Types of Literature Reviews

We discuss the following topics on this page:

We also provide the following activities:

The previous page provided an introduction to literature reviews and guidelines for determining the scope and purpose of your review. Next, we take a look at the different types of literature reviews and why a researcher might select one type over another.

Strategies for Getting Started

A literature review helps your reader understand the relationship of your research to the scholarly work of others. Not all humanities research projects contain literature reviews, but many do. Keep in mind that the type of literature review you choose (see list below) pertains to the secondary research – other scholarly sources – and not to the primary literary work. For instance, an argumentative literature review presents and takes sides in scholarly arguments about the literary work. It makes arguments about other scholars’ work. It does not necessarily involve a claim that the literary work is itself making an argument. Likewise, a chronological literature review presents the secondary literature in chronological order.

If your research involves two or more subject areas, such as psychology and genre studies, you may need to create multiple literature reviews, one for each subject area. If the subject areas overlap with each other significantly (i.e., Marxism and Cultural Studies), you may combine them. Your literature review need not include everything about the subject area – you would need to write a book to cover a single theory – but only those concepts and methods that are most relevant to your research question.


Factors to Consider When Developing Your Literature Review

  • Establish Criteria: We discussed the importance of defining the purpose and scope of your review on the previous page, but it’s worth reviewing here as well. This step will help you establish important criteria and focus your searching. For example, how many sources will you need? What types of sources (primary, secondary, statistics, media)? Is currency important? Do you know who the prominent authors or theorists are in your subject area? Take some time to map out these or other important factors before you begin searching journals and databases.
  • Consider Your Audience: Unlike a work cited page or an annotated bibliography, both of which are lists of sources, a literature review is essayistic and can be considered a precursor to your final paper. therefore, it should be written in your own voice, and it should be geared toward a specific audience. Considering audience during this early stage will help focus your final paper as well.
  • Find Models: We’ll discuss the different types of literature reviews and how to locate examples in the section below. However, even if you’re undecided about what type of review will work best for you, you may want to review some example literature reviews to get a sense of what they look like before you begin your own.

Types of Literature Reviews

Maria J. Grant and Andrew Booth’s “A Typology of Reviews” identifies 14 distinct types of literature reviews. Further, the UCLA library created a chart to complement the article and for easy comparison of those 14 types of reviews. This section provides a brief summary of the most common literature reviews. For a more complete analysis, please see the full article and the chart.

To choose the most appropriate structure, put yourself in your reader’s shoes and think through their need for information. The literature review is about providing context for your contribution. How much context do people need? Keep it to the minimum necessary. These structures are not meant to be straightjackets but tools to help you organize your research. If you find that the tool is working, then keep using it. If not, switch tools or modify the one you are using. Keep in mind that the types of literature reviews are just different ways of organizing information. So, you can discuss literary trends without organizing your review of secondary literature by trend. It could be organized by theory or theme, for examples. In our literature reviews, we are not recounting other scholars’ arguments at length but merely providing key concepts so we can summarize the discussion so far and position our own claims.


Types of Reviews

  • Traditional or narrative reviews: This approach will generate a comprehensive, critical analysis of the published research on your topic. However, rather than merely compiling as many sources as possible, use this approach to establish a theoretical framework for your paper, establish trends, and identify gaps in the research. This process should bring your research question into clearer focus and help define a thesis that you will argue for in your paper. This is perhaps the most common and general type of literature review. The examples listed below are all designed to serve a more specific purpose.
  • Argumentative: The purpose of an argumentative literature review is to select sources for the purpose of supporting or refuting a specific claim. While this type of review can help the author make a strong case for or against an issue, they can also be prone to claims of bias.
  • Chronological: A chronological review is used when the author wants to demonstrate the progression of how a theory, methodology, or issue has progressed over time. This method is most effective when there is a clear chronological path to the research about a specific historical event or trend as opposed to a more recursive theoretical concept.
  • By trend: This is similar to the chronological approach except it focuses on clearly-defined trends rather than date ranges. This would be most appropriate if you want to illustrate changing perspectives or attitudes about a given issue when specific date ranges are less important than the ebb and flow of the trend.
  • Thematic: In this type of literature review, the author will select specific themes that he or she feels are important to understanding a larger topic or concept. Then, the author will organize the sources around those themes, which are often based on relevance or importance. The value of this method is that the process of organizing the review by theme is similar to constructing an argument. This can help the author see how resources connect to each other and determine how as well as why specific sources support their thesis.
  • Theoretical: The goal of this type of review is to examine how theory has shaped the research on a given topic. It establishes existing theoretical models, their connections, and how extensively they have been developed in the published research. For example, Jada applied critical race theory to her analysis of Sonny’s Blues, but she might also consider conducting a more comprehensive review of other theoretical frameworks such as feminism, Marxism, or postmodernism. Doing so could provide insight into alternate readings, and help her identify theoretical gaps such as unexplored or under-developed approaches to Baldwin’s work.
  • Methodological: The approach focuses on the various methods used by researchers in a specific area rather than an analysis of their findings. In this case, you would create a framework of approaches to data collection related to your topic or research question. This is perhaps more common in education or the social and hard sciences where published research often includes a methods section, but it is sometimes appropriate for the digital humanities as well.
  • Scoping: The aim of a scoping review is to provide a comprehensive overview or map of the published research or evidence related to a research question. This might be considered a prelude to a systematic review that would take the scoping review one step further toward answering a clearly defined research question. See below for more details.
  • Systematic: The systematic review is most appropriate when you have a clearly-defined research question and have established criteria for the types of sources you need. In this way, the systematic review is less exploratory than other types of reviews. Rather, it is comprehensive, strategic, and focused on answering a specific research question. For this reason, the systematic review is more common in the health and social sciences, where comprehensiveness is more important than interpretation, than the humanities.
  • Meta-analysis: Does your research deal with statistics or large amounts of data? If so, then a meta-analysis might be best for you. rather than providing a critical review, the meta-analysis will summarize and synthesize the results of numerous studies that involve statistics or data to provide a more comprehensive picture than would be possible from just one study.

You don’t need to keep strictly to one type. Scholars often combine features from various types of literature reviews.

Composition Guidelines

When writing your literature review, please follow these pointers:

  • Conduct systematic searches
  • Use Evidence
  • Be Selective
  • Use Quotes Sparingly
  • Summarize & Synthesize
  • Use Caution when Paraphrasing
  • Use Your Own Voice

How to Locate Reviews by Discipline

Literature reviews can be published as part of a scholarly article, often after the introduction and sometimes with a header, but they can also be published as a standalone essay. To find examples of what reviews look like in your discipline, choose an appropriate subject database (such as MLA for literary criticism) and conduct a keyword search with the term “Literature Review” added in quotes:

Lit review_1.PNG

This search yields four results:

literature review_2.PNG

Not only do these examples demonstrate how to structure different types of literature reviews, but some offer insights into trends and directions for future research. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at some reading strategies to help guide you through this process.

Types of Literature Reviews [Refresher]

Take this quiz to check your comprehension of this section.
If you are using an offline version of this text, access the quiz for this section via the QR code.


  1. What types of literature review will you be using for your paper? Why did you make this selection over others? If you haven’t made a selection yet, which types are you considering?
  2. What specific challenges do you face in following a literature review structure?
  3. If there are any elements of your assignment that need clarification, please list them.
  4. What was the most important lesson you learned from this page? What point was confusing or difficult to understand?


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Strategies for Conducting Literary Research, 2e Copyright © 2021 by Barry Mauer & John Venecek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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