How to write a literature review – Layout and sample

In this article, we look at how to plan and write a literature review (and a book review). The article is meant for students at secondary schools or universities. It provides easy-to-follow tips and a sample literature review (I did in my postgraduate study). I am sure you’ll find this useful, especially when reviewing literature, thesis or books.

Differences between literature review and book review

But, first, what is the difference between the literature review and book review?

  • A literature review is a comprehensive analysis of several kinds of research (literature) to support an idea. It means that the review requires a wider consultation of several books and sources to drive the reviewer’s point through the essay.
  • Whereas, a book review is a critical analysis of one book or author’s views (or research). The book review often focuses on a theme and centres around the author’s point of views.

Whether one is writing a literature review or a book review, the important point is to make sure he/she understands the intention of the writing. Ask your lecturers if you are not sure what the assessment task intents to achieve.

If the review is about comparing several pieces of literature (where you have an introduction, body, recommendation and summary), then it is about writing a literature review.

However, if the assessment is meant for class presentation or discussion where you discuss an author’s point of view, then it is a book review.

Literature review key points

  • Establish a Background
    Include the author’s background to give readers an idea about the book. Describe the general problem the book addresses (or earlier work the author or others have done) on the topic in discussion.
  • Identify the book by the author
    You should provide some information about the author. What are his/her relevant qualifications and background (or lack thereof) for writing on this subject
  • Reasons, title and publishing information.
    State the reasons for writing the book, the title and other information necessary to kick-start the discussion. Often the preface contains such information
  • On completion, rewrite your review and get a peer or lecturer to proofread. You can also check for grammar and spelling errors online.

Literature review layout

IMPORTANT: The layout below is one I have used successfully in an academic review on Fiji’s Education System. The layout is based on RSU’s guide to writing a book review.

I hope you will find the layout useful too.

Brief background

A brief background introduces the idea behind the literature review. So, introduce the author/s, their work, setting and credentials; and relate the work to the intention of your review.

Content summary

Content summary is where you set the pace for the discussion. Therefore, identify one or several key ideas the author/s are discussing in their literature. It is important that you identify the main one and place emphasis on it.

In fact, this will set the tempo for your literature review. So, do this part well. Take a look at how I did it here.


As mentioned, a book review is an essay whose purpose is to comment on a single subject or related subjects. Provide an overview, including paraphrases and quotations, of the book’s thesis and primary supporting points.

The most important element about a book review to remember is that it is a commentary, not just a summary.

Recent publication

Has new documentation become available? If so, identify the new documentation.

Your analysis

Choose one or a few points to discuss. What works well for you? How does this work compare with others by the same author or other books on the same genre? What major themes or terms does the book introduce, and how effective are they? Did the book appeal to you in a logical way?

The bulk of your review should concentrate on your analysis of the way the author handled the issues discussed.

Describe the book

What is the overall thesis? Is it interesting, memorable, entertaining, instructive? Why?

Respond to the author’s worldview

What do you agree with? And why? What do you disagree with? And why?

Explore issues the book raises

What possibilities does the book suggest? Explain. What matters does the book leave out? Explain.

Relate your argument to other books or authors

Support your argument for or against the author’s opinions by bringing in other authors you agree with.

Relate the book to larger issues

How did the book affect your worldview? Have your opinions about the topic changed? How is the book related to the course? What are your reactions? Did the book enhance your understanding of the issues? Be as direct as possible.


Summarise the discussion points briefly. Reiterate the key commentaries (or arguments) so that they are absolutely clear.

Sample – take a look

Here is how I managed to capture the points in this article. The review is based on Dr Helen Tavola’s insight into Fiji’s Education System. Her work is a detailed analysis of the evolving education system in Fiji’s multicultural society.

Take a look or download the PDF file. If this helps, the least you can do is let me know in the comment section – it costs nothing to say thank you.

Secondary Education in Fiji – A Key to the Future by Helen Tavola

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