How to Do an Effective Literature Search in 5 Steps

Table of Contents

This article is a quick guide to conducting a literature search. Need help? Hire a literature search expert on Kolabtree. Choose from PhD-qualified researchers in over 2,500 subjects. 

A literature search involves searching and compiling all the literature (books, journals, and more) available on a specific topic. It is carried out to identify knowledge gaps in a particular topic, which will then guide further research in that topic.  It is also carried out to provide background in a study, support methodologies, provide context or comparisons for discussions, and more. One of the most important reasons to do a literature search is to have enough information to formulate a valid research question. A literature search is typically carried out by scientific researchers, academics, R&D personnel of large businesses and organizations, entrepreneurs, healthcare professionals (also called a systematic review ) and by students who have to write a thesis/dissertation (also called a literature review ).

Literature Search: Process Flow  

  • Develop a research question in a specific subject area
  • Make a list of relevant databases and texts you will search
  • Make a list of relevant keywords and phrases
  • Start searching and make notes from each database to keep track of your search
  • Review the literature and compile all the results into a report
  • Revise your original research question if necessary

Literature can be compiled from a variety of sources. A primary source is published, peer-reviewed research available in the form of books and journals. Online databases provide access to published works available on the web. Some examples are Pubmed, which has more than 27 million citations for biomedical literature, PsycINFO has more than 3 million records on psychology topics and Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) has over 1.5 million records of literature related to education research.

How can you make your literature search more effective?

A literature search can be a daunting, tiring and time-consuming task. Since this activity forms the foundation for future research, it is essential for it to be absolutely comprehensive and accurate. Errors in a literature search could mean loss of precious time, resources and energy. You could be carrying out research which has already been done before, using redundant, outdated methodologies, or designing experiments that have shown to be ineffective in the past. 

1. Develop a Well-Defined Question

Starting off a literature review without an clear and focused research question will mean that you will dig up a lot of literature not relevant to what you actually want. So, develop a research question that is:

  • Not too broad and not too narrow in scope
  • Complex enough to allow for research and analysis

2. Choose the Right Keywords

Overlooking the importance of using the right keywords and phrases relevant to the topic means that you could miss important information due to a weak search query.

  • Read papers from different publications to familiarize yourself with the writing style and keywords.
  • Build a concept map of related keywords and phrases that might be related to your research (for example, the related keywords to ‘literature search’ are ‘secondary research’ and ‘systematic review’)

3. Do Not Ignore Non-obvious Sources

Many researchers tend to do a literature search taking into account published literature: journals and books. However, there are other sources that are invaluable, but often overlooked. Look into conference proceedings, ongoing research at university labs (mentioned on university websites), online discussion forums, databases of high-quality pre-print material, and postdoctoral theses.  Examples of non-obvious sources for topic-specific literature:

ClinicalTrials.gov for clinical trial registries, TRIP database for evidence-based clinical information, Open Grey for grey literature SAE Mobilus for technical papers & specifications related to mobility engineering PAIS Index for issues covered in public debate Virtual Health Library for health research in South America arXiv for pre-print material in math, physics , astronomy, and related fields

4. Evaluate Literature for Quality

You’ve got all the literature in place, but how do you know if it’s reliable? Since you’re going to be building your research on this information you need to have some quality control and make sure that sources are credible. Evaluate the credibility of the source by asking these questions:

  • Where was the research published?
  • When was it published?
  • Has it been peer-reviewed?
  • Does the author have good credentials?
  • Is the article free from bias?

A comprehensive list is available here .

5. Redefine Your Question

Now that the literature search is completely, you might be raring to go. But wait! It’s not over yet. At the end of your search, you have to go back to square one: the research question. Is it still relevant and valid? Does it have to be revised?

While doing the literature search, make notes from the “Suggestions for Future Work” in the papers you find relevant and interesting. This will help you formulate your research question better and make the focus of your research clearer.

Outsourcing Your Literature Search

Academics, who are usually already pressed for time, often end up spending weeks just doing a literature search before they can get started on their research. Large companies have in-house scientists who can take on the painstaking task. However, many organizations cannot afford in-house, full-time experts.

Outsourcing your literature search to a subject area expert or experienced researcher can help you save time and energy. Kolabtree has a global team of freelance scientists and academics from the likes of MIT, Cambridge, Oxford and Stanford, who can offer a  literature search service  and can help you prepare customized reports. Leave the task of combing through the literature to a specialist, while you focus on what’s most important to you: your research!

——- Need help with your research or business project? Hire a freelance scientist  on Kolabtree.

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About Author

Ramya Sriram manages digital content and communications at Kolabtree (kolabtree.com), the world's largest freelancing platform for scientists. She has over a decade of experience in publishing, advertising and digital content creation.

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Further help

Student taking notes.

Your dissertation or research project will almost certainly require a search for literature on your topic, whether to identify selected research, to undertake a literature review or inform a full systematic review. Literature searches require planning, careful thought about what it is you wish to find out and a robust strategy to ensure you find relevant material.

On this page:

Planning your search.

  • Search techniques and developing your search strategy

Literature reviews

Systematic reviews.

Time spent carefully planning your search can save valuable time later on and lead to more relevant results and a more robust search strategy. You should consider the following:

  • Analysing your topic and understanding your research question: Carry out a scoping search to help understand your topic and to help define your question more clearly.
  • What are the key concepts in your search?
  • What terms might be used to describe those concepts? Consider synonyms and alternative spellings.
  • If your question relates to health or clinical medicine, you might like to use PICO (Population, Intervention, Comparison and Outcomes) to analyse your question:
  • Combine your concept terms together using the correct operators , such as AND and OR.

See our Library Skills Essentials guide for support materials and guidance for planning your search, including understanding and defining your topic, and defining search terms.

Search techniques and developing a search strategy

Make sure you are confident about using essential search techniques,  including combining search terms, phrase searching and truncation. These will help you find relevant results on your topic. See our guide to search techniques:

  • Search techniques

When carrying out a literature search to inform a dissertation or extended piece of research, you will need to think carefully about your search strategy. Have a look at our tutorials and videos to help you develop your literature searching skills:

  • Search skills for research: tutorials and videos

When you carry out a literature search you may need to search multiple resources (see  Sources and Resources ). Your search strategy will need to be adjusted depending on the resource you are using. For some resources, a simple search will be sufficient, whereas for more complex resources with more content, you may need to develop a sophisticated search strategy, ensuring you use the correct search techniques for that resource. See our guides to selected individual resources for further guidance.

  • Search guides to individual resources: bibliographic databases
  • What is a literature review?
  • Why are literature reviews important?

We also provide support for developing advanced search strategies to ensure comprehensive literature retrieval, including searching for systematic reviews. See our guide to Searching for Systematic Reviews.

  • Systematic reviews This guide provides information on systematic review processes and support available from UCL Library Services.

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Get help and advice with literature searching

  • You can email your librarian direct to ask for advice on your search.
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Where to search when doing a literature review.

  • Find examples of literature reviews
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Aim to be as comprehensive as possible when conducting a literature review. Knowing exactly where to search for information is important.

Work through the steps to find out the best databases to search for information on your research topic.

1. Start with research databases

Scopus and Web of Science are good databases to start with for any research topic and literature review.

  • Scopus Scopus is a large multidisciplinary database covering published material in the humanities and sciences. It also provides citation analysis of authors and subject areas. Searching Scopus tutorial - Includes access to Scival via expanded top menu (Elsevier personal registration required).
  • Web of Science - Core Collection The leading citation index' of scholarly literature, chemical reactions and author information. Includes citation databases: Sciences Expanded (1965+), Social Sciences (1965+), Arts & Humanities (1975+). Conference Proceedings (1990+), Emerging Sources Citation (2005+) , Current Chemical Reactions (1985+) and Index Chemicus (1993+) Access InCites benchmarking & analytics tools via the menu bar at the top of the screen.

2. Focus your search with specific databases

Select two or three discipline/specialist databases to conduct your search for comprehensive results.

Our subject guides will help you find databases relevant to major subject areas in each discipline and specific materials relevant to your research.

  • Discipline subject guides
  • News sources

3. Find books, theses and more

If you're looking for a specific medium (book, thesis, journal, etc.) for your research, try the following:

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  • Finding Theses Help finding theses at UOW, Australia and around the world and how to access them
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  • Next: Grey literature
  • Last Updated: Mar 13, 2024 8:37 AM
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Writing a Thesis

Writing thesis in literature.

how to find literature for thesis

“God Speed” by Edmund Leighton, 1900

Sample Titles of Recent Theses in Literature

how to find literature for thesis

“Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves” by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1973

What does a thesis do for me?

Thesis writers can be assured that they have been well prepared for graduate study, and can attest to that fact in their applications and interviews. They have also gained skills that will help them in any workplace. The intensive, self-motivated focus on one topic can be (at times) frustrating, overwhelming, and deeply gratifying: the rewards are many, and most students find their love of literature strengthened through their own efforts and dedication, as well as through the opportunity to work one-on-one with faculty scholars. The time and commitment involved in the process of writing a thesis may or may not exceed the credit hours officially accorded, but the rewards are great. This is a serious undertaking and assumes that the thesis candidate is a responsible adult, able to make deadlines and keep to them without external prodding, and ready to become a literary scholar with a mind of her own.

What do I do for my thesis?

how to find literature for thesis

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Fall Semester: Preparatory Work

If they have not done so in the the Spring of the junior year, thesis candidates should consult with faculty prior to Registration Day to determine who would be an appropriate advisor. The thesis will eventually be read and evaluated by three faculty members: the advisor my suggest second and third readers, or may leave the decision to the student. Developing an argument takes time, but candidates should begin with a clear set of interests in mind, and ideally with background reading underway. Students may choose to focus on a particular author or literary text, or to connect several authors and texts through attention to a shared thematic or formal pattern.

Regular Supervision and Deadlines

how to find literature for thesis

“Beloved” by Joe Morse, 2015

Spring Semester: 12-Unit Thesis

During the spring semester, the thesis candidate signs up for the 12-unit Thesis and devotes substantial energy to expanding, completing, and revising the work. The student should continue to meet on a regular basis with the advisor, and should also be sharing draft chapters with the second and third readers as soon as possible. The thesis process involves extensive revision as well as writing, and students need to anticipate that as the semester proceeds their readers will have an increasing number of competing demands on their time from other classes: chapters may not be returned with comments and recommendations for revision until some time after being submitted, and thesis writers need to plan accordingly. A complete first draft should be submitted by the end of spring break or the beginning of April, depending on the academic calendar and the advisor’s schedule. This ensures adequate time for commentary and extensive final revision before the official Institute deadline for undergraduate theses (usually at the end of the penultimate week of classes, and listed on the official Academic Calendar).

After Completion

how to find literature for thesis

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Enago Academy

Finding Relevant Scholarly Research for Literature Review: How can we be systematic?

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On an average, it takes 15 clicks for a researcher to find an article (which may or may not be related to their research topic) online. This time is not productive because it does not help them gain any knowledge and it could potentially be spent doing something more vital in fostering research and development. Moreover, as most researchers rely on two to three databases to find information for their literature review , the time to find relevant scholarly research data also increases.

Table of Contents

Navigating Through Multiple Scholarly Databases—Is it even necessary?

The Internet has revolutionized the way we access information. Websites and online resources within and outside of academic bibliography are significant resources of literature. However, the challenge in searching and managing the results is undeniable.

Considering the exponential growth in scholarly research data and literature, finding relevant information and reporting your research sooner is imperative. While Open Science has been a positive reform of information access, not all data is available at a click, let alone the relevant one. Researchers fear the possibility of missing out on critical information related to their research topic or accidentally committing plagiarism. Hence, they spend time in toggling through multiple scholarly databases.

In this process of searching for literature on multiple databases, researchers tend to download irrelevant information too. Furthermore, the probability of finding similar resources on multiple databases is higher if the resource is on an Open Access platform. These downloaded papers not only occupy the space in reference managers but also make researchers spend a lot of time deciding whether the paper is worth reading or not.

5 Major Challenges Faced on Multiple Scholarly Databases—How to overcome them?

Finding scholarly research data involves navigating through institutional login pages, subscriptions, and paywalls. Apart from the time, effort, and money spent there are several other challenges that researchers encounter while searching literature on multiple scholarly databases.

Here we discuss 5 major challenges faced by researchers while using multiple scholarly databases:

1. Identifying and Deciding the Resources to Search

The Internet provides information in numerous formats, viz. journal articles, preprints, video recordings, podcasts, infographics, conference proceedings, etc. This wide pool of knowledge gets deeper with advances in scholarly research and literature. Hence, while finding research data on multiple scholarly databases in multiple formats, it becomes difficult to identify and decide the resources to download based on their relevance to the research topic. However, these resources can be easily traced if they all are on a single platform.

2. Search or Navigate Resources Correctly

Researchers use keywords and questions to find scholarly data related to their topic of interest. Databases search for the exact words and phrases. Hence, if researchers use a different word or a synonym that describes the concept, the search results are not relevant. If a single database with optimized keywords is used to access billions of scholarly resources, it not only avoids information overload but also allows navigation of relevant information.

3. Assessing Obtained Search Results

Information overload makes it difficult for researchers to assess every discovered resource. One cannot decide the relevancy of search results based on the research paper ’s title. And reading all sections of all papers—abstract, introduction, results, and/or conclusion—will be extremely time consuming. Furthermore, spending time reading these sections of papers to later find out that it’s not related to your research topic will not help anyone. So, what if there was a tool that could search results beyond keywords using research ideas, questions, etc., and also could summarize the key aspects of each downloaded resource? Definitely something to ponder about.

4. Deciding Which Literature to Select and Cite

Scientists are often overwhelmed with the scholarly research data they find online. It is a never-ending task to decide which literature to select and cite. Thus, it is essential to download only relevant data and assess them based on their relevance to the research topic. Furthermore, citing the literature accurately by following journal-specific guidelines and writing style guides will avoid accidental plagiarism. Such cumbersome tasks can be handled with accuracy using an AI-based tool particularly designed to make academic research and publishing easier.

5. Retrieving Relevant Literature in an Accessible and Editable Format

The inability of some software to save, process, and/or retrieve data in all formats is displeasing in this age of digitization. Hence, scientists prefer software that allows accessing, downloading, managing, and editing research data files in all formats.

How to Find Scholarly Research Data with a Systematic Approach? – 7 simple steps

Given the amount of intelligence on the internet, it is only wise to resort to a reliable system. One which is smart, efficient, precise, accessible, and affordable to integrate the scattered information, help researchers through every step of research reporting and publishing, and save time, effort, and money.

A simple 7-step systematic approach to find relevant scholarly research data

  • Search literature based on research ideas, keywords, conference talks, author details, etc.
  • Assess the found resources based on their key aspects and findings.
  • Search, save, manage, read, and annotate relevant literature on a single platform.
  • Use easily accessible and editable formats.
  • Cite the literature to avoid plagiarism.
  • Follow journal guidelines and format the research paper.
  • Connect with co-authors and share your work with them for insights and edits.

An extensive and accurate literature search is the key to performing, reporting, and publishing authentic research. A systematic single-platform search database provides a much better comprehension of insights of the research topic. It helps draw comparisons faster as all results are saved and managed in one place! Moreover, it helps researchers to stimulate the interpretation of ideas, analyze shortcomings, and recognize opportunities of future research.

With advances in technology, this process can be simplified without compromising the quality of the final product. As Artificial Intelligence takes over other realms of society, it’s about time researchers leverage these advances to further streamline research publishing.

What are your ways of literature search? How many databases do you have to use simultaneously? Wouldn’t you want to have all your work on one platform without remembering several login IDs and passwords? This sounds like the future of publishing! What do you think?

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How to Make a Literature Review in Research (RRL Example)

how to find literature for thesis

What is an RRL in a research paper?

A relevant review of the literature (RRL) is an objective, concise, critical summary of published research literature relevant to a topic being researched in an article. In an RRL, you discuss knowledge and findings from existing literature relevant to your study topic. If there are conflicts or gaps in existing literature, you can also discuss these in your review, as well as how you will confront these missing elements or resolve these issues in your study.

To complete an RRL, you first need to collect relevant literature; this can include online and offline sources. Save all of your applicable resources as you will need to include them in your paper. When looking through these sources, take notes and identify concepts of each source to describe in the review of the literature.

A good RRL does NOT:

A literature review does not simply reference and list all of the material you have cited in your paper.

  • Presenting material that is not directly relevant to your study will distract and frustrate the reader and make them lose sight of the purpose of your study.
  • Starting a literature review with “A number of scholars have studied the relationship between X and Y” and simply listing who has studied the topic and what each scholar concluded is not going to strengthen your paper.

A good RRL DOES:

  • Present a brief typology that orders articles and books into groups to help readers focus on unresolved debates, inconsistencies, tensions, and new questions about a research topic.
  • Summarize the most relevant and important aspects of the scientific literature related to your area of research
  • Synthesize what has been done in this area of research and by whom, highlight what previous research indicates about a topic, and identify potential gaps and areas of disagreement in the field
  • Give the reader an understanding of the background of the field and show which studies are important—and highlight errors in previous studies

How long is a review of the literature for a research paper?

The length of a review of the literature depends on its purpose and target readership and can vary significantly in scope and depth. In a dissertation, thesis, or standalone review of literature, it is usually a full chapter of the text (at least 20 pages). Whereas, a standard research article or school assignment literature review section could only be a few paragraphs in the Introduction section .

Building Your Literature Review Bookshelf

One way to conceive of a literature review is to think about writing it as you would build a bookshelf. You don’t need to cut each piece by yourself from scratch. Rather, you can take the pieces that other researchers have cut out and put them together to build a framework on which to hang your own “books”—that is, your own study methods, results, and conclusions.

literature review bookshelf

What Makes a Good Literature Review?

The contents of a literature review (RRL) are determined by many factors, including its precise purpose in the article, the degree of consensus with a given theory or tension between competing theories, the length of the article, the number of previous studies existing in the given field, etc. The following are some of the most important elements that a literature review provides.

Historical background for your research

Analyze what has been written about your field of research to highlight what is new and significant in your study—or how the analysis itself contributes to the understanding of this field, even in a small way. Providing a historical background also demonstrates to other researchers and journal editors your competency in discussing theoretical concepts. You should also make sure to understand how to paraphrase scientific literature to avoid plagiarism in your work.

The current context of your research

Discuss central (or peripheral) questions, issues, and debates in the field. Because a field is constantly being updated by new work, you can show where your research fits into this context and explain developments and trends in research.

A discussion of relevant theories and concepts

Theories and concepts should provide the foundation for your research. For example, if you are researching the relationship between ecological environments and human populations, provide models and theories that focus on specific aspects of this connection to contextualize your study. If your study asks a question concerning sustainability, mention a theory or model that underpins this concept. If it concerns invasive species, choose material that is focused in this direction.

Definitions of relevant terminology

In the natural sciences, the meaning of terms is relatively straightforward and consistent. But if you present a term that is obscure or context-specific, you should define the meaning of the term in the Introduction section (if you are introducing a study) or in the summary of the literature being reviewed.

Description of related relevant research

Include a description of related research that shows how your work expands or challenges earlier studies or fills in gaps in previous work. You can use your literature review as evidence of what works, what doesn’t, and what is missing in the field.

Supporting evidence for a practical problem or issue your research is addressing that demonstrates its importance: Referencing related research establishes your area of research as reputable and shows you are building upon previous work that other researchers have deemed significant.

Types of Literature Reviews

Literature reviews can differ in structure, length, amount, and breadth of content included. They can range from selective (a very narrow area of research or only a single work) to comprehensive (a larger amount or range of works). They can also be part of a larger work or stand on their own.

types of literature reviews

  • A course assignment is an example of a selective, stand-alone work. It focuses on a small segment of the literature on a topic and makes up an entire work on its own.
  • The literature review in a dissertation or thesis is both comprehensive and helps make up a larger work.
  • A majority of journal articles start with a selective literature review to provide context for the research reported in the study; such a literature review is usually included in the Introduction section (but it can also follow the presentation of the results in the Discussion section ).
  • Some literature reviews are both comprehensive and stand as a separate work—in this case, the entire article analyzes the literature on a given topic.

Literature Reviews Found in Academic Journals

The two types of literature reviews commonly found in journals are those introducing research articles (studies and surveys) and stand-alone literature analyses. They can differ in their scope, length, and specific purpose.

Literature reviews introducing research articles

The literature review found at the beginning of a journal article is used to introduce research related to the specific study and is found in the Introduction section, usually near the end. It is shorter than a stand-alone review because it must be limited to very specific studies and theories that are directly relevant to the current study. Its purpose is to set research precedence and provide support for the study’s theory, methods, results, and/or conclusions. Not all research articles contain an explicit review of the literature, but most do, whether it is a discrete section or indistinguishable from the rest of the Introduction.

How to structure a literature review for an article

When writing a literature review as part of an introduction to a study, simply follow the structure of the Introduction and move from the general to the specific—presenting the broadest background information about a topic first and then moving to specific studies that support your rationale , finally leading to your hypothesis statement. Such a literature review is often indistinguishable from the Introduction itself—the literature is INTRODUCING the background and defining the gaps your study aims to fill.

The stand-alone literature review

The literature review published as a stand-alone article presents and analyzes as many of the important publications in an area of study as possible to provide background information and context for a current area of research or a study. Stand-alone reviews are an excellent resource for researchers when they are first searching for the most relevant information on an area of study.

Such literature reviews are generally a bit broader in scope and can extend further back in time. This means that sometimes a scientific literature review can be highly theoretical, in addition to focusing on specific methods and outcomes of previous studies. In addition, all sections of such a “review article” refer to existing literature rather than describing the results of the authors’ own study.

In addition, this type of literature review is usually much longer than the literature review introducing a study. At the end of the review follows a conclusion that once again explicitly ties all of the cited works together to show how this analysis is itself a contribution to the literature. While not absolutely necessary, such articles often include the terms “Literature Review” or “Review of the Literature” in the title. Whether or not that is necessary or appropriate can also depend on the specific author instructions of the target journal. Have a look at this article for more input on how to compile a stand-alone review article that is insightful and helpful for other researchers in your field.

literature review examples

How to Write a Literature Review in 6 Steps

So how do authors turn a network of articles into a coherent review of relevant literature?

Writing a literature review is not usually a linear process—authors often go back and check the literature while reformulating their ideas or making adjustments to their study. Sometimes new findings are published before a study is completed and need to be incorporated into the current work. This also means you will not be writing the literature review at any one time, but constantly working on it before, during, and after your study is complete.

Here are some steps that will help you begin and follow through on your literature review.

Step 1: Choose a topic to write about—focus on and explore this topic.

Choose a topic that you are familiar with and highly interested in analyzing; a topic your intended readers and researchers will find interesting and useful; and a topic that is current, well-established in the field, and about which there has been sufficient research conducted for a review. This will help you find the “sweet spot” for what to focus on.

Step 2: Research and collect all the scholarly information on the topic that might be pertinent to your study.

This includes scholarly articles, books, conventions, conferences, dissertations, and theses—these and any other academic work related to your area of study is called “the literature.”

Step 3: Analyze the network of information that extends or responds to the major works in your area; select the material that is most useful.

Use thought maps and charts to identify intersections in the research and to outline important categories; select the material that will be most useful to your review.

Step 4: Describe and summarize each article—provide the essential information of the article that pertains to your study.

Determine 2-3 important concepts (depending on the length of your article) that are discussed in the literature; take notes about all of the important aspects of this study relevant to the topic being reviewed.

For example, in a given study, perhaps some of the main concepts are X, Y, and Z. Note these concepts and then write a brief summary about how the article incorporates them. In reviews that introduce a study, these can be relatively short. In stand-alone reviews, there may be significantly more texts and more concepts.

Step 5: Demonstrate how these concepts in the literature relate to what you discovered in your study or how the literature connects the concepts or topics being discussed.

In a literature review intro for an article, this information might include a summary of the results or methods of previous studies that correspond to and/or confirm those sections in your own study. For a stand-alone literature review, this may mean highlighting the concepts in each article and showing how they strengthen a hypothesis or show a pattern.

Discuss unaddressed issues in previous studies. These studies that are missing something you address are important to include in your literature review. In addition, those works whose theories and conclusions directly support your findings will be valuable to review here.

Step 6: Identify relationships in the literature and develop and connect your own ideas to them.

This is essentially the same as step 5 but focused on the connections between the literature and the current study or guiding concepts or arguments of the paper, not only on the connections between the works themselves.

Your hypothesis, argument, or guiding concept is the “golden thread” that will ultimately tie the works together and provide readers with specific insights they didn’t have before reading your literature review. Make sure you know where to put the research question , hypothesis, or statement of the problem in your research paper so that you guide your readers logically and naturally from your introduction of earlier work and evidence to the conclusions you want them to draw from the bigger picture.

Your literature review will not only cover publications on your topics but will include your own ideas and contributions. By following these steps you will be telling the specific story that sets the background and shows the significance of your research and you can turn a network of related works into a focused review of the literature.

Literature Review (RRL) Examples

Because creating sample literature reviews would take too long and not properly capture the nuances and detailed information needed for a good review, we have included some links to different types of literature reviews below. You can find links to more literature reviews in these categories by visiting the TUS Library’s website . Sample literature reviews as part of an article, dissertation, or thesis:

  • Critical Thinking and Transferability: A Review of the Literature (Gwendolyn Reece)
  • Building Customer Loyalty: A Customer Experience Based Approach in a Tourism Context (Martina Donnelly)

Sample stand-alone literature reviews

  • Literature Review on Attitudes towards Disability (National Disability Authority)
  • The Effects of Communication Styles on Marital Satisfaction (Hannah Yager)

Additional Literature Review Format Guidelines

In addition to the content guidelines above, authors also need to check which style guidelines to use ( APA , Chicago, MLA, etc.) and what specific rules the target journal might have for how to structure such articles or how many studies to include—such information can usually be found on the journals’ “Guide for Authors” pages. Additionally, use one of the four Wordvice citation generators below, choosing the citation style needed for your paper:

Wordvice Writing and Academic Editing Resources

Finally, after you have finished drafting your literature review, be sure to receive professional proofreading services , including paper editing for your academic work. A competent proofreader who understands academic writing conventions and the specific style guides used by academic journals will ensure that your paper is ready for publication in your target journal.

See our academic resources for further advice on references in your paper , how to write an abstract , how to write a research paper title, how to impress the editor of your target journal with a perfect cover letter , and dozens of other research writing and publication topics.

Thesis Helpers

how to find literature for thesis

Find the best tips and advice to improve your writing. Or, have a top expert write your paper.

How To Write Literature Review For Thesis? Read On To Find Out!

thesis literature review

Table of Contents

  • 1. What is a literature review?
  • 2. Thesis literature review example
  • 3. Importance of the thesis literature review
  • 4. Literature review structure
  • 4.1. Step 1: Look for the Relevant Scholarly Resources
  • 4.2. Step 2: Evaluate the Resources
  • 4.3. Step 3: Identify Gaps in Current Resources
  • 4.4. Step 4: Develop the Outline of the Master Thesis Literature Review

Types Of Literature Review

  • 4.5. Write Your Literature Review
  • 4.6. Step 7: Write Your Bibliography

What Is A Literature Review

A thesis literature review is a complete analysis of scholarly sources on a selected topic of study. It is crafted to give an overview of the current knowledge, to help the researcher know the methods, theories, and gaps that exist in research.

Thesis Literature Review Example

thesis literature review

Why is Literature Review for Thesis Important?

When you are working on your graduate thesis, one of the core components needed to make it complete is a literature review. Here is a demonstration of the main benefits of carrying a literature review for your thesis.

  • Allows you to show how familiar you are with the topic of study.
  • Offers you an opportunity to develop a comprehensive methodology.
  • Demonstrate how your research will address the existing gap in your topic of study.
  • Make your contribution to your area of the study felt.

Doing a literature review requires you to collect and analyze scholarly resources that are related to your topic. When conducting a literature review, the process can be broken down into five key stages.

Literature Review Structure

  • Look for relevant scholarly resources . This is checking for different resources, such as journals and books, which are related to your study.
  • Evaluate the resources. This is careful sorting of the different resources to identify the most relevant ones.
  • Identify debates and gaps in these resources . This is further analysis of the scholarly resources to establish the main arguments and possible gaps in research.
  • Develop your outline. This is the format of the literature review that tells you what you are supposed to discuss at different points.
  • Write the literature review . This is the final step that involves putting down the findings that you found after analyzing different resources.

To help you craft a good literature review for thesis, here are the main steps that you should follow.

Step 1: Look for the Relevant Scholarly Resources

By the time you get to writing the thesis for your literature, you will have worked on chapter one (introduction) that clearly defines the topic. But you can still relook at it before setting off to look for the relevant resources. By defining the problem, you will be able to look at the resources that are closely related to the study questions and problems.

Another method of looking for relevant studies is searching using the keyword. Consider using the main databases for the latest journals, books and articles. Some of these databases include:

  • Project Muse .
  • Google Scholar .
  • Your university library.

After pulling out different resources, check whether it is relevant by going through the abstract. If the resource is relevant, peruse to the last section, the bibliography, for additional resources. When you find a specific resource recurring in the resources, it means it is very relevant.

Step 2: Evaluate the Resources

Once you have gathered an assortment of resources, the chances are that not all of them will be used during the study. So you will need to evaluate them further to determine which ones to use in the study. So here is how to evaluate every resource:

  • What problem is addressed in the resource?
  • How has the author defined the main concepts?
  • What theories and methods are used in the resource?
  • What is the conclusion of the resource?
  • What is the relationship between the resource and other resources?
  • How does the resource contribute to knowledge about the topic?

You should only pick the most relevant resources. Also, it is important to appreciate that if you are in the sciences, the review has to be focused on the latest resources. But if your thesis is in humanities, it might be necessary to check older resources to bring out the historical perspectives. As you read through, keep track of the resources by taking notes, capturing the pages, and citing them properly.

Step 3: Identify Gaps in Current Resources

Before you can organize the arguments in the literature, it is prudent to comprehend how the resources are related. So what should you look for?

  • Patterns and trends, especially in theories, methods, and results.
  • Debates, major conflicts, and contradictions.
  • Gaps on what is missing in the literature.
  • Pivotal publications.

Step 4: Develop the Outline of the Master Thesis Literature Review

The outline of your literature provides you with a breakdown of what you should discuss at what different stages. There are a number of strategies that you can use to prepare your literature review.

  • Chronological . This approach involves tracing the development based on the topic occurrence over time. It is the simplest strategy.
  • Thematic . This strategy involves presenting the review based on different themes.
  • Methodological . If the resources you use for the review have varying methods, a methodological presentation can helps you to compare the results as well as conclusions.
  • Theoretical . This approach involves exploring the theories, definitions, concepts, and models used in the resources. You might also want to focus on particular theories depending on the topic of study.

Note that you can opt to use one or combine several of them to make your literature review more articulate.

Step 5: Write Your Literature Review

Like other forms of academic writing, your literature review should take this format: introduction, body, and conclusion. Here is what to include in every section:

  • Introduction: This should be used to give the focus of the literature review.
  • Body: In the body of the literature review, you get into the finer details of the review. Here you should do the following:
  • Summarize, analyze, and interpret.
  • Evaluate comprehensively.
  • Write carefully in properly structured and easy to read paragraphs.

Literature Review Example

To help you craft a great literature review thesis, it is important to also have the entire project in mind. This means that although you are reviewing literature, the methods you will use should be clear the back of your mind. Here is a thesis literature review example paragraph. The paragraph is borrowed from literature review of a thesis on the effects of cyberbullying.

“ Cyberbullying gives the bully a much larger spectrum to choose from when it comes to how exactly they want to intimidate their victims, which may be why it is often easier for them to carry out the act. Of all the different ways to cyberbully Faucher et al. (2014) found the most common platforms for cyberbullying to be social media, text messaging, and email, which were used to bully students about half of the time followed up by blogs forums and chat rooms which were 25 percent. This is no surprise that social media is the most common platform for cyberbullying because it can allow for the bully to remain completely anonymous to your average victim. This allows people who may not fit the mold of your average bully to create a fake account and build their own persona in order to bully others.”
  • Conclusion.

Once you have written the body of the literature review, you still need to conclude it. This is a summary of the literature review that captures the main points that you have discussed.

Step 6: Write Your Bibliography

This guide on how to write literature review for thesis cannot be complete without including a bibliography. This is a complete list of all the resources that you have used during the review. It is important to ensure that you follow the method that your supervisor recommends for formatting and referencing. See two reference examples presented below.

Abeele, M., & Cock, R. (2013). Cyberbullying by mobile phone among adolescents: The role of gender and peer group status. Communications: The European Journal of Communication Research, 38(1), 107-118. Doi:10.1515/commun-2013-0006

Arntfield, M. (2015). Toward a Cybervictimology: Cyberbullying, Routine Activities Theory, and the Anti-Sociality of Social Media. Canadian Journal Of Communication, 40(3), 371-388

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Literary Criticism

  • Introduction
  • Literary Theories
  • Steps to Literary Criticism
  • Find Resources
  • Cite Sources
  • thesis examples

SAMPLE THESIS STATEMENTS

These sample thesis statements are provided as guides, not as required forms or prescriptions.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The thesis may focus on an analysis of one of the elements of fiction, drama, poetry or nonfiction as expressed in the work: character, plot, structure, idea, theme, symbol, style, imagery, tone, etc.

In “A Worn Path,” Eudora Welty creates a fictional character in Phoenix Jackson whose determination, faith, and cunning illustrate the indomitable human spirit.

Note that the work, author, and character to be analyzed are identified in this thesis statement. The thesis relies on a strong verb (creates). It also identifies the element of fiction that the writer will explore (character) and the characteristics the writer will analyze and discuss (determination, faith, cunning).

Further Examples:

The character of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet serves as a foil to young Juliet, delights us with her warmth and earthy wit, and helps realize the tragic catastrophe.

The works of ecstatic love poets Rumi, Hafiz, and Kabir use symbols such as a lover’s longing and the Tavern of Ruin to illustrate the human soul’s desire to connect with God.

The thesis may focus on illustrating how a work reflects the particular genre’s forms, the characteristics of a philosophy of literature, or the ideas of a particular school of thought.

“The Third and Final Continent” exhibits characteristics recurrent in writings by immigrants: tradition, adaptation, and identity.

Note how the thesis statement classifies the form of the work (writings by immigrants) and identifies the characteristics of that form of writing (tradition, adaptation, and identity) that the essay will discuss.

Further examples:

Samuel Beckett’s Endgame reflects characteristics of Theatre of the Absurd in its minimalist stage setting, its seemingly meaningless dialogue, and its apocalyptic or nihilist vision.

A close look at many details in “The Story of an Hour” reveals how language, institutions, and expected demeanor suppress the natural desires and aspirations of women.

The thesis may draw parallels between some element in the work and real-life situations or subject matter: historical events, the author’s life, medical diagnoses, etc.

In Willa Cather’s short story, “Paul’s Case,” Paul exhibits suicidal behavior that a caring adult might have recognized and remedied had that adult had the scientific knowledge we have today.

This thesis suggests that the essay will identify characteristics of suicide that Paul exhibits in the story. The writer will have to research medical and psychology texts to determine the typical characteristics of suicidal behavior and to illustrate how Paul’s behavior mirrors those characteristics.

Through the experience of one man, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, accurately depicts the historical record of slave life in its descriptions of the often brutal and quixotic relationship between master and slave and of the fragmentation of slave families.

In “I Stand Here Ironing,” one can draw parallels between the narrator’s situation and the author’s life experiences as a mother, writer, and feminist.

SAMPLE PATTERNS FOR THESES ON LITERARY WORKS

1. In (title of work), (author) (illustrates, shows) (aspect) (adjective). 

Example: In “Barn Burning,” William Faulkner shows the characters Sardie and Abner Snopes struggling for their identity.

2. In (title of work), (author) uses (one aspect) to (define, strengthen, illustrate) the (element of work).

Example: In “Youth,” Joseph Conrad uses foreshadowing to strengthen the plot.

3. In (title of work), (author) uses (an important part of work) as a unifying device for (one element), (another element), and (another element). The number of elements can vary from one to four.

Example: In “Youth,” Joseph Conrad uses the sea as a unifying device for setting, structure and theme.

4. (Author) develops the character of (character’s name) in (literary work) through what he/she does, what he/she says, what other people say to or about him/her.

Example: Langston Hughes develops the character of Semple in “Ways and Means”…

5. In (title of work), (author) uses (literary device) to (accomplish, develop, illustrate, strengthen) (element of work).

Example: In “The Masque of the Red Death,” Poe uses the symbolism of the stranger, the clock, and the seventh room to develop the theme of death.

6. (Author) (shows, develops, illustrates) the theme of __________ in the (play, poem, story).

Example: Flannery O’Connor illustrates the theme of the effect of the selfishness of the grandmother upon the family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

7. (Author) develops his character(s) in (title of work) through his/her use of language.

Example: John Updike develops his characters in “A & P” through his use of figurative language.

Perimeter College, Georgia State University,  http://depts.gpc.edu/~gpcltc/handouts/communications/literarythesis.pdf

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Grad Coach

The Research Gap (Literature Gap)

Everything you need to know to find a quality research gap

By: Ethar Al-Saraf (PhD) | Expert Reviewed By: Eunice Rautenbach (DTech) | November 2022

If you’re just starting out in research, chances are you’ve heard about the elusive research gap (also called a literature gap). In this post, we’ll explore the tricky topic of research gaps. We’ll explain what a research gap is, look at the four most common types of research gaps, and unpack how you can go about finding a suitable research gap for your dissertation, thesis or research project.

Overview: Research Gap 101

  • What is a research gap
  • Four common types of research gaps
  • Practical examples
  • How to find research gaps
  • Recap & key takeaways

What (exactly) is a research gap?

Well, at the simplest level, a research gap is essentially an unanswered question or unresolved problem in a field, which reflects a lack of existing research in that space. Alternatively, a research gap can also exist when there’s already a fair deal of existing research, but where the findings of the studies pull in different directions , making it difficult to draw firm conclusions.

For example, let’s say your research aims to identify the cause (or causes) of a particular disease. Upon reviewing the literature, you may find that there’s a body of research that points toward cigarette smoking as a key factor – but at the same time, a large body of research that finds no link between smoking and the disease. In that case, you may have something of a research gap that warrants further investigation.

Now that we’ve defined what a research gap is – an unanswered question or unresolved problem – let’s look at a few different types of research gaps.

A research gap is essentially an unanswered question or unresolved problem in a field, reflecting a lack of existing research.

Types of research gaps

While there are many different types of research gaps, the four most common ones we encounter when helping students at Grad Coach are as follows:

  • The classic literature gap
  • The disagreement gap
  • The contextual gap, and
  • The methodological gap

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how to find literature for thesis

1. The Classic Literature Gap

First up is the classic literature gap. This type of research gap emerges when there’s a new concept or phenomenon that hasn’t been studied much, or at all. For example, when a social media platform is launched, there’s an opportunity to explore its impacts on users, how it could be leveraged for marketing, its impact on society, and so on. The same applies for new technologies, new modes of communication, transportation, etc.

Classic literature gaps can present exciting research opportunities , but a drawback you need to be aware of is that with this type of research gap, you’ll be exploring completely new territory . This means you’ll have to draw on adjacent literature (that is, research in adjacent fields) to build your literature review, as there naturally won’t be very many existing studies that directly relate to the topic. While this is manageable, it can be challenging for first-time researchers, so be careful not to bite off more than you can chew.

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2. The Disagreement Gap

As the name suggests, the disagreement gap emerges when there are contrasting or contradictory findings in the existing research regarding a specific research question (or set of questions). The hypothetical example we looked at earlier regarding the causes of a disease reflects a disagreement gap.

Importantly, for this type of research gap, there needs to be a relatively balanced set of opposing findings . In other words, a situation where 95% of studies find one result and 5% find the opposite result wouldn’t quite constitute a disagreement in the literature. Of course, it’s hard to quantify exactly how much weight to give to each study, but you’ll need to at least show that the opposing findings aren’t simply a corner-case anomaly .

how to find literature for thesis

3. The Contextual Gap

The third type of research gap is the contextual gap. Simply put, a contextual gap exists when there’s already a decent body of existing research on a particular topic, but an absence of research in specific contexts .

For example, there could be a lack of research on:

  • A specific population – perhaps a certain age group, gender or ethnicity
  • A geographic area – for example, a city, country or region
  • A certain time period – perhaps the bulk of the studies took place many years or even decades ago and the landscape has changed.

The contextual gap is a popular option for dissertations and theses, especially for first-time researchers, as it allows you to develop your research on a solid foundation of existing literature and potentially even use existing survey measures.

Importantly, if you’re gonna go this route, you need to ensure that there’s a plausible reason why you’d expect potential differences in the specific context you choose. If there’s no reason to expect different results between existing and new contexts, the research gap wouldn’t be well justified. So, make sure that you can clearly articulate why your chosen context is “different” from existing studies and why that might reasonably result in different findings.

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4. The Methodological Gap

Last but not least, we have the methodological gap. As the name suggests, this type of research gap emerges as a result of the research methodology or design of existing studies. With this approach, you’d argue that the methodology of existing studies is lacking in some way , or that they’re missing a certain perspective.

For example, you might argue that the bulk of the existing research has taken a quantitative approach, and therefore there is a lack of rich insight and texture that a qualitative study could provide. Similarly, you might argue that existing studies have primarily taken a cross-sectional approach , and as a result, have only provided a snapshot view of the situation – whereas a longitudinal approach could help uncover how constructs or variables have evolved over time.

how to find literature for thesis

Practical Examples

Let’s take a look at some practical examples so that you can see how research gaps are typically expressed in written form. Keep in mind that these are just examples – not actual current gaps (we’ll show you how to find these a little later!).

Context: Healthcare

Despite extensive research on diabetes management, there’s a research gap in terms of understanding the effectiveness of digital health interventions in rural populations (compared to urban ones) within Eastern Europe.

Context: Environmental Science

While a wealth of research exists regarding plastic pollution in oceans, there is significantly less understanding of microplastic accumulation in freshwater ecosystems like rivers and lakes, particularly within Southern Africa.

Context: Education

While empirical research surrounding online learning has grown over the past five years, there remains a lack of comprehensive studies regarding the effectiveness of online learning for students with special educational needs.

As you can see in each of these examples, the author begins by clearly acknowledging the existing research and then proceeds to explain where the current area of lack (i.e., the research gap) exists.

Free Webinar: How To Find A Dissertation Research Topic

How To Find A Research Gap

Now that you’ve got a clearer picture of the different types of research gaps, the next question is of course, “how do you find these research gaps?” .

Well, we cover the process of how to find original, high-value research gaps in a separate post . But, for now, I’ll share a basic two-step strategy here to help you find potential research gaps.

As a starting point, you should find as many literature reviews, systematic reviews and meta-analyses as you can, covering your area of interest. Additionally, you should dig into the most recent journal articles to wrap your head around the current state of knowledge. It’s also a good idea to look at recent dissertations and theses (especially doctoral-level ones). Dissertation databases such as ProQuest, EBSCO and Open Access are a goldmine for this sort of thing. Importantly, make sure that you’re looking at recent resources (ideally those published in the last year or two), or the gaps you find might have already been plugged by other researchers.

Once you’ve gathered a meaty collection of resources, the section that you really want to focus on is the one titled “ further research opportunities ” or “further research is needed”. In this section, the researchers will explicitly state where more studies are required – in other words, where potential research gaps may exist. You can also look at the “ limitations ” section of the studies, as this will often spur ideas for methodology-based research gaps.

By following this process, you’ll orient yourself with the current state of research , which will lay the foundation for you to identify potential research gaps. You can then start drawing up a shortlist of ideas and evaluating them as candidate topics . But remember, make sure you’re looking at recent articles – there’s no use going down a rabbit hole only to find that someone’s already filled the gap 🙂

Let’s Recap

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post. Here are the key takeaways:

  • A research gap is an unanswered question or unresolved problem in a field, which reflects a lack of existing research in that space.
  • The four most common types of research gaps are the classic literature gap, the disagreement gap, the contextual gap and the methodological gap. 
  • To find potential research gaps, start by reviewing recent journal articles in your area of interest, paying particular attention to the FRIN section .

If you’re keen to learn more about research gaps and research topic ideation in general, be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach Blog . Alternatively, if you’re looking for 1-on-1 support with your dissertation, thesis or research project, be sure to check out our private coaching service .

how to find literature for thesis

Psst... there’s more!

This post was based on one of our popular Research Bootcamps . If you're working on a research project, you'll definitely want to check this out ...

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How To Find a Research Gap (Fast)

30 Comments

ZAID AL-ZUBAIDI

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Abdu Ebrahim

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Zinashbizu

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fanaye

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Tawana Ngwenya

Very helpful and well-explained. Thank you

ALI ZULFIQAR

VERY HELPFUL

A.M Kwankwameri

We’re very grateful for your guidance, indeed we have been learning a lot from you , so thank you abundantly once again.

ahmed

hello brother could you explain to me this question explain the gaps that researchers are coming up with ?

Aliyu Jibril

Am just starting to write my research paper. your publication is very helpful. Thanks so much

haziel

How to cite the author of this?

kiyyaa

your explanation very help me for research paper. thank you

Bhakti Prasad Subedi

Very important presentation. Thanks.

Best Ideas. Thank you.

Getachew Gobena

I found it’s an excellent blog to get more insights about the Research Gap. I appreciate it!

Juliana Otabil

Kindly explain to me how to generate good research objectives.

Nathan Mbandama

This is very helpful, thank you

Favour

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Vapeuk

Thanks a lot for this great insight!

Effie

This is really helpful indeed!

Guillermo Dimaligalig

This article is really helpfull in discussing how will we be able to define better a research problem of our interest. Thanks so much.

Yisa Usman

Reading this just in good time as i prepare the proposal for my PhD topic defense.

lucy kiende

Very helpful Thanks a lot.

TOUFIK

Thank you very much

Dien Kei

This was very timely. Kudos

Takele Gezaheg Demie

Great one! Thank you all.

Efrem

Thank you very much.

Rev Andy N Moses

This is so enlightening. Disagreement gap. Thanks for the insight.

How do I Cite this document please?

Emmanuel

Research gap about career choice given me Example bro?

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12.6: Literary Thesis Statements

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  • Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap
  • City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative

The Literary Thesis Statement

Literary essays are argumentative or persuasive essays. Their purpose is primarily analysis, but analysis for the purposes of showing readers your interpretation of a literary text. So the thesis statement is a one to two sentence summary of your essay's main argument, or interpretation.

Just like in other argumentative essays, the thesis statement should be a kind of opinion based on observable fact about the literary work.

Thesis Statements Should Be

  • This thesis takes a position. There are clearly those who could argue against this idea.
  • Look at the text in bold. See the strong emphasis on how form (literary devices like symbolism and character) acts as a foundation for the interpretation (perceived danger of female sexuality).
  • Through this specific yet concise sentence, readers can anticipate the text to be examined ( Huckleberry Finn) , the author (Mark Twain), the literary device that will be focused upon (river and shore scenes) and what these scenes will show (true expression of American ideals can be found in nature).

Thesis Statements Should NOT Be

  • While we know what text and author will be the focus of the essay, we know nothing about what aspect of the essay the author will be focusing upon, nor is there an argument here.
  • This may be well and true, but this thesis does not appear to be about a work of literature. This could be turned into a thesis statement if the writer is able to show how this is the theme of a literary work (like "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid) and root that interpretation in observable data from the story in the form of literary devices.
  • Yes, this is true. But it is not debatable. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who could argue with this statement. Yawn, boring.
  • This may very well be true. But the purpose of a literary critic is not to judge the quality of a literary work, but to make analyses and interpretations of the work based on observable structural aspects of that work.
  • Again, this might be true, and might make an interesting essay topic, but unless it is rooted in textual analysis, it is not within the scope of a literary analysis essay. Be careful not to conflate author and speaker! Author, speaker, and narrator are all different entities! See: intentional fallacy.

Thesis Statement Formula

One way I find helpful to explain literary thesis statements is through a "formula":

Thesis statement = Observation + Analysis + Significance

  • Observation: usually regarding the form or structure of the literature. This can be a pattern, like recurring literary devices. For example, "I noticed the poems of Rumi, Hafiz, and Kabir all use symbols such as the lover's longing and Tavern of Ruin "
  • Analysis: You could also call this an opinion. This explains what you think your observations show or mean. "I think these recurring symbols all represent the human soul's desire." This is where your debatable argument appears.
  • Significance: this explains what the significance or relevance of the interpretation might be. Human soul's desire to do what? Why should readers care that they represent the human soul's desire? "I think these recurring symbols all show the human soul's desire to connect with God. " This is where your argument gets more specific.

Thesis statement: The works of ecstatic love poets Rumi, Hafiz, and Kabir use symbols such as a lover’s longing and the Tavern of Ruin to illustrate the human soul’s desire to connect with God .

Thesis Examples

SAMPLE THESIS STATEMENTS

These sample thesis statements are provided as guides, not as required forms or prescriptions.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Literary Device Thesis Statement

The thesis may focus on an analysis of one of the elements of fiction, drama, poetry or nonfiction as expressed in the work: character, plot, structure, idea, theme, symbol, style, imagery, tone, etc.

In “A Worn Path,” Eudora Welty creates a fictional character in Phoenix Jackson whose determination, faith, and cunning illustrate the indomitable human spirit.

Note that the work, author, and character to be analyzed are identified in this thesis statement. The thesis relies on a strong verb (creates). It also identifies the element of fiction that the writer will explore (character) and the characteristics the writer will analyze and discuss (determination, faith, cunning).

The character of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet serves as a foil to young Juliet, delights us with her warmth and earthy wit, and helps realize the tragic catastrophe.

The Genre / Theory Thesis Statement

The thesis may focus on illustrating how a work reflects the particular genre’s forms, the characteristics of a philosophy of literature, or the ideas of a particular school of thought.

“The Third and Final Continent” exhibits characteristics recurrent in writings by immigrants: tradition, adaptation, and identity.

Note how the thesis statement classifies the form of the work (writings by immigrants) and identifies the characteristics of that form of writing (tradition, adaptation, and identity) that the essay will discuss.

Samuel Beckett’s Endgame reflects characteristics of Theatre of the Absurd in its minimalist stage setting, its seemingly meaningless dialogue, and its apocalyptic or nihilist vision.

A close look at many details in “The Story of an Hour” reveals how language, institutions, and expected demeanor suppress the natural desires and aspirations of women.

Generative Questions

One way to come up with a riveting thesis statement is to start with a generative question. The question should be open-ended and, hopefully, prompt some kind of debate.

  • What is the effect of [choose a literary device that features prominently in the chosen text] in this work of literature?
  • How does this work of literature conform or resist its genre, and to what effect?
  • How does this work of literature portray the environment, and to what effect?
  • How does this work of literature portray race, and to what effect?
  • How does this work of literature portray gender, and to what effect?
  • What historical context is this work of literature engaging with, and how might it function as a commentary on this context?

These are just a few common of the common kinds of questions literary scholars engage with. As you write, you will want to refine your question to be even more specific. Eventually, you can turn your generative question into a statement. This then becomes your thesis statement. For example,

  • How do environment and race intersect in the character of Frankenstein's monster, and what can we deduce from this intersection?

Expert Examples

While nobody expects you to write professional-quality thesis statements in an undergraduate literature class, it can be helpful to examine some examples. As you view these examples, consider the structure of the thesis statement. You might also think about what questions the scholar wondered that led to this statement!

  • "Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as 'the other world,' the antithesis of Europe and therefore civilization, a place where man's vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality" (Achebe 3).
  • "...I argue that the approach to time and causality in Boethius' sixth-century Consolation of Philosophy can support abolitionist objectives to dismantle modern American policing and carceral systems" (Chaganti 144).
  • "I seek to expand our sense of the musico-poetic compositional practices available to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, focusing on the metapoetric dimensions of Much Ado About Nothing. In so doing, I work against the tendency to isolate writing as an independent or autonomous feature the work of early modern poets and dramatists who integrated bibliographic texts with other, complementary media" (Trudell 371).

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa" Research in African Literatures 9.1 , Indiana UP, 1978. 1-15.

Chaganti, Seeta. "Boethian Abolition" PMLA 137.1 Modern Language Association, January 2022. 144-154.

"Thesis Statements in Literary Analysis Papers" Author unknown. https://resources.finalsite.net/imag...handout__1.pdf

Trudell, Scott A. "Shakespeare's Notation: Writing Sound in Much Ado about Nothing " PMLA 135.2, Modern Language Association, March 2020. 370-377.

Contributors and Attributions

Thesis Examples. Authored by: University of Arlington Texas. License: CC BY-NC

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