Skip to content

Best Length for Literature Review: Thesis, Essays or Papers

How Long Should a Literature Review Be

Literature reviews are surveys on different topics using scholarly sources. Literature reviews help understand the current knowledge on different topics and hence identify gaps, methods, and relevant theories existing in an area of study.

To write a literature review, one needs to search for relevant literature, evaluate sources, identify themes and gaps, and outline structures. A good literature review will analyze, synthesize, and evaluate a study critically to give a clear picture of knowledge on that subject. 

How Long Should a Literature Review Be?

The length of a literature review depends on the audience and its purpose. The level of study also determines the length of a literature review.


Literature reviews of topics done by undergraduate students are expected to be shorter than literature reviews of postgraduate students.

Literature reviews of essays are also expected to be shorter than literature reviews done for a thesis or dissertation. But how long should it be?

Overall, The length of a literature review should be between 20% and 40% of the total project. This is because the length of your paper also determines the length of the literature review.

Papers with a lot of content have longer literature reviews than papers with lesser amounts of content.

There is a general rule that the length of the literature review should be proportional to the length of your paper.

Optimal Length of a Literature Review for Different Projects

1. Optimal literature for Thesis

A thesis can be defined as a long essay that includes personal research done by undergraduate and post-graduate students. The length of a thesis depends on the level of study.

A thesis written by bachelor’s degree students should be between 40-60 pages, while a thesis written for master’s and doctorate studies should be between 60-100 pages.

The length of the literature review for a thesis should be at least 8 pages to the minimum. The optimal length of the literature review for this should be 20% of the total length of the thesis project.

The length varies with the length of the thesis a student is writing. For example, in a 40-page thesis, the literature review should be not less than 8 pages.

Not less than 12 pages for a 60-page thesis and not less than 16 pages for an 80-page thesis. The literature review for a thesis should at least be a whole chapter. 

2. Literature Review Length for Dissertation

A dissertation is a research project that is completed as part of a postgraduate or undergraduate degree. Dissertations allow students to present their findings on areas of research that they choose themselves. The length of a dissertation varies depending on the field of study.

literature review writing

The discipline, type of analysis, and area of research all determine the length of a dissertation.

The general length of a dissertation is usually between 150-300 pages. 

A literature review for a dissertation should at least be between 40-60 pages. There is no specific set length for dissertation literature reviews. The length depends largely on your area of study.

If you have a short literature review, ask yourself whether there is other relevant research that you have not explored or if the information you have provided for what you explored is enough. 

For proper preparation when writing a dissertation literature review, do the following:

  • Search using key terms

Using key terms will help you do proper research and find many key terms to search. You will also find articles that are directly related to your area of study. 

  • Immerse yourself in literature

Immersing yourself in literature helps you massively explore your area of study and choose the right approach for your dissertation. 

  • Consider the research gaps

Focus on an area that has not been studied for your research. Recommendations made by authors can help you identify gaps in different areas of study. 

  • Organize what you find

Note down what you find in sections to avoid mixing of ideas. Copy and paste your findings to avoid losing them. Note the references of each researched work to avoid inconveniences later. 

To write a literature review of your dissertations, create an outline, write the paragraphs, analyze the study, and justify the methodology.

3. Literature review length for Published Journal Articles

These are articles that are shorter than books and are written about very specific topics.

Recommended length of a literature review for journal

Journal articles are written regularly throughout the year and are written by experts for experts.

Journal articles can be original research, short reports or letters, review articles, case studies, or methodologies.

A published journal article should have an average of 5000 words. 

The best length of the literature review section of published journal articles should be at least 2 pages or a few pages. This depends on the length of the journal. Different topics vary in content which determines the length of the journal article.

The literature review of a 5000-word journal article should be between 1200 and 2000 words. 

4. Literature review length for Research Paper

A research paper argues a point and analyses perspectives. It is centered on the writer’s thinking which is backed by other ideas and information. To write a research paper, pick a topic if you are not provided with one, do research, and present it.

Conduct the research, organize the research, form a thesis, create an outline, and then write your research. After writing, edit the content and re-read it to make sure that your research is ready for submission.

The length of a research paper should be at least 25% of the research paper or term paper. However, this usually depends on the area of study. There are also short research papers and long research papers. Short research papers are between 5 and 8 pages long and are usually direct to the point.

The literature review of research papers depends on the length of the research papers. Short research papers can have 2-3-page research reviews. The longer the research paper gets, the longer the literature review should be.

Research papers are common and instructors can give a maximum length of the literature review. In such cases, the instructions of the instructor have to be followed. 

5. Best length for Capstone Paper Literature

This is a form of academic paper that students write to summarize their experiences. They are usually written in the last year of high school or middle school as part of a university or college course.

To write a capstone research paper, think of the topic you want to write, create a capstone project proposal, gather information, and come up with a structure.

After writing your paper, proofread the text and prepare the defense. The average length of a capstone paper is between 20-25 pages. A capstone paper should not exceed the length of 45 pages. 

A literature review of a capstone paper depends on its length and the instructions given by your faculty. For instance, a 20-25-page capstone paper should have a 5 to 6-page long literature review. The longer the paper gets, the longer the literature review should be.

After writing the literature review, submit a draft to your capstone adviser for corrections before proceeding. 

Optimal Length for Essays

An essay is a piece of writing that can be used to support an argument, present an idea, express emotion, or initiate debate. Ideas are presented in essays in a non-fictional way. There are many different types of essays. Essays can be as short as 500 words and as long as 10,00 words.

The length of the literature review section for an essay depends on the length of your essay. A 15-page essay can have a 3-page long literature review. The lesser the pages the lesser the literature review. Therefore, there is no universal length for the literature review of an essay.

The more the pages, the longer the literature review. Literature reviews of essays should have an introduction, main body, and conclusion.

The introduction part should introduce your topic, introduce your point of view, review the literature and state the scope of the literature.

The main body should organize the literature into themes, show the relation between the chosen topic and the wider subject, and move from a general view to a specific view.

The conclusion should summarize the important aspects of the main body, identify areas for future study, and link your research to existing knowledge. 

Factors Determining the Length of a Literature Review

1. Type of the Project

The type of project you have determines the length of your literature review.

Literature Review Length

Dissertations have longer literature reviews than published journal articles.

A thesis has a longer literature review compared to essays.

One, therefore, will need to know the type of project at hand before starting and writing the literature review to avoid making mistakes.

Each type of project has its specified length of the literature review. 

2. The Number of Sources

The number of sources one has regarding a certain topic will determine the length of the work they right. Longer writings have longer literature reviews and shorter writing has shorter literature reviews.

Sources of information determine the content one will gather before writing an essay. It is the sources of information that will help you gain knowledge of the topic you are handling.

The less content and knowledge about a topic one has, the lesser the content and knowledge one will write. Without content and knowledge about a topic, even formulating a literature review becomes hard.

When one has many sources of information, ideas will flow and understanding of the area of study will increase. This helps one formulate accurate literature reviews and include the majority of information obtained from the sources in them. 

3. Your Experience in Writing

You can have everything needed to write a literature review of the required length, but without experience writing, it may prove to be hard. If one has never written a literature review before, he or she will experience difficulties in writing it.

In most cases, one may write literature reviews that are too short or too long. Transforming the information gathered into a literature review is hard.

This is why one may use too much or less information in the literature review. Such writers are advised to go through beginner tutorials to explain the writing of literature reviews to avoid too many mistakes.

Experienced writers, on the other hand, know how to utilize every piece of information gathered and transform it into a literature review of the required size. Amateur literature review writers are also advised to seek help from experienced writers. 

4. The Length of the Entire Project

In most academic assignments, instructors give students the length required in different projects. This length should guide students in determining the length of the literature review.

A literature review should not take the majority of your project. Longer assignments have longer literature reviews, while shorter assignments have shorter literature reviews.

Students should consider the number of words or pages provided by the instructor for certain assignments and gauge the length that the literature review.

The literature review reflects the whole content of your project. You can’t have a short literature review and a very long essay. You will probably include things that do not relate to your literature review in the essay.

Short projects like essays and term papers mostly have mini-reviews. Read this guide on how long a mini literature review is so that you can get the point.

5. The Topic Involved

Different topics usually have different sources of information. Some topics are majorly researched on the internet, and some topics are rarely researched.

The topics that many people have looked into have a lot of information that one can use in writing literature reviews. This is contrary to the topics that have been looked into by few people and have little content.

A writer will usually find it hard to write long literature reviews on such topics. When you are asked for a specific length of an essay and given the mandate to choose a topic yourself, never choose a topic that has not been majorly researched which is likely to cause you problems writing the length required by the instructor. 

6. The Technicality of the Research

Some topics are usually hard for students to understand, while others are easy for students to understand. This usually varies among students.

Some students will find history projects harder than science projects, while to other students, it is different.

It is hard for students to write long literature reviews or essays on subjects or topics that they find hard to understand. This is different in the subjects and topics that students enjoy. 

7. Level of Study

This is the most obvious reason that influences the length of literature reviews. Postgraduate students will always be required to write longer essays than undergraduate students. Their level of knowledge and understanding is different.

Though the post-graduate level is more complex, the students are expected to be able to handle the problems that the project poses. Postgraduate students are also required to conduct research that provides them with more information about their projects, unlike undergraduate students. 

8. Professor Factors

Professor factors that determine the length of the of literature review include:

  • The number of words expected.

Most professors usually give the length that they expect the assignment they give to be. This length determines the length of the literature review. Some professors can be specific and give the length they expect the literature review of projects to be. 

  • Availability.

If the professor feels like he will not have enough time to deal with the projects of all students, he can give shorter projects that he will be able to handle. If the professor is available, he can give longer assignments to the students. 

  • Gauging students’ understanding.

Professors can give long assignments to students to establish their level of understanding of an already tackled area. They use this to find out how well can students apply the knowledge gained in different areas. 

Types of Literature Reviews

The most common types of literature reviews include argumentative reviews, integrative reviews, historical reviews, systematic reviews, systematic reviews, methodological reviews, and theoretical reviews. Argumentative and historical reviews are usually longer than the other types of reviews. 

Projects Deadlines

Shorter deadlines usually limit students from conducting enough research. The lesser the research one conducts the lesser the amount of information one has to write about.

This leads to short literature reviews. When one is given enough time to conduct research, they gather all the information needed to write full-length projects hence longer literature reviews as well.

FAQs on Optimal Literature Review

How long should a literature review be in a research proposal? 

Research proposals vary in length depending on the level of study and the topics involved. Longer literature proposals should have longer literature reviews, whereas shorter research proposals should have shorter literature reviews.

Literature reviews are usually the longest part of research proposals. The introduction and the methodology parts are always shorter. If your introduction part is 2 pages long and the methodology part is 4 pages long, the research proposal should be longer than the two.

How long does it take to write a literature review?

Most students do not know how long it should take to write a literature review because the deadlines are determined by the professors.

Most believe that the time the professor sets the deadline is the time required to write a literature review. The time one uses to write a literature review usually depends on the hours allocated per day to do the work.

The more hours, the fewer days it will take. The fewer the hours, the longer it will take. A literature review can take between 2-6 months to be completed. 

How long should a literature review be for a PhD

A Ph.D. literature review is the main chapter of your Ph.D. thesis. Your Ph.D. literature review should assess your field of research critically and present the current knowledge that you have gained from previous work.

The literature review should help you identify the gaps in your knowledge of your field. Most Ph.D. literature reviews are always between 6000-12000 words. The main focus of Ph.D. literature reviews is the quality of the work and not the quantity.