How Long Should a Literature Review Be?

How Long Should a Literature Review Be

A literature review is an important part of any academic project, providing context, background, and support for the research. But with so many projects requiring literature reviews, how long should a literature review be? 

The answer depends on factors like the assignment requirements, discipline norms, page limits, and the purpose of the review. Here, we explore the literature review length for various projects and what makes for an adequate review.

How Long Should a Literature Review Be?

Here are some of the recommended lengths when writing a literature review:

Project Type Recommended Length
Thesis 20-40% of the paper; approximately 20-40 pages
Assignment  A few pages overviewing main sources
Research Article1-2 page section contextualizing critical research
Book Chapter Variable based on focus; may be a significant portion
Dissertation 20-40% of the paper; 40-60 pages average
Conference Paper1 paragraph overview to 2-3 page summary

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a scholarly paper or section of a paper focused on examining existing research relevant to a particular field or topic of inquiry. It provides an overview and analysis of prior research papers, articles, theories, key concepts, and historical trends or debates. The main goals are to:

  • Synthesize and evaluate previously conducted research on the topic
  • Identify gaps, inconsistencies, and areas of disagreement
  • Outline how the current project builds on prior knowledge
  • Provide background and context to frame the current research questions or proposal

A well-done literature review shows command of the academic field while positioning the current work within the continuum of inquiry. It demonstrates the writer’s ability to examine and integrate existing literature to build new knowledge critically. Reviews require close reading, evaluation, and citation of resources using proper formatting style.

How do I Create a Literature Review?

Crafting impactful literature reviews involves:

  1. Framing research contexts through organized academic topic surveys
  2. Gathering materials extensively from accredited print/online libraries
  3. Identifying reliable, high-quality sources relating to inquiries
  4. Developing focused search terms expanding retrieval results
  5. Extracting relevant partial findings responding to queries
  6. Synthesizing overall source composite generalizations
  7. Determining areas needing updated investigations
  8. Citing all documentation through consistent academic formats

Completing the demanding literature review process strengthens the originality and innovation of a project by building an advanced understanding developed from studying the accumulated knowledge and insights of scholars in the field. This guards against unintentional duplication and lays the groundwork for future growth of knowledge.

How Long Should a Thesis Literature Review Be?

For graduate or doctorate level, literature reviews prove foundational, showcasing scholarly preparedness through content engagement. They comprise about 20% of total paper lengths averaging between 20 pages to 40 pages depending on university guidelines. 

It is recommended that approximately 20% of a research project be dedicated to reviewing and synthesizing the existing literature on the topic. This amount of effort lays the necessary groundwork to situate the research rationally within current knowledge. 

How Long is a Literature Review for a Capstone Project? 

For nursing capstone project topics, which are around 25 pages long, students should aim to dedicate 5-6 pages to reviewing and summarizing the relevant academic literature. This provides enough background to establish a foundation for the capstone report without excessive length. 

The literature review should strike a balance of selectively synthesizing sources that parallel the thematic elements of the capstone project. It should preview relevant secondary surveys in a way that is specifically supportive of the reporting arc ahead.

Overly general background information can stretch integrated understanding too thin, while an overly narrow focus fails to frame the significance of the project demonstration fully. The literature review should closely follow the capstone’s themes while touching on key developments in the field more broadly.

What’s the Literature Review Length for Research Paper?

The appropriate length and scope of a literature review within a research paper depend on the context and intended purpose of the paper. For instance, if a teacher guides novice student writers in producing 8-page reports broadly on a topic, it likely makes sense to include a concise 1-2 page review connecting a few key thematic publications.

This enables the majority of the paper to focus directly on developing the student’s original research direction and analysis rather than spending extensive space reviewing literature tangentially. However, within research papers intended for expert publication, like journal articles, establishing a robust evaluative platform through a thorough review of closely related academic conversations is generally required to demonstrate scholarly maturity.

When determining suitable literature review dimensions, writers must realistically weigh factors like the paper’s aims, parameters, and target reader experience level. Overall, the balance should be found between extensively dwelling on reviewing previous literature versus allowing adequate space to build upon selected key works through original analysis. 

How Long is a Literature Review for a Dissertation?

Given the extensive length of dissertations, typically 150-300 pages inclusive of quantitative data analysis, findings, and conclusions, dedicating approximately 10-15% of the total word count to the literature review is a reasonable target. This equates to around 40-60 pages, which allows for a thorough review. 

A literature review of this length can adequately trace the investigative history, seminal theorists, ongoing disputes, and lingering uncertainties to set the stage for the original empirical research to follow. The goal is to demonstrate a grasp of the relevant scholarly playing field without front-loading so much prereview information. An overlong literature review risks losing sight of the aims of the research itself. 

How Many Sources do you Need in a Literature Review?

Personalized variables worth considering when compiling profitable reviews include:

  • The defined breadth scope of issues under review investigations planned longitudinally
  • Specified paper-length frameworks limiting/enabling wider survey capacities reasonably
  • Subject publication  rates representing some particular topics sparsely
  • Specific advisor recommendations requesting generalized overview brevity

Standard parametric ranges suggest incorporating 8-10 quality sources providing agreeable survey densities without overwhelming readers unnecessarily through content sidetracking risks off the key field of study issues.

What Makes a Good Literature Review?

There are several hallmarks of an effective literature review:

  • Cohesion – Logically organized structure and flow of ideas
  • Depth/Breadth – Thoroughness of sources incorporated and evaluated
  • Engagement – Voice and point of view in analyzing the literature
  • Clarity – Clear writing and structure; transitions between sources
  • Synthesis – Distilling common themes, debates, and gaps across sources rather than just summarizing each work separately
  • Evaluation – Critical analysis rather than a neutral description of previous research
  • Significance – Emphasizing the key developments and controversies in the field that warrant continued research

An excellent literature review balances the breadth/depth of sources with incisive, original analysis integrating the knowledge base. It serves as the intellectual jumping-off point for the research questions or argument to follow.

Average Length of the literature review

The length of a literature review can vary depending on the academic assignment, the area of study, the research methodology, and specific topics. Thesis and dissertation literature reviews occupy full chapters of 20-40 pages. Research papers incorporate briefer reviews of 1-5 pages. 

Well-done reviews showcase command of the research landscape while providing background for the writer’s work. More than specific length, applying critical analysis and synthesis to sources defines an impactful literature review. 

Carefully match the scope of the literature review to the research aims, and follow any provided length guidelines. With these principles in mind, your literature review will effectively set the scholarly stage regardless of its exact page count.

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