A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Literature Review in International Relations

As a student studying international relations, you will undoubtedly encounter the requirement to write a literature review at some point in your academic journey for pursuing your maste ror Phd degree in International relations. While starting and writing a literature review as a part of your dissertation may seem daunting at first, mastering the basics of writing a literature review can greatly enhance your understanding of the subject, strengthen your critical thinking skills, and ultimately elevate the quality of your writing. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through each step of the process, providing valuable insights and tips along the way. So, let’s dive in and start mastering the art of writing a literature review in international relations!

Exploring the Purpose and Benefits of a Literature Review

Before writing a literature review, it is essential to understand its purpose and the benefits it serve in your dissertation. Put simply, a literature review entails summarizing, evaluating, and synthesizing existing published works on a particular topic. By thoroughly examining scholarly articles, books, and other relevant sources, you can gain a comprehensive understanding of a specific subject area within international relations.

Writing a literature review serves a specific purpose to justify your research by offering a research problem in existing literature.Firstly, it allows you to familiarize yourself with the existing body of knowledge in your chosen field, enabling you to identify the gaps, contradictions, and debates within the literature. Moreover, crafting a literature review aids in strengthening your critical thinking skills as you critically evaluate the methodologies, arguments, and findings of various scholars. Finally, a well-written literature review can serve as a solid foundation for your own research work, providing you with a conceptual framework and supporting evidence.

Now that we have established the purpose and benefits of a literature review, let’s move on to the step-by-step process of writing one.

Step 1: Defining the Scope and Research Question of your topic

The first step in writing a literature review is to clearly define the scope of your research and establish a research question. Consider the specific area of international relations that interests you and identify a well-defined research question that can guide your literature review. For example, if you are fascinated by the role of non-state actors in global governance, your research question could be: “What is the impact of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on global environmental policymaking?”

Step 2: Conducting a Comprehensive Literature Search

Once you have defined your research question, it is crucial to conduct a thorough literature search to gather relevant sources. Begin by exploring academic databases, such as JSTOR, Google Scholar, or your university library’s online resources. Use a combination of relevant keywords, such as “non-state actors,” “global governance,” and “environmental policymaking,” to narrow down your search and find the most pertinent articles and books.

As you navigate through the sea of literature, keep an eye out for seminal works, recent publications, and studies conducted by well-known scholars. Additionally, don’t forget to explore the references and bibliographies of the sources you come across, as these can lead you to additional valuable resources.

Step 3: Evaluating and Selecting Sources

After compiling a list of potential sources, the next step is to evaluate and select the most relevant ones for inclusion in your literature review. It is essential to critically analyze each source and assess its credibility, methodology, and relevance to your research question. Consider factors such as the author’s expertise, publication venue, and whether the research was peer-reviewed.

Aim to include a diverse range of sources, including scholarly articles, books, and reports, to ensure a comprehensive review. As you assess each source, make notes of key findings, arguments, and methodologies that will be useful in constructing your literature review.

Step 4: Organizing Your Literature Review

To ensure a logical flow and coherence in your literature review, it is crucial to organize your thoughts and sources effectively. There are several ways to structure your literature review, depending on the nature of your research question and the arguments you wish to make. Below are a few common organizational approaches:

Chronological Approach

One way to structure your literature review is by arranging the sources in chronological order. This approach is particularly useful if you are examining the evolution of ideas or theories over time. Start with earlier works and progress towards more recent publications, highlighting the key developments along the way.

Thematic Approach

Alternatively, you can organize your literature review thematically, grouping sources based on common themes or concepts. This approach enables you to make connections between different sources and explore the various perspectives and debates within your chosen research area.

Methodological Approach

If your research question focuses on different research methodologies employed in international relations, organizing your literature review based on these methodologies can be beneficial. This approach allows you to evaluate and compare the strengths and weaknesses of various research methods and their implications for your own study.

Combination Approach

Depending on the nature of your research question, it may be appropriate to combine different organizational approaches. For example, you could begin with a chronological overview and then transition into a thematic analysis, providing a comprehensive understanding of the existing literature.

Choose the organizational approach that best suits your research question and allows for a cohesive narrative in your literature review.

Step 5: Writing and Formatting Your Literature Review

Now that you have gathered and organized your sources, it’s time to start writing your literature review. Begin with an engaging introduction that provides an overview of your research question, its relevance, and the structure of your review. The introduction should captivate the reader’s attention and clearly convey the purpose and scope of your literature review.

As you delve into the main body of your review, ensure each paragraph focuses on a specific theme, concept, or methodology. Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that introduces the main idea, followed by a detailed analysis of the sources that support your argument. It is crucial to provide a critical evaluation of the sources, highlighting their strengths, weaknesses, and any gaps in the literature.

Throughout your literature review, aim to maintain a clear and concise writing style. Avoid excessive jargon and ensure your arguments are well-supported by evidence from the sources you have reviewed. Be mindful of maintaining a coherent narrative and incorporating smooth transitions between paragraphs, providing a seamless reading experience for your audience.

Step 6: Revising, Editing, and Proofreading

Once you have completed your initial draft, take the time to revise, edit, and proofread your literature review. Revise for clarity, coherence, and logical flow, ensuring your arguments are well-developed and supported. Edit for grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure to enhance the readability of your review. Finally, proofread meticulously to eliminate any spelling errors or typos that may distract the reader.

Consider seeking feedback from professors, peers, or writing centers to gain valuable insights and suggestions for improvement.


Congratulations! You have now mastered the basics of writing a literature review in international relations. By following the step-by-step guide outlined in this blog post, you have gained valuable insights into the purpose, benefits, and process of crafting a literature review. Remember to define the scope of your research question, conduct a comprehensive literature search, evaluate sources critically, organize your review effectively, and write with clarity and coherence.

As you continue your academic journey in international relations, the ability to write a compelling literature review will be invaluable. Embrace the opportunity to contribute to the existing body of knowledge, engage in scholarly debates, and develop your own research projects. With practice and dedication, you will undoubtedly become a proficient writer and researcher in the field of international relations.

So, take the first step and start exploring the fascinating world of literature reviews. Happy writing!

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