I am writing my first literature review (not using a systematic methodology) and I am trying to put some thought into the underlying structure of the literature review. I have considered these two structures:

Structure 1

Study A does this...
Study B does that...
Study C does this...
My study does this...

Structure 2

In this structure, (at least early on in the review) I write about how the papers that I have gathered vary based on their collective characteristics as parts of a greater whole, e.g. general modelling approach, spatial and temporal scale, problem framing:

These studies differ based on their general modelling approach.
These studies differ in their spatiotemporal scale.
These studies differ in their framing of the problem.
My study is similar in characteristic XYZ, but differs in characteristic ABC, and advances the field through characteristic EFG.

I personally think that Structure 2 is more interesting in terms of content layout and synthesis of the material relative to Structure 1, but at each point of discussion it requires me to talk about mostly the same papers, just in different contexts. So I am concerned that repetition in Structure 2 could be a problem as compared to Structure 1.

Are my concerns justified and are there any further arguments for one of the structures?

1 Answer 1


You should definitely go with Structure 2. It is far more helpful to you (that is, it forces you to engage more deeply with the literature) and your readers (that is, it gives them a more useful review of the literature).

The article that is probably the most seminal in my field (information systems) on literature-review methodology is mostly famous because they clearly addressed precisely this distinction. Webster and Watson (2002) argued that author-centric literature reviews (your Structure 1) are not very useful. They are simply an extended bibliography. (When you think of it, all that does is little more than summarize the abstracts of each article, which are already summaries of the articles.) They argued instead for what they called a concept-centric approach to reviewing the literature.

The concept-centric approach is not quite the same as what you describe in Structure 2: what you describe, I would call a topic-centric approach. Webster and Watson’s concept-centric approach identifies the theoretical concepts in each article and then presents them as the structure of the review. Your Structure 2 identifies common topics in each article. While not as useful for developing theory as the concept-centric approach (and maybe developing theory is not your goal at all), it is far more useful than the author-centric (or more accurately, article-centric) approach of your Structure 1.


Webster, Jane, and Richard T. Watson. Analyzing the past to prepare for the future: Writing a literature review. MIS quarterly (2002): xiii-xxiii.

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