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Writing a Literature Review: Read and Analyse the Literature

Help guide to literature review writing


Read the studies you have found

Gathering and reading information to write your literature review is a process that can take a while - but keep the end goal in sight.

  • Critically read each source, look for the arguments presented rather than for facts.
  • Take notes as you read and start to organise your review around themes and ideas.
  • Consider using a table, matrix or concept map to identify how the different sources relate to each other.
  • TIP: Read your papers in chronological order, from the earliest publication to the most recent. This will allow you to see how previous research influences and forms the foundation for contemporary research. It will also help you to identify where and when 'breakthroughs' have occurred in the research, and importantly where the gaps are in the research.

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Critical analysis of the studies

Critical analysis is a way or examining the research to assess its validity and relevance. It is an essential step in making sense of the research evidence.

Ask the following questions:

  • What are the key terms and concepts?
  • How relevant is this article to my specific topic?
  • What are the major relationships, trends and patterns?
  • How has the author structured the arguments?
  • How authoritative and credible is this source?
  • What are the differences and similarities between the sources?
  • Are there any gaps in the literature that require further study?

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Using a Review Matrix

Once you have read and critically appraised your articles, using a review matrix can help you to compare and contrast research, note important information or issues, and track ideas or research over time. There are many methods and matrices to help you synthesize research. You can develop your own matrix or choose from the many examples found online. Any matrix though, should respond to your research area and the types of research you are reviewing. Below are two common examples.

Example 1: The narrative matrix below might help with the synthesis of quantitative studies. 


Aim of Study

Type of study /


Sample Size /







Example 2: Thematic Literature Review Matrix

The thematic matrix is useful when analyzing qualitative articles as it allows you to extract themes or patterns from the research. 

Theme Reference Aims Methods Context Results / Conclusions Strengths/ Limitations Implications




Critical Appraisal Checklists