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Key takeaways from the Psi Chi webinar So You Need to Write a Literature Review

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Greenbaum, H., & Lee, C. (2022, April 19). Key takeaways from the Psi Chi webinar So You Need to Write a Literature Review. APA Style.

Key takeaways from the Psi Chi webinar So You Need to Write a Literature Review

In this post, we summarize 15 takeaways from the Psi Chi webinar So You Need to Write a Literature Review: Understanding the Key Tasks and How to Accomplish Them.

If you are writing another type of research paper or completing a research assignment, you may also find this guidance helpful. You can find more information on content to include in many types of student and professional papers in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Seventh Edition and the Concise Guide to APA Style, Seventh Edition as well as access free style and grammar guidelines, student resources, and sample papers on the APA Style website.

The takeaways are as follows:

1. The typical length of a literature review paper is 15 to 20 pages. However, your instructor might ask for something shorter or longer—make sure to follow assignment instructions when determining the length of your paper.

2. Avoid choosing a topic that is too broad. If you start with a broad topic, narrow it down as you read and evaluate sources. It is key to pick a topic that fits the length of your assignment.

3. When you can, use primary sources. Primary sources report original research that has been conducted by scientists and other researchers. Secondary sources describe research secondhand and are often written by journalists or others who may or may not be experts in science. Secondary sources can help you understand primary sources, but you should refer to the primary source whenever possible to provide context and confirm the information is accurate and complete. Search academic research databases such as APA PsycNet, EBSCOhost, or ProQuest to find trustworthy and useful primary sources.

4. Learn to search like a professional researcher by using keywords to filter your search results. This table provides ideas of the kinds of keywords you can use to focus your topic.



Personal characteristics

Age, disability status, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status


School, work, home, hospital, online


Rural, urban, suburban region, nation

Variable studied

Mental or physical health diagnosis


5. Targeted reading is a strategy in which you read specific sections of an article before reading the full article to determine whether the article will be useful for your paper. This table describes the order of sections to read to conduct a targeted reading.

Section to read

What you will learn


Research summary

Last 1–2 paragraphs of intro

Topic, variables, research question

Method subsections

Sample, setting, measures


Visual summary of results

Beginning of Discussion section

Analysis of results and importance

Conclusion/final paragraphs

Takeaways, future research ideas


6. Your goal in a literature review paper should be to summarize studies, compare and contrast studies, describe patterns and themes, and describe strengths and limitations. The Research Article Activity (PDF, 190KB), a free handout from the APA Style team, can help you analyze studies, write references, and stay organized while writing a literature review.

7. It may be helpful to write your paper out of order. Start by writing the “heart” of your paper first, in which you analyze the literature, and then write the introduction, paper title, and conclusion.

8. Present one idea per paragraph. The first sentence of the paragraph should contain the main point of the paragraph, and the other sentences should support the main point.

9. Focus on relevant details when describing studies. Report parallel information across studies to show similarities and differences. For example, report the same information about participant demographics for all studies, if possible, to increase your readers’ ability to generalize the results.

10. Be consistent in use of the past tense or present perfect tense to report the work of other scientists, as shown in this table.




Sanchez (2022) examined

Present perfect

Buchanan et al. (2022) have examined


11. Literature reviews should have a thesis statement, which is your “take-home message.” The thesis statement should appear near the end of the introduction. Check your thesis statement after writing a first draft to ensure it matches the content of the paper.

12. Limit your use of direct quotations. Instead, paraphrase (i.e., restate in your own words) whenever possible.

13. Write clearly by using shorter sentences and plain language. Avoid repeating academic jargon. See Section 4.9 of the Publication Manual and Section 2.9 of the Concise Guide for more details and examples.

14. Cite sources immediately and at the appropriate level of citation. That includes avoiding overcitation (i.e., the unnecessary repeating of citations, such as in every sentence) and delayed citation (i.e., citing only at the end of a long paraphrase). Rather, when writing a long paraphrase that involves several sentences in the same paragraph about one source, put the citation in the first sentence to which the source applies and then do not re-cite that source as long as the context makes clear that the source has not changed and no other sources are used.

15. Assemble your paper into the sections of title page, text, and reference list. Use the Student Paper Setup Guide (PDF, 3.26MB) to help you set up and order your paper sections.

Although the task of writing a literature review or any type of research paper can seem daunting, these takeaways will help you approach the writing process in an organized way. For more information on writing a literature review, check out the recorded webinar and accompanying Q&A session available on demand from the Psi Chi website. You can also access the webinar slides and other resources mentioned in the presentation on our Open Science Framework page.