How to Write Critical Reviews

When you are asked to write a critical review of a book or article, you will need to identify, summarize, and evaluate the ideas and information the author has presented. In other words, you will be examining another person’s thoughts on a topic from your point of view.

Your stand must go beyond your “gut reaction” to the work and be based on your knowledge (readings, lecture, experience) of the topic as well as on factors such as criteria stated in your assignment or discussed by you and your instructor.

Make your stand clear at the beginning of your review, in your evaluations of specific parts, and in your concluding commentary.

Remember that your goal should be to make a few key points about the book or article, not to discuss everything the author writes.

Understanding the Assignment

To write a good critical review, you will have to engage in the mental processes of analyzing (taking apart) the work–deciding what its major components are and determining how these parts (i.e., paragraphs, sections, or chapters) contribute to the work as a whole.

Analyzing the work will help you focus on how and why the author makes certain points and prevent you from merely summarizing what the author says. Assuming the role of an analytical reader will also help you to determine whether or not the author fulfills the stated purpose of the book or article and enhances your understanding or knowledge of a particular topic.

Be sure to read your assignment thoroughly before you read the article or book. Your instructor may have included specific guidelines for you to follow. Keeping these guidelines in mind as you read the article or book can really help you write your paper!

Also, note where the work connects with what you’ve studied in the course. You can make the most efficient use of your reading and notetaking time if you are an active reader; that is, keep relevant questions in mind and jot down page numbers as well as your responses to ideas that appear to be significant as you read.

Please note: The length of your introduction and overview, the number of points you choose to review, and the length of your conclusion should be proportionate to the page limit stated in your assignment and should reflect the complexity of the material being reviewed as well as the expectations of your reader.

Write the introduction

Below are a few guidelines to help you write the introduction to your critical review.

Introduce your review appropriately

Begin your review with an introduction appropriate to your assignment.

If your assignment asks you to review only one book and not to use outside sources, your introduction will focus on identifying the author, the title, the main topic or issue presented in the book, and the author’s purpose in writing the book.

If your assignment asks you to review the book as it relates to issues or themes discussed in the course, or to review two or more books on the same topic, your introduction must also encompass those expectations.

Explain relationships

For example, before you can review two books on a topic, you must explain to your reader in your introduction how they are related to one another.

Within this shared context (or under this “umbrella”) you can then review comparable aspects of both books, pointing out where the authors agree and differ.

In other words, the more complicated your assignment is, the more your introduction must accomplish.

Finally, the introduction to a book review is always the place for you to establish your position as the reviewer (your thesis about the author’s thesis).

As you write, consider the following questions:

  • Is the book a memoir, a treatise, a collection of facts, an extended argument, etc.? Is the article a documentary, a write-up of primary research, a position paper, etc.?
  • Who is the author? What does the preface or foreword tell you about the author’s purpose, background, and credentials? What is the author’s approach to the topic (as a journalist? a historian? a researcher?)?
  • What is the main topic or problem addressed? How does the work relate to a discipline, to a profession, to a particular audience, or to other works on the topic?
  • What is your critical evaluation of the work (your thesis)? Why have you taken that position? What criteria are you basing your position on?

Provide an overview

In your introduction, you will also want to provide an overview. An overview supplies your reader with certain general information not appropriate for including in the introduction but necessary to understanding the body of the review.

Generally, an overview describes your book’s division into chapters, sections, or points of discussion. An overview may also include background information about the topic, about your stand, or about the criteria you will use for evaluation.

The overview and the introduction work together to provide a comprehensive beginning for (a “springboard” into) your review.

  • What are the author’s basic premises? What issues are raised, or what themes emerge? What situation (i.e., racism on college campuses) provides a basis for the author’s assertions?
  • How informed is my reader? What background information is relevant to the entire book and should be placed here rather than in a body paragraph?

Write the body

The body is the center of your paper, where you draw out your main arguments. Below are some guidelines to help you write it.

Organize using a logical plan

Organize the body of your review according to a logical plan. Here are two options:

  • First, summarize, in a series of paragraphs, those major points from the book that you plan to discuss; incorporating each major point into a topic sentence for a paragraph is an effective organizational strategy. Second, discuss and evaluate these points in a following group of paragraphs. (There are two dangers lurking in this pattern–you may allot too many paragraphs to summary and too few to evaluation, or you may re-summarize too many points from the book in your evaluation section.)
  • Alternatively, you can summarize and evaluate the major points you have chosen from the book in a point-by-point schema. That means you will discuss and evaluate point one within the same paragraph (or in several if the point is significant and warrants extended discussion) before you summarize and evaluate point two, point three, etc., moving in a logical sequence from point to point to point. Here again, it is effective to use the topic sentence of each paragraph to identify the point from the book that you plan to summarize or evaluate.

Questions to keep in mind as you write

With either organizational pattern, consider the following questions:

  • What are the author’s most important points? How do these relate to one another? (Make relationships clear by using transitions: “In contrast,” an equally strong argument,” “moreover,” “a final conclusion,” etc.).
  • What types of evidence or information does the author present to support his or her points? Is this evidence convincing, controversial, factual, one-sided, etc.? (Consider the use of primary historical material, case studies, narratives, recent scientific findings, statistics.)
  • Where does the author do a good job of conveying factual material as well as personal perspective? Where does the author fail to do so? If solutions to a problem are offered, are they believable, misguided, or promising?
  • Which parts of the work (particular arguments, descriptions, chapters, etc.) are most effective and which parts are least effective? Why?
  • Where (if at all) does the author convey personal prejudice, support illogical relationships, or present evidence out of its appropriate context?

Keep your opinions distinct and cite your sources

Remember, as you discuss the author’s major points, be sure to distinguish consistently between the author’s opinions and your own.

Keep the summary portions of your discussion concise, remembering that your task as a reviewer is to re-see the author’s work, not to re-tell it.

And, importantly, if you refer to ideas from other books and articles or from lecture and course materials, always document your sources, or else you might wander into the realm of plagiarism.

Include only that material which has relevance for your review and use direct quotations sparingly. The Writing Center has other handouts to help you paraphrase text and introduce quotations.

Write the conclusion

You will want to use the conclusion to state your overall critical evaluation.

You have already discussed the major points the author makes, examined how the author supports arguments, and evaluated the quality or effectiveness of specific aspects of the book or article.

Now you must make an evaluation of the work as a whole, determining such things as whether or not the author achieves the stated or implied purpose and if the work makes a significant contribution to an existing body of knowledge.

Consider the following questions:

  • Is the work appropriately subjective or objective according to the author’s purpose?
  • How well does the work maintain its stated or implied focus? Does the author present extraneous material? Does the author exclude or ignore relevant information?
  • How well has the author achieved the overall purpose of the book or article? What contribution does the work make to an existing body of knowledge or to a specific group of readers? Can you justify the use of this work in a particular course?
  • What is the most important final comment you wish to make about the book or article? Do you have any suggestions for the direction of future research in the area? What has reading this work done for you or demonstrated to you?

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Writing Critical Reviews

What is a Critical Review of a Journal Article?

A critical review of a journal article evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of an article's ideas and content. It provides description, analysis and interpretation that allow readers to assess the article's value.

Before You Read the Article

  • What does the title lead you to expect about the article?
  • Study any sub-headings to understand how the author organized the content.
  • Read the abstract for a summary of the author's arguments.
  • Study the list of references to determine what research contributed to the author's arguments. Are the references recent? Do they represent important work in the field?
  • If possible, read about the author to learn what authority he or she has to write about the subject.
  • Consult Web of Science to see if other writers have cited the author's work. (Please see 'How to use E-Indexes'.) Has the author made an important contribution to the field of study?

Reading the Article: Points to Consider

Read the article carefully. Record your impressions and note sections suitable for quoting.

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the author's purpose? To survey and summarize research on a topic? To present an argument that builds on past research? To refute another writer's argument?
  • Does the author define important terms?
  • Is the information in the article fact or opinion? (Facts can be verified, while opinions arise from interpretations of facts.) Does the information seem well-researched or is it unsupported?
  • What are the author's central arguments or conclusions? Are they clearly stated? Are they supported by evidence and analysis?
  • If the article reports on an experiment or study, does the author clearly outline methodology and the expected result?
  • Is the article lacking information or argumentation that you expected to find?
  • Is the article organized logically and easy to follow?
  • Does the writer's style suit the intended audience? Is the style stilted or unnecessarily complicated?
  • Is the author's language objective or charged with emotion and bias?
  • If illustrations or charts are used, are they effective in presenting information?

Prepare an Outline

Read over your notes. Choose a statement that expresses the central purpose or thesis of your review. When thinking of a thesis, consider the author's intentions and whether or not you think those intentions were successfully realized. Eliminate all notes that do not relate to your thesis. Organize your remaining points into separate groups such as points about structure, style, or argument. Devise a logical sequence for presenting these ideas. Remember that all of your ideas must support your central thesis.

Write the First Draft

The review should begin with a complete citation of the article. For example:

Platt, Kevin M.F. "History and Despotism, or: Hayden White vs. Ivan the Terrible  and Peter the Great." Rethinking History 3:3 (1999) : 247-269.

NOTE: Use the same bibliographic citation format as you would for any bibliography, works cited or reference list. It will follow a standard documentation style such as MLA or APA.

Be sure to ask your instructor which citation style to use. For frequently used style guides consult Queen's University Library's Citing Sources guide.

The first paragraph may contain:

  • a statement of your thesis
  • the author's purpose in writing the article
  • comments on how the article relates to other work on the same subject
  • information about the author's reputation or authority in the field

The body of the review should:

  • state your arguments in support of your thesis
  • follow the logical development of ideas that you mapped out in your outline
  • include quotations from the article which illustrate your main ideas

The concluding paragraph may:

  • summarize your review
  • restate your thesis

Revise the First Draft

Ideally, you should leave your first draft for a day or two before revising. This allows you to gain a more objective perspective on your ideas. Check for the following when revising:

  • grammar and punctuation errors
  • organization, logical development and solid support of your thesis
  • errors in quotations or in references

You may make major revisions in the organization or content of your review during the revision process. Revising can even lead to a radical change in your central thesis.

NOTE: Prepared by University of Toronto Mississauga Library, Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre.

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Additional Resources

Writing a Critical Review (Allyson Skene, The Writing Centre, U of Toronto at Scarborough)

The Book Review or Article Critique (Margaret Procter, Writing Support, University of Toronto)

Critical Reviews of Journal Articles (Herbert Coutts, University of Alberta)

Writing a Critical Review (The Writing Centre, Queen's University)

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  • To introduce the source, its main ideas, key details, and its place within the field
  • To present your assessment of the quality of the source

In general, the introduction of your critical review should include

  • Author(s) name
  • Title of the source 
  • What is the author's central purpose?
  • What methods or theoretical frameworks were used to accomplish this purpose?
  • What topic areas, chapters, sections, or key points did the author use to structure the source?
  • What were the results or findings of the study?
  • How were the results or findings interpreted? How were they related to the original problem (author's view of evidence rather than objective findings)?
  • Who conducted the research? What were/are their interests?
  • Why did they do this research?
  • Was this research pertinent only within the author’s field, or did it have broader (even global) relevance?
  • On what prior research was this source-based? What gap is the author attempting to address?
  • How important was the research question posed by the researcher?
  • Your overall opinion of the quality of the source. Think of this like a thesis or main argument.
  • Present your evaluation of the source, providing evidence from the text (or other sources) to support your assessment.

In general, the body of your critical review should include

  • Is the material organized logically and with appropriate headings?
  • Are there stylistic problems in logical, clarity or language?
  • Were the author(s) able to answer the question (test the hypothesis) raised
  • What was the objective of the study?
  • Does all the information lead coherently to the purpose of the study?
  • Are the methods valid for studying the problem or gap?
  • Could the study be duplicated from the information provided?
  • Is the experimental design logical and reliable?
  • How are the data organized? Is it logical and interpretable?
  • Do the results reveal what the researcher intended?
  • Do the authors present a logical interpretation of the results?
  • Have the limitations of the research been addressed?
  • Does the study consider other key studies in the field or other research possibilities or directions?
  • How was the significance of the work described?
  • Follow the structure of the journal article (e.g. Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion) - highlighting the strengths and weaknesses in each section
  • Present the weaknesses of the article, and then the strengths of the article (or vice versa).
  • Group your ideas according to different research themes presented in the source
  • Group the strengths and weaknesses of the article into the following areas: originality, reliability, validity, relevance, and presentation

Purpose: 

  • To summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the article as a whole
  • To assert the article’s practical and theoretical significance

In general, the conclusion of your critical review should include

  • A restatement of your overall opinion
  • A summary of the key strengths and weaknesses of the research that support your overall opinion of the source
  • Did the research reported in this source result in the formation of new questions, theories or hypotheses by the authors or other researchers?
  • Have other researchers subsequently supported or refuted the observations or interpretations of these authors?
  • Did the research provide new factual information, a new understanding of a phenomenon in the field, a new research technique?
  • Did the research produce any practical applications? 
  • What are the social, political, technological, or medical implications of this research?
  • How do you evaluate the significance of the research? 
  • Find out what style guide you are required to follow (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago) and follow the guidelines to create a reference list (may be called a bibliography or works cited).
  • Be sure to include citations in the text when you refer to the source itself or external sources. 
  • Check out our Cite Your Sources Guide for more information. 
  • Read assignment instructions carefully and refer to them throughout the writing process.
  • Make an outline of your main sections before you write.
  • If your professor does not assign a topic or source, you must choose one yourself. Select a source that interests you and is written clearly so you can understand it.
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Structure of a Critical Review

Critical reviews, both short (one page) and long (four pages), usually have a similar structure. Check your assignment instructions for formatting and structural specifications. Headings are usually optional for longer reviews and can be helpful for the reader.

Introduction

The length of an introduction is usually one paragraph for a journal article review and two or three paragraphs for a longer book review. Include a few opening sentences that announce the author(s) and the title, and briefly explain the topic of the text. Present the aim of the text and summarise the main finding or key argument. Conclude the introduction with a brief statement of your evaluation of the text. This can be a positive or negative evaluation or, as is usually the case, a mixed response.

Present a summary of the key points along with a limited number of examples. You can also briefly explain the author’s purpose/intentions throughout the text and you may briefly describe how the text is organised. The summary should only make up about a third of the critical review.

The critique should be a balanced discussion and evaluation of the strengths, weakness and notable features of the text. Remember to base your discussion on specific criteria. Good reviews also include other sources to support your evaluation (remember to reference).

You can choose how to sequence your critique. Here are some examples to get you started:

  • Most important to least important conclusions you make about the text.
  • If your critique is more positive than negative, then present the negative points first and the positive last.
  • If your critique is more negative than positive, then present the positive points first and the negative last.
  • If there are both strengths and weakness for each criterion you use, you need to decide overall what your judgement is. For example, you may want to comment on a key idea in the text and have both positive and negative comments. You could begin by stating what is good about the idea and then concede and explain how it is limited in some way. While this example shows a mixed evaluation, overall you are probably being more negative than positive.
  • In long reviews, you can address each criterion you choose in a paragraph, including both negative and positive points. For very short critical reviews (one page or less), where your comments will be briefer, include a paragraph of positive aspects  and another of negative.
  • You can also include recommendations for how the text can be improved in terms of ideas, research approach; theories or frameworks used can also be included in the critique section.

Conclusion & References

This is usually a very short paragraph.

  • Restate your overall opinion of the text.
  • Briefly present recommendations.
  • If necessary, some further qualification or explanation of your judgement can be included. This can help your critique sound fair and reasonable.

If you have used other sources in you review you should also include a list of references at the end of the review.

Summarising and paraphrasing for the critical review

The best way to summarise

  • Scan the text. Look for information that can be deduced from the introduction, conclusion, title, and headings. What do these tell you about the main points of the article?
  • Locate the topic sentences and highlight the main points as you read.
  • Reread the text and make separate notes of the main points. Examples and evidence do not need to be included at this stage. Usually they are used selectively in your critique.

Paraphrasing means putting it into your own words. Paraphrasing offers an alternative to using direct quotations in your summary (and the critique) and can be an efficient way to integrate your summary notes.

The best way to paraphrase

  • Review your summary notes
  • Rewrite them in your own words and in complete sentences
  • Use reporting verbs and phrases, e.g. 'The author describes…', 'Smith argues that …'.
  • Use quotation marks if If you include unique or specialist phrases from the text.

  Next: Some general criteria for evaluating texts

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How to read a paper, critical review

Reading a scientific article is a complex task. The worst way to approach this task is to treat it like the reading of a textbook—reading from title to literature cited, digesting every word along the way without any reflection or criticism.

A critical review (sometimes called a critique, critical commentary, critical appraisal, critical analysis) is a detailed commentary on and critical evaluation of a text. You might carry out a critical review as a stand-alone exercise, or as part of your research and preparation for writing a literature review. The following guidelines are designed to help you critically evaluate a research article.

How to Read a Scientific Article

You should begin by skimming the article to identify its structure and features. As you read, look for the author’s main points.

  • Generate questions before, during, and after reading.
  • Draw inferences based on your own experiences and knowledge.
  • To really improve understanding and recall, take notes as you read.

What is meant by critical and evaluation?

  • To be critical does not mean to criticise in an exclusively negative manner. To be critical of a text means you question the information and opinions in the text, in an attempt to evaluate or judge its worth overall.
  • An evaluation is an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of a text. This should relate to specific criteria, in the case of a research article. You have to understand the purpose of each section, and be aware of the type of information and evidence that are needed to make it convincing, before you can judge its overall value to the research article as a whole.

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Writing a Critical Review

Sample summaries, verbs to help you write the summary, how to read a scholarly article.

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A critical review is an academic appraisal of an article that offers both a summary and critical comment. They are useful in evaluating the relevance of a source to your academic needs. They demonstrate that you have understood the text and that you can analyze the main arguments or findings. It is not just a summary; it is an evaluation of what the author has said on a topic. It’s critical in that you thoughtfully consider the validity and accuracy of the author’s claims and that you identify other valid points of view.

An effective critical review has three parts:

  • APA citation of article
  • Clearly summarizes the purpose for the article and identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the research. (In your own words – no quotations.)
  • Evaluates the contribution of the article to the discipline or broad subject area and how it relates to your own research.

Steps to Write a Critical Review:

  • Create and APA style citation for the article you are reviewing.
  • Skim the text: Read the title, abstract, introduction, and conclusion.
  • Read the entire article in order to identify its main ideas and purpose.

Q. What were the authors investigating? What is their thesis? Q. What did the authors hope to discover?

        D. Pay close attention to the methods used by the authors to collection information.

Q. What are the characteristics of the participants? (e.g.) Age/gender/ethnicity

Q. What was the procedure or experimental method/surveys used?

Q. Are their any flaws in the design of their study?

  E. Review the main findings in the “Discussion” or “Conclusion” section. This will help you to evaluate the validity of their evidence, and the credibility of the authors.             Q.   Are their conclusions convincing?            Q.   Were their results significant? If so, describe how they were significant.  F. Evaluate the usefulness of the text to YOU in the context of your own research.

Q. How does this article assist you in your research?

Q. How does it enhance your understanding of this issue?

Q. What gaps in your research does it fill?

Good Summary:

Hock, S., & Rochford, R. A. (2010). A letter-writing campaign: linking academic success and civic engagement. Journal  of Community Engagement and Scholarship, 3 (2), 76-82.

Hock & Rochford (2010) describe how two classes of developmental writing students were engaged in a service-learning project to support the preservation of an on-campus historical site. The goal of the assignment was to help students to see how they have influence in their community by acting as engaged citizens, and to improve their scores on the ACT Writing Sample Assessment (WSA) exam. The authors report that students in developmental classes often feel disempowered, especially when English is not their first language. This assignment not only assisted them in elevating their written communication skills, but it also gave real-life significance to the assignment, and by extension made them feel like empowered members of the community. The advancement in student scores serves as evidence to support my research that when students are given assignments which permit local advocacy and active participation, their academic performance also improves.

Bad Summary:

Two ELL classes complete a service-learning project and improve their writing scores. This article was good because it provided me with lots of information I can use. The students learned a lot in their service-learning project and they passed the ACT exam.  

Remember you're describing what someone else has said. Use verbal cues to make this clear to your reader.  Here are some suggested verbs to use: 

The article

The author

The researchers

* Adapted from: http://www.laspositascollege.edu/raw/summaries.php

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  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
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Research bias

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A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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a critical review of a research paper

Which review is that? A guide to review types

  • Which review is that?
  • Review Comparison Chart
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Critical Review

  • Integrative Review
  • Narrative Review
  • State of the Art Review
  • Narrative Summary
  • Systematic Review
  • Meta-analysis
  • Comparative Effectiveness Review
  • Diagnostic Systematic Review
  • Network Meta-analysis
  • Prognostic Review
  • Psychometric Review
  • Review of Economic Evaluations
  • Systematic Review of Epidemiology Studies
  • Living Systematic Reviews
  • Umbrella Review
  • Review of Reviews
  • Rapid Review
  • Rapid Evidence Assessment
  • Rapid Realist Review
  • Qualitative Evidence Synthesis
  • Qualitative Interpretive Meta-synthesis
  • Qualitative Meta-synthesis
  • Qualitative Research Synthesis
  • Framework Synthesis - Best-fit Framework Synthesis
  • Meta-aggregation
  • Meta-ethnography
  • Meta-interpretation
  • Meta-narrative Review
  • Meta-summary
  • Thematic Synthesis
  • Mixed Methods Synthesis
  • Narrative Synthesis
  • Bayesian Meta-analysis
  • EPPI-Centre Review
  • Critical Interpretive Synthesis
  • Realist Synthesis - Realist Review
  • Scoping Review
  • Mapping Review
  • Systematised Review
  • Concept Synthesis
  • Expert Opinion - Policy Review
  • Technology Assessment Review
  • Methodological Review
  • Systematic Search and Review

"A critical review aims to demonstrate that the writer has extensively researched the literature and critically evaluated its quality. It goes beyond mere description of identified articles and includes a degree of analysis and conceptual innovation" and "an effective critical review presents, analyses and synthesizes material from diverse sources". "There is no formal requirement to present methods of the search, synthesis and analysis explicitly" (Grant & Booth 2009).

Further Reading/Resources  

Cooper, Harris M & Cooper, Harris M. Synthesizing research (2017). Research synthesis and meta-analysis : a step-by-step approach (Fifth edition). SAGE Publications, Los Angeles Catalogue Link  

Paré G, Kitsiou S. Chapter 9 Methods for Literature Reviews. In: Lau F, Kuziemsky C, editors. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet]. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017 Feb 27.  Full text

Younas, A., & Maddigan, J. (2019). Proposing a policy framework for nursing education for fostering compassion in nursing students: A critical review.  Journal of advanced nursing ,  75 (8), 1621–1636. Full Text Rew, L., Young, C. C., Monge, M., & Bogucka, R. (2021). Review: Puberty blockers for transgender and gender diverse youth-a critical review of the literature.  Child and adolescent mental health ,  26 (1), 3–14. Full Text  

References Grant, M. J., & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health information & libraries journal , 26 (2), 91-108. Full Text

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Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

Marco pautasso.

1 Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), CNRS, Montpellier, France

2 Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB), FRB, Aix-en-Provence, France

Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications [1] . For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively [2] . Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every single new paper relevant to their interests [3] . Thus, it is both advantageous and necessary to rely on regular summaries of the recent literature. Although recognition for scientists mainly comes from primary research, timely literature reviews can lead to new synthetic insights and are often widely read [4] . For such summaries to be useful, however, they need to be compiled in a professional way [5] .

When starting from scratch, reviewing the literature can require a titanic amount of work. That is why researchers who have spent their career working on a certain research issue are in a perfect position to review that literature. Some graduate schools are now offering courses in reviewing the literature, given that most research students start their project by producing an overview of what has already been done on their research issue [6] . However, it is likely that most scientists have not thought in detail about how to approach and carry out a literature review.

Reviewing the literature requires the ability to juggle multiple tasks, from finding and evaluating relevant material to synthesising information from various sources, from critical thinking to paraphrasing, evaluating, and citation skills [7] . In this contribution, I share ten simple rules I learned working on about 25 literature reviews as a PhD and postdoctoral student. Ideas and insights also come from discussions with coauthors and colleagues, as well as feedback from reviewers and editors.

Rule 1: Define a Topic and Audience

How to choose which topic to review? There are so many issues in contemporary science that you could spend a lifetime of attending conferences and reading the literature just pondering what to review. On the one hand, if you take several years to choose, several other people may have had the same idea in the meantime. On the other hand, only a well-considered topic is likely to lead to a brilliant literature review [8] . The topic must at least be:

  • interesting to you (ideally, you should have come across a series of recent papers related to your line of work that call for a critical summary),
  • an important aspect of the field (so that many readers will be interested in the review and there will be enough material to write it), and
  • a well-defined issue (otherwise you could potentially include thousands of publications, which would make the review unhelpful).

Ideas for potential reviews may come from papers providing lists of key research questions to be answered [9] , but also from serendipitous moments during desultory reading and discussions. In addition to choosing your topic, you should also select a target audience. In many cases, the topic (e.g., web services in computational biology) will automatically define an audience (e.g., computational biologists), but that same topic may also be of interest to neighbouring fields (e.g., computer science, biology, etc.).

Rule 2: Search and Re-search the Literature

After having chosen your topic and audience, start by checking the literature and downloading relevant papers. Five pieces of advice here:

  • keep track of the search items you use (so that your search can be replicated [10] ),
  • keep a list of papers whose pdfs you cannot access immediately (so as to retrieve them later with alternative strategies),
  • use a paper management system (e.g., Mendeley, Papers, Qiqqa, Sente),
  • define early in the process some criteria for exclusion of irrelevant papers (these criteria can then be described in the review to help define its scope), and
  • do not just look for research papers in the area you wish to review, but also seek previous reviews.

The chances are high that someone will already have published a literature review ( Figure 1 ), if not exactly on the issue you are planning to tackle, at least on a related topic. If there are already a few or several reviews of the literature on your issue, my advice is not to give up, but to carry on with your own literature review,

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The bottom-right situation (many literature reviews but few research papers) is not just a theoretical situation; it applies, for example, to the study of the impacts of climate change on plant diseases, where there appear to be more literature reviews than research studies [33] .

  • discussing in your review the approaches, limitations, and conclusions of past reviews,
  • trying to find a new angle that has not been covered adequately in the previous reviews, and
  • incorporating new material that has inevitably accumulated since their appearance.

When searching the literature for pertinent papers and reviews, the usual rules apply:

  • be thorough,
  • use different keywords and database sources (e.g., DBLP, Google Scholar, ISI Proceedings, JSTOR Search, Medline, Scopus, Web of Science), and
  • look at who has cited past relevant papers and book chapters.

Rule 3: Take Notes While Reading

If you read the papers first, and only afterwards start writing the review, you will need a very good memory to remember who wrote what, and what your impressions and associations were while reading each single paper. My advice is, while reading, to start writing down interesting pieces of information, insights about how to organize the review, and thoughts on what to write. This way, by the time you have read the literature you selected, you will already have a rough draft of the review.

Of course, this draft will still need much rewriting, restructuring, and rethinking to obtain a text with a coherent argument [11] , but you will have avoided the danger posed by staring at a blank document. Be careful when taking notes to use quotation marks if you are provisionally copying verbatim from the literature. It is advisable then to reformulate such quotes with your own words in the final draft. It is important to be careful in noting the references already at this stage, so as to avoid misattributions. Using referencing software from the very beginning of your endeavour will save you time.

Rule 4: Choose the Type of Review You Wish to Write

After having taken notes while reading the literature, you will have a rough idea of the amount of material available for the review. This is probably a good time to decide whether to go for a mini- or a full review. Some journals are now favouring the publication of rather short reviews focusing on the last few years, with a limit on the number of words and citations. A mini-review is not necessarily a minor review: it may well attract more attention from busy readers, although it will inevitably simplify some issues and leave out some relevant material due to space limitations. A full review will have the advantage of more freedom to cover in detail the complexities of a particular scientific development, but may then be left in the pile of the very important papers “to be read” by readers with little time to spare for major monographs.

There is probably a continuum between mini- and full reviews. The same point applies to the dichotomy of descriptive vs. integrative reviews. While descriptive reviews focus on the methodology, findings, and interpretation of each reviewed study, integrative reviews attempt to find common ideas and concepts from the reviewed material [12] . A similar distinction exists between narrative and systematic reviews: while narrative reviews are qualitative, systematic reviews attempt to test a hypothesis based on the published evidence, which is gathered using a predefined protocol to reduce bias [13] , [14] . When systematic reviews analyse quantitative results in a quantitative way, they become meta-analyses. The choice between different review types will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, depending not just on the nature of the material found and the preferences of the target journal(s), but also on the time available to write the review and the number of coauthors [15] .

Rule 5: Keep the Review Focused, but Make It of Broad Interest

Whether your plan is to write a mini- or a full review, it is good advice to keep it focused 16 , 17 . Including material just for the sake of it can easily lead to reviews that are trying to do too many things at once. The need to keep a review focused can be problematic for interdisciplinary reviews, where the aim is to bridge the gap between fields [18] . If you are writing a review on, for example, how epidemiological approaches are used in modelling the spread of ideas, you may be inclined to include material from both parent fields, epidemiology and the study of cultural diffusion. This may be necessary to some extent, but in this case a focused review would only deal in detail with those studies at the interface between epidemiology and the spread of ideas.

While focus is an important feature of a successful review, this requirement has to be balanced with the need to make the review relevant to a broad audience. This square may be circled by discussing the wider implications of the reviewed topic for other disciplines.

Rule 6: Be Critical and Consistent

Reviewing the literature is not stamp collecting. A good review does not just summarize the literature, but discusses it critically, identifies methodological problems, and points out research gaps [19] . After having read a review of the literature, a reader should have a rough idea of:

  • the major achievements in the reviewed field,
  • the main areas of debate, and
  • the outstanding research questions.

It is challenging to achieve a successful review on all these fronts. A solution can be to involve a set of complementary coauthors: some people are excellent at mapping what has been achieved, some others are very good at identifying dark clouds on the horizon, and some have instead a knack at predicting where solutions are going to come from. If your journal club has exactly this sort of team, then you should definitely write a review of the literature! In addition to critical thinking, a literature review needs consistency, for example in the choice of passive vs. active voice and present vs. past tense.

Rule 7: Find a Logical Structure

Like a well-baked cake, a good review has a number of telling features: it is worth the reader's time, timely, systematic, well written, focused, and critical. It also needs a good structure. With reviews, the usual subdivision of research papers into introduction, methods, results, and discussion does not work or is rarely used. However, a general introduction of the context and, toward the end, a recapitulation of the main points covered and take-home messages make sense also in the case of reviews. For systematic reviews, there is a trend towards including information about how the literature was searched (database, keywords, time limits) [20] .

How can you organize the flow of the main body of the review so that the reader will be drawn into and guided through it? It is generally helpful to draw a conceptual scheme of the review, e.g., with mind-mapping techniques. Such diagrams can help recognize a logical way to order and link the various sections of a review [21] . This is the case not just at the writing stage, but also for readers if the diagram is included in the review as a figure. A careful selection of diagrams and figures relevant to the reviewed topic can be very helpful to structure the text too [22] .

Rule 8: Make Use of Feedback

Reviews of the literature are normally peer-reviewed in the same way as research papers, and rightly so [23] . As a rule, incorporating feedback from reviewers greatly helps improve a review draft. Having read the review with a fresh mind, reviewers may spot inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and ambiguities that had not been noticed by the writers due to rereading the typescript too many times. It is however advisable to reread the draft one more time before submission, as a last-minute correction of typos, leaps, and muddled sentences may enable the reviewers to focus on providing advice on the content rather than the form.

Feedback is vital to writing a good review, and should be sought from a variety of colleagues, so as to obtain a diversity of views on the draft. This may lead in some cases to conflicting views on the merits of the paper, and on how to improve it, but such a situation is better than the absence of feedback. A diversity of feedback perspectives on a literature review can help identify where the consensus view stands in the landscape of the current scientific understanding of an issue [24] .

Rule 9: Include Your Own Relevant Research, but Be Objective

In many cases, reviewers of the literature will have published studies relevant to the review they are writing. This could create a conflict of interest: how can reviewers report objectively on their own work [25] ? Some scientists may be overly enthusiastic about what they have published, and thus risk giving too much importance to their own findings in the review. However, bias could also occur in the other direction: some scientists may be unduly dismissive of their own achievements, so that they will tend to downplay their contribution (if any) to a field when reviewing it.

In general, a review of the literature should neither be a public relations brochure nor an exercise in competitive self-denial. If a reviewer is up to the job of producing a well-organized and methodical review, which flows well and provides a service to the readership, then it should be possible to be objective in reviewing one's own relevant findings. In reviews written by multiple authors, this may be achieved by assigning the review of the results of a coauthor to different coauthors.

Rule 10: Be Up-to-Date, but Do Not Forget Older Studies

Given the progressive acceleration in the publication of scientific papers, today's reviews of the literature need awareness not just of the overall direction and achievements of a field of inquiry, but also of the latest studies, so as not to become out-of-date before they have been published. Ideally, a literature review should not identify as a major research gap an issue that has just been addressed in a series of papers in press (the same applies, of course, to older, overlooked studies (“sleeping beauties” [26] )). This implies that literature reviewers would do well to keep an eye on electronic lists of papers in press, given that it can take months before these appear in scientific databases. Some reviews declare that they have scanned the literature up to a certain point in time, but given that peer review can be a rather lengthy process, a full search for newly appeared literature at the revision stage may be worthwhile. Assessing the contribution of papers that have just appeared is particularly challenging, because there is little perspective with which to gauge their significance and impact on further research and society.

Inevitably, new papers on the reviewed topic (including independently written literature reviews) will appear from all quarters after the review has been published, so that there may soon be the need for an updated review. But this is the nature of science [27] – [32] . I wish everybody good luck with writing a review of the literature.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to M. Barbosa, K. Dehnen-Schmutz, T. Döring, D. Fontaneto, M. Garbelotto, O. Holdenrieder, M. Jeger, D. Lonsdale, A. MacLeod, P. Mills, M. Moslonka-Lefebvre, G. Stancanelli, P. Weisberg, and X. Xu for insights and discussions, and to P. Bourne, T. Matoni, and D. Smith for helpful comments on a previous draft.

Funding Statement

This work was funded by the French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) through its Centre for Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity data (CESAB), as part of the NETSEED research project. The funders had no role in the preparation of the manuscript.

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Difference between a Literature Review and a Critical Review

By charlesworth author services.

  • Charlesworth Author Services
  • 08 October, 2021

As you read research papers, you may notice that there are two very different kinds of review of prior studies. Sometimes, this section of a paper is called a literature review, and at other times, it is referred to as a critical review or a critical context . These differences may be more commonly seen across different fields. Although both these sections are about reviewing prior and existing studies, this article aims to clarify the differences between the two.

Literature review

A literature review is a summary of prior or existing studies that are related to your own research paper . A literature review can be a part of a research paper or can form a paper in itself . For the former, the literature review is designed as a basis upon which your own current study is designed and built. The latter forms a synthesis of prior studies and is a way to highlight future research agendas or a framework.

Writing a literature review

In a literature review, you should attempt to discuss the arguments and findings in prior studies and then work to build on these studies as you develop your own research. You can also highlight the connection between existing and prior literature to demonstrate how the current study you are presenting can advance your knowledge in the field .

When performing a literature review, you should aim to summarise your discussions using a specific aspect of the literature, such as by topic, time, methodology/ design and findings . By doing so, you should be able to establish an effective way to present the relevant literature and demonstrate the connection between prior studies and your research.

Do note that a literature review does not include a presentation or discussion of any results or findings – this should come at a later point in the paper or study. You should also not impose your subjective viewpoints or opinions on the literature you discuss. 

Critical review

A critical review is also a popular way of reviewing prior and existing studies. It can cover and discuss the main ideas or arguments in a book or an article, or it can review a specific concept, theme, theoretical perspective or key construct found in the existing literature .

However, the key feature that distinguishes a critical review from a literature review is that the former is more than just a summary of different topics or methodologies. It offers more of a reflection and critique of the concept in question, and is engaged by authors to more clearly contextualise their own research within the existing literature and to present their opinions, perspectives and approaches .

Given that a critical review is not just a summary of prior literature, it is generally not considered acceptable to follow the same strategy as for a literature review. Instead, aim to organise and structure your critical review in a way that would enable you to discuss the key concepts, assert your perspectives and locate your arguments and research within the existing body of work. 

Structuring a critical review

A critical review would generally begin with an introduction to the concepts you would like to discuss. Depending on how broad the topics are, this can simply be a brief overview or it could set up a more complex framework. The discussion that follows through the rest of the review will then address and discuss your chosen themes or topics in more depth. 

Writing a critical review

The discussion within a critical review will not only present and summarise themes but also critically engage with the varying arguments, writings and perspectives within those themes. One important thing to note is that, similar to a literature review , you should keep your personal opinions, likes and dislikes out of a review. Whether you personally agree with a study or argument – and whether you like it or not – is immaterial. Instead, you should focus upon the effectiveness and relevance of the arguments , considering such elements as the evidence provided, the interpretations and analysis of the data, whether or not a study may be biased in any way, what further questions or problems it raises or what outstanding gaps and issues need to be addressed.

In conclusion

Although a review of previous and existing literature can be performed and presented in different ways, in essence, any literature or critical review requires a solid understanding of the most prominent work in the field as it relates to your own study. Such an understanding is crucial and significant for you to build upon and synthesise the existing knowledge, and to create and contribute new knowledge to advance the field .

Read previous (fourth) in series: How to refer to other studies or literature in the different sections of a research paper

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How Much Do I Need to Retire? A Complete Guide to Retirement Planning

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  • Target savings will vary for each future retiree, depending on one's expenses and current salary.
  • Many advisors recommend saving 15% of your earnings annually or even more if you are getting a late start.
  • Multiple income streams and a conservative withdrawal rate ensure you don't run out of money.

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Acquiring adequate retirement savings doesn't happen overnight. For most people, saving enough for retirement requires decades of dedication and strategic financial planning . But how much do you actually need to save to ensure a comfortable retirement? 

Here are the best retirement plans , calculators, investment strategies, and tips you can use to ensure your retirement savings plan is on track. 

Assessing your retirement needs

Unfortunately, there's no general number to aim for when saving toward retirement. Your target retirement savings goal will differ greatly from your siblings', neighbors', and even your coworkers' goals since the amount you'll need largely depends on personal factors.

However, one rule of thumb applies to everyone: The sooner you start saving, the less effort you'll need to put in to reach your goal, and the better-positioned you'll be later in life. 

According to the 2024 MassMutual Retirement Happiness Study , the average age for retirees in the U.S. is 62. If you were to live to 85, this means you'd need enough money to cover all your expenses (and retirement goals) for at least 22 years. Economic factors like inflation will also certainly impact your savings over time.

Estimating your retirement expenses

Understanding what you expect retirement to look like will help determine how much you'll need to fund that lifestyle. If you plan to travel the world in luxury, your budget will differ from someone wanting to bird watch from the backyard each morning.

In retirement, your savings will cover many of the same expenses you had pre-retirement. This includes costs like food, housing, transportation, clothes, gifts, utilities, insurance (including a health plan), and travel.

In most cases, these expenses won't change much from pre- to post-retirement, which makes creating a budget easier. But if you have big plans for your retirement years (moving to a new state or country, buying a bigger home, increasing travel, etc.), you must calculate how much your new standard of living will cost. 

How much do you need to retire comfortably? 

The first step to adequately saving for retirement is to determine how much you'll need. This means analyzing current and future expenses and deciding how much you can afford to put away each month. You may also want to use a number of different savings and investment vehicles or passive income streams.

Financial advisors suggest saving around 10 times your current salary by the time you reach retirement age. Before you retire, you should aim to reduce your annual expenses as much as possible, including paying off existing debt. This can help stretch your retirement savings for even longer. 

As always, it's wise to consult with a trusted financial planner to help you determine your unique needs and retirement savings strategy.

How much to save for retirement based on your age

One way to see if you're on track to reach a comfortable retirement savings is to aim for a multiple of your current annual earnings. This serves as a rough estimate so you can get a better sense of your situation. Remember that the amount of savings required to ensure a comfortable retirement varies according to your projected retirement costs and even the specific investments you choose for your retirement portfolio.

According to Fidelity , here's how much you should have saved up each decade to meet your retirement goals:

30

1-2 times your starting salary

40

3-4 times your starting salary

50

6-7 times your starting salary

60

8 times your starting salary

67

10+ times your starting salary 

Financial advisors recommend dedicating 15% of your annual income toward retirement. However, depending on your retirement goals, financial obligations, and current assets, you may need to save even more.

Types of retirement accounts (401(k), IRA, etc.)

There are multiple savings vehicles and income streams to consider for building your nest egg. These can affect how much you need to save today, depending on which sources of income are available to you.

Some of the most popular types of retirement accounts include: 

  • 401(k) plans: Employer-sponsored investment vehicles with compounding power and tax advantages to help you grow your nest egg steadily over time. Money in a 401(k) can be invested in various securities, and your contributions may even be matched by your employer, amplifying your efforts. Funds can be distributed without penalty beginning at age 59 ½, or earlier with certain exceptions.
  • IRAs: IRAs are retirement accounts individuals open through major banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions. The best IRA accounts include traditional, Roth, SEP, and SIMPLE IRAs. IRAs have the same tax advantages as 401(k)s but offer more flexibility over how your funds are allocated.
  • Traditional pension plans: Traditional pensions are another employer-sponsored investment vehicle certain businesses offer. With a pension, your employer is responsible for contributing and investing the funds in your account. The amount contributed is determined by employee earnings and years at the business. 

Outside of savings accounts, other ways to generate income during retirement include:

  • Social Security benefits: Social Security is a government program that provides individuals with monthly retirement and disability benefits. You can opt-in to start receiving Social Security benefits as early as age 62, but you'll receive lower payments. Financial experts recommend delaying Social Security until you reach full retirement age (age 70). 
  • Annuities: Annuities are another retirement income source to consider. They're offered by insurance companies and act as a long-term investment vehicle. After purchasing an annuity — either with a lump sum or periodic purchase payments — you will receive regular payments over the course of your retirement.

Planning for inflation in retirement

Remember to consider inflation and its impact on your savings. For instance, in 2024, there have been inflation rates of 3%, following the 3.3% increase in 2023 and the high 6.5% rate in 2022. Generally, you should account for inflation of approximately 2% per year.

However, certain economic, political, or natural disasters can cause unexpected spikes in inflation. In those cases, you may experience significant financial losses that require you to permanently or temporarily adjust your lifestyle and budget. One of the best ways to hedge against inflation and market downturns is by continuing to invest after retirement . 

Healthcare costs and long-term care planning

Try to account for potential unexpected expenses, such as medical care for you and your spouse or even financially helping a child or grandchild.

"The most common expense that a retiree can ignore (or forget to budget for) is end-of-life expectancy expenses," says Jim Ludwick, a CFP and member at Garrett Planning Network . "This includes caregivers coming to your house, going into assisted living, or skilled nursing. Those are very expensive parts of people's lives. And a lot of times that can eat up quite a bit of savings if it goes on for an extended period of time."

Downsizing and lifestyle adjustments

When planning your retirement lifestyle, consider where you want to live. You may want to downsize depending on your preferred lifestyle, savings amount, and priorities. That said, your priorities may be buying your dream retirement home or moving to a certain location. In this case, be sure that you factor those larger expenses into your budget.

Retirement planning general rules of thumb

While everyone's situation and needs will differ, there are a few primary rules of thumb that most financial advisors follow, which you should consider when determining how much to save for retirement.

Retirement income as a percentage of pre-retirement income

Many financial professionals recommend that you account for between 70% and 80% of your pre-retirement income each year in retirement. This means that if you currently earn $60,000 per year, you should plan to spend between $42,000 to $48,000 annually once you retire. 

This isn't a set rule for everyone, and you may need to even account for more savings. "Many people need to have income streams (or savings and investments) cover 80%, 90%, or even 100% of their pre-retirement budget," Ludwick says. It all depends on your specific expenses now and in retirement.

Saving 15% of your earnings every year

If you start saving for retirement early enough, an annual savings rate of 15% may be sufficient to meet your goals. If you're off to a late start, you may need to save a lot more each year to catch up. 

"As you get older, the amount needed for savings to reach the same end goal roughly doubles every 10 years," says Tolen Teigen, chief investment officer for FinDec . "So, if someone waits ten years to start saving, instead of 30, they are now 40. Instead of 8% to 10% annually, they are now looking at 16% to 20% saved to reach the same end number."

Saving 10 times your income by retirement age

As mentioned above, many financial advisors and firms like Fidelity recommend having approximately 10 times your annual salary saved by the time you reach retirement age. While this may not be exactly what you need, it's a good target to keep in mind as you go. You can always adjust it depending on your projected needs in retirement.

The 4% withdrawal rule 

Many retirees are concerned about running out of money once they reach retirement. The 4% rule may be a good guideline to avoid this. While many factors can affect the actual drawdown process, the 4% rule can be a good place to start if you want to avoid running out of money.

This rule states that retirees can withdraw up to 4% of their retirement savings in year one of retirement. So, if you have $2,000,000 in retirement savings, you would withdraw $80,000 that first year. In year two, you would adjust that $80,000 for inflation and withdraw that amount from your savings.

Keep in mind that while the 4% rule is standard, some financial advisors say your actual withdrawal percentage could be anywhere from 3% to 5%.

Seeking professional advice when retirement planning

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to saving for retirement. Everyone's needs will be different, and so will their approach to saving, including when they start and how much they can set aside each year. Consulting with a certified financial planner or other retirement expert is the best way to understand your unique needs.

"Planning ahead and checking in on your efforts" is key to saving enough for the retirement years, Ludwick says."It's dangerous when you're 75 and realize you're running out of money and you have to move in with a younger sibling or something." 

His advice? "If you want to stay independent, do your homework ahead of time. Think about all those things that could possibly happen. If they don't happen, you're lucky … and your kids and grandkids can have a nice gift that you leave behind."

You can calculate how much you need to retire by assessing your expected expenses, considering your desired lifestyle, current expenses, projected inflation, and healthcare costs. Business Insider's free retirement calculator can help you see if you're on track to secure a comfortable retirement. You can also use other rules of thumb, such as having an annual savings rate of 15%.

The 4% rule in retirement planning suggests withdrawing 4% of your retirement savings each year to prevent you from prematurely running out of money for at least 30 years. It's a general guideline to help estimate how much you need to save. However, some advisors recommend more or less than that rate.

You can maximize your retirement savings by regularly contributing to tax-advantaged retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs to maximize employer matching contributions, investment opportunities, and compound interest. Generally, it's best practice to max out your retirement accounts first. Also, adopt a diversified investment strategy for greater portfolio growth and risk management.

The sooner you start planning for retirement, the easier it will be to compound your savings and reach your goals. Starting in your 20s and 30s allows more time for your investments to grow. It's still possible to catch up if you start in your 40s or 50s by saving more aggressively and adjusting your strategy, but it will be generally more stressful. 

Common mistakes to avoid in retirement planning include underestimating expenses, waiting to start saving, relying too heavily on Social Security, failing to diversify investments, spending too quickly, and not accounting for healthcare costs and inflation. The best way to avoid these common mistakes is by creating a thorough financial plan and consulting a financial advisor.

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Optimizing the performance of window frames: a comprehensive review of materials in china.

a critical review of a research paper

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Wang, Z.; Yao, L.; Shi, Y.; Zhao, D.; Chen, T. Optimizing the Performance of Window Frames: A Comprehensive Review of Materials in China. Appl. Sci. 2024 , 14 , 6091. https://doi.org/10.3390/app14146091

Wang Z, Yao L, Shi Y, Zhao D, Chen T. Optimizing the Performance of Window Frames: A Comprehensive Review of Materials in China. Applied Sciences . 2024; 14(14):6091. https://doi.org/10.3390/app14146091

Wang, Zhen, Lihong Yao, Yongguang Shi, Dongxia Zhao, and Tianyu Chen. 2024. "Optimizing the Performance of Window Frames: A Comprehensive Review of Materials in China" Applied Sciences 14, no. 14: 6091. https://doi.org/10.3390/app14146091

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