How to write 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.

Writing a literature review involves finding relevant publications (such as books and journal articles), critically analyzing them, and explaining what you found. There are five key steps:

  1. Search for relevant literature
  2. Evaluate sources
  3. Identify themes, debates and gaps
  4. Outline the structure
  5. 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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    Dissertation title page

    The title page (or cover page) of your dissertation contains all key information about the document. It usually includes:

    • Dissertation title
    • Your name
    • The type of document (eg dissertation)
    • The department and institution
    • The degree program (eg Master of Arts)
    • The date of submission

    It sometimes also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and your university’s logo.

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    Writing a statement of purpose for graduate school

    When you apply for graduate programs or scholarships, the admissions committee is looking for more than just a list of grades. The statement of purpose (also known as a statement of intent or motivation letter) is your chance to stand out from the crowd and showcase your motivation, skills and potential. It should:

    • Outline your academic or professional interests and goals
    • Discuss relevant skills, experience and achievements
    • Demonstrate why you’d be a good fit for the program

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    How to write a personal statement for graduate school

    A personal statement is a short essay of around 500–1,000 words, in which you tell a compelling story about who you are, what drives you, and why you’re applying.

    To write a successful personal statement for a graduate school application, don’t just summarize your experience; instead, craft a focused narrative in your own voice. Aim to demonstrate three things:

    • Your personality: what are your interests, values, and motivations?
    • Your talents: what can you bring to the program?
    • Your goals: what do you hope the program will do for you?

    This article guides you through some winning strategies to build a strong, well-structured personal statement for a master’s or PhD application. You can download the full examples below.

    Urban Planning Psychology History

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    How to write an essay introduction

    A good introduction paragraph is an essential part of any academic essay. It sets up your argument and tells the reader what to expect.

    The main goals of an introduction are to:

    • Catch your reader’s attention.
    • Give background on your topic.
    • Present your thesis—the central point of your essay.

    This introduction example is taken from our interactive essay example on the history of Braille.

    Essay introduction example

    The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability. The writing system of raised dots used by visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use. As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness. This essay begins by discussing the situation of blind people in nineteenth-century Europe. It then describes the invention of Braille and the gradual process of its acceptance within blind education. Subsequently, it explores the wide-ranging effects of this invention on blind people’s social and cultural lives.

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    How long is an essay?

    The length of an academic essay varies depending on your level and subject of study, departmental guidelines, and specific course requirements. In general, an essay is a shorter piece of writing than a research paper or thesis.

    In most cases, your assignment will include clear guidelines on the number of words or pages you are expected to write. Often this will be a range rather than an exact number (for example, 2500–3000 words, or 10–12 pages). If you’re not sure, always check with your instructor.

    In this article you’ll find some general guidelines for the length of different types of essay. But keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity – focus on making a strong argument or analysis, not on hitting a specific word count.

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    How to write a paragraph

    Every piece of academic writing is structured by paragraphs and headings. The number, length and order of your paragraphs will depend on what you’re writing – but each paragraph must be:

    • Unified: all the sentences relate to one central point or idea.
    • Coherent: the sentences are logically organized and clearly connected.
    • Relevant: the paragraph supports the overall theme and purpose of the paper.

    To walk you through the process of writing strong paragraphs, we’ll use an example from our interactive essay about the history of the Braille reading system. With each step, we will gradually build up the structure of a paragraph.

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    How to write a conclusion paragraph

    The conclusion is the final paragraph of your essay. A strong conclusion aims to:

    • Tie together the essay’s main points
    • Show why your argument matters
    • Leave the reader with a strong impression

    Your conclusion should give a sense of closure and completion to your argument, but also show what new questions or possibilities it has opened up.

    This conclusion is taken from our annotated essay example, which discusses the history of the Braille system. Hover over each part to see why it’s effective.

    Essay conclusion example

    Braille paved the way for dramatic cultural changes in the way blind people were treated and the opportunities available to them. Louis Braille’s innovation was to reimagine existing reading systems from a blind perspective, and the success of this invention required sighted teachers to adapt to their students’ reality instead of the other way around. In this sense, Braille helped drive broader social changes in the status of blindness. New accessibility tools provide practical advantages to those who need them, but they can also change the perspectives and attitudes of those who do not.

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    How to write topic sentences

    Every paragraph in your paper needs a topic sentence. The topic sentence expresses what the paragraph is about. It should include two key things:

    • The topic of the paragraph
    • The central point of the paragraph.

    After the topic sentence, you expand on the point with evidence and examples.

    To build a well-structured argument, you can also use your topic sentences to transition smoothly between paragraphs and show the connections between your points.

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    How to write a thesis statement

    A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay. It usually comes near the end of your introduction.

    Your thesis will look a bit different depending on the type of essay you’re writing. But the thesis statement should always clearly state the main idea you want to get across. Everything else in your essay should relate back to this idea.

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