interest to scholars in this field and what is not.

Strategies for writing the literature review

Find a focus.

A literature review, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not the sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that you will not just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them, one at a time. No. As you read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider instead what themes or issues connect your sources together. Do they present one or different solutions? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? How well do they present the material and do they portray it according to an appropriate theory? Do they reveal a trend in the field? A raging debate? Pick one of these themes to focus the organization of your review.

Convey it to your reader

A literature review may not have a traditional thesis statement (one that makes an argument), but you do need to tell readers what to expect. Try writing a simple statement that lets the reader know what is your main organizing principle. Here are a couple of examples:

The current trend in treatment for congestive heart failure combines surgery and medicine. More and more cultural studies scholars are accepting popular media as a subject worthy of academic consideration.

Consider organization

You’ve got a focus, and you’ve stated it clearly and directly. Now what is the most effective way of presenting the information? What are the most important topics, subtopics, etc., that your review needs to include? And in what order should you present them? Develop an organization for your review at both a global and local level:

First, cover the basic categories

Just like most academic papers, literature reviews also must contain at least three basic elements: an introduction or background information section; the body of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, finally, a conclusion and/or recommendations section to end the paper. The following provides a brief description of the content of each:

  • Introduction: Gives a quick idea of the topic of the literature review, such as the central theme or organizational pattern.
  • Body: Contains your discussion of sources and is organized either chronologically, thematically, or methodologically (see below for more information on each).
  • Conclusions/Recommendations: Discuss what you have drawn from reviewing literature so far. Where might the discussion proceed?

Organizing the body

Once you have the basic categories in place, then you must consider how you will present the sources themselves within the body of your paper. Create an organizational method to focus this section even further.

To help you come up with an overall organizational framework for your review, consider the following scenario:

You’ve decided to focus your literature review on materials dealing with sperm whales. This is because you’ve just finished reading Moby Dick, and you wonder if that whale’s portrayal is really real. You start with some articles about the physiology of sperm whales in biology journals written in the 1980’s. But these articles refer to some British biological studies performed on whales in the early 18th century. So you check those out. Then you look up a book written in 1968 with information on how sperm whales have been portrayed in other forms of art, such as in Alaskan poetry, in French painting, or on whale bone, as the whale hunters in the late 19th century used to do. This makes you wonder about American whaling methods during the time portrayed in Moby Dick, so you find some academic articles published in the last five years on how accurately Herman Melville portrayed the whaling scene in his novel.

Now consider some typical ways of organizing the sources into a review:

  • Chronological: If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials above according to when they were published. For instance, first you would talk about the British biological studies of the 18th century, then about Moby Dick, published in 1851, then the book on sperm whales in other art (1968), and finally the biology articles (1980s) and the recent articles on American whaling of the 19th century. But there is relatively no continuity among subjects here. And notice that even though the sources on sperm whales in other art and on American whaling are written recently, they are about other subjects/objects that were created much earlier. Thus, the review loses its chronological focus.
  • By publication: Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on biological studies of sperm whales if the progression revealed a change in dissection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies.
  • By trend: A better way to organize the above sources chronologically is to examine the sources under another trend, such as the history of whaling. Then your review would have subsections according to eras within this period. For instance, the review might examine whaling from pre-1600-1699, 1700-1799, and 1800-1899. Under this method, you would combine the recent studies on American whaling in the 19th century with Moby Dick itself in the 1800-1899 category, even though the authors wrote a century apart.
  • Thematic: Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic review. For instance, the sperm whale review could focus on the development of the harpoon for whale hunting. While the study focuses on one topic, harpoon technology, it will still be organized chronologically. The only difference here between a “chronological” and a “thematic” approach is what is emphasized the most: the development of the harpoon or the harpoon technology.But more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. For instance, a thematic review of material on sperm whales might examine how they are portrayed as “evil” in cultural documents. The subsections might include how they are personified, how their proportions are exaggerated, and their behaviors misunderstood. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point made.
  • Methodological: A methodological approach differs from the two above in that the focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it focuses on the “methods” of the researcher or writer. For the sperm whale project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of whales in American, British, and French art work. Or the review might focus on the economic impact of whaling on a community. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed. Once you’ve decided on the organizational method for the body of the review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out. They should arise out of your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period. A thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue.

Sometimes, though, you might need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. Put in only what is necessary. Here are a few other sections you might want to consider:

  • Current Situation: Information necessary to understand the topic or focus of the literature review.
  • History: The chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Methods and/or Standards: The criteria you used to select the sources in your literature review or the way in which you present your information. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed articles and journals.

Questions for Further Research: What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

Begin composing

Once you’ve settled on a general pattern of organization, you’re ready to write each section. There are a few guidelines you should follow during the writing stage as well. Here is a sample paragraph from a literature review about sexism and language to illuminate the following discussion:

However, other studies have shown that even gender-neutral antecedents are more likely to produce masculine images than feminine ones (Gastil, 1990). Hamilton (1988) asked students to complete sentences that required them to fill in pronouns that agreed with gender-neutral antecedents such as “writer,” “pedestrian,” and “persons.” The students were asked to describe any image they had when writing the sentence. Hamilton found that people imagined 3.3 men to each woman in the masculine “generic” condition and 1.5 men per woman in the unbiased condition. Thus, while ambient sexism accounted for some of the masculine bias, sexist language amplified the effect. (Source: Erika Falk and Jordan Mills, “Why Sexist Language Affects Persuasion: The Role of Homophily, Intended Audience, and Offense,” Women and Language19:2).

Use evidence

In the example above, the writers refer to several other sources when making their point. A literature review in this sense is just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence to show that what you are saying is valid.

Be selective

Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the review’s focus, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological.

Use quotes sparingly

Falk and Mills do not use any direct quotes. That is because the survey nature of the literature review does not allow for in-depth discussion or detailed quotes from the text. Some short quotes here and there are okay, though, if you want to emphasize a point, or if what the author said just cannot be rewritten in your own words. Notice that Falk and Mills do quote certain terms that were coined by the author, not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. But if you find yourself wanting to put in more quotes, check with your instructor.

Summarize and synthesize

Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each paragraph as well as throughout the review. The authors here recapitulate important features of Hamilton’s study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study’s significance and relating it to their own work.

Keep your own voice

While the literature review presents others’ ideas, your voice (the writer’s) should remain front and center. Notice that Falk and Mills weave references to other sources into their own text, but they still maintain their own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with their own ideas and their own words. The sources support what Falk and Mills are saying.

Use caution when paraphrasing

When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author’s information or opinions accurately and in your own words. In the preceding example, Falk and Mills either directly refer in the text to the author of their source, such as Hamilton, or they provide ample notation in the text when the ideas they are mentioning are not their own, for example, Gastil’s. For more information, please see our handout on plagiarism .

Revise, revise, revise

Draft in hand? Now you’re ready to revise. Spending a lot of time revising is a wise idea, because your main objective is to present the material, not the argument. So check over your review again to make sure it follows the assignment and/or your outline. Then, just as you would for most other academic forms of writing, rewrite or rework the language of your review so that you’ve presented your information in the most concise manner possible. Be sure to use terminology familiar to your audience; get rid of unnecessary jargon or slang. Finally, double check that you’ve documented your sources and formatted the review appropriately for your discipline. For tips on the revising and editing process, see our handout on revising drafts .

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.

Jones, Robert, Patrick Bizzaro, and Cynthia Selfe. 1997. The Harcourt Brace Guide to Writing in the Disciplines . New York: Harcourt Brace.

Lamb, Sandra E. 1998. How to Write It: A Complete Guide to Everything You’ll Ever Write . Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Rosen, Leonard J., and Laurence Behrens. 2003. The Allyn & Bacon Handbook , 5th ed. New York: Longman.

Troyka, Lynn Quittman, and Doug Hesse. 2016. Simon and Schuster Handbook for Writers , 11th ed. London: Pearson.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Researching for a literature review: Websites

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Appropriate websites will vary based on the topic, scope, and purpose of a project. Some recommended sites:

Scholarly Organizations - identify the premier organizations associated with the field being researched. Explore their websites for current information and learn about conferences and key scholars in the field to add to your search.

Intute - page of research websites collected and maintained by a consortium of university libraries in the U.K.

Example: Intute listing of Rhetoric websites

Although the Intute site stopped being updated in July 2011, it remains an excellent organized source to find valuable free collections and sources

Government Websites

The U.S. government may fund research in your field!

The government funds research in many areas such as education, health, and medicine. Find additional researchers or sources for information that may not be found in a traditional library catalog or database by searching for your topic and adding "site:.gov" to your search string in a search engine.

Google Search example

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Learn how to write a review of literature

What is a review of literature.

The format of a review of literature may vary from discipline to discipline and from assignment to assignment.

A review may be a self-contained unit — an end in itself — or a preface to and rationale for engaging in primary research. A review is a required part of grant and research proposals and often a chapter in theses and dissertations.

Generally, the purpose of a review is to analyze critically a segment of a published body of knowledge through summary, classification, and comparison of prior research studies, reviews of literature, and theoretical articles.

Writing the introduction

In the introduction, you should:

Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern, thus providing an appropriate context for reviewing the literature.

Point out overall trends in what has been published about the topic; or conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in research and scholarship; or a single problem or new perspective of immediate interest.

Establish the writer’s reason (point of view) for reviewing the literature; explain the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and the organization of the review (sequence); and, when necessary, state why certain literature is or is not included (scope).

Writing the body

In the body, you should:

Group research studies and other types of literature (reviews, theoretical articles, case studies, etc.) according to common denominators such as qualitative versus quantitative approaches, conclusions of authors, specific purpose or objective, chronology, etc.

Summarize individual studies or articles with as much or as little detail as each merits according to its comparative importance in the literature, remembering that space (length) denotes significance.

Provide the reader with strong “umbrella” sentences at beginnings of paragraphs, “signposts” throughout, and brief “so what” summary sentences at intermediate points in the review to aid in understanding comparisons and analyses.

Writing the conclusion

In the conclusion, you should:

Summarize major contributions of significant studies and articles to the body of knowledge under review, maintaining the focus established in the introduction.

Evaluate the current “state of the art” for the body of knowledge reviewed, pointing out major methodological flaws or gaps in research, inconsistencies in theory and findings, and areas or issues pertinent to future study.

Conclude by providing some insight into the relationship between the central topic of the literature review and a larger area of study such as a discipline, a scientific endeavor, or a profession.

For further information see our handouts on Writing a Critical Review of a Nonfiction Book or Article or Reading a Book to Review It .

To learn more about literature reviews, take a look at our workshop on Writing Literature Reviews of Published Research.

Sample Literature Reviews

An important strategy for learning how to compose literature reviews in your field or within a specific genre is to locate and analyze representative examples. The following collection of annotated sample literature reviews written and co-written by colleagues associated with UW-Madison showcases how these reviews can do different kind of work for different purposes. Use these successful examples as a starting point for understanding how other writers have approached the challenging and important task of situating their idea in the context of established research.

  • Sample 1 (PDF) A brief literature review within a political scientists’  National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship  grant
  • Sample 2 (PDF) A several-page literature review at the beginning of a published, academic article about philosophy
  • Sample 3 (PDF) A brief literature review at the beginning of a published, academic article about photochemistry

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What is a literature review?

A literature review is an integrated analysis -- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings and other relevant evidence related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents a synthesis of the evidence that provides background information on your topic and shows a association between the evidence and your research question.

A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment.  Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
  • Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.

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1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.

Your literature review should be guided by your central research question.  The literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

  • Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow.  Is it manageable?
  • Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.
  • If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor and your class mates.

2. Decide on the scope of your review

How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

  • This may depend on your assignment.  How many sources does the assignment require?

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.

Make a list of the databases you will search. 

Where to find databases:

  • use the tabs on this guide
  • Find other databases in the Nursing Information Resources web page
  • More on the Medical Library web page
  • ... and more on the Yale University Library web page

4. Conduct your searches to find the evidence. Keep track of your searches.

  • Use the key words in your question, as well as synonyms for those words, as terms in your search. Use the database tutorials for help.
  • Save the searches in the databases. This saves time when you want to redo, or modify, the searches. It is also helpful to use as a guide is the searches are not finding any useful results.
  • Review the abstracts of research studies carefully. This will save you time.
  • Use the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
  • Check with your professor, or a subject expert in the field, if you are missing any key works in the field.
  • Ask your librarian for help at any time.
  • Use a citation manager, such as EndNote as the repository for your citations. See the EndNote tutorials for help.

Review the literature

Some questions to help you analyze the research:

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions.
  • Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited? If so, how has it been analyzed?

Tips: 

  • Review the abstracts carefully.  
  • Keep careful notes so that you may track your thought processes during the research process.
  • Create a matrix of the studies for easy analysis, and synthesis, across all of the studies.
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5 literature review tools to ace your research (+2 bonus tools)

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Table of Contents

Your literature review is the lore behind your research paper . It comes in two forms, systematic and scoping , both serving the purpose of rounding up previously published works in your research area that led you to write and finish your own.

A literature review is vital as it provides the reader with a critical overview of the existing body of knowledge, your methodology, and an opportunity for research applications.

Tips-For-Writing-A-Literature-Review

Some steps to follow while writing your review:

  • Pick an accessible topic for your paper
  • Do thorough research and gather evidence surrounding your topic
  • Read and take notes diligently
  • Create a rough structure for your review
  • Synthesis your notes and write the first draft
  • Edit and proofread your literature review

To make your workload a little lighter, there are many literature review AI tools. These tools can help you find academic articles through AI and answer questions about a research paper.  

Best literature review tools to improve research workflow

A literature review is one of the most critical yet tedious stages in composing a research paper. Many students find it an uphill task since it requires extensive reading and careful organization .

Using some of the best literature review tools listed here, you can make your life easier by overcoming some of the existing challenges in literature reviews. From collecting and classifying to analyzing and publishing research outputs, these tools help you with your literature review and improve your productivity without additional effort or expenses.

1. SciSpace

SciSpace is an AI for academic research that will help find research papers and answer questions about a research paper. You can discover, read, and understand research papers with SciSpace making it an excellent platform for literature review. Featuring a repository with over 270 million research papers, it comes with your AI research assistant called Copilot that offers explanations, summaries , and answers as you read.

Get started now:

review related literature site

Find academic articles through AI

SciSpace has a dedicated literature review tool that finds scientific articles when you search for a question. Based on semantic search, it shows all the research papers relevant for your subject. You can then gather quick insights for all the papers displayed in your search results like methodology, dataset, etc., and figure out all the papers relevant for your research.

Identify relevant articles faster

Abstracts are not always enough to determine whether a paper is relevant to your research question. For starters, you can ask questions to your AI research assistant, SciSpace Copilot to explore the content and better understand the article. Additionally, use the summarize feature to quickly review the methodology and results of a paper and decide if it is worth reading in detail.

Quickly skim through the paper and focus on the most relevant information with summarize and brainstorm questions feature on SciSpace Copilot

Learn in your preferred language

A big barrier non-native English speakers face while conducting a literature review is that a significant portion of scientific literature is published in English. But with SciSpace Copilot, you can review, interact, and learn from research papers in any language you prefer — presently, it supports 75+ languages. The AI will answer questions about a research paper in your mother tongue.

Read and understand scientific literature in over 75 languages with SciSpace Copilot

Integrates with Zotero

Many researchers use Zotero to create a library and manage research papers. SciSpace lets you import your scientific articles directly from Zotero into your SciSpace library and use Copilot to comprehend your research papers. You can also highlight key sections, add notes to the PDF as you read, and even turn helpful explanations and answers from Copilot into notes for future review.

Understand math and complex concepts quickly

Come across complex mathematical equations or difficult concepts? Simply highlight the text or select the formula or table, and Copilot will provide an explanation or breakdown of the same in an easy-to-understand manner. You can ask follow-up questions if you need further clarification.

Understand math and tables in research papers

Discover new papers to read without leaving

Highlight phrases or sentences in your research paper to get suggestions for related papers in the field and save time on literature reviews. You can also use the 'Trace' feature to move across and discover connected papers, authors, topics, and more.

Find related papers quickly

SciSpace Copilot is now available as a Chrome extension , allowing you to access its features directly while you browse scientific literature anywhere across the web.

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Get citation-backed answers

When you're conducting a literature review, you want credible information with proper references.  Copilot ensures that every piece of information provided by SciSpace Copilot is backed by a direct reference, boosting transparency, accuracy, and trustworthiness.

Ask a question related to the paper you're delving into. Every response from Copilot comes with a clickable citation. This citation leads you straight to the section of the PDF from which the answer was extracted.

By seamlessly integrating answers with citations, SciSpace Copilot assures you of the authenticity and relevance of the information you receive.

2. Mendeley

Mendeley Citation Manager is a free web and desktop application. It helps simplify your citation management workflow significantly. Here are some ways you can speed up your referencing game with Mendeley.

Generate citations and bibliographies

Easily add references from your Mendeley library to your Word document, change your citation style, and create a bibliography, all without leaving your document.

Retrieve references

It allows you to access your references quickly. Search for a term, and it will return results by referencing the year, author, or source.

Add sources to your Mendeley library by dragging PDF to Mendeley Reference Manager. Mendeley will automatically remove the PDF(s) metadata and create a library entry.‌

Read and annotate documents

It helps you highlight and comment across multiple PDFs while keep them all in one place using Mendeley Notebook . Notebook pages are not tied to a reference and let you quote from many PDFs.

A big part of many literature review workflows, Zotero is a free, open-source tool for managing citations that works as a plug-in on your browser. It helps you gather the information you need, cite your sources, lets you attach PDFs, notes, and images to your citations, and create bibliographies.

Import research articles to your database

Search for research articles on a keyword, and add relevant results to your database. Then, select the articles you are most interested in, and import them into Zotero.

Add bibliography in a variety of formats

With Zotero, you don’t have to scramble for different bibliography formats. Simply use the Zotero-Word plug-in to insert in-text citations and generate a bibliography.

Share your research

You can save a paper and sync it with an online library to easily share your research for group projects. Zotero can be used to create your database and decrease the time you spend formatting citations.

Sysrev is an AI too for article review that facilitates screening, collaboration, and data extraction from academic publications, abstracts, and PDF documents using machine learning. The platform is free and supports public and Open Access projects only.

Some of the features of Sysrev include:

Group labels

Group labels can be a powerful concept for creating database tables from documents. When exported and re-imported, each group label creates a new table. To make labels for a project, go into the manage -> labels section of the project.

Group labels enable project managers to pull table information from documents. It makes it easier to communicate review results for specific articles.

Track reviewer performance

Sysrev's label counting tool provides filtering and visualization options for keeping track of the distribution of labels throughout the project's progress. Project managers can check their projects at any point to track progress and the reviewer's performance.

Tool for concordance

The Sysrev tool for concordance allows project administrators and reviewers to perform analysis on their labels. Concordance is measured by calculating the number of times users agree on the labels they have extracted.

Colandr is a free, open-source, internet-based analysis and screening software used as an AI for academic research. It was designed to ease collaboration across various stages of the systematic review procedure. The tool can be a little complex to use. So, here are the steps involved in working with Colandr.

Create a review

The first step to using Colandr is setting up an organized review project. This is helpful to librarians who are assisting researchers with systematic reviews.

The planning stage is setting the review's objectives along with research queries. Any reviewer can review the details of the planning stage. However, they can only be modified by the author for the review.

Citation screening/import

In this phase, users can upload their results from database searches. Colandr also offers an automated deduplication system.

Full-text screening

The system in Colandr will discover the combination of terms and expressions that are most useful for the reader. If an article is selected, it will be moved to the final step.

Data extraction/export

Colandr data extraction is more efficient than the manual method. It creates the form fields for data extraction during the planning stage of the review procedure. Users can decide to revisit or modify the form for data extraction after completing the initial screening.

Bonus literature review tools

SRDR+ is a web-based tool for extracting and managing systematic review or meta-analysis data. It is open and has a searchable archive of systematic reviews and their data.

7. Plot Digitizer

Plot Digitizer is an efficient tool for extracting information from graphs and images, equipped with many features that facilitate data extraction. The program comes with a free online application, which is adequate to extract data quickly.

Final thoughts

Writing a literature review is not easy. It’s a time-consuming process, which can become tiring at times. The literature review tools mentioned in this blog do an excellent job of maximizing your efforts and helping you write literature reviews much more efficiently. With them, you can breathe a sigh of relief and give more time to your research.

As you dive into your literature review, don’t forget to use SciSpace ResearchGPT to streamline the process. It facilitates your research and helps you explore key findings, summary, and other components of the paper easily.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. what is rrl in research.

RRL stands for Review of Related Literature and sometimes interchanged with ‘Literature Review.’ RRL is a body of studies relevant to the topic being researched. These studies may be in the form of journal articles, books, reports, and other similar documents. Review of related literature is used to support an argument or theory being made by the researcher, as well as to provide information on how others have approached the same topic.

2. What are few softwares and tools available for literature review?

• SciSpace Discover

• Mendeley

• Zotero

• Sysrev

• Colandr

• SRDR+

3. How to generate an online literature review?

The Scispace Discover tool, which offers an excellent repository of millions of peer-reviewed articles and resources, will help you generate or create a literature review easily. You may find relevant information by utilizing the filter option, checking its credibility, tracing related topics and articles, and citing in widely accepted formats with a single click.

4. What does it mean to synthesize literature?

To synthesize literature is to take the main points and ideas from a number of sources and present them in a new way. The goal is to create a new piece of writing that pulls together the most important elements of all the sources you read. Make recommendations based on them, and connect them to the research.

5. Should we write abstract for literature review?

Abstracts, particularly for the literature review section, are not required. However, an abstract for the research paper, on the whole, is useful for summarizing the paper and letting readers know what to expect from it. It can also be used to summarize the main points of the paper so that readers have a better understanding of the paper's content before they read it.

6. How do you evaluate the quality of a literature review?

• Whether it is clear and well-written.

• Whether Information is current and up to date.

• Does it cover all of the relevant sources on the topic.

• Does it provide enough evidence to support its conclusions.

7. Is literature review mandatory?

Yes. Literature review is a mandatory part of any research project. It is a critical step in the process that allows you to establish the scope of your research and provide a background for the rest of your work.

8. What are the sources for a literature review?

• Reports

• Theses

• Conference proceedings

• Company reports

• Some government publications

• Journals

• Books

• Newspapers

• Articles by professional associations

• Indexes

• Databases

• Catalogues

• Encyclopaedias

• Dictionaries

• Bibliographies

• Citation indexes

• Statistical data from government websites

9. What is the difference between a systematic review and a literature review?

A systematic review is a form of research that uses a rigorous method to generate knowledge from both published and unpublished data. A literature review, on the other hand, is a critical summary of an area of research within the context of what has already been published.

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Types of Essays in Academic Writing

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

  • 5. The Literature Review
  • Purpose of Guide
  • Design Flaws to Avoid
  • Independent and Dependent Variables
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  • Reading Research Effectively
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
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  • Limitations of the Study
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A literature review surveys prior research published in books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have used in researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within existing scholarship about the topic.

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.

Importance of a Good Literature Review

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:

  • Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
  • Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
  • Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.

Given this, the purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
  • Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2011; Knopf, Jeffrey W. "Doing a Literature Review." PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January 2006): 127-132; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012.

Types of Literature Reviews

It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally among scholars that become part of the body of epistemological traditions within the field.

In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.

Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].

Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.

Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.

Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem . Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?" This type of literature review is primarily applied to examining prior research studies in clinical medicine and allied health fields, but it is increasingly being used in the social sciences.

Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

NOTE : Most often the literature review will incorporate some combination of types. For example, a review that examines literature supporting or refuting an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem related to the research problem will also need to include writing supported by sources that establish the history of these arguments in the literature.

Baumeister, Roy F. and Mark R. Leary. "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews."  Review of General Psychology 1 (September 1997): 311-320; Mark R. Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147; Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2006; Torracro, Richard. "Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples." Human Resource Development Review 4 (September 2005): 356-367; Rocco, Tonette S. and Maria S. Plakhotnik. "Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks: Terms, Functions, and Distinctions." Human Ressource Development Review 8 (March 2008): 120-130; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Thinking About Your Literature Review

The structure of a literature review should include the following in support of understanding the research problem :

  • An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
  • Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
  • An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.

The critical evaluation of each work should consider :

  • Provenance -- what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
  • Methodology -- were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
  • Objectivity -- is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness -- which of the author's theses are most convincing or least convincing?
  • Validity -- are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

II.  Development of the Literature Review

Four Basic Stages of Writing 1.  Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? 2.  Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. 3.  Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. 4.  Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.

Consider the following issues before writing the literature review: Clarify If your assignment is not specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1.  Roughly how many sources would be appropriate to include? 2.  What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? 3.  Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? 4.  Should I evaluate the sources in any way beyond evaluating how they relate to understanding the research problem? 5.  Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history? Find Models Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read, such as required readings in the course syllabus, are also excellent entry points into your own research. Narrow the Topic The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that's available about the topic, but you'll make the act of reviewing easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the USC Libraries Catalog for recent books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research. For example, a book surveying the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may include a chapter on the role Egypt has played in mediating the conflict, or look in the index for the pages where Egypt is mentioned in the text. Consider Whether Your Sources are Current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.

III.  Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

Chronology of Events If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. For example, a literature review that focuses on continuing research about the emergence of German economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union. By Publication Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on environmental studies of brown fields if the progression revealed, for example, a change in the soil collection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies. Thematic [“conceptual categories”] A thematic literature review is the most common approach to summarizing prior research in the social and behavioral sciences. Thematic reviews are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time, although the progression of time may still be incorporated into a thematic review. For example, a review of the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics could focus on the development of online political satire. While the study focuses on one topic, the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics, it would still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The difference in this example between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: themes related to the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point being made. Methodological A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. For the Internet in American presidential politics project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of American presidents on American, British, and French websites. Or the review might focus on the fundraising impact of the Internet on a particular political party. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. However, only include what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship about the research problem.

Here are examples of other sections, usually in the form of a single paragraph, you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:

  • Current Situation : Information necessary to understand the current topic or focus of the literature review.
  • Sources Used : Describes the methods and resources [e.g., databases] you used to identify the literature you reviewed.
  • History : The chronological progression of the field, the research literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Selection Methods : Criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed [i.e., scholarly] sources.
  • Standards : Description of the way in which you present your information.
  • Questions for Further Research : What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

IV.  Writing Your Literature Review

Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.

Use Evidence A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid. Be Selective Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information, but that are not key to understanding the research problem, can be included in a list of further readings . Use Quotes Sparingly Some short quotes are appropriate if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, is not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for using your own words in reviewing the literature. Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work and the work of others. Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.

V.  Common Mistakes to Avoid

These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.

  • Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
  • You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
  • Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
  • Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
  • Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
  • Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
  • Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.

Cook, Kathleen E. and Elise Murowchick. “Do Literature Review Skills Transfer from One Course to Another?” Psychology Learning and Teaching 13 (March 2014): 3-11; Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . London: SAGE, 2011; Literature Review Handout. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012; Randolph, Justus J. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review." Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. vol. 14, June 2009; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.

Writing Tip

Break Out of Your Disciplinary Box!

Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue? You don’t want to substitute a thorough review of core research literature in your discipline for studies conducted in other fields of study. However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.

Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Just Review for Content!

While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating. Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:

  • How are they organizing their ideas?
  • What methods have they used to study the problem?
  • What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
  • What sources have they cited to support their conclusions?
  • How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?

When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem.

Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1 998.

Yet Another Writing Tip

When Do I Know I Can Stop Looking and Move On?

Here are several strategies you can utilize to assess whether you've thoroughly reviewed the literature:

  • Look for repeating patterns in the research findings . If the same thing is being said, just by different people, then this likely demonstrates that the research problem has hit a conceptual dead end. At this point consider: Does your study extend current research?  Does it forge a new path? Or, does is merely add more of the same thing being said?
  • Look at sources the authors cite to in their work . If you begin to see the same researchers cited again and again, then this is often an indication that no new ideas have been generated to address the research problem.
  • Search Google Scholar to identify who has subsequently cited leading scholars already identified in your literature review [see next sub-tab]. This is called citation tracking and there are a number of sources that can help you identify who has cited whom, particularly scholars from outside of your discipline. Here again, if the same authors are being cited again and again, this may indicate no new literature has been written on the topic.

Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2016; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

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  • v.35(2); Jul-Dec 2014

Reviewing literature for research: Doing it the right way

Shital amin poojary.

Department of Dermatology, K J Somaiya Medical College, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Jimish Deepak Bagadia

In an era of information overload, it is important to know how to obtain the required information and also to ensure that it is reliable information. Hence, it is essential to understand how to perform a systematic literature search. This article focuses on reliable literature sources and how to make optimum use of these in dermatology and venereology.

INTRODUCTION

A thorough review of literature is not only essential for selecting research topics, but also enables the right applicability of a research project. Most importantly, a good literature search is the cornerstone of practice of evidence based medicine. Today, everything is available at the click of a mouse or at the tip of the fingertips (or the stylus). Google is often the Go-To search website, the supposed answer to all questions in the universe. However, the deluge of information available comes with its own set of problems; how much of it is actually reliable information? How much are the search results that the search string threw up actually relevant? Did we actually find what we were looking for? Lack of a systematic approach can lead to a literature review ending up as a time-consuming and at times frustrating process. Hence, whether it is for research projects, theses/dissertations, case studies/reports or mere wish to obtain information; knowing where to look, and more importantly, how to look, is of prime importance today.

Literature search

Fink has defined research literature review as a “systematic, explicit and reproducible method for identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing the existing body of completed and recorded work produced by researchers, scholars and practitioners.”[ 1 ]

Review of research literature can be summarized into a seven step process: (i) Selecting research questions/purpose of the literature review (ii) Selecting your sources (iii) Choosing search terms (iv) Running your search (v) Applying practical screening criteria (vi) Applying methodological screening criteria/quality appraisal (vii) Synthesizing the results.[ 1 ]

This article will primarily concentrate on refining techniques of literature search.

Sources for literature search are enumerated in Table 1 .

Sources for literature search

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PubMed is currently the most widely used among these as it contains over 23 million citations for biomedical literature and has been made available free by National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), U.S. National Library of Medicine. However, the availability of free full text articles depends on the sources. Use of options such as advanced search, medical subject headings (MeSH) terms, free full text, PubMed tutorials, and single citation matcher makes the database extremely user-friendly [ Figure 1 ]. It can also be accessed on the go through mobiles using “PubMed Mobile.” One can also create own account in NCBI to save searches and to use certain PubMed tools.

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PubMed home page showing location of different tools which can be used for an efficient literature search

Tips for efficient use of PubMed search:[ 2 , 3 , 4 ]

Use of field and Boolean operators

When one searches using key words, all articles containing the words show up, many of which may not be related to the topic. Hence, the use of operators while searching makes the search more specific and less cumbersome. Operators are of two types: Field operators and Boolean operators, the latter enabling us to combine more than one concept, thereby making the search highly accurate. A few key operators that can be used in PubMed are shown in Tables ​ Tables2 2 and ​ and3 3 and illustrated in Figures ​ Figures2 2 and ​ and3 3 .

Field operators used in PubMed search

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Boolean operators used in PubMed search

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PubMed search results page showing articles on donovanosis using the field operator [TIAB]; it shows all articles which have the keyword “donovanosis” in either title or abstract of the article

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PubMed search using Boolean operators ‘AND’, ‘NOT’; To search for articles on treatment of lepra reaction other than steroids, after clicking the option ‘Advanced search’ on the home page, one can build the search using ‘AND’ option for treatment and ‘NOT’ option for steroids to omit articles on steroid treatment in lepra reaction

Use of medical subject headings terms

These are very specific and standardized terms used by indexers to describe every article in PubMed and are added to the record of every article. A search using MeSH will show all articles about the topic (or keywords), but will not show articles only containing these keywords (these articles may be about an entirely different topic, but still may contain your keywords in another context in any part of the article). This will make your search more specific. Within the topic, specific subheadings can be added to the search builder to refine your search [ Figure 4 ]. For example, MeSH terms for treatment are therapy and therapeutics.

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PubMed search using medical subject headings (MeSH) terms for management of gonorrhea. Click on MeSH database ( Figure 1 ) →In the MeSH search box type gonorrhea and click search. Under the MeSH term gonorrhea, there will be a list of subheadings; therapy, prevention and control, click the relevant check boxes and add to search builder →Click on search →All articles on therapy, prevention and control of gonorrhea will be displayed. Below the subheadings, there are two options: (1) Restrict to medical subject headings (MeSH) major topic and (2) do not include MeSH terms found below this term in the MeSH hierarchy. These can be used to further refine the search results so that only articles which are majorly about treatment of gonorrhea will be displayed

Two additional options can be used to further refine MeSH searches. These are located below the subheadings for a MeSH term: (1) Restrict to MeSH major topic; checking this box will retrieve articles which are majorly about the search term and are therefore, more focused and (2) Do not include MeSH terms found below this term in the MeSH hierarchy. This option will again give you more focused articles as it excludes the lower specific terms [ Figure 4 ].

Similar feature is available with Cochrane library (also called MeSH), EMBASE (known as EMTREE) and PsycINFO (Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms).

Saving your searches

Any search that one has performed can be saved by using the ‘Send to’ option and can be saved as a simple word file [ Figure 5 ]. Alternatively, the ‘Save Search’ button (just below the search box) can be used. However, it is essential to set up an NCBI account and log in to NCBI for this. One can even choose to have E-mail updates of new articles in the topic of interest.

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Saving PubMed searches. A simple option is to click on the dropdown box next to ‘Send to’ option and then choose among the options. It can be saved as a text or word file by choosing ‘File’ option. Another option is the “Save search” option below the search box but this will require logging into your National Center for Biotechnology Information account. This however allows you to set up alerts for E-mail updates for new articles

Single citation matcher

This is another important tool that helps to find the genuine original source of a particular research work (when few details are known about the title/author/publication date/place/journal) and cite the reference in the most correct manner [ Figure 6 ].

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Single citation matcher: Click on “Single citation matcher” on PubMed Home page. Type available details of the required reference in the boxes to get the required citation

Full text articles

In any search clicking on the link “free full text” (if present) gives you free access to the article. In some instances, though the published article may not be available free, the author manuscript may be available free of charge. Furthermore, PubMed Central articles are available free of charge.

Managing filters

Filters can be used to refine a search according to type of article required or subjects of research. One can specify the type of article required such as clinical trial, reviews, free full text; these options are available on a typical search results page. Further specialized filters are available under “manage filters:” e.g., articles confined to certain age groups (properties option), “Links” to other databases, article specific to particular journals, etc. However, one needs to have an NCBI account and log in to access this option [ Figure 7 ].

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Managing filters. Simple filters are available on the ‘search results’ page. One can choose type of article, e.g., clinical trial, reviews etc. Further options are available in the “Manage filters” option, but this requires logging into National Center for Biotechnology Information account

The Cochrane library

Although reviews are available in PubMed, for systematic reviews and meta-analysis, Cochrane library is a much better resource. The Cochrane library is a collection of full length systematic reviews, which can be accessed for free in India, thanks to Indian Council of Medical Research renewing the license up to 2016, benefitting users all over India. It is immensely helpful in finding detailed high quality research work done in a particular field/topic [ Figure 8 ].

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Cochrane library is a useful resource for reliable, systematic reviews. One can choose the type of reviews required, including trials

An important tool that must be used while searching for research work is screening. Screening helps to improve the accuracy of search results. It is of two types: (1) Practical: To identify a broad range of potentially useful studies. Examples: Date of publication (last 5 years only; gives you most recent updates), participants or subjects (humans above 18 years), publication language (English only) (2) methodological: To identify best available studies (for example, excluding studies not involving control group or studies with only randomized control trials).

Selecting the right quality of literature is the key to successful research literature review. The quality can be estimated by what is known as “The Evidence Pyramid.” The level of evidence of references obtained from the aforementioned search tools are depicted in Figure 9 . Systematic reviews obtained from Cochrane library constitute level 1 evidence.

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Evidence pyramid: Depicting the level of evidence of references obtained from the aforementioned search tools

Thus, a systematic literature review can help not only in setting up the basis of a good research with optimal use of available information, but also in practice of evidence-based medicine.

Source of Support: Nil.

Conflict of Interest: None declared.

Review of Related Literature: What Is RRL & How to Write It + Examples

A review of related literature is a separate paper or a part of an article that collects and synthesizes discussion on a topic. Its purpose is to show the current state of research on the issue and highlight gaps in existing knowledge. A literature review can be included in a research paper or scholarly article, typically following the introduction and before the research methods section.

The picture provides introductory definition of a review of related literature.

This article will clarify the definition, significance, and structure of a review of related literature. You’ll also learn how to organize your literature review and discover ideas for an RRL in different subjects.

🔤 What Is RRL?

  • ❗ Significance of Literature Review
  • 🔎 How to Search for Literature
  • 🧩 Literature Review Structure
  • ✍️ How to Write an RRL
  • 📚 Examples of RRL

🔗 References

A review of related literature (RRL) is a part of the research report that examines significant studies, theories, and concepts published in scholarly sources on a particular topic. An RRL includes 3 main components:

  • A short overview and critique of the previous research.
  • Similarities and differences between past studies and the current one.
  • An explanation of the theoretical frameworks underpinning the research.

❗ Significance of Review of Related Literature

Although the goal of a review of related literature differs depending on the discipline and its intended use, its significance cannot be overstated. Here are some examples of how a review might be beneficial:

  • It helps determine knowledge gaps .
  • It saves from duplicating research that has already been conducted.
  • It provides an overview of various research areas within the discipline.
  • It demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with the topic.

🔎 How to Perform a Literature Search

Including a description of your search strategy in the literature review section can significantly increase your grade. You can search sources with the following steps:

🧩 Literature Review Structure Example

The majority of literature reviews follow a standard introduction-body-conclusion structure. Let’s look at the RRL structure in detail.

This image shows the literature review structure.

Introduction of Review of Related Literature: Sample

An introduction should clarify the study topic and the depth of the information to be delivered. It should also explain the types of sources used. If your lit. review is part of a larger research proposal or project, you can combine its introductory paragraph with the introduction of your paper.

Here is a sample introduction to an RRL about cyberbullying:

Bullying has troubled people since the beginning of time. However, with modern technological advancements, especially social media, bullying has evolved into cyberbullying. As a result, nowadays, teenagers and adults cannot flee their bullies, which makes them feel lonely and helpless. This literature review will examine recent studies on cyberbullying.

Sample Review of Related Literature Thesis

A thesis statement should include the central idea of your literature review and the primary supporting elements you discovered in the literature. Thesis statements are typically put at the end of the introductory paragraph.

Look at a sample thesis of a review of related literature:

This literature review shows that scholars have recently covered the issues of bullies’ motivation, the impact of bullying on victims and aggressors, common cyberbullying techniques, and victims’ coping strategies. However, there is still no agreement on the best practices to address cyberbullying.

Literature Review Body Paragraph Example

The main body of a literature review should provide an overview of the existing research on the issue. Body paragraphs should not just summarize each source but analyze them. You can organize your paragraphs with these 3 elements:

  • Claim . Start with a topic sentence linked to your literature review purpose.
  • Evidence . Cite relevant information from your chosen sources.
  • Discussion . Explain how the cited data supports your claim.

Here’s a literature review body paragraph example:

Scholars have examined the link between the aggressor and the victim. Beran et al. (2007) state that students bullied online often become cyberbullies themselves. Faucher et al. (2014) confirm this with their findings: they discovered that male and female students began engaging in cyberbullying after being subject to bullying. Hence, one can conclude that being a victim of bullying increases one’s likelihood of becoming a cyberbully.

Review of Related Literature: Conclusion

A conclusion presents a general consensus on the topic. Depending on your literature review purpose, it might include the following:

  • Introduction to further research . If you write a literature review as part of a larger research project, you can present your research question in your conclusion .
  • Overview of theories . You can summarize critical theories and concepts to help your reader understand the topic better.
  • Discussion of the gap . If you identified a research gap in the reviewed literature, your conclusion could explain why that gap is significant.

Check out a conclusion example that discusses a research gap:

There is extensive research into bullies’ motivation, the consequences of bullying for victims and aggressors, strategies for bullying, and coping with it. Yet, scholars still have not reached a consensus on what to consider the best practices to combat cyberbullying. This question is of great importance because of the significant adverse effects of cyberbullying on victims and bullies.

✍️ How to Write Review of Related Literature – Sample

Literature reviews can be organized in many ways depending on what you want to achieve with them. In this section, we will look at 3 examples of how you can write your RRL.

This image shows the organizational patterns of a literature review.

Thematic Literature Review

A thematic literature review is arranged around central themes or issues discussed in the sources. If you have identified some recurring themes in the literature, you can divide your RRL into sections that address various aspects of the topic. For example, if you examine studies on e-learning, you can distinguish such themes as the cost-effectiveness of online learning, the technologies used, and its effectiveness compared to traditional education.

Chronological Literature Review

A chronological literature review is a way to track the development of the topic over time. If you use this method, avoid merely listing and summarizing sources in chronological order. Instead, try to analyze the trends, turning moments, and critical debates that have shaped the field’s path. Also, you can give your interpretation of how and why specific advances occurred.

Methodological Literature Review

A methodological literature review differs from the preceding ones in that it usually doesn’t focus on the sources’ content. Instead, it is concerned with the research methods . So, if your references come from several disciplines or fields employing various research techniques, you can compare the findings and conclusions of different methodologies, for instance:

  • empirical vs. theoretical studies;
  • qualitative vs. quantitative research.

📚 Examples of Review of Related Literature and Studies

Have you ever struggled with finding the topic for an RRL in different subjects? Read the following paragraphs to get some ideas!

Nursing Literature Review Example

Many topics in the nursing field require research. For example, you can write a review of literature related to dengue fever . Give a general overview of dengue virus infections, including its clinical symptoms, diagnosis, prevention, and therapy.

Another good idea is to review related literature and studies about teenage pregnancy . This review can describe the effectiveness of specific programs for adolescent mothers and their children and summarize recommendations for preventing early pregnancy.

📝 Check out some more valuable examples below:

  • Hospital Readmissions: Literature Review .
  • Literature Review: Lower Sepsis Mortality Rates .
  • Breast Cancer: Literature Review .
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Literature Review .
  • PICO for Pressure Ulcers: Literature Review .
  • COVID-19 Spread Prevention: Literature Review .
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Literature Review .
  • Hypertension Treatment Adherence: Literature Review .
  • Neonatal Sepsis Prevention: Literature Review .
  • Healthcare-Associated Infections: Literature Review .
  • Understaffing in Nursing: Literature Review .

Psychology Literature Review Example

If you look for an RRL topic in psychology , you can write a review of related literature about stress . Summarize scientific evidence about stress stages, side effects, types, or reduction strategies. Or you can write a review of related literature about computer game addiction . In this case, you may concentrate on the neural mechanisms underlying the internet gaming disorder, compare it to other addictions, or evaluate treatment strategies.

A review of related literature about cyberbullying is another interesting option. You can highlight the impact of cyberbullying on undergraduate students’ academic, social, and emotional development.

📝 Look at the examples that we have prepared for you to come up with some more ideas:

  • Mindfulness in Counseling: A Literature Review .
  • Team-Building Across Cultures: Literature Review .
  • Anxiety and Decision Making: Literature Review .
  • Literature Review on Depression .
  • Literature Review on Narcissism .
  • Effects of Depression Among Adolescents .
  • Causes and Effects of Anxiety in Children .

Literature Review — Sociology Example

Sociological research poses critical questions about social structures and phenomena. For example, you can write a review of related literature about child labor , exploring cultural beliefs and social norms that normalize the exploitation of children. Or you can create a review of related literature about social media . It can investigate the impact of social media on relationships between adolescents or the role of social networks on immigrants’ acculturation .

📝 You can find some more ideas below!

  • Single Mothers’ Experiences of Relationships with Their Adolescent Sons .
  • Teachers and Students’ Gender-Based Interactions .
  • Gender Identity: Biological Perspective and Social Cognitive Theory .
  • Gender: Culturally-Prescribed Role or Biological Sex .
  • The Influence of Opioid Misuse on Academic Achievement of Veteran Students .
  • The Importance of Ethics in Research .
  • The Role of Family and Social Network Support in Mental Health .

Education Literature Review Example

For your education studies , you can write a review of related literature about academic performance to determine factors that affect student achievement and highlight research gaps. One more idea is to create a review of related literature on study habits , considering their role in the student’s life and academic outcomes.

You can also evaluate a computerized grading system in a review of related literature to single out its advantages and barriers to implementation. Or you can complete a review of related literature on instructional materials to identify their most common types and effects on student achievement.

📝 Find some inspiration in the examples below:

  • Literature Review on Online Learning Challenges From COVID-19 .
  • Education, Leadership, and Management: Literature Review .
  • Literature Review: Standardized Testing Bias .
  • Bullying of Disabled Children in School .
  • Interventions and Letter & Sound Recognition: A Literature Review .
  • Social-Emotional Skills Program for Preschoolers .
  • Effectiveness of Educational Leadership Management Skills .

Business Research Literature Review

If you’re a business student, you can focus on customer satisfaction in your review of related literature. Discuss specific customer satisfaction features and how it is affected by service quality and prices. You can also create a theoretical literature review about consumer buying behavior to evaluate theories that have significantly contributed to understanding how consumers make purchasing decisions.

📝 Look at the examples to get more exciting ideas:

  • Leadership and Communication: Literature Review .
  • Human Resource Development: Literature Review .
  • Project Management. Literature Review .
  • Strategic HRM: A Literature Review .
  • Customer Relationship Management: Literature Review .
  • Literature Review on International Financial Reporting Standards .
  • Cultures of Management: Literature Review .

To conclude, a review of related literature is a significant genre of scholarly works that can be applied in various disciplines and for multiple goals. The sources examined in an RRL provide theoretical frameworks for future studies and help create original research questions and hypotheses.

When you finish your outstanding literature review, don’t forget to check whether it sounds logical and coherent. Our text-to-speech tool can help you with that!

  • Literature Reviews | University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Writing a Literature Review | Purdue Online Writing Lab
  • Learn How to Write a Review of Literature | University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • The Literature Review: A Few Tips on Conducting It | University of Toronto
  • Writing a Literature Review | UC San Diego
  • Conduct a Literature Review | The University of Arizona
  • Methods for Literature Reviews | National Library of Medicine
  • Literature Reviews: 5. Write the Review | Georgia State University

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Literature Reviews

  • What is a literature review?
  • Steps in the Literature Review Process
  • Define your research question
  • Determine inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Choose databases and search
  • Review Results
  • Synthesize Results
  • Analyze Results
  • Librarian Support

What is a Literature Review?

A literature or narrative review is a comprehensive review and analysis of the published literature on a specific topic or research question. The literature that is reviewed contains: books, articles, academic articles, conference proceedings, association papers, and dissertations. It contains the most pertinent studies and points to important past and current research and practices. It provides background and context, and shows how your research will contribute to the field. 

A literature review should: 

  • Provide a comprehensive and updated review of the literature;
  • Explain why this review has taken place;
  • Articulate a position or hypothesis;
  • Acknowledge and account for conflicting and corroborating points of view

From  S age Research Methods

Purpose of a Literature Review

A literature review can be written as an introduction to a study to:

  • Demonstrate how a study fills a gap in research
  • Compare a study with other research that's been done

Or it can be a separate work (a research article on its own) which:

  • Organizes or describes a topic
  • Describes variables within a particular issue/problem

Limitations of a Literature Review

Some of the limitations of a literature review are:

  • It's a snapshot in time. Unlike other reviews, this one has beginning, a middle and an end. There may be future developments that could make your work less relevant.
  • It may be too focused. Some niche studies may miss the bigger picture.
  • It can be difficult to be comprehensive. There is no way to make sure all the literature on a topic was considered.
  • It is easy to be biased if you stick to top tier journals. There may be other places where people are publishing exemplary research. Look to open access publications and conferences to reflect a more inclusive collection. Also, make sure to include opposing views (and not just supporting evidence).

Source: Grant, Maria J., and Andrew Booth. “A Typology of Reviews: An Analysis of 14 Review Types and Associated Methodologies.” Health Information & Libraries Journal, vol. 26, no. 2, June 2009, pp. 91–108. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x.

Meryl Brodsky : Communication and Information Studies

Hannah Chapman Tripp : Biology, Neuroscience

Carolyn Cunningham : Human Development & Family Sciences, Psychology, Sociology

Larayne Dallas : Engineering

Janelle Hedstrom : Special Education, Curriculum & Instruction, Ed Leadership & Policy ​

Susan Macicak : Linguistics

Imelda Vetter : Dell Medical School

For help in other subject areas, please see the guide to library specialists by subject .

Periodically, UT Libraries runs a workshop covering the basics and library support for literature reviews. While we try to offer these once per academic year, we find providing the recording to be helpful to community members who have missed the session. Following is the most recent recording of the workshop, Conducting a Literature Review. To view the recording, a UT login is required.

  • October 26, 2022 recording
  • Last Updated: Oct 26, 2022 2:49 PM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/literaturereviews

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Research Effectively: Tips on How to Review Related Literature

  • Peer Review

Professors across various disciplines require their students to write literature reviews. This article provides pertinent information on how to review related literature effectively.

Updated on December 1, 2021

researcher in an academic library reviewing related literature

Professors across various disciplines require their students to write literature reviews, which are collections of authoritative sources on particular topics. They are an essential part of research, because it provides a handy guide to more information on their subjects.

This article provides pertinent information on how to review related literature effectively. By learning these techniques, you may improve your teaching skills and become more effective at grant writing.

Before you start writing, keep in mind that you may need a good management cloud service to store all your files when reviewing your related literature. And once you're done writing your research paper, you may want to promote it using different SEO strategies .

Tips on How to Review Related Literature Effectively

Evaluate the resources.

Make sure to constantly evaluate the sources that your students have incorporated into their literature review. Also, verify whether the resources contain valuable and pertinent information regarding their chosen topic.

Evaluating the resources is particularly vital when an academic library does not collect the sources your students have retrieved.

Web resources may be easily accessible. However, students and professors alike must be more careful to ensure that the sources gathered are reliable.

Below are five essential criteria to help you evaluate information from any resource:

Evaluation Criteria

1. accuracy.

The information from the sources your students gathered must be error-free to ensure its reliability. Furthermore, the details must be based on proven facts. To help you check whether the information is factual or not, you may need to verify it against other authoritative sources.

2. Authority

Check the authors' backgrounds. Authors of scholarly journals must have the qualifications to write on a specific topic. In addition, they must be affiliated with an established organization or a reputable university in the subject field.

3. Objectivity

Carefully examine the intended purpose of the information. It must be based on facts and not merely opinions. Thus, the details in the study must be impartial.

4. Currency

It's also necessary to check the currency of the sources. Are the pieces of information still current, or are they outdated? A good rule of thumb is to utilize sources published in the past ten years for research papers in the humanities, history, arts, and literature.

For fast-paced fields like the sciences, resources published in the past two to three years are a good benchmark since they are more current. Thus, they reflect the newest discoveries, best practices, theories, and processes.

5. Coverage

Make sure to verify whether you or your students' resources have met your information needs. After reading their output, ask yourself if the material they used gave in-depth coverage or just basic information.

Know the Ideal Types of Periodicals for Literature Reviews

Scholarly journals.

A literature review is composed of various scholarly works. Aside from theses and dissertations, academic journals are essential resources that your students can incorporate in their literature reviews.

The authors of scholarly journals are scholars, researchers, and subject experts. The findings in the academic paper are based on in-depth analysis and stated methodology.

Most of the time, the authors use discipline-specific terminology and jargon that may be difficult to comprehend.

Scholarly journals also have references cited in footnotes or bibliographies. The frequency of their publication may be quarterly, monthly, or annually. Some advertise, but many do not.

Trade Magazines

Trade magazines are authored by paid staff with subject expertise and are members of a particular industry.

Their content is about trends, current news, products, and developments in specific fields. Like scholarly journals, authors of trade magazines also use industry-specific jargon. However, peer reviewers don't assess the quality of trade magazines. In addition, these periodicals also have several advertisements that are usually industry related.

Trade magazines may have valuable information. Still, it's best to use scholarly journals in literature reviews. With academic journals, you can be surer of the quality of the paper since they're peer-reviewed.

Popular Magazines and Newspapers

These are non-authoritative sources. Paid staff, who are often non-experts, write these types of periodicals. They're composed heavily of advertisements and are published daily, weekly, or monthly. These could be useful in literature reviews, but also keep in mind that they may be viewed as less credible, because they're often written by non-experts. [Ed1]

Evaluate Different Websites

The internet is a vast network of unfiltered sources, which means anyone can put anything in it, bypassing any form of editorial or peer review. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that you evaluate the web sources you and your students use before including them in your scholarly publication.

Always look for the authors' information. Check the links that read “About this site” and “Who we are.” In addition, verify whether the webmaster provides contact information so that you can contact them with inquiries.

Lastly, look for hints on authority in the internet address (URL).

  • .com is a commercial site
  • .gov is a government agency or department
  • .net is a network provider
  • .org is a non-profit organization that may either be biased or unbiased
  • .edu is an educational institution

Writing a literature review aims to convey what knowledge has been established on a particular topic, as well as the strengths and weaknesses[Ed2] of the information out there among the resources.

Knowing the essential information on how to review related literature is beneficial to you and your students.

Being aware of these techniques may help you alleviate your students' anxiety about literature reviews and solidify your status as an excellent teacher.

After you've found written your research paper from reliable sources, consider letting our team PhD editors go over your research paper with our Premium English Editing service .

  • Writing an Effective Figure Legend
  • Materials and Methods: Seven Writing Tips
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  • Literature Review - Finding the Resources

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  • FAQ: How Old Should or Can a Source Be for My Research?

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Literature: Free E-journals, Literary Associations, & Other Sites

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  • Free E-journals, Literary Associations, & Other Sites

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Bibliographies, electronic text centers.

  • Free E-Journals

Literary Associations

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Scholarly Societies

  • Bibliography of Studies on the MLAIB International Bibliography Maintained by Faye Christenberry, English Studies Librarian at the University of Washington. Originally compiled by Scott Stebelman.
  • Studies of Interest to English & American Literature Librarians A quite comprehensive bibliography that "cumulates citations appearing in Biblio-Notes: Issued by the English and American Literature Section of the Association of College & Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association."

Free E-journals

These titles below are free and open to all visitors.

  • Arts & Letters Daily, current year only
  • Bryn Mawr Classical Review
  • DHQ (Digital Humanities Quarterly)
  • Early Modern Literary Studies
  • EBR: Electronic Book Review
  • Film-Philosophy Journal
  • Other Voices: The (e)journal of Cultural Criticism
  • Postmodern Culture
  • Romantic Circles Reviews
  • Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net
  • The Medieval Review (formerly the Bryn Mawr Medieval Review)
  • The New Compass: A Critical Review (2003-2004)
  • World Picture
  • Electronic Texts at the University of Virginia Contains information about the Electronic Text Center (1992-2007), an early repository of electronic texts.
  • Oxford Text Archive The archive "exists to serve the interests of the academic community by providing low-cost archival and dissemination facilities for electronic texts."
  • Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts "This is a collection of public domain and open access documents with a focus on American and English literature as well as Western philosophy. Its purpose is to help facilitate a person’s liberal arts education."
  • Modern Language Association

Literary Meta-Sites (Websites with Broad Coverage of Literary Resources)

  • ASLE online The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment website deals with literature that considers the relationship between human beings and the natural world. It covers the genres of literary nonfiction, nature poetry, and environmental fiction, including ecofeminism.
  • Voice of the Shuttle: Literature in English Probably provides the broadest coverage of literature related resources on the net. Maintained by Alan Liu (U C Santa Barbara). Includes its own search engine.
  • Literary Resources on the Net A huge collection of literature resources organized by period. Maintained by Jack Lynch (U. of Penn.). Includes its own search engine.
  • Anglistik Guide A subject guide to scholarly material in Anglo-American language and literature. Maintained at the State and University Library of Gñttingen. Resources are catalogued using a set of Dublin Core metadata.
  • Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia founded in 1947 at the University of Charlottesville in order to promote interest in books and manuscripts, maps, printing, the graphic arts and bibliography, and textual criticism. It publishes Studies in Bibliography. http://etext.virginia.edu/bsuva/sb/
  • Council of Literary Magazines and Presses Provides support for "creative voices of communities underrepresented in the mainstream culture."
  • SHARP(Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing) A web site that includes a great deal of material on printing and publishing history. It contains links to many organizations, exhibits, projects, conferences, teaching resources, journals, etc. dealing broadly with the history of the book.

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  • Open access
  • Published: 16 February 2024

The varied restorative values of campus landscapes to students’ well-being: evidence from a Chinese University

  • Xuanyi Nie 1 , 2 ,
  • Yifei Wang 3 ,
  • Chan Zhang 4 , 5 ,
  • Yu Zhao 4 &
  • Niall Kirkwood 6  

BMC Public Health volume  24 , Article number:  487 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

Metrics details

The literature on therapeutic landscapes highlights that the university campus landscape has restorative effects on students. This deserves more scholarly attention since mental health has become an important issue among university students. However, existing empirical studies have revealed mixed evidence with little attention to the heterogeneity across the design and, therefore, the potential therapeutic effects across different landscapes.

This research examined how 13 landscape sites on a university campus might be differentially related to student well-being. These sites were identified from a variety of sources (campus design documents, photos used in the university’s social media posts, and interviews with a small group of students) to represent a comprehensive list of places that students might visit. The data was collected in a large online survey of a Chinese university ( n  = 2,528). We asked about students’ use of individual landscape sites and the associated motivations for visits, and measured well-being using a perceived stress scale and overall evaluation of the happiness level. Bivariate analysis was used to explore the zero-order associations between landscape use and well-being. OLS (for stress) and logistic regressions (for happiness) were conducted to further evaluate the associations after controlling the student background variables and potential correlations of uses across different landscapes.

Among 13 landscape sites, four sites had significant positive associations with either or both measures of well-being after controlling for the student characteristics and use of the other landscape sites. There was also an additive benefit of visiting more landscapes. Compared to those who did not frequently visit any of the sites, well-being had a significant stepwise increase among those who frequently visited one or two and more sites. One site that was significantly related to both measures of well-being only offered distant views of landscapes, but it was right next to the study areas.

Conclusions

This study demonstrates the heterogeneity of restorative effects across different landscapes on campus. The findings suggest that effective landscape design that aims to promote student well-being should be placed close to stressors (i.e., where they study), and between where they study and live to offer students opportunities to break from the common routines and to relax. The findings hold greater relevance for universities in China and institutions with similar student campus lifestyles, occupancies, and behavior patterns worldwide.

Peer Review reports

Introduction

Landscape is an integral part of university campus designs. Landscape elements on university campuses not only introduce a sense of nature but also provide open spaces for student interactions among each other or with natural environments, which provide them with more pleasurable experiences [ 1 , 2 ]. Based on that, scholars have identified the restorative effects of campus landscapes on students’ well-being, an increasingly important scholarly focus in environmental planning [ 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 ]. Restorative effects denote positive changes in psychological states [ 9 ], of which perceived stress and happiness are two fundamental elements [ 6 , 7 , 10 , 11 ]. University campus landscapes can provide students with natural amenities and offer them spaces for restorative activities such as recreational sports and extracurricular clubs [ 12 , 13 ].

The theory of therapeutic landscape has important implications for the restorative effect of the natural landscape [ 14 ]. This concept incorporates both aesthetic and more imperceptible social qualities of the landscape that connect humans and nature [ 15 ]. The aesthetic qualities are represented by the “biophilia hypothesis,” which argues that humans have spent almost all of their evolutionary history in the natural environment [ 16 , 17 , 18 , 19 ]. As a result, people are happier in natural habitats than in urban settings [ 20 ].

The social qualities are embedded in the transactions between a person and their broader socioenvironmental setting [ 21 , 22 , 23 ]. Such a relationship could be interpreted behaviorally through the provision of opportunities for individuals to engage in physical activities in natural environments [ 24 ]. In particular, the “enabling places” [ 21 ] acknowledge that the natural environment promotes physical activities that enable psychological regeneration. The “affective sanctuaries” highlight the importance of “third places” in the therapeutic landscapes [ 25 ], described as a retreat away from home (the first place) or work (the second place) [ 26 ]. This kind of “third places” can provide elusive opportunities for emotional refuge such as a feeling of being away from daily stress and a non-demanding social interaction recovery [ 4 ].

Existing studies have examined the impact of natural environments on campus (broadly defined as indoor and outdoor nature, as well as nature views) on student well-being, academic performance, as well as outcomes related to possible explanatory pathways (e.g., perceived restoration, temperature, physical behavior, etc.) [ 27 ]. Yet these studies showed mixed results. On the one hand, many studies suggest a positive relationship between university campus landscape and students’ well-being. Studies using data collected from universities in the United States, Scotland, and Turkey found that students with higher objective or perceived campus greenness in universities reported greater quality of life [ 7 , 28 ]. Adding to them, another study in the United States concluded that only students who frequently engage with green spaces in active ways report higher quality of life, better overall mood, and lower perceived stress [ 29 ].

Meanwhile, some studies also report no substantial associations between campus landscape and students’ well-being. For example, a study in Austria yielded no significant correlation between perceived greenness and physical activity, a crucial determinant for physical health [ 30 ]. Although a study in the United States initially showed that students who use campus landscape more often reported higher quality of life [ 31 ], the follow-up work found that such a relationship is only valid for undergraduate students, not for graduate students [ 32 ].

The inclusiveness of the findings is unsurprising given the limited number of studies available and the heterogeneity in the study designs. In particular, the mixed results may be due to the heterogeneity of landscapes examined in the studies. Yet very few empirical studies have focused on comparing the restorative effects across landscapes. In the literature on the therapeutic landscape, landscape type is predominantly defined by a palette approach, categorizing landscape elements into “blue spaces” such as lakes and ponds, and “green spaces” including forests, grass, fields, and meadows [ 33 , 34 , 35 , 36 , 37 ]. Among the studies that specifically focus on university campuses, they tend to focus on single landscape sites or measure the overall levels of greenness [ 4 , 5 , 7 , 28 ], overlooking the heterogeneity across campus landscape sites and its implications to students as the users.

This ignorance of nuances across different landscapes makes it difficult to develop practical guidance on how to design campus landscapes to promote student well-being. This is because existing studies suggest not all landscape sites are the same. For example, studies conducted in the United States, Spain, and China suggest that varied degrees of campus biodiversity [ 6 ], engagement with different activities [ 8 , 38 ], and different types of green spaces [ 3 ] can yield different levels of restorative effects on students. These studies suggest the importance of considering heterogeneous landscapes when examining their influences on human behavior and well-being. However, these studies treated “landscape” homogenously as green spaces or natural elements, ignoring that landscape on a university campus broadly encompasses other types of open spaces such as paved areas with green elements or artificially design promenades that are proximate to natural elements.

Furthermore, previous research has not explicitly assessed whether there may be additive effects across exposure to different landscapes. University campuses usually include a range of landscapes spread across campus – near academic buildings, in the central area with common student resources such as the library, and at peripheral locations [ 7 ]. Students tend to use and appreciate campus green spaces and consider them essential elements of the campus environment [ 39 ]. With many kinds of natural environments found on university campuses, there may be various cumulative opportunities for restoration via potential interactions with campus landscapes at different distances and locations [ 40 ].

The potential therapeutic value of campus landscape seems particularly pivotal against the backdrop of rising mental health and well-being issues among university students. Based on the national surveys of undergraduate and graduate students in the U.S., the Healthy Minds Study finds that the percentage of students who met the criteria for one or more mental health problems increased from around 40% to more than 60% from 2013 to 2021 [ 41 ]. The high prevalence of health problems among university students is not unique to one country. A multi-nation survey in 2021 found alarming levels of high stress and depression among universities across countries during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic [ 42 ].

Furthermore, although the international literature is growing, empirical research on the therapeutic values of the campus landscape in China is still very thin [ 43 , 44 ]. Attention to this specific area becomes increasingly pertinent in light of China’s recent endeavors to promote “green universities” [ 45 , 46 ]. Existing studies found that similar to the studies in the United States and other countries [ 7 , 28 , 29 ], the objective perception of the quality of landscapes or “naturalness” [ 47 , 48 , 49 ] and the capacity of providing spaces for students to relax [ 3 ] are positive factors to students’ restorative experiences and well-being. Although the results of these studies were promising, they shared the same limitations as we pointed out earlier – i.e., a decontextualized approach that fails to capture landscape heterogeneity and additive effects of restorative environment that are derived from chronic or repeated contacts with nature [ 50 , 51 , 52 ].

In response to the above gaps in the literature, this study investigates the relationship between campus landscape and students’ well-being in a major public university in Eastern China. In response to the above-mentioned limitations, this study aims to add to the existing literature by addressing the following research questions: (1) how does the impact on student well-being vary across different landscape sites on a university campus? (2) are there additive benefits across multiple landscape sites? (i.e., does visiting more landscape sites lead to a further increase in well-being?) We conducted a survey that included questions about how students use a variety of landscape sites on campus, which are designated outdoor spaces by design for student recreational and leisure uses. By simultaneously investigating the additive effect of a range of landscape sites on a Chinese university campus, we aim to provide a more comprehensive view of the role of campus landscapes in student well-being. Yet we also acknowledge that this study is conducted only at one university, thus the results may not be multipliable to other universities, for example, in different climates or cultural contexts where campus culture and students’ behavioral patterns differ.

Materials and methods

Data collection and participants.

An online survey was conducted in June of 2021 among students at Zhejiang University in China. Ethical approval was granted by the Interdisciplinary Social Science Research Centre at Zhejiang University (Project ID: 202103–01). The items analyzed in this study were embedded in the longer questionnaire with a wide range of topics (e.g., experiences on campus, attitudes towards the university, etc.) and the questions on well-being and landscape were presented in different sections of the survey. Therefore, the aim of this study (i.e., evaluating the effect of landscape on well-being) was likely blind to the students, which helped reduce the potential bias in respondent compositions because of the topic interests. All the second-year students ( N  = 5,707) were invited to participate in the survey. The survey link was sent to students via their class "groups" on the SM platform (mainly WeChat or DingTalk) by the administration staff. The online questionnaire was programmed using the platform provided by SurveyPlus ( https://www.surveyplus.cn/ ). If students accessed the questionnaire on a mobile device, the platform seamlessly redirected them to the mobile-friendly version.

Well-being measures: perceived stress and happiness

Happiness [ 53 ] and stress [ 54 ] are commonly used well-being measures. Specifically, we used the 10-item version of the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-10) [ 55 ]. The ten-item version has higher reliability and validity than other versions of the scale [ 56 ], with a validated Chinese translation of the questions [ 57 ]. We also conducted cognitive interviews with two undergraduates to check the validity of the Chinese version in our target population, and we made minor modifications to improve readability and clarity. For the happiness question, we adopted the single-item measure from the Chinese General Social Survey that asks respondents about their overall happiness levels, with a scale from 1 (feeling a lot of unhappiness) to 5 (feeling a lot of happiness). The question wording (in both English and Chinese) can be found in Additional file 1 : Appendix A.

Landscape site visits

We aimed to compile a comprehensive list of landscape sites that students might use on campus. We started with the campus design documents and excluded those of which the construction had not been completed by the time of this study. We then expanded the list by identifying additional sites that were featured in the university’s social media posts or mentioned in the interviews of a small group of students. This yielded a total of 13 landscape sites on the campus. The landscape sites are designated outdoor spaces by design for student recreational and leisure uses. They share common features such as seating elements, tree canopies, pedestrian pathways and trails, vegetation elements, and open green spaces for both passive and active uses. Some sites feature water attractions, gazebos, and seasonal and cultural elements. The 13 sites are distributed across the living compounds, classrooms, academic facilities, and main pathways, making them easily accessible. Figure  1 details the locations of the 13 landscape sites on the campus map. Please see Additional file 1 : Appendix B for the photos and descriptions of each site.

figure 1

The locations of landscape sites on campus

In addition, students may use landscape sites differently according to their spatial or green qualities [ 8 , 29 ]. We asked students whether they frequently visited the landscapes to gather information on the behavioral patterns of students on each site. When respondents reported frequently visiting a site, we had a follow-up question asking their reason(s) for visiting it, with the options including "party/team building," "study," "relaxation," "dating," and "group discussion," "dining," "exercising," and "being close to nature."

Demographic variables

To control for the potential confounders (i.e., student characteristics that might be related to both landscape use and wellbeing), we collected in the survey various background information about the students, including gender, GPA, ethnicity, annual family income levels, highest education levels achieved by each parent, the province they were from, Hukou (household registration) status before college (urban vs. rural), and whether the students were in a romantic relationship or not. These variables were selected because existing literature has suggested that they might be related to students’ well-being. For example, an earlier study of this student population has found that stress was significantly related to gender, parents’ education, and family income (Tibber et al., 2023). Studies of the Chinese population in general have found urban hukou was associated with higher well-being than rural hukou (e.g., Tani, 2017). Besides, romantic relationships could either positively or negatively affect students’ well-being [ 58 , 59 ]. However, our survey did not capture students’ majors or degrees, which could also be important influencers of their psychological state and behaviors.

We first conducted univariate analyses to show the distributions of student background characteristics, their happiness and stress levels, as well as the overall use of individual landscape sites on campus and the associated reasons. Then, we performed bivariate analyses to explore the zero-order associations between the number of landscape sites visited frequently and levels of well-being. Next, we used regression models to investigate whether such additive effects of landscapes held after controlling for various student background characteristics. Then, we treated the use of each landscape site as an independent variable and explored which site(s) promoted well-being after further considering the use of other landscape sites on campus. We used OLS regressions to model stress. For happiness, we first ran the ordinal logistic regressions and found that the proportional odds assumption did not hold for all the predictors. Therefore, we recoded the happiness variable into two categories (1 = a lot of unhappiness/some unhappiness/neither, 0 = a lot of happiness/some happiness) and used logistic regressions to model the likelihood of being in low levels of happiness.

Empirical results

Descriptive statistics.

A total of 2,528 students completed the survey, with a response rate of 44.3%. Slightly more than half (54.8%) of the respondents were male. Among all the respondents, 44.2% of them had GPAs greater than 4 on a 0–5 scale, and approximately a quarter (25.6%) of them had GPAs below 3.5, with the rest (30.2%) in between. A total of 23.9% of the respondents reported being in a relationship. Most of the respondents were Han Chinese (92.7%). Approximately 70% of the respondents had urban Hukou (household registration) before being admitted to the college. Approximately half of the students (51.8%) were from Zhejiang Province.

Regarding socioeconomic status, the respondents contained a mix of students from different backgrounds. Approximately one-third of the students had an annual family income of over 200,000 CNY (Chinese yuan) (approximately 30,000 USD). Another 30% of the students had a family income between 100,000–200,000 CNY, with the rest split between the two lowest income categories (< 50,000 CNY: 16.7%; 50,000–100,000 CNY: 17.5%). We classified parents' education levels into three categories: middle school or less, high school or equivalent, and bachelor's degree or more. For mothers' education levels, the percentage of respondents in each category was 31.6%, 41.9%, and 26.6%, respectively. The fathers' education showed a similar distribution with overall slightly higher levels than the mothers' education. (For the regression analyses below, we only used the mother's education as the predictor, as the education levels of both parents were correlated.) See the upper part of Table  1 for the detailed distributions of respondents' demographics.

For happiness, a total of 11.6% of the respondents chose the highest category (i.e., "feeling a lot of happiness"), 51.9% of them reported feeling some happiness, 30.1% chose the middle category indicating they were between happiness or unhappiness, and very few of them chose the two negative options ("feeling some unhappiness": 4.8%; "feeling a lot of unhappiness": 1.5%). For the PSS-10, the Cronbach’s Coefficient Alpha is 0.89. In the confirmatory factor analysis that specified a one-factor model, the model fit indices were acceptable. Specifically, the comparative fit index (CFI) was 0.83; the Tucker-Lewis index (TLI) was 0.78; the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) was 0.16. We calculated the total score from the PSS-10 after recoding the four reverse-worded items so that for each item, higher scores indicated a higher level of stress. The average score for stress is 27.6 (min = 10 and max = 50) with a standard deviation of 6.5 (See the lower part of Table  1 for the detailed distributions of respondents' well-being measures).

Table 2 shows the percentage of frequently visiting each landscape site and the corresponding reasons for landscape visits. Not all landscape sites were visited equally. The most popular site was site #1 (Lawn by West Lecture Halls), and 51.8% of the respondents reported visiting it frequently. The second tier included four sites, which were Mid-lake Island (#7), Crescent Hall Plazas (#10), Sunken Plaza/Amphitheater (#12), and Alumni Grove (#6), ordered by popularity, with the percentages of frequent visits ranging between 20 and 30%. The rest of the sites had fewer than 20% of the respondents who reported visiting them frequently. We also checked the correlations of visiting these sites (see details in Additional file 1 : Appendix C). Most of the correlations were around or below 0.3, except for Sites #10 and #12 ( r  = 0.48). This is expected because the two sites, being adjacent to each other on either side of a street (as can be seen in Fig.  1 ), share a cohesive design approach with similar characteristics and site features.

Table 2 also shows the reasons for visiting each site, “relaxation” was the most mentioned reason for most of the sites, “being close to nature” was ranked next for most of the sites, and “exercise” was often the third most mentioned reason. While most of the sites have “relaxation”, “exercise”, and “being close to nature” as the top three reasons, Site #9 (East Lecture Hall Open Skyway Corridors) is distinctive from the others in that the majority (56.3%) of the respondents reported visiting it for studying, a reason much less mentioned for other sites.

We also calculated the total number of sites they reported frequently visiting for each respondent. 29.5% of the students reported not frequently visiting any of the sites. The percentages of frequently visited one and two sites were 15.9% and 15.3%, respectively. The number was reduced to 13.1% for visiting three sites, and it started to drop more quickly from there. To have adequate sample sizes to represent different levels of landscape visits, we recoded this variable into three categories (0, 1–2, and 3 or more sites) for the analyses after.

Bivariate analysis

Figure  2 shows the distribution of the happiness answers by three levels of landscape visits (none, 1–2, and 3 or more sites). As students frequently visited more landscape sites, the distributions of the answers to the happiness question shifted toward the positive side, and this association was significant. A chi-square test of independence revealed a significant association between students’ levels of happiness (low = a lot of unhappiness/some unhappiness/neither; high = a lot of happiness/some happiness) and three levels of landscape visits ( \({\chi }^{2}(2)\) =71.19, p  < 0.001). Figure  3 compares the distributions of stress for students with three different levels of landscape visits. The distributions of stress appear to shift toward lower ends for the students visiting more landscape sites. The average stress scores were 28.8, 27.8, and 26.5 for the three groups (from the highest landscape visits to the lowest), respectively. The ANOVA test showed that the differences in stress across these three groups were significant, F (2, 2496) = 26.84, p  < 0.001. (See Additional file 1 : Appendix D for the bivariate analysis of key student demographics and two well-being measures.)

figure 2

The distribution of respondents' reported happiness and frequency of site visiting

figure 3

Distribution of stress and frequency of site-visiting

Regression analyses

Following our objectives, we tried two approaches to depict landscape visits in association with stress and happiness in the regression analyses: (1) a categorical variable indicating the overall level of landscape visits (i.e., frequently visiting 0, 1–2, and 3 or more sites) and (2) dummy variables for frequently visiting individual sites. The first approach allows us to examine whether there is an additive effect of visiting different landscape sites on well-being. The second approach enables us to assess whether the impact on well-being is the same across various landscape sites.

The regression results are reported in Table  3 . In response to our objective of examining the additive effects of landscape sites, compared to the students who did not frequently visit any of the landscape sites, those who frequently visited 1–2 sites and 3 or more sites had significantly lower levels of stress (1–2 sites: coeff. = -1.33, se = 0.38, p  < 0.001; 3 or more sites: coeff. = -2.43, se = 0.36, p  < 0.001). A further test shows that these two coefficients were significantly different ( t  = 3.20, p  = 0.001), suggesting that frequently visiting more landscape visits has additive effects of reducing stress levels (see Model 1 in Table  3 ). Essentially, the same pattern was found with happiness (Model 3), with frequently visiting landscape sites associated with a lower likelihood of being in a lower level of happiness compared to not frequently visiting any of the sites (1–2 site, coeff. = -0.48, se = 0.11, p  < 0.001; 3 or more sites: coeff. = -0.68, se = 0.11, p  < 0.001). The difference in the effects between visiting 1–2 sites and 3 or more sites was also significant ( z  = -2.07, p  = 0.039), suggesting that frequently visiting more sites is associated with an even lower likelihood of reporting lower levels of happiness.

Responding to our objective of examining the varying restorative effects across different landscape sites, we found that frequently visiting sites #1 (lawn by West Lecture Halls) and #9 (East Lecture Hall Open Skyway Corridors) were significantly associated with both lower levels of stress and a lower likelihood of being at lower levels of happiness. As shown in the univariate analyses, site #1 was the most popular site on campus. Site #9 was also unique because "study" was mentioned much more often as the reason for visiting it than reported for the other sites. In addition to those two sites, frequently visiting Site #2 (lawn at East Gate) was associated with a lower likelihood of reporting lower levels of happiness, and Site #6 (Alumni Grove) was significantly associated with lower levels of stress. The effects of the other sites were not significant after we controlled for respondent demographics and the aforementioned sites (see Models 2 and 4 in Table  3 for the details of the individual effects of different sites).

Lastly, some of the sociodemographic characteristics of students are significantly related to their well-being. Female students, compared to male students, reported significantly higher levels of stress, with no significant gender difference for happiness. A very significant predictor for student well-being, whose dominant pressure comes from academic performance, was GPA. Having a higher GPA was significantly related to experiencing less stress and feeling more happiness. Meanwhile, being a romantic relationship was significantly associated with more happiness, although it was not significantly correlated with their perceived stress.

Our results suggest that the campus landscape on a university campus could increase happiness and reduce stress. This conforms with the previous studies on the restorative values of university campus landscape elements [ 5 , 7 , 28 , 60 , 61 , 62 ]. On top of that, our empirical analysis highlights the varying importance of the human well-being of different types of campus landscapes. We examined 13 sites with different locational features concerning the entire university campus.

Among the 13 sites, sites #1, #6, and #9 are significantly associated with the reduction of stress, and sites #1, #2, and #9 are significantly associated with happiness. This suggests that the restorative value of landscape sites functions differently across different sites, which complements the previous studies on university campus landscapes which only focus on single sites or treated multiple sites homogenously as green open spaces [ 4 , 5 , 7 , 28 ]. In addition, we found significant increases in well-being across the students who reported frequently visiting 0, 1–2 sites, and 3 or more landscape sites on campus. The restorative effect of the campus landscape is thereby additive.

Whilst we made no a priori predictions as to what sort of landscape would be associated with higher levels of well-being, we are able to make some tentative post hoc speculations by drawing on the theories of the therapeutic landscape. Site #1, #2, and #6 all feature vegetation and water elements, which are important facets of “biophilia" [ 16 , 17 , 18 , 19 ]. However, we also found that the biophilic design itself is not sufficient in explaining the heterogeneity among the identified landscape sites. The relationship between landscape sites and stress reduction or happiness should also be integrated with the relational sociological approaches of “enabling spaces” [ 21 ] and "affective sanctuaries" [ 25 ].

Among the 13 landscape sites, Sites #1, #4, #7, #8, #12, and #13 feature water bodies and waterfront designs. However, only Site #1 is identified as being associated with stress reduction and more happiness. Through the principles of “enabling spaces” [ 21 ], Site #1 is directly located next to the lecture hall building cluster adjacent to the water features. While the vegetation and water body could provide students with a sense of connection with nature, the site also provides students with space for socialization because students use the lecture halls often. Table 2 also shows that Site #1 is the most accessed landscape site among all the 13 sites. This suggests that a landscape site needs to be frequently accessed to be able to perform restoratively for students. Furthermore, most students go there for relaxation (74.6%), being close to nature (59.9%), and exercise (23.0%), which aligns with principles of biophilia and enabling space.

Site #2 is an open lawn with no shade or trails, accompanying the East Gate to signify a grand entry. Site #1, #2, and #3 all feature open lawns. Site #2 is associated with happiness but not stress reduction. Our explanation is coined to the “symbolic meaning” of the site. Although it does not provide an intercept between study and living, this site may signify symbolic values of taking a break from the university thus escaping to “affective sanctuaries”, which might help contribute to higher levels of happiness [ 63 , 64 ]. Similar to Site #1, most students go there for relaxation (59.1%), being close to nature (46.8%), and exercise (32.8%), presenting the significance of biophilia and enabling space.

Site #6 is a densely planted grove between campus living districts (cafeteria and dormitories) and academic districts (libraries, labs, lecture halls). Aside from its cultivated repertoire of trees and colors that feature biophilic qualities, it can serve as the affective sanctuary between the first place of academic districts and the second place of campus living districts, offering a temporary break from students' daily routines [ 4 , 25 , 26 ]. This suggests that landscape spaces are more restorative when disseminated along or between the daily paths that students tend to take. Like Sites #1 and #2, most students go there for relaxation (67.7%), being close to nature (55.5%), and exercise (32.0%), highlighting the functions of this site in biophilia and enabling space.

A majority (56.3%) of the respondents reported visiting site #9 for "studying," a reason much less mentioned for the other sites. Furthermore, site #9 is not a space for students to be out there in nature, it is a rooftop area attached to and connected between classroom buildings. A series of shaded open corridors offers students a good distant view of the campus lake, lawn, canopy, and other open spaces. This conforms with the studies on views of nature and restoration that even looking at images of nature has a positive impact on emotional and physical responses to stressors [ 9 , 65 ]. The results about Site #9 conform with a previous study which suggests that visual connections with landscape elements are restorative [ 61 ]. In our research, Site #9 suggests that instead of physically being in the space, visual connections to open space and ground landscape have restorative effects.

Overall, we found three of the four landscape sites with significant positive associations with well-being tend to be located close to where students would spend most of their time. Table 2 shows that Site #1 is the most frequently visited (51.8%), and the visiting frequency of Site #2 is 12.2%, 21.2% for #6, and 18.0% for #9. The pattern is less clear as to how other designs of landscape might be related to the effectiveness in promoting well-being. For example, site #1 has a lakefront, but there are other sites with water elements that have no significant associations with well-being. Similarly, several sites feature a large open lawn, but not all of them are positively related to well-being. This suggests that simply categorizing various landscapes based on a list of vegetation types or “colors” might not be informative of their potential restorative value. The location, which denotes the frequency of visits and the “get away” function of landscape sites, and the spatial organization, which determines the types of activities that could happen in landscape sites may point to a more profound direction to understand the relationship between campus landscape and students’ well-being.

We acknowledge that this study has several limitations. Our data was collected from a cross-sectional survey. Thus, the findings regarding the relationships between landscape visits and well-being were correlational, not causal. Additionally, this research was carried out on one university campus located in East China where the local climate features warmth and humidity. Such climatic conditions and the corresponding landscape features may influence how students engage with the landscapes. The findings might be different for universities situated in regions with colder and drier weather. Moreover, the sample in this study only included second-year students. The findings might be different for other student groups. For instance, among third- or fourth-year students, who often experience heightened stress due to job searches or thesis preparation, the benefits of being exposed to the campus landscape might be more pronounced. Finally, our measurement of landscape use was based on students’ self-report of whether they frequently visited a landscape site, and terms such as “visit” and “frequently” may be subject to individual interpretation. Due to the lack of data on the exact frequency and duration of landscape visits, this study was unable to address the question concerning the levels of landscape exposure required to yield restorative effects. Future research should aim to establish causal evidence using longitudinal data with more objective and compressive measures of landscape visits (e.g., GPS data indicating the duration of stay) across different university campuses and diverse student populations.

This research empirically examines the association between campus landscape and students' well-being in China through the lens of the therapeutic landscape. The results confirm the positive relationship between the two fields [ 5 , 7 , 28 , 60 , 61 , 62 ]. Our research adds to the existing studies by pointing out two implications. Firstly, not all landscape sites are the same in psychological restoration. A campus landscape seems to function more effectively when it is located closer to sources of academic pressures such as lecture halls and classrooms or along students' daily commuting routes, which provides a break from students’ everyday routines. Secondly, the restorative value of the campus landscape is positively associated with more landscape visits. Even visual linkages with nature have a positive impact on emotional and physical responses to stressors [ 9 , 65 ].

Together, our findings complement the existing literature on the therapeutic landscape and university campuses. This study sheds light on important implications for future campus planning and design in China. More calibrated design strategies could help promote the campus landscape’s restorative capacity for students. Existing campuses can also seek opportunities to repurpose adjacent underutilized lots, converting them into landscape interest to provide direct access or sensory (such as visual) interest for vital improvements. In addition, Chinese university campuses are typically situated at a distance from urban centers and are enclosed. Students' daily activities are predominantly concentrated on campus, frequent at locations integral to their daily routines, such as attending classes, studying, and dining. Notably, the campus culture in China entails students' devoting a considerable amount of their time outside of class to studying in designated areas, typically unoccupied classrooms. This is a unique aspect of campus life in China, closely related to the concentration of stressors. The findings of this study hold greater relevance for universities in China and institutions with similar student campus lifestyles, occupancies, and behavior patterns worldwide.

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Additional file 1: appendix a..

Question wording for measures of happiness and stress. Appendix B. Site description. Appendix C. Correlation matrix of frequently visiting different landscape sites. Appendix D. Bivariate analysis of key demographics and two well-being measures.

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Nie, X., Wang, Y., Zhang, C. et al. The varied restorative values of campus landscapes to students’ well-being: evidence from a Chinese University. BMC Public Health 24 , 487 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-024-17952-w

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  24. The varied restorative values of campus landscapes to students' well

    The literature on therapeutic landscapes highlights that the university campus landscape has restorative effects on students. ... One site that was significantly related to both measures of well-being only offered distant views of landscapes, but it was right next to the study areas. ... Knight TM, Pullin AS. A systematic review of evidence for ...