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Literature Review: Organizing a literature review

Information on how to write a literature review.

Organizational Methods for a Literature Review

  • Thematic – This organizes your review into different themes, theoretical concepts or topics that you have determined are helpful to others in understanding your research question.  Using this method, you would determine what are the important themes surrounding your research topic and evaluate sources that address these themes.  For example, if your topic is smoke-free policies in U.S. prisons, you might have the following sections in your literature review: types of smoke-free policies in place, impact of policies on inmate health, implementation of policies, compliance with policies, inmate smoking after release and finally sorting through all of the above and finding the gaps in the knowledge on which you will base your research.  Thematic organization could also mean sorting your review by the various opinions or voices on your research question.  Using this method, you could write about the sources from those on one side of an issue, then how the other side portrays the issue and finally look at sources that approach the issue completely differently than the other two.

              An example of a thematic literature review: 

Schenk, A.M. & Fremouw, W.J. (2012). Individual characteristics related to prison violence: A critical review of the literature.  Aggression and Violent Behavior 17(5), 430-442. Retrieved from:

  • Chronological – You might write about the sources in the order in which they were published or examine sources on the topic from different time periods and follow the evolution of what was written on the topic over time. 

              An example of a chronological literature review:

Ubelaker, D.H. & Zarenko, B.A. (2012). Can handedness be determined from skeletal remains? A chronological review of the literature. Journal of Forensic Sciences 57(6), 1421-1426. Retrieved from:

  • Methodological – The focus on a review organized this way is not so much on what the researchers, or articles, are saying about the topic, but rather the methods they use in doing their research. 

              An example of a methodological literature review:

Singh, A., Uijtdewilligen, L., Twisk, J.W.R., van Mechelen, W., & Chinapaw, M.J.M. (2012). Physical activity and performance at school. Archives of Peddiatrics and Adolescent Medcine, 166(1), 49–55. Retrieved from:

Purpose of a Literature Review