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How to Write a Literature Review in APA Format


To complete a literature review, you must decide on your topic, research academic databases, organize your findings and write your review. The American Psychological Association provides specific guidelines for writing your review, from overall organization to minute details in formatting. Once you have organized and analyzed your findings, use APA style to write your review.

Format Your Document

Before you begin writing, ensure that your document is formatted properly. Set your page margins to 1 inch and double your spacing unless otherwise specified. Your font should be 12 point Times New Roman. Your header will contain a running heading and the page number on every page, including the title page. The page number should always be at the top right corner.

The title page will first introduce the running heading with the tag: "Running Heading: AND THE HEADING IN ALL CAPS." The title page should contain the title, the author, your name and your institution, all doubled-spaced and centered in the middle of the page.

Organize Your Sections

The essential sections for a literature review are the:

  • introduction
  • body -- organized by main points
  • references

An abstract may be included, though it is not required. In your introduction, include a summary of the focus of your review and why it is important. For example, if you are reviewing studies about student motivation, explain that it is important for teachers and parents to be aware of what motivates students to learn, and include if there has been little or a lot of research on the subject.

Organize your body using your main points, with bold, centered headings. For example, after you have researched different studies examining student motivation, organize the body of your review based on motivating factors. In the section about parental approval, discuss studies that measured the effects parental approval had on student motivation. Your final section will be references.

Cite Your Sources

APA style includes specific, detailed instructions for in-text citations. Each time you refer to a study by restating information or findings, include a citation in parentheses. The general format is to list the last name of the author, followed by a comma and the publication year, all enclosed in parentheses. For example: Fear of failing has been found to motivate some students (Jones, 2010).

If there are two or more authors, list the last names, separated by commas. Include the "&" symbol before the last name. For example, some students reported being afraid of failure (Jones, Smith, & Williams, 2010). If you cite the author in the reference, include only the year. For example: Jones found that some students are motivated by fear of failing (2010). If you are citing multiple studies, list them alphabetically by the first listed author.

Include Your References

Your references should begin on a new piece of paper with a bold, centered heading: References. Organize your studies alphabetically by the last name of the first author. A study by A. Brown and T. Roberts would come before a study by R. Clark and M. Adams, because Brown is alphabetically before Clark. All references are only single-spaced after periods.

The general format is the same for scholarly journals. List the last name, comma and first initial of every author. Put the date the article was published in parentheses. Write the title of the article with only the first word capitalized, followed by a period. Write the publication name in italics, followed by volume number if applicable. Finally, list the page numbers, for example:

Brown, A., & Roberts, T. (2010). Effects of fear of failure on student success in the classroom. Journal of Research, 23, 34-48.

The difference for books is that the title of the book is italicized, and location of the publisher is listed, for example: Clark, R., & Adams, M.N. (2011). Why children succeed in the classroom. New York: Education Press.

About the Author

Hannah Richardson has a Master's degree in Special Education from Vanderbilt University and a Bacheor of Arts in English. She has been a writer since 2004 and wrote regularly for the sports and features sections of "The Technician" newspaper, as well as "Coastwach" magazine. Richardson also served as the co-editor-in-chief of "Windhover," an award-winning literary and arts magazine. She is currently teaching at a middle school.

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