Literature Review Outline

When one wishes to know how they can advance on the body of knowledge in a discipline, they must have a clue about what is current regarding the issue on focus. Then they must be able to show areas that may have been previously unexplored, and finally, show how the unexplored can be explored. This is one of the important uses of a literature review.

This article will focus on how one can create an outline for an APA Literature Review using an example. It will also show that working on this outline is a practice of thought and a rigorous preparation for more focused action. Please take note of the different stages of developing our literature review to have an idea of how you can best develop your own outline.

What's The Problem?

Let's take this literature review outline example problem: "Are young males born in black neighborhoods psychologically predisposed to crime?"

Why Is It a Problem?

You recently discovered that the police department had developed a policy that involved profiling and early crime deterrence by an exhibition of force on children. Since this is unprofessional, you want to advise the police department correctly, and that involves showing whether there are any psychological pre-dispositions linking the target population to crime.

Sourcing the Literature

  • What are some of the subtopics related to the problem at hand? These are mostly contributions by other writers on issues that are related to the subject matter.

  • Use of search engines- This is important when we want to find relevant and credible literature from the internet. Being judicious and specific in our search engine optimization would be of great help in defining the scope and getting a good sample of literature to review.

  • Library management systems and using the library card- There are cases when one needs to go to the library and search from the library index. One can also use references in other relevant books for leads on what other literature to consider.

  • Reading- It's important for one to read critically and note the patterns that may be emerging across the pool of texts that are available.

  • Developing categories - One is advised to use schemas and spaces where one can write titles for each of the emergent categories and stick notes or compile notes around them in order to determine the basic themes.

  • Summarizing- For each citation written according to the APA literature review model one needs to write a paraphrase of the detail recorded. This is in turn used as evidence when presenting the main points, and on a higher order, facilitates the creation of the main thesis.

Writing Our Sample Literature Review

  1. Conventions

The APA literature review outline has been designed according to conventions that can be found on the internet. The researcher is well advised to be acquainted with the necessary conventions and to be continuously updated on them.

In this case, we'll recall the convention of "Name, Year, State/City of Publisher, Publisher name for references.

These conventions have been developed to ease the work of the researcher while writing, and also to make an audience's reading experience more friendly.

  1. Technique

Reading the sample of literature sources is meant to be done with an aim of identifying patterns and developing categories and the themes behind these categories.

But if one can identify these categories then it means that they have the references that they can cite as evidence for their generalizations.

Generalizations developed from the categories are then analyzed and developed to conclusions.

The conclusions are then linked to each other to form one whole essay- an outline for literature review comes really in handy here.

Thus the technique is one of stating, backing up with evidence, analyzing and form new inferences. Then using these inferences together to form one meta inference that can be used for higher order activities like conducting field experiments.

  1. The Essay

Our sample literature review which is following the APA literature review outline is very much like other kinds of essays. It has an introduction, the main argument, and a conclusion. Each part of the essay is about articulating ideas in a specific way.

In our case, the problem statement was: "Are young males born in black neighborhoods psychologically predisposed to crime?" This generated a reading and investigation activity along certain categories and themes. After these themes were carefully organized ideas were generated that helped form the thesis of the essay.


The example of an essay that is stated in the introduction


"Yong males born in black neighborhoods are psychologically predisposed to crime given the findings based on recent research on the relations between behavior and ecology. Some of the key ideas that we intend to explore in this paper are Gender role and frustration theory, architecture and mental health, and the effects of identity narratives on behavior.

The purpose of this paper is to enlighten on the nature of crime in black neighborhoods and to advise on appropriate ways in which the police department in city x can work optimally in these neighborhoods."

The above introduction can be logically divided into component parts that correspond to the technique developed above. The following are the constituent parts of the introduction according to the APA literature review outline.

  • Thesis statement: "Young males born in black neighborhoods are psychologically predisposed to crime"

  • Key themes: Gender role and frustration theory, architecture and mental health, identity narrative and social behavior.

  • Scope: This essay is limited to? Consider some of the important limitations that surround this topic. How can a person best identify the limitations of the essay? All these are iterative thought patterns that determine the flow and substance of the whole essay.

  • Getting into the main argument: What is the transition of the above introduction and into the main argument? Are there things like'implied transitions?'

Main Argument

The APA literature review outline dictates that all themes are arguments and that consequently; all arguments must follow a certain structure. This structure entails the main point, backed by evidence, which is analyzed to generate a conclusion that is also a link to the next argument(s).

A sample argument of our sample literature review:

"Males born in black neighborhoods are frustrated in their masculine roles due to the scarcity of resources that can help them fulfill social functions. Magnus (2018) and Barberi (2016) show that resource scarcity leads to frustration while Chania (2012) and Victorina et al (2017) show that most black neighborhoods have an average income of below a value that can support a stable social order. This then implies that the male born in a black neighborhood is frustrated and that the frustration is likely to lead to criminal behavior if especially it is connected to other factors."

The Structure of the Argument

  • What is the main point of the argument? This is usually the opening statement in the paragraph

  • Has there been any evidence given to support the main point? Notice the Citation and the reporting

  • Is there an analytic inference that has been developed from the argument's flow? Check for how the evidence and reporting is joined or contrasted to form a new conclusion

  • How is this argument linked to other arguments? Look at the closing statement in the paragraph

Organize every other theme in similar fashion, and make sure that all arguments flow into each other.

Linking arguments: Once all the arguments have been presented their outcomes can be joined to form one major conclusion.


The conclusion is the sum of all arguments used in the main portion of the essay. It is generally equivalent to the introduction. Therefore one should check that the main portion of the essay is the same as the introduction in detail and consistency.

One should also show the way ahead in terms of work remaining to be done in order to complete the knowledge development task.


Once the essay has been developed to completion, there is a need to again apply the iterative motif that has run through the iterative process of preparing and writing it, by revisiting the structure, premises, and assumptions made in the essay.

Checking On Sources

One should check for the credibility of the sources, their relevance to the work, and the quality of the evidence given. What other issues are important for consideration of the sources?

Checking on the Literature

Here you check on the quality of your work. Is the argument you've presented persuasive? Have you offered adequate evidence for each of the themes?

Review everything once again and see what changes are needed, what other literature that may be needed to strengthen the idea you're developing. This is how to write literature review outlines that will impress your lecturers!

Our Summary

The process of writing a literature review that conforms to the APA literature review standards needs an outline that supports a thought process that begins with identifying a problem, generating the resources needed for creating a solution and ultimately generating a solution through an iterative process that keeps correlating the various components, techniques and facts together in a non-linear fashion.

We have shown using a sample of the APA outline of the literature review how the above is done. A step by step approach with an elaboration of technique has been given and it is hoped that the reader will explore for himself or herself the rigor and beauty of employing this thought process and communicational tool to advance humanity. Also, don't forget to go through some sample literature review outlines.