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Systematic literature reviews for education and social sciences

A guide to conducting a systematic literature review in the Education discipline

Writing your literature review

Writing your literature review

Writing up the review

Key features to address in your literature review:

  • the methods you have used to find the papers
  • the papers you have read
  • the criteria used to analyse the papers
  • what you hoped to find in your review of the literature
  • what you found from reading the literature
  • what if any gaps in the literature you found
  • where your research question fits in.

Style of writing

The style of writing you employ is important and also needs to express:

  • themes are arising from papers read rather being a summary of each paper
  • examples of where authors agree or disagree on particular points, ideas or conclusions
  • key theories being examined and how different authors are using or applying the theories
  • thoughts on the usefulness of the literature in response to your research question.

Literature review template

The following is a simple pattern to follow for writing up your systematic literature review. please note, this is a very loose outline, be sure to speak with your supervisor to ensure that their requirements are met and that specific elements of your literature review/research are covered. 

Literature review outline


  • restated topic for review
  • what theory or problem is being tested?


this section may not be needed in your final submitted thesis may be used to inform future journal articles 

  • Methods for finding the literature 
  • What research strategy did you use?
  • What tools did you use – where did you search, which databases or search engines
  • How did you design your research – what key terms did you use? What refinements did you use?
  • On what criteria did you select the resources used? How did you evaluate the literature returned for use in your paper. note the criteria for inclusion, exclusion and the key themes you were reading for.


Key themes emerging from the selected literature

For each theme show how this theme supports your research question

  • Theme 1
  • Theme 2
  • Theme 3
  • Theme 4

Theory elaboration

  • Here show how the educational/social theory you are using applies to the research data 

How these themes support stated goal

  • Relate each theme back to the stated goal of the review.


  • Main themes identified from the research
  • Evidence of gap identification
  • Any new themes emerging from the data.