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How Long Is a Literature Review? (Quick Answer!)

antony w

by  Antony W

February 9, 2023

how long is a literature review explained

Once you know how to write a literature review from scratch, you can confidently work on the introduction, the main body, and the conclusion. But how long is a literature review? 

How long a literature review is depends on purpose and audience. It can be 20 pages or more for a dissertation but shorter for regular assignments. Whether you write 4 or 20 pages, ensure you stick to the standard structure to score top grades.  

Key Takeaways 

How Long is a Literature Review? (Understanding the Ideal Length)

The length of a literature review depends on the audience, purpose, and a student’s level of education. 

The literature review written by an undergraduate student is shorter unlike the review written by a PhD student. It gets even shorter for an essay – if your instructor ever ask you to include one.

Ideally, the average length of a literature review should be between 20 and 40 percent of the entire project.

For example, if your professor asks you to write a 10,000 words dissertation, 2,000 words of the total word count will be the literature review.

Literature Review Writing Help

The literature review chapter requires research, analysis, and synthesis. Given the depth of research involved and the structuring and writing process, it can take a while to get the work done.

If you have a few days left to complete the review but you have other more demanding assignments, take advantage of our literature review assignment help and one of our top writers will help you get the work done.

How Long Should a Thesis Literature Review Be?

A thesis is a research assignment written by undergraduates and postgraduates. Its length vary depending on the level of study.

A thesis written by Masters’ degree and Doctorate students is 60 to 100 pages long and the one written by Bachelor’s degree students is between 40 and 60 pages long.

The literature review for a project of this nature is at least 8 pages long or at most 20% of the overall word count of the project.

For example, if you’re writing a 40-page thesis, your literature review should be at least 8 pages. If your instructor states that you make your thesis 60 pages long, the literature review should be at most 12 pages. 

How Many Pages Should Journal Articles’ Literature Review Be?

Journal articles are not only shorter than books, but they’re also very specific in context because they focus on specific topics.

Because experts write them throughout the year, journal articles can present case studies, original research, methodologies, and short reports on specific areas or review articles.

The average length for journal articles is 5,000 words. As such, expect the length of the literature review to be at least 2 pages – or just a few more pages depending on how many words you write.

For example, a 5000-word journal article should have a literature review of no more than 2,000 words.

How Long is a Literature Review for a Capstone Project? 

Often written as part of a college or university course in the final year of middle or high school, a capstone project is an assignment that summaries a student’s experience.

The project requires students to select a topic, create a proposal, conduct research, and write the paper.

On average, a capstone project is 20 to 25 pages. While you can make the assignment longer, it should be no more than 45 pages.

How long the literature review section of the capstone project should be depends on the length of the assignment and/or the instructions issued by a teacher. For a 25-page capstone project, about 5 to 6 pages of literature review should be enough. 

What’s the Literature Review Length for Research Paper?

In a research paper, you argue a point by analyzing a perspective based on an individual perception. The assignment takes some time to complete because it requires both research and analytical skills.

A research can be long or short depending on the area of study. Shorter papers tend to be between 5 and 8 pages long, meaning you do have to go straight to the point in your writing, as you don’t have room for more words.

Because a research paper requires a closer examination of existing studies before the methodology chapter, it has to have a literature review.

The literature review for a research paper varies in length based on the nature of the assignment. For example, if your instructor asks you to write an 8-page research paper, you should have a 2-page literature review for the assignment.  

How Long is a Literature Review for a Dissertation?

A dissertation is a project completed as part of a postgraduate degree. Student have to present their findings on their area of study in a dissertation defense.

The length of the literature review for this assignment depends on the field of study, the topic selected, and the type of analysis required.

A dissertation is a 150 to 300 pages long project. The review for a project this big should be between 40 and 60 pages.

There is some flexibility here, so you don’t have to panic if your work doesn’t hit the 60-page target.

Final Thoughts

The takeaway from this post is that the length of a literature review depends on the type of project, the length of the project, and the level of study.

Also, it’s important to read the assignment brief provided by your instructor, as it helps to steer you in the right direction as you write the review.

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About the author 

Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.

Literature Review

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a survey and discussion of the literature in a given area of study. It is a concise overview of what has been studied, argued, and established about a topic, and it is usually organized chronologically or thematically. A literature review is written in essay format. It is not an annotated bibliography, because it groups related works together and discusses trends and developments rather than focusing on one item at a time. It is not a summary; rather, it evaluates previous and current research in regard to how relevant and/or useful it is and how it relates to your own research.

A Literature Review is more than an Annotated Bibliography or a summary, because you are organizing and presenting your sources in terms of their overall relationship to your own project.

A literature review is written to highlight specific arguments and ideas in a field of study. By highlighting these arguments, the writer attempts to show what has been studied in the field, and also where the weaknesses, gaps, or areas needing further study are. The review should therefore also demonstrate to the reader why the writer’s research is useful, necessary, important, and valid.

Literature reviews can have different types of audiences, so consider why and for whom you are writing your review. For example, a lot of literature reviews are written as a chapter for a thesis or dissertation, so the audience will want to know in what way your research is important and original. Highlighting the gap in knowledge which your research aims to fill is particularly important in this instance because you need to convince the reader that there is an opening in the area of study. A literature review in a proposal will similarly try to convince the audience of the significance and worthiness of the proposed project. In contrast, when you are writing a literature review for a course, your professor may want you to show that you understand what research has been done, giving you a base of knowledge. In this case, you may not need to focus as much on proving where the gaps in knowledge lie, but rather, that you know what the major areas of study and key ideas are.

Questions a Literature Review Should Answer:

Asking questions such as the following will help you sift through your sources and organize your literature review. Remember, the literature review organizes the previous research in the light of what you are planning to do in your own project.

The length of a literature review varies depending on its purpose and audience. In a thesis or dissertation, the review is usually a full chapter (at least 20 pages), but for an assignment it may only be a few pages.

There are several ways to organize and structure a literature review. Two common ways are chronologically and thematically.

Chronological:   In a chronological review, you will group and discuss your sources in order of their appearance (usually publication), highlighting the changes in research in the field and your specific topic over time. This method is useful for papers focusing on research methodology, historiographical papers, and other writing where time becomes an important element. For example, a literature review on theories of mental illness might present how the understanding of mental illness has changed through the centuries, by giving a series of examples of key developments and ending with current theories and the direction your research will take.

Thematic:   In a thematic review, you will group and discuss your sources in terms of the themes or topics they cover. This method is often a stronger one organizationally, and it can help you resist the urge to summarize your sources. By grouping themes or topics of research together, you will be able to demonstrate the types of topics that are important to your research. For example, if the topic of the literature review is changes in popular music, then there might be separate sections on research involving the production of music, research on the dissemination of music, research on the interpretation of music, and historical studies of popular music.

No matter which method you choose, remember:   Within each section of a literature review, it is important to discuss how the research relates to other studies (how is it similar or different, what other studies have been done, etc.) as well as to demonstrate how it relates to your own work. This is what the review is for: don’t leave this connection out!

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Length of a master's thesis and its literature review?

I am pretty confident that I will be getting answers pointing out that this is something too specific and should/will be decided by my university and that a general answer does not exist. But anyway, I just want to have an idea.

I was aiming at 120 pages of my upcoming marketing master's thesis but I thought that I could reduce it to 100 (pure text speaking of course as I am pretty sure that with references and appendices, it will be +120 though). So what is the average length of a master's thesis? Business and marketing field. As for what I've found online, the general consensus seems to be between 60 and 120 pages.

As for its literature review length, again, the general consensus seems to be between 20% and 40% of the overall thesis length, any personal experience with that? I was aiming at 50% but after doing some research, I am decreasing it to somewhere between 20% and 30%. However my instructor demanded it to be between 30% and 40%.

R. AS.'s user avatar

2 Answers 2

I found 5 theses related to my master's thesis topic on the Open Access Theses and Dissertations website. All of them were 120 pgs - 150 pages, although this was for engineering. The literature review was (appx) 30% of each thesis. My suggestion is to check the OATD website, find theses in your field and closely related to your topic to get a pretty general idea of the length and breadth of literature review.

J. Roibal - BlockchainEng's user avatar

I think you pretty much answered your question yourself (as you expected). You seem to have a good idea of what the length of related theses is and you know that your university has the last word. 100 to 120 pages seems reasonable for your area.

If you really want to know you have to ask you advisor or former students who already wrote their thesis in a related subject.

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How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation

Published by steve tippins on july 5, 2019 july 5, 2019.

Last Updated on: 30th August 2022, 04:36 am

Chapter 2 of your dissertation, your literature review, may be the longest chapter. It is not uncommon to see lit reviews in the 40- to 60-page range. That may seem daunting, but I contend that the literature review could be the easiest part of your dissertation.

It is also foundational. To be able to select an appropriate research topic and craft expert research questions, you’ll need to know what has already been discovered and what mysteries remain. 

Remember, your degree is meant to indicate your achieving the highest level of expertise in your area of study. The lit review for your dissertation could very well form the foundation for your entire career.

In this article, I’ll give you detailed instructions for how to write the literature review of your dissertation without stress. I’ll also provide a sample outline.

When to Write the Literature Review for your Dissertation

Though technically Chapter 2 of your dissertation, many students write their literature review first. Why? Because having a solid foundation in the research informs the way you write Chapter 1.

Also, when writing Chapter 1, you’ll need to become familiar with the literature anyway. It only makes sense to write down what you learn to form the start of your lit review.

Some institutions even encourage students to write Chapter 2 first. But it’s important to talk with your Chair to see what he or she recommends.

How Long Should a Literature Review Be?

There is no set length for a literature review. The length largely depends on your area of study. However, I have found that most literature reviews are between 40-60 pages.

If your literature review is significantly shorter than that, ask yourself (a) if there is other relevant research that you have not explored, or (b) if you have provided enough of a discussion about the information you did explore.

Preparing to Write the Literature Review for your Dissertation

barefoot woman sitting on a large stack of books

1. Search Using Key Terms

Most people start their lit review searching appropriate databases using key terms. For example, if you’re researching the impact of social media on adult learning, some key terms you would use at the start of your search would be adult learning, androgogy, social media, and “learning and social media” together. 

If your topic was the impact of natural disasters on stock prices, then you would need to explore all types of natural disasters, other market factors that impact stock prices, and the methodologies used. 

You can save time by skimming the abstracts first; if the article is not what you thought it might be you can move on quickly.

Once you start finding articles using key terms, two different things will usually happen: you will find new key terms to search, and the articles will lead you directly to other articles related to what you are studying. It becomes like a snowball rolling downhill. 

Note that the vast majority of your sources should be articles from peer-reviewed journals. 

2. Immerse Yourself in the Literature

woman asleep on the couch next to a giant pile of books

When people ask what they should do first for their dissertation the most common answer is “immerse yourself in the literature.” What exactly does this mean?

Think of this stage as a trip into the quiet heart of the forest. Your questions are at the center of this journey, and you’ll need to help your reader understand which trees — which particular theories, studies, and lines of reasoning — got you there. 

There are lots of trees in this particular forest, but there are particular trees that mark your path.  What makes them unique? What about J’s methodology made you choose that study over Y’s? How did B’s argument triumph over A’s, thus leading you to C’s theory? 

You are showing your reader that you’ve fully explored the forest of your topic and chosen this particular path, leading to these particular questions (your research questions), for these particular reasons.

3. Consider Gaps in the Research

The gaps in the research are where current knowledge ends and your study begins. In order to build a case for doing your study, you must demonstrate that it:

Defining the gaps in the literature should help accomplish both aims. Identifying studies on related topics helps make the case that your study is relevant, since other researchers have conducted related studies.

And showing where they fall short will help make the case that your study is the appropriate next step. Pay special attention to the recommendations for further research that the authors of studies make.

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4. Organize What You Find

As you find articles, you will have to come up with methods to organize what you find. 

Whether you find a computer-based system (three popular systems are Zotero, endNote, and Mendeley) or some sort of manual system such as index cards, you need to devise a method where you can easily group your references by subject and methodology and find what you are looking for when you need it. It is very frustrating to know you have found an article that supports a point that you are trying to make, but you can’t find the article!

focused woman studying inside a bright library

One way to save time and keep things organized is to cut and paste relevant quotations (and their references) under topic headings. You’ll be able to rearrange and do some paraphrasing later, but if you’ve got the quotations and the citations that are important to you already embedded in your text, you’ll have an easier time of it.  

If you choose this method, be sure to list the whole reference on the reference/bibliography page so you don’t have to do this page separately later. Some students use Scrivener for this purpose, as it offers a clear way to view and easily navigate to all sections of a written document.

Need help with your literature review? Take a look at my dissertation coaching and dissertation editing services.

How to Write the Literature Review for your Dissertation

Once you have gathered a sufficient number of pertinent references, you’ll need to string them together in a way that tells your story. Explain what previous researchers have done by telling the story of how knowledge on this topic has evolved. Here, you are laying the support for your topic and showing that your research questions need to be answered. Let’s dive into how to actually write your dissertation’s literature review.

1. Create an Outline

If you’ve created a system for keeping track of the sources you’ve found, you likely already have the bones of an outline. Even if not, it may be relatively easy to see how to organize it all. The main thing to remember is, keep it simple and don’t overthink it. There are several ways to organize your dissertation’s literature review, and I’ll discuss some of the most common below:

2. Write the Paragraphs 

I said earlier that I thought the lit review was the easiest part to write, and here is why. When you write about the findings of others, you can do it in small, discrete time periods. You go down the path awhile, then you rest. 

Once you have many small pieces written, you can then piece them together. You can write each piece without worrying about the flow of the chapter; that can all be done at the end when you put the jigsaw puzzle of references together.

woman with curly hair studying in her home office

The literature review is a demonstration of your ability to think critically about existing research and build meaningfully on it in your study. Avoid simply stating what other researchers said. Find the relationships between studies, note where researchers agree and disagree, and– especiallyy–relate it to your own study. 

Pay special attention to controversial issues, and don’t be afraid to give space to researchers who you disagree with. Including differing opinions will only strengthen the credibility of your study, as it demonstrates that you’re willing to consider all sides.

4. Justify the Methodology

In addition to discussing studies related to your topic, include some background on the methodology you will be using. This is especially important if you are using a new or little-used methodology, as it may help get committee members onboard. 

I have seen several students get slowed down in the process trying to get committees to buy into the planned methodology. Providing references and samples of where the planned methodology has been used makes the job of the committee easier, and it will also help your reader trust the outcomes.

Advice for Writing Your Dissertation’s Literature Review

Sample Outline of a Literature Review (Dissertation Chapter 2)

close-up shot of an open notebook and a laptop

Here is a sample outline, with some brief instructions. Note that your institution probably has specific requirements for the structure of your dissertation’s literature review. But to give you a general idea, I’ve provided a sample outline of a dissertation ’s literature review here.

Documentation of Literature Search Strategy

Literature Review (this is the meat of the chapter)

See below for an example of what this outline might look like.

How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation: An Example 

Let’s take an example that will make the organization, and the outline, a little bit more clear. Below, I’ll fill out the example outline based on the topics discussed.

If your questions have to do with the impact of the servant leadership style of management on employee retention, you may want to saunter down the path of servant leadership first, learning of its origins , its principles , its values , and its methods . 

You’ll note the different ways the style is employed based on different practitioners’ perspectives or circumstances and how studies have evaluated these differences. Researchers will draw conclusions that you’ll want to note, and these conclusions will lead you to your next questions. 

man browsing on his laptop

Next, you’ll want to wander into the territory of management styles to discover their impact on employee retention in general. Does management style really make a difference in employee retention, and if so, what factors, exactly, make this impact?

Employee retention is its own path, and you’ll discover factors, internal and external, that encourage people to stick with their jobs.

You’ll likely find paradoxes and contradictions in here that just bring up more questions. How do internal and external factors mix and match? How can employers influence both psychology and context ? Is it of benefit to try and do so?

At first, these three paths seem somewhat remote from one another, but your interest is where the three converge. Taking the lit review section by section like this before tying it all together will not only make it more manageable to write but will help you lead your reader down the same path you traveled, thereby increasing clarity. 

Example Outline

So the main sections of your literature review might look something like this:

Final Thoughts on Writing Your Dissertation’s Chapter 2

The lit review provides the foundation for your study and perhaps for your career. Spend time reading and getting lost in the literature. The “aha” moments will come where you see how everything fits together. 

At that point, it will just be a matter of clearly recording and tracing your path, keeping your references organized, and conveying clearly how your research questions are a natural evolution of previous work that has been done.

PS. If you’re struggling with your literature review, I can help. I offer dissertation coaching and editing services.

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Steve Tippins, PhD, has thrived in academia for over thirty years. He continues to love teaching in addition to coaching recent PhD graduates as well as students writing their dissertations. Learn more about his dissertation coaching and career coaching services. Book a Free Consultation with Steve Tippins

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Considerations on the Length of the Literature Review

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Hence, this means you must be thoroughly familiar with the funding organization’s goals, objectives, mission and vision .

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Thesis or Dissertation Panel

Practitioners of the field of specialization, course professor, how long should a literature review be, 1-2 pages if part of a research proposal, at least 20 pages for a thesis or dissertation, a few pages.

Since scientific journals typically accept 10-20 pages of single-spaced manuscripts, the literature review needs to be brief and to the point. With the exception, of course, of a paper devoted to an extensive review of literature on a particular topic.

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Literature reviews

Writing a literature review.

The following guide has been created for you by the  Student Learning Advisory Service , for more detailed guidance and to speak to one of our advisers, please book an  appointment  or join one of our online  workshops . 

Preparing a literature review involves:

Finding and choosing material

Ensure you are clear on what you are looking for. ask yourself:.

What kind of literature is particularly authoritative in this academic discipline (e.g. psychology, sociology, pharmacy)?

How much do you need?

This will depend on the length of the dissertation, the nature of the subject, and the level of study (undergraduate, Masters, PhD). As a very rough rule of thumb – you may choose 8-10 significant pieces (books and/or articles) for an 8,000 word dissertation, up to 20 major pieces of work for 12-15,000 words, and so on. Bear in mind that if your dissertation is based mainly around an interaction with existing scholarship you will need a longer literature review than if it is there as a prelude to new empirical research. Use your judgement or ask your supervisor for guidance.

Where to find suitable material

Your literature review should include a balance between substantial academic books, journal articles and other scholarly publications. All these sources should be as up-to-date as possible, with the exception of ‘classic texts’ such as major works written by leading scholars setting out formative ideas and theories central to your subject. There are several ways to locate suitable material:

Module bibliography: for undergraduate dissertations, look first at the bibliography provided with the module documentation. Choose one or two likely looking books or articles and then scan through the bibliographies provided by these authors. Skim read some of this material looking for clues: can you use these leads to identify key theories and authors or track down other appropriate material?

Library catalogue search engine: enter a few key words to capture a range of items, but avoid over-generalisations; if you type in something as broad as ‘social theory’ you are likely to get several thousand results. Be more specific: for example, ‘Heidegger, existentialism’. Ideally, you should narrow the field to obtain just a few dozen results. Skim through these quickly to identity texts which are most likely to contribute to your study.

Library bookshelves: browse the library shelves in the relevant subject area and examine the books that catch your eye. Check the contents and index pages, or skim through the introductions (or abstracts, in the case of journal articles) to see if they contain relevant material, and replace them if not. Don’t be afraid to ask one of the subject librarians for further help. Your supervisor may also be able to point you in the direction of some of the important literature , but remember this is your literature search, not theirs.

Online: for recent journal articles you will almost certainly need to use one of the online search engines. These can be found on the ‘Indexing Services’ button on the Templeman Library website. Kent students based at Medway still need to use the Templeman pages to access online journals, although you can get to these pages through the Drill Hall Library catalogue. Take a look as well at the Subject Guides on both the Templeman and DHL websites.

Check that you have made the right selection by asking:

Assessing the literature

Read the material you have chosen carefully, considering the following:

As you note down the key content of each book or journal article (together with the reference details of each source) record your responses to these questions. You will then be able to summarise each piece of material from two perspectives:     

Content: a brief description of the content of the book or article. Remember, an author will often make just one key point; so, what is the point they are making, and how does it relate to your own research project or assignment?

Critical analysis: an assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the evidence used, and the arguments presented. Has anything conveniently been left out or skated over? Is there a counter-argument, and has the author dealt with this adequately? Can the evidence presented be interpreted another way? Does the author demonstrate any obvious bias which could affect their reliability? Overall, based on the above analysis of the author’s work, how do you evaluate its contribution to the scholarly understanding and knowledge surrounding the topic?    

Structuring the literature review

In a PhD thesis, the literature review typically comprises one chapter (perhaps 8-10,000 words), for a Masters dissertation it may be around 2-3,000 words, and for an undergraduate dissertation it may be no more than 2,000 words. In each case the word count can vary depending on a range of factors and it is always best, if in doubt, to ask your supervisor.

The overall structure of the section or chapter should be like any other: it should have a beginning, middle and end. You will need to guide the reader through the literature review, outlining the strategy you have adopted for selecting the books or articles, presenting the topic theme for the review, then using most of the word limit to analyse the chosen books or articles thoroughly before pulling everything together briefly in the conclusion.

Some people prefer a less linear approach. Instead of simply working through a list of 8-20 items on your book review list, you might want to try a thematic approach, grouping key ideas, facts, concepts or approaches together and then bouncing the ideas off each other. This is a slightly more creative (and interesting) way of producing the review, but a little more risky as it is harder to establish coherence and logical sequencing.

Whichever approach you adopt, make sure everything flows smoothly – that one idea or book leads neatly to the next. Take your reader effortlessly through a sequence of thought that is clear, accurate, precise and interesting. 

Writing up your literature review

As with essays generally, only attempt to write up the literature review when you have completed all the reading and note-taking, and carefully planned its content and structure. Find an appropriate way of introducing the review, then guide the reader through the material clearly and directly, bearing in mind the following:

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  1. How Long Is a Literature Review? (Quick Answer!)

    A literature review for a thesis must not be more than 20% of the project's length. · If you're writing a 100 to 150 pages dissertation, you can

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    There is no set length for a literature review. The length largely depends on your area of study. However, I have found that most literature

  6. How Long Should a Literature Review Be?

    The number of pages for a thesis or dissertation varies between academic institutions. The rule of thumb, however, is around 15 to 25% of the

  7. Writing a Literature Review

    In a PhD thesis, the literature review typically comprises one chapter (perhaps 8-10,000 words), for a Masters dissertation it may be around 2-

  8. PhD Postgraduate Forum

    Mine is in two chapters as well. One (conceptual framework) around 7000 words, and one (main literature review on my subject) around 8000 words.


    under study. Suggested length is 5-6 pages. 6) Chapter 3: Literature Review. The importance of this chapter cannot be overstated, and, practically speaking


    The conclusion provides an overview of what is known and thought about the topic and what is left to explore. LENGTH OF A LITERATURE REVIEW. In the absence of