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Expert Common App Personal Statement And Supplemental Essay Reviews

Get your essays reviewed by writing experts including Ivy League and other top school graduates

Crimson’s Essay Review Service

Our experts are top college essay specialists who have supported hundreds of students in constructing meaningful essays that stand out about the competition. Our experts provide a highly comprehensive review with in depth suggestions — while assuring the student's work is their own and that their personal voice resonates to admissions officers who review essays in minutes. Our experts review:

Common App Essay

The Common App Personal Statement

This critical essay is a major determining factor in top college admissions. The 650 word (max) essay can be extremely hard to master without the nuanced guidance of experts who have read thousands of essays and understand the difference between one that stands out and one that does not.

College application essays

University of California Application Essay

If you’re planning to apply to schools in the University of California system, you’ll have to complete their Personal Insight Questions, choosing 4 out of the 8 questions to answer and writing up to 350 words for each prompt you choose. Each prompt requires a specialized approach, which our expert reviewers will help you identify and achieve.

Supplemental College Essays

College-specific supplemental essays are vital in convincing admissions officers that you have researched what their institution offers and why you will be a great fit for their institution. Detail is incredibly important, as is knowing exactly how to construct an essay that will resonate with that particular school.

College application essays

Scholarship Essays

Many merit scholarships require one or more essays asking why you have applied for this scholarship, how your life experience relates to your application, and what you will contribute to campus if successful. Our experts understand what each application requires and how to maximize your chances of success via creative expression.

UCAS Personal Statement

For students applying to top UK universities such as the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge, our UK experts understand the nuance of academically and experience driven essays that convince admissions officers that you are dedicated to their university and the qualified to undertake the course you are applying to.

Why Crimson's essay review?

Our essay reviewers are the same experts that have helped Crimson students gain admission to the Ivy League and other top schools at at rate that is 4.5x higher than the general applicant. They know what works and how to craft essays that stand out.

Moreover our review service is fast and affordable — with most essays returned in as little as four business days.

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Our track record

Crimson is one of the most successful college admissions consulting firms in the USA, our students having received 576 offers to the Ivy League and 934 offers to the US Top 10.


Who benefits from our essay review

Basically any student who wants to be sure their essay is as perfect as can be before they hot 'submit'. Our experts focus on construction, grammar, creativity, theme and closing.


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You can simply submit your essay with an order form that lets our experts know exactly what you need support with and when you need your essay(s) returned. It’s as easy as attaching your file, asking for advice and hitting send!


How will my essay be returned to me?

You’ll receive your essay via email within your customized timeline. Included will be all feedback, grammatical corrections, and suggestions about your next steps!

Our Essay Review packages

Want more than one essay reviewed by experts who have supported student sin gaining admission to Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, MIT, and all other universities in the US Top 50? Simple indicate your preferred bundle below.

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This bundle includes editing for 5 essays of 650 words each — or 2500 words total.

  • If your submission includes more than 5 essays, but fewer than (or equal to) 2500 words, then you're good to go!
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This bundle includes editing for 10 essays of 500 words each — or 5000 words total .

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  • We will edit every essay you submit, up to 5000 words total.

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This bundle includes editing for 20 essays of 500 words each — or 10,000 words total .

  • If your submission includes more than 20 essays, but fewer than (or equal to) 10,000 words, then you're good to go!
  • We will edit every essay you submit, up to 10,000 words total.

Individual essay review from $70 USD

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essay review

Improve your college essays through feedback

CollegeVine’s fast and secure essay peer review system lets you:

Learn where your essay is strong and where it can improve

Improve your writing by reviewing other students’ essays

It’s free — learn how

What current seniors are saying

Differentiating yourself is more important than ever.

With more schools going test optional, college essays can help you stand out from the rest, and they can often make the difference between a rejection and acceptance.

Essays are 25% of your application

Grades alone won’t get you accepted to your dream school. The college essay is an extremely important piece of your college application. Essays help you stand out from the rest.

Show your personality

Admissions officers want to better understand who you are through your essays. Showcasing your unique view of the world and the experiences that have led you to where you are is pivotal.

Become memorable to admissions

Admissions officers only spend a few minutes on each application. Ensure your essay will be memorable by getting honest feedback from people who don’t already know your story well.

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Write amazing college essays

Stop guessing what admissions officers will take away from your college essay. Our community of peer reviewers will let you know and provide feedback. You’ll build confidence and improve your own writing by reviewing peer essays, which help you learn to read essays just like an admissions officer.

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Get exposed to how admissions officers read and evaluate your essays. Our essay guides provide students with clear, actionable ways to write an authentic essay. We analyze real essays from the past to see what works to get accepted.

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We've helped with 100,000+ college essays—we've seen it all and we know what works. Submit your own essay or watch our team of experts critique other student essays LIVE. All viewers can ask questions and get help from the expert team at no cost.

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Ask questions and get quick and helpful answers from CollegeVine experts and a community of supportive peers.

How is CollegeVine free?

We believe that every student deserves expert guidance. To make that possible, access to the CollegeVine platform is free for students. We partner with colleges that pay to join our ecosystem and interact with students via virtual events and 1-1 connections.

There are zero ads on our site and you can rest assured that you are always in control of your personal data. Connections with colleges are student-initiated, meaning your profile is only shared if and when you opt-in.

Free online proofreading and essay editor

A reliable proofreading tool and essay editor for any writer or student, a complete environment.

Typely is more than just a proofreading tool. It's a complete writing environment.

Thousands of checks

More than a thousand checks are being performed and we've only scratched the surface.

Inspired by the greatest writers

Gain access to humanity’s collective understanding about the craft of writing.

A proofreading tool that does not bark at every tree

Typely is precise. Existing tools for proofreading raise so many false alarms that their advice cannot be trusted. Instead, the writer must carefully consider whether to accept or reject each change.

We aim for a tool so precise that it becomes possible to unquestioningly adopt its recommendations and still come out ahead — with stronger, tighter prose. Better to be quiet and authoritative than loud and unreliable.

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Whether you need a distraction-free environment, some chill relaxing sounds or a pomodoro timer to manage your time we got you covered.

Got questions? We have answers.

No. Typely is completely free and we plan on keeping it that way. We are considering some advanced features however that might be available under a premium plan.

The only limit we have applied thus far is on the number of characters you can submit and that is being set at a maximum of 50,000.

In theory yes but that will require a lot of work and professionals dedicated for this job. We are considering a way of letting the community participate somehow.

Typely does not do grammar checking because it's hard and almost impossible to get right. The aim for Typely is to be precise and reliable.


Review Center

  (formerly essay review).


Paper’s Review Center helps students secure writing feedback—wherever they need it

Feedback builds better writers, but combing through student work and providing constructive feedback is time consuming for teachers. Review Center offers students the ability to receive constructive feedback from tutors on various assignments.

Download Paper's Review Center  product overview

How it works


Many types of writing

Paper’s expert tutors now offer writing feedback on various types of written assignments and projects via our new-and-improved Review Center. This includes college application essays, crafting book reports, or mapping out responses to short-answer questions.


Same or next-day feedback

Paper’s ELA specialists provide detailed and user-friendly annotations with grade-appropriate feedback for essay review, college applications, and more.


Unlimited submissions

Students get plenty of practice writing, while teachers can monitor their progress every step of the way.

Support goes where students go


Start providing unlimited, 24/7 high-dosage tutoring at scale

Let's talk about how we can help bring equitable academic support to your schools.

Boston Public Schools is proud to partner with Paper to further emphasize our commitment to equity and access for every student at BPS. Paper will be crucial in helping us provide individualized support for all students that need it and will continue to accelerate learning across our district.

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Write an Essay Admissions Will Remember

Increase your chances of acceptance with a standout college application essay. Receive comprehensive edits and feedback from top-rated Ivy League consultants in as little as 24 hours. 100% satisfaction guarantee.

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We'll help you avoid boring clichés and ensure your story stands out to admissions officers.

More than spell check. Receive direct and honest advice to help your college essay shine.

Our consultants come from the nation's top universities such as Harvard and MIT.

More Than Just Grammar Edits

We'll help you craft an acceptance-worthy essay.

The college essay is one of the most critical parts of your application. It goes beyond your grades and test scores to give schools a sense of your personality and potential—qualities that numbers alone cannot show. A compelling piece that exudes intellectual vitality, vulnerability, and humor can tip the admissions odds in your favor. We'll review your college essay to ensure it's one that admissions officers won't forget.

I Replace adverbs with strong verbs when possible. love really like throwing out the garbage. Most teens dread the exhausting, two-minute trek to the curb, but I find solace "Solace in" is more idiomatic. in on my daily dumpster walk. Every night at 10 PM Every day , I hear my mother lock the entrance, cueing entrance. She cues me to empty out the garbage cans on the main floor. As I lug carry pounds of many losing lotto tickets, candy wrappers, and crushed coffee cups Use stronger imagery to paint a picture of your duties. drinks on my back, I take took a sigh of relief knowing that we’ve survived This is wordy. managed to make it through yet another night shift See extended comment. at the family business.

I’ve worked The tone here is a bit formal compared to the rest of your writing. laboured at the family business since I was being ten years old. Of course, Focus on what you did, not on what you didn't do. I wasn’t a fifth-grade student ringing up customers or reciting the day’s winning lotto numbers like my parents were. I spent Here, the simple past works best. The modal verb is unnecessary. I would've spent most of my time either restocking or eating from the candy aisle—to my parents’ parent's pride and disappointment, respectively. Not until my freshman year did they give me permission to man the cash register, which had mesmerized me for years.


Hi John! This essay does a great job showcasing not only your knack for software development, but also how your family’s business allowed you to mature a bit quicker than others. However, I'd consider reconstructing the first two paragraphs. The opening of your essay leads me to believe that you'll go on to discuss your experiences at the family business, but from the third paragraph on, you mostly focus on software development. By the end of the essay, the introduction feels distant and irrelevant.

We'll check for errors like dangling modifiers, comma splices, and ambiguous pronouns.

We'll ensure that you stick to the point with word choice that is realistic yet engaging.

We'll ensure your writing is easy to read, compelling, and reflects your authentic voice.

We'll suggest ways to optimize the structure of your essay to best reflect your narrative.

We'll point out areas your essay falls short and suggest ways to improve your writing.

We'll provide a 2–3 paragraph evaluation of the overall strength of your essay.

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I ended up doing a writing session with Mahad, which was beyond helpful. He answered all of my questions about my Common App essay and even took a look at my supplemental essays for the other schools I was applying to. Next Admit stuck with me as I sent essay after essay for review with such a small amount of turnaround time and I could never be more grateful for all the work they do. The feedback is both fair and kind, and I felt better trusting consultants that had just gone through the whole college admissions ordeal and gotten in rather than consultants who hadn’t been through the process in decades.

Find the Right Solution

Two affordable services, college essay review, college app review, your essay’s in good hands, work with your dream team.

Having gone through a rigorous vetting process, our consultants know how to craft a winning application. Many have professional writing experience and have graduated from the nation's most esteemed institutions.


At Harvard, Hana is involved with the Institute of Politics, Model Congress, and Women in Business. In high school, Hana spent her time getting involved in education policy work, winning a seat on her Board of Education.

  • Scholastic Writing Gold Key
  • Director at Harvard IOP


At Harvard, Julia served as the President of the Undergraduate Women in Law Association and provides mentorship to students as a Peer Concentration Advisor. In high school, Julia spent much of her time engaging in community service.

  • Harvard Crimson Writer
  • Rhodes Scholarship Finalist


At Princeton, Mikaylah is a Visiting Scholar at the Nation's Service Initiative Fellow, where she is obtaining her master's degree in Public Affairs and specializing in Domestic Politics. She is a former Visiting Scholar at the U.S. Department of State.

  • Writer at U.S. Department of State
  • Visiting Scholar at the USIP

Don’t Just Hear It From Us

94% of our clients have been accepted to 1+ of their top 6 schools..

Justine was amazing. Her feedback and detailed comments were very helpful. She not only pointed out what could be better, but she also provided solutions and tips to make my writing better. I'm glad she edited two of my essays, and I wish she had reviewed them all. She was outstanding and made my experience with Next Admit worth it.

Ordered Essay Review

Very constructive and in-depth feedback! I really appreciate the positive comments alongside the corrections; it gives me confidence knowing that I can write a "decent" essay by myself. Thank you so much Natalia for polishing up my essay and for relieving my anxiety during this application cycle.

Lauren gave very insightful advice on how to improve the communication of my ideas and tweak the structure of my essay to focus on depth rather than breadth. Her comments were extremely detailed and thorough as well. She also returned her feedback on my essay a few days before the one-week deadline which was great!

We'll take the stress out of the writing process...

Understand what to improve.

Our consultants will provide you with detailed, line-by-line feedback to help improve your essay. Learn where your essay falls flat and how to take it to the next level.

Stand out among the crowd

We'll help you craft a unique, compelling piece that stands out to admissions officers. Having read thousands of essays, our team can help you identify and eliminate clichés.

Let your authentic voice shine

We'll keep your original voice and ideas intact. Our detailed feedback will enhance your story and align with your voice, not detract from it.

Work with Ivy League consultants

We've assembled a team of consultants from the nation's top universities. Many have professional writing experience and studied the humanities in college.

Ask clarifying questions

If you have any questions about your edits, feel free to message your consultant through the Next Admit Portal. We're always happy to clarify our feedback.

Receive feedback quickly

Our team can provide detailed feedback in as little as 24 hours. Our team is working around the clock to help make sure that you press submit just in time.

...for every type of essay.

Common App Essay

The Common App Essay

This is the centerpiece of your application. We'll ensure your story and voice stand out to admissions officers.

Supplemental Essay

Supplemental Essays

Supplemental essays are important for establishing fit. We'll help you craft intentional and memorable responses.

UC Essay

The UC Essays

The UC PIQs can be tricky to navigate. We'll help you write clear and straightforward responses that stand out.

How It Works

Streamlined editing process, submit essay.


Consultant Match

Track essay, receive edits, the next admit portal, everything's in one place, work closely with your consultant.

Your consultant is here for you from start to finish. Our built-in messaging system allows you to ask your consultant follow-up questions and provide clarifying details. We understand that crafting the perfect application is a dynamic journey, and our system allows for seamless communication.

Track Your Orders to the Minute

Our system tells you when you'll get your essay back by. You'll never have to worry about fuzzy deadlines or what stage your order is in. We provide full transparency and are dedicated to providing high-quality and timely edits. We're here to make sure you can press submit just in time.

Don’t Take It From Us

See what our students say.

Lauren was really helpful in giving detailed feedback! I was really surprised to see how she went through each and every one of my sentences and gave me direct feedback on how to expand my ideas. I feel really confident about submitting my application now thanks to her comments!

I absolutely loved the feedback I received! I had actually worked with another college essay service for my personal statement, and they didn't provide me nearly as much feedback. The suggestions were thorough, and I gained a great understanding of how my essay is perceived.

Fred did a great job of putting himself into the shoes of an admissions officer and offering constructive criticism. He not only pointed out flaws, but also provided great suggestions for fixing them. Thanks for such a comprehensive edit.

Mahad thoroughly edited my essay, and his extensive comment inspired me to completely revamp my essay to make it more unique. I really appreciate his help, and would definitely recommend him.

As usual, these essay edits are incredibly thorough, understandable, and beneficial. I am able to fix mistakes that I would otherwise overlook. Thank you so, so much for the detailed insight and advice!

Super valuable feedback. The edits were very helpful and provided me insight into the parts of my essay that had potential for improvement. I definitely feel much more confident in my essay and more ready to submit my application!

...and hundreds more five-star reviews!

Frequently asked questions.

The college essay is one of the most important parts of your application. Put your best foot forward by having one of our consultants polish your piece, ensuring it reflects your story in the best light possible while maintaining your true voice.

No, but we are here to help you put your best foot forward. Since the admissions process is holistic and unpredictable, a strong essay alone is not enough to guarantee acceptance. However, our consultants will help you feel confident in your writing and tell an engaging story, all while keeping your voice intact.

Yes. We will not share your essay with any third parties or publish it online. Your essay will remain secure in our system.

Because of high order volume, you cannot choose a specific consultant for your essay review. However, our algorithm will match your essay to the optimal consultant based on availability and the schools you're applying to.

No. We will not write your essay for you. We will, however, provide advice to help you write the best essay you can.

After you receive your essay review, you can order a second revision through the Next Admit Portal for 10% off.

Yes. If, for example, you order a three-day review on Friday, you will receive your edits on Monday.

If you are not satisfied with your revisions, please contact us at [email protected]. We will handle all cases on an individual basis.

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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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Academic and Professional Writing

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Analysis Papers

Reading Poetry

A Short Guide to Close Reading for Literary Analysis

Using Literary Quotations

Play Reviews

Writing a Rhetorical Précis to Analyze Nonfiction Texts

Incorporating Interview Data

Grant Proposals

Planning and Writing a Grant Proposal: The Basics

Additional Resources for Grants and Proposal Writing

Job Materials and Application Essays

Writing Personal Statements for Ph.D. Programs

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Research Papers

Planning and Writing Research Papers

Quoting and Paraphrasing

Writing Annotated Bibliographies

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Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper

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Advice for Students Writing Thank-You Notes to Donors

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Critical Reviews

Writing a Review of Literature

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Scientific Report Format

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Writing for the Web

Writing an Effective Blog Post

Writing for Social Media: A Guide for Academics


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14 Best College Essay Services for 2024 (40 Services Reviewed)

Not sure which college application essay coaching and editing service is the best? We compared the top 40 services, created in-depth reviews for 14 of them, and narrowed it down to the 4 best that will help guide you through the process of writing amazing college application essays.

What is the Best College Essay Service?

  • PrepMaven  – best college application essay service overall
  • College Essay Mentor  – best for individual consultants
  • The College Essay Guy  – best for unlimited essay assistance
  • College Vine  – best of the big platforms

The best of the rest:

Individual essay consultants:

  • College Essay Editor  – small editing team
  • Allison Karpf  – former English teacher helping students
  • Your College Vision  – former journalist with more affordable rates
  • The College Guru  – good on paper but unresponsive
  • Sofia Zapiola – budget-friendly application assistance

Mid-size teams:

  • Lotus Learning  – focus on health sciences

Large platforms:

  • Study Point  – larger platform with mystery editors
  • Ivy Select  – larger platform with mystery editors
  • Empowerly  – larger platform with mystery editors
  • BeMo  – expensive and aggressive with wrong expertise

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Best College Application Essay Services in 2024

#1 – prepmaven.

Our Verdict — Best College Essay Assistance Overall Price: $79–349/hour (minimum $510 package) PrepMaven’s one-on-one college essay assistance is the best option overall. Founded by brothers and Princeton grads Greg and Kevin, almost all of PrepMaven’s essay coaches have Ivy-League experience, primarily from Princeton and Harvard. All essay coaches also undergo a thorough training program in PrepMaven’s methods, developed by professional writers with deep understanding of the college admissions process, for helping students to discover the most compelling stories for their essays. Unlike other services, PrepMaven offers college essay assistance at several different price points. At the most accessible rate, students can work with current Ivy-League undergraduates who specialize in writing and have recently aced the college application process. At higher rates, students can work with coaches who are both Ivy-League grads and professional writers (screenwriters, journalists, editors) with many years of experience helping students to craft compelling essays. Interested students can even work directly with founders Greg and Kevin, who have over 15 years of experience helping students through the entire essay-writing process. PrepMaven’s services combine many of the best features of other good options into one, and it’s hard to beat their experience.

Sign up for PrepMaven’s college essay help now

Any student wanting college essay help, at any point in the process, with a range of budgets.

At a glance:

  • Cost: $85–349/hour (minimum $510 package)
  • Writing coach qualifications: Princeton graduates and professional writers (or current Princeton students); all trained

What we like:

  • Ivy League experience —most of their writing coaches are Princeton grads or current students, with some from Harvard and other Ivies
  • Different pricing options to meet different families’ circumstances
  • More flexible and greater capacity to take on new students compared to individual consultants

Sign up for PrepMaven’s college essay help

Princeton University

#2 – College Essay Mentor

Our Verdict — Best of the Individual Consultants Price: unknown but high Some college essay consulting services consist of just one expert. Of these individual essay consultants, Chris Hunt at College Essay Mentor is our favorite. He combines writing experience as a journalist for the Economist and the Wall Street Journal with personal experience as a graduate of Dartmouth. However, he only works with a small number of students each year, and students need to apply to work with him — he only accepts students with top grades and test scores who are already strong applicants for top schools. Chris offers the option for one-time written feedback, but this only gives big-picture generalizations. (And written-only feedback is always limited.) In order for help with the essay process, students need to purchase a complete essay package.

Students with top grades and test scores who want to work with a one-person business, who have a sizable budget, and who are ready to get started early.

  • Cost: $210 for a one-time written essay feedback (big picture only), then $110 per draft feedback; pricing for essay process packages unknown
  • Essay coach qualifications: professional journalist, Dartmouth grad
  • Professional writing experience as a journalist
  • Extensive experience working with college applicants
  • Partners with Debra Felix, former Director of Admissions at Columbia, for full application review

What we don’t like:

  • One-on-one work is limited to very high-achieving students, who need to apply with a resume : “I limit my one-on-one work to students who I believe will be strong applicants to elite universities. As a rule, this means having high grades in challenging classes, a test score of ACT 34+ or SAT 1500+, and substantial activities outside of the classroom.”
  • Works with a limited number of students (60 per year), so often no availability
  • All-or-nothing packages don’t allow students to work with Chris for just a few hours or for part of the essay-writing process
  • Secretive about pricing (he’ll only give pricing details once he’s reviewed the student’s resume and agreed to work with them), but we expect the minimum cost of working one-on-one to be several thousand dollars

#3 – The College Essay Guy

Our Verdict — Best for Unlimited Essay Assistance Price: $7400 for application for 10 schools We’re fans of Ethan Sawyer, the original “college essay guy”— his book, College Essay Essentials , is a great guide to the essay-writing process. Ethan doesn’t work directly with many students these days, but he now has a team of consultants who help students follow his principles. Their assistance is really all-or-nothing — they prefer to work with students from the very beginning of the process, and their minimum package is $4900, which includes assistance with essays for three schools. If students are applying to ten schools (a more realistic number for students aiming at competitive colleges), the fee is a hefty $7400.

Students who want unlimited help through the entire process, who have a sizable budget.

  • Cost: $4900 (supplemental essays for 3 schools) – $7400 (supplemental essays for 10 schools)
  • Essay coach qualifications: mix of Ivy grads and former teachers, some writers/screenwriters; all trained
  • Great free resources about the essay-writing process
  • Their Matchlighters Scholars Program gives back to the community by providing admissions consulting for select qualifying students
  • All-or-nothing packages have a high minimum fee and don’t work for students who want just a few hours of feedback or help with just part of the process

#4 – College Vine

Our Verdict — Best of the Big Platforms Price: $170–190/hour There are plenty of large platforms with large stables of part-time tutors and coaches available to work with students. Of these big platforms, we think CollegeVine has the best offerings. Compared to other large companies, CollegeVine provides more information about their tutors, and students can pick individual tutors to work with from their roster. However, this model is really just a way of finding individual tutors to hire. Tutors don’t receive any training and don’t share a common approach, so it’s a mixed bag. Their rates are fairly high for part-time tutors who don’t have specific expertise and training in college essay consulting. We also recommend working with college essay consultants with a clear code of ethics stating that they will not make edits directly on the essay documents for the students. It’s unclear to what degree the editors with CollegeVine follow these principles.

Students who want to work with a big company.

  • Cost: $170–190/hour
  • Essay coach qualifications: no specific qualifications, but a few are Ivy League graduates
  • Possible to select individual editors to work with from their roster
  • No training or common approach for tutors
  • Editors are part-time , with no option to work with full-time college admissions experts
  • Relatively expensive for this level of expertise

College Essay Editing Alternatives (that Didn’t Make the Cut)

Individual essay consultants, #5 – college essay editor.

Our Verdict — Small Editing Team Price: Roughly $5,950 for application to 10 schools College Essay Editor comprises two graduates of Stanford. This means that they have personal experience applying to highly competitive schools. One member of the team also has a college counseling certification, which is a good background for college essays. Based on their website, they appear to focus on the editing and proofreading phase of the essay-writing process. This can be helpful to students, but we recommend working with a service who can help students to uncover their values and brainstorm really great material that allows them to really shine—and if this doesn’t happen at the beginning of the process, it’s much harder to add in later on.

  • Cost: $195/1000 words for proofreading, $495/1000 words for 3 rounds of editing and proofreading, or $595/1000 words for unlimited rounds of editing and proofreading; for the purposes of comparison, complete applications to 10 competitive colleges would be around 9,650 words, or $5950.
  • Writing coach qualifications: Stanford graduates, one of which has college counseling certification
  • Editors are graduates of Stanford University , and one is a member of NACAC, the national association of college counselors
  • They focus on editing and proofreading only , not on the crucial earlier steps of brainstorming and strategy
  • Small team with very limited availability

#6 – Allison Karpf

Our Verdict — Former English Teacher Helping Students Price: $300/hour or $3000 package for application to one school Another option for students looking to hire an individual consultant is Allison Karpf. Allison is a former high school English teacher and a graduate of UC Berkeley who also holds a Masters of Education from Stanford. Her rates are definitely on the higher side, especially for someone who doesn’t have a professional writing background, but she does have extensive experience working with students to craft their essays.

  • Cost:  $300/hour or $3000 unlimited counseling (includes supplemental essays for one college)
  • Essay coach qualifications: former high school English teacher; Berkeley grad, Stanford MEd
  • Lots of experience helping students improve their college essays
  • Very quick to respond to client requests
  • No professional writing experience or Ivy-Plus undergraduate experience
  • High rates relative to other options
  • Limited availability , since she works alone

#7 – Your College Vision

Our Verdict: Former Journalist with More Affordable Rates Price: $150/hour (minimum 10 hours), or $3800 package for application to seven schools Laurie Lande is another individual consultant who helps students through the essay-writing process. She comes recommended by other consultants like Chris from College Essay Mentor . Laurie did not herself attend a highly competitive school, so she doesn’t have that personal experience of going through the selective admissions process, but she does have a professional writing background as a journalist for the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong.

  • Cost: $150/hour (for 10 hours), or $3800 package for application to seven schools
  • Essay coach qualifications: journalism background
  • Affordable pricing , relative to other options
  • Professional writing background as a journalist for the Wall Street Journal
  • Not a graduate of a highly selective school

#8 – The College Guru

Our Verdict — Good on Paper but Unresponsive Price: unknown Yet another individual essay consultant is Geanine Thompson from The College Guru. Geanine attended Dartmouth as an undergraduate and also holds an MBA from Duke. She also has a professional writing background as an assistant book editor at Berkley Publishing Group. Like Greg and Kevin at PrepMaven , she combines experience in the business world and at Wall Street firms with experience in education.

  • Cost: unknown
  • Essay coach qualifications: former assistant book editor; Dartmouth grad, Duke MBA
  • Dartmouth graduate and former book editor
  • Not responsive to emails and client requests

#9 – Sofia Zapiola

Our Verdict — A budget-friendly, personal essay editor. Price: From $65/hour Yet another individual essay consultant is Sofia Zapiola, who offers a mix of essay editing and college application counseling services.

  • Cost: From $65/hour
  • Essay coach qualifications: M.A. from Harvard; certificate in College Counseling from UC San Diego.
  • Individual approach, budget-friendly rates, commitment to working within families’ budgets.
  • Very few testimonials, so it’s difficult to evaluate how effective she is.

student writing college essay on laptop

Mid-size Teams

#10 – lotus learning.

Our Verdict — Focus on Health Sciences Price: $165/hour Founded by a Harvard grad who is a former teacher and veteran of the publishing industry, Lotus learning offers college essay help in the Boston area. They have a small team of tutors, mostly recent grads from good but not Ivy-Plus colleges, and mostly with focus in health sciences.

  • Cost: $165/hour (minimum 8 hours)
  • Essay coach qualifications: tutors are recent grads, but not Ivy-Plus schools
  • Reasonable pricing with flexible packages
  • Essay editors aren’t graduates of Ivy-Plus schools and don’t have professional writing experience

Large platforms

#11 – study point.

Our Verdict — Larger Platform with Mystery Editors Price: unknown Study Point is a larger essay editing service. They claim to have several decades of experience helping students to craft their college essays, but they do not give information about who their essay coaches are and what qualifications they might have.

  • Essay coach qualifications: unknown
  • Larger company with several decades of experience
  • Unclear who the essay coaches are
  • Secretive about pricing

#12 – Ivy Select

Our Verdict — Larger Platform with Mystery Editors Price: unknown Ivy Select is another larger essay editing service. They do not give information about who their essay coaches are and what qualifications they might have.

  • Long list of impressive (but anonymous) testimonials
  • Only work with “top students”
  • No information on their website about who the editors are
  • No professional writing experience

#13 – Empowerly

Our Verdict — Larger Platform with Mystery Editors Price: unknown Empowerly has over 60 college counselors who each work with an average of 5 students per year, in order to have more time to devote to each student. Their counselors come from “different educational backgrounds,” and while they do not provide specific biographical details we can assume that most of their essay coaches did not attend highly selective schools.

  • Cost: $3550 minimum package
  • Essay coach qualifications: college counselors
  • Counselors work with just a few students per year
  • You have to upgrade to “Empowerly Elite” to guarantee a counselor with a more selective educational background

#14 – BeMo

Our Verdict — Expensive and Aggressive with Wrong Expertise Price: $2997–12797 BeMo is a large admissions company based in Toronto, Canada. They focus primarily on admissions to medical schools and science graduate programs in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. Their rates are expensive, and they justify these by pointing out potential high earnings decades later as a doctor. Past customers have commented that their “school selection consultation” doesn’t provide any information specific to the individual student or schools. They do provide a training process for their essay consultants, but their essay consultants do not have training as college counselors, do not have experience as professional writers, and did not attend Ivy-Plus schools . They have been known to be very aggressive with their marketing emails, and have included some strange language in their sales pitches that seems inappropriate for high school students.

  • Cost: €2997/silver (one hour consultation and then unlimited written essay review for one application, no supplemental essays), €4797/gold (one hour consultation and then unlimited written essay review, incl. supplemental essays for up to 10 schools; waitlist letter, scholarship applications), €8797/platinum (unlimited consults), €12797/titanium (unlimited consults)
  • They have more of an international scope
  • High prices
  • Not focused on undergrad admissions

Top 40 College Essay Services Considered

  • College Essay Editor
  • The College Essay Guy
  • College Vine
  • College Essay Mentor
  • Study Point
  • Allison Karpf
  • The College Guru
  • Lotus Learning
  • Summit Prep
  • Sofia Zapiola
  • Ivy Global / New Summits
  • College Essay Solutions
  • Your College Vision
  • Essay Edge*
  • ServicEscape*
  • PapersForge*
  • QuickWriter*
  • JustEditMyEssay*
  • JustDoMyEsssay*
  • ExpertWriting*
  • SpeedyPaper*
  • GradeMiners*

* A number of services will edit essays directly for students, or even write portions of the essay for students. We do not condone this. Admissions officers can tell when essays have been written or edited by adults and this can have severe consequences. We have excluded these services from our reviews.

student writing college essay

Why are college application essays important?

Can a great college essay alone get you into Harvard?

No. You’ll need your grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities (as well as letters of recommendation and interview) to be outstanding.

But can a mediocre essay be the reason you didn’t get into Harvard?

Yes. There are thousands of amazingly-qualified students who graduate from high school each year. Great grades and test scores might be a prerequisite for admission to a competitive college, but they alone aren’t enough.

Harvard University

College essays are a key component of a student’s application . When done well, they transform a collection of numbers—GPA, class rank, SAT or ACT scores , number of AP classes taken, AP scores—into a glimpse of a real, individual person.

Essays do many things. Good college essays can highlight extracurricular achievements which otherwise would be overlooked in a sterile list. Strong essays often indicate the student’s future plans —how they plan to leave a mark on their college campus and on the world. They can shine a light on unique challenges that a student may have had to face on their journey.

College admissions officers only have a few minutes to spend on each application. College essays need to be original, interesting, and memorable . They need to grab the attention of the admissions officer and persuade them that this is the student out of hundreds or thousands of other similarly-qualified applicants who should be admitted.

College admissions essays are usually unlike any other kind of writing that students have done before. They’re a combination of memoir and marketing pitch, and they need to be creative but also highly strategic. That’s a tough assignment!

What’s more, students are left to figure this assignment out on their own. A thoughtful and generous high school English teacher may provide guidance or offer to read essays and give feedback, but these teachers are responsible for many students, and they’re (usually) not experts in admissions strategies.

Princeton University

Why work with a college essay service?

You may want to consider a college essay service if:

  • You have no idea where to start in order to write your college application essays
  • You feel overwhelmed by all of the different ideas you have and don’t know what would be the most strategic for college admissions—and what topics to definitely avoid for college essays
  • You don’t know how to craft a compelling story
  • You’re not sure how to edit and refine what you’ve written
  • You have a hard time keeping yourself on track and want an external structure to hold you accountable
  • You’re tired of conflict between students and parents about college essays
  • You’re aiming at a competitive college (not just the Ivy League!) and know that you need your essays to be outstanding
  • Your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars aren’t exceptional, so you need your essay to make your essay stand out from the pack
  • You’re unfamiliar with the US college admissions process (a common situation for international students and first-generation families in the US)

Any of these are strong reasons to consider working with a college essay service!

It’s important to note that a good college essay service will not write your college application essays for you . This is unethical and illegal. 

A good college essay service will guide you through each step of the process , teaching you how to self-reflect and write well while sharing insider insight about admissions strategy .

Yale University

What makes a good college essay service?

We strongly believe that students need to write their own college essays , and we do not condone plagiarism or “buying” a college essay.

However, writing college application essays requires a completely new set of skills that is rarely taught in high school!

Writing a personal essay is much more creative than simply writing a good paper for English class. It requires a compelling narrative and a great deal of writing craft . A good essay service will teach how to do this kind of writing.

There are many college essay services that will provide only written feedback to students, usually in the form of comments added to an essay draft. (Remember, it’s important that students write their own essays, so avoid any college essay service that will make edits directly to an essay document .)

Written comments can be an effective component of good essay coaching. However, writing college essays is a deeply personal process , and it’s incredibly difficult to guide a student through the process of self-reflection, brainstorming, and planning purely through written comments.

In addition, a great college essay coach will teach students how to do this entire process of brainstorming, planning, outlining, writing, and revising . It’s difficult to learn why an essay coach is advising certain changes through written comments alone.

For these reasons, look for a college essay service with live, one-on-one services , not just written feedback. These days, it’s easy to work with the best college essay consultants in the country over Zoom!

college essay coaching service online

Students need to reflect on their goals, their passions, and what drives them to be the person they are. This requires a great deal of self-awareness and self-analysis . An experienced college essay coach can help draw these ideas out of students through tested introspection techniques and brainstorming exercises .

On top of all of that, students need to be cognizant of which traits and accomplishments will be most appealing to colleges , and which stories will be cliche and boring. Personal statements and supplementary essays need to fit together to tell a cohesive story, and they need to work together with the rest of the student’s application (extracurriculars, grades, and other accomplishments).

In other words, there’s a great deal of strategy here! An experienced college essay service can help students decide how to present themselves in the best possible light .

Furthermore, most students don’t know how to edit effectively . A really top-notch college essay service will also teach students how to edit their own writing —how to reorder sections for better flow, cut unnecessary words to meet a word count, eliminate passive verbs, and make their writing vivid and exciting. Our students are routinely amazed by how transformative this step can be, and how much they learn by doing it together with the essay coach.

Finally, the best college essay services can also help students to make a writing plan and keep them on track , so that parents don’t have to be involved directly.

Ready to work on your college essays? Schedule a free 15- to 30-minute consultation with Jessica or one of our founders.

Best overall: PrepMaven’s

Best for individual consultants: College Essay Mentor

Best for unlimited essay assistance: The College Essay Guy

Best of the big platforms: College Vine

Ready to work on college essays with one of our experienced writing coaches? Schedule a free test prep consultation with Jessica (Director of Tutoring) or one of our founders to see what would be the best fit for your family.

It’s always best to start early and not wait until the last minute to write your college essays! Remember that essays can be used to earn scholarships as well as college admission, so a few months of writing now can pay off with up to $300,000 in tuition saved later. 

We work with students at all stages of the writing process, from I-have-no-idea-what-to-write to final edits. To start working with an Ivy-League writing coach today, set up a quick free consultation with our team.

Schedule a free college essay consultation

Ivy League schools

Related College Essay Posts

  • 14 Best College Essay Services for 2023 (40 Services Reviewed)
  • How to Get into Harvard 2023-2024
  • Hot to Get into Princeton 2023-2024
  • How to Get into Yale 2023-2024
  • How to Answer the UC Personal Insight Questions
  • 11 College Essays That Worked
  • How to Start a College Essay
  • The Diamond Strategy: How We Help Students Write College Essays that Get Them Into Princeton (And Other Ivy League Schools)
  • What is the College Essay? Your Complete Guide for 2023
  • College Essay Brainstorming: Where to Start
  • How to Write a ‘Why This College’ Essay + Examples that Worked for the Ivy League
  • 9 Ways to (Quickly) Improve Your College Essay

essay review

Emily graduated  summa cum laude  from Princeton University and holds an MA from the University of Notre Dame. She was a National Merit Scholar and has won numerous academic prizes and fellowships. A veteran of the publishing industry, she has helped professors at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton revise their books and articles. Over the last decade, Emily has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay. 


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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.


  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • 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 sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.


  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

  • International edition
  • Australia edition
  • Europe edition

Lauren Oyler: ‘slightly defensive, periodically anxious’

No Judgement by Lauren Oyler review – modish observations from a rarefied world

Despite occasional displays of wit and insight, the buzzy US critic’s ironic essays can feel airless and small

L auren Oyler is an American writer, very tall and very smart (or so I read). In 2021, she published her first novel, Fake Accounts , a plotless story about a young woman not unlike herself who is, as they used to say, very online. But she’s best known, at least in the US, as a critic whose work has appeared in the New Yorker , and whose 5,000-word takedown for the London Review of Books of Trick Mirror , a collection of essays by another thirtysomething American writer, Jia Tolentino, reputedly went viral (I am unable to verify this, being not very online).

I always put these kinds of details in a review somewhere: if I didn’t, an editor would soon be in touch. But in this case, I’m getting them out the way early in order to give you, from the off, a sense of the rarefied niche into which we’re about briefly to wiggle. It is an airless place. If Jane Austen worked on two inches of ivory, Oyler’s territory is at once vast (the internet) and minute (her part of the internet). The very online – I would say the very, very online – may know all about her slightly defensive, periodically anxious and (at moments) hugely self-congratulatory style: an ironic, somewhat callow tone born of her addiction to what used to be known as Twitter. But for the rest of us, she brings in her wake (should we read her) the exhausting feeling of only half-knowing what – in truth, I mean who – she is on about.

Already I sound like I hated her new book, an essay collection called No Judgement . In fact, I didn’t, or not all of it. If I were the kind of person who kept a journal, I might have been moved to scribble down the odd, dubious aphorism from it (“the fictional ‘I’ is always truer than it purports to be, and the non-fictional less”); it brought me to order a novel Oyler says she likes ( Mating by Norman Rush), and I laughed out loud at the line: “In the US, we have only three stages of grief.” (This was provoked by the case of a woman who responded to betrayal by a friend first by feeling betrayed, then with embarrassment, and finally by becoming litigious.) But nor can I say that I liked it, exactly. While I understand its modishness perfectly well – its preoccupations could not be more Small Circulation Lit Mag, spring 2024, if they tried – it’s also rather cold and blank and small. There’s something emptied out about it, which is also how it makes you feel, in a bad way (I’m talking about hollowness, not catharsis). Where are the trees, you think. Where is the real world? It’s almost a surprise to look up from it and see not a screen, but a window.

There are six full essays. One is about vulnerability, that quality we’re suddenly all expected to encourage in ourselves (I refuse this particular form of self-optimisation and so, I think , does the author). Others are about Oyler’s not-quite-crippling-but-almost-so anxiety; the value (or not) of gossip; the rise of the star rating system, particularly as it pertains to books and those who write them; and life in Berlin, where she now lives. But the longest of them, and the one into which she seems to have put most effort, is called I Am the One Who Is Sitting Here, for Hours and Hours and Hours, and it is about so-called autofiction, something that she has, of course, written herself, and which seems to fascinate her to the point where she feels the need to be as definitive about it as it’s possible to be (which is to say, not hugely). This essay comes with bossy subheadings such as What It Is, What It Isn’t, What Does Lolita Have to Do With This? and Scene Inspired by a Popular Misreading of Another Essay by Roland Barthes.

Three years ago, the novelist Joyce Carol Oates lobbed one of her periodic stink bombs in the direction of X (then Twitter) by posting her light disappointment at the rise and rise of what she called these “wan little husks of autofiction with space between paragraphs to make the book seem longer” (cue lots of younger writers holding their noses). While Oyler quotes this in her essay, she doesn’t precisely rip it apart – and in her novel she sent up the “white spaces” beloved of Jenny Offill and co. But she also devotes 50 long pages to the subject of autofiction, a piece of writing that by necessity means she must chew – and chew – on other people’s wan little husks.

This doesn’t strike me as very nourishing: for her, the poor little squirrel, or for the reader. Or not this reader, at any rate. Again, that feeling: an emptying out. Middlemarch , metaphorically speaking, is now as distant as the brightly shining moon. Literature – novels, criticism, all of it – seems to be draining away before our very eyes, and it makes me feel very sad and depressed.

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AI Writes Scientific Papers That Sound Great—But Aren’t Accurate

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F irst came the students, who wanted help with their homework and essays. Now, ChatGPT is luring scientists, who are under pressure to publish papers in reputable scientific journals.

AI is already disrupting the archaic world of scientific publishing. When Melissa Kacena, vice chair of orthopaedic surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine, reviews articles submitted for publication in journals, she now knows to look out for ones that might have been written by the AI program. “I have a rule of thumb now that if I pull up 10 random references cited in the paper, and if more than one isn’t accurate, then I reject the paper,” she says.

But despite the pitfalls, there is also promise. Writing review articles, for example, is a task well suited to AI: it involves sifting through the existing research on a subject, analyzing the results, reaching a conclusion about the state of the science on the topic, and providing some new insight. ChatGPT can do all of those things well.

Kacena decided to see who is better at writing review articles: people or ChatGPT. For her study published in Current Osteoporosis Reports , she sorted nine students and the AI program into three groups and asked each group to write a review article on a different topic. For one group, she asked the students to write review articles on the topics; for another, she instructed ChatGPT to write articles on the same topics; and for the last group, she gave each of the students their own ChatGPT account and told them to work together with the AI program to write articles. That allowed her to compare articles written by people, by AI, and a combination of people and AI. She asked faculty member colleagues and the students to fact check each of the articles, and compared the three types of articles on measures like accuracy, ease of reading, and use of appropriate language.

Read More : To Make a Real Difference in Health Care, AI Will Need to Learn Like We Do

The results were eye-opening. The articles written by ChatGPT were easy to read and were even better written than the students'. But up to 70% of the cited references were inaccurate: they were either incoherently merged from several different studies or completely fictitious. The AI versions were also more likely to be plagiarized.

“ChatGPT was pretty convincing with some of the phony statements it made, to be honest,” says Kacena. “It used the proper syntax and integrated them with proper statements in a paragraph, so sometimes there were no warning bells. It was only because the faculty members had a good understanding of the data, or because the students fact checked everything, that they were detected.”

There were some advantages to the AI-generated articles. The algorithm was faster and more efficient in processing all the required data, and in general, ChatGPT used better grammar than the students. But it couldn't always read the room: AI tended to use more flowery language that wasn’t always appropriate for scientific journals (unless the students had told ChatGPT to write it from the perspective of a graduate-level science student.)

Read More : The 100 Most Influential People in AI

That reflects a truth about the use of AI: it's only as good as the information it receives. While ChatGPT isn’t quite ready to author scientific journal articles, with the proper programming and training, it could improve and become a useful tool for researchers. “Right now it’s not great by itself, but it can be made to work,” says Kacena. For example, if queried, the algorithm was good at recommending ways to summarize data in figures and graphical depictions. “The advice it gave on those were spot on, and exactly what I would have done,” she says.

The more feedback the students provided on ChatGPT's work, the better it learned—and that represents its greatest promise. In the study, some students found that when they worked together with ChatGPT to write the article, the program continued to improve and provide better results if they told it what things it was doing right, and what was less helpful. That means that addressing problems like questionable references and plagiarism could potentially be fixed. ChatGPT could be programmed, for example, to not merge references and to treat each scientific journal article as its own separate reference, and to limit copying consecutive words to avoid plagiarism.

With more input and some fixes, Kacena believes that AI could help researchers smooth out the writing process and even gain scientific insights. "I think ChatGPT is here to stay, and figuring out how to make it better, and how to use it in an ethical and conscientious and scientifically sound manner, is going to be really important,” she says.

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  • 12 February 2024

China conducts first nationwide review of retractions and research misconduct

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The reputation of Chinese science has been "adversely affected" by the number of retractions in recent years, according to a government notice. Credit: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg/Getty

Chinese universities are days away from the deadline to complete a nationwide audit of retracted research papers and probe of research misconduct. By 15 February, universities must submit to the government a comprehensive list of all academic articles retracted from English- and Chinese-language journals in the past three years. They need to clarify why the papers were retracted and investigate cases involving misconduct, according to a 20 November notice from the Ministry of Education’s Department of Science, Technology and Informatization.

The government launched the nationwide self-review in response to Hindawi, a London-based subsidiary of the publisher Wiley, retracting a large number of papers by Chinese authors. These retractions, along with those from other publishers, “have adversely affected our country’s academic reputation and academic environment”, the notice states.

A Nature analysis shows that last year, Hindawi issued more than 9,600 retractions, of which the vast majority — about 8,200 — had a co-author in China. Nearly 14,000 retraction notices, of which some three-quarters involved a Chinese co-author, were issued by all publishers in 2023.

This is “the first time we’ve seen such a national operation on retraction investigations”, says Xiaotian Chen, a library and information scientist at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, who has studied retractions and research misconduct in China. Previous investigations have largely been carried out on a case-by-case basis — but this time, all institutions have to conduct their investigations simultaneously, says Chen.

Tight deadline

The ministry’s notice set off a chain of alerts, cascading to individual university departments. Bulletins posted on university websites required researchers to submit their retractions by a range of dates, mostly in January — leaving time for universities to collate and present the data.

Although the alerts included lists of retractions that the ministry or the universities were aware of, they also called for unlisted retractions to be added.

essay review

More than 10,000 research papers were retracted in 2023 — a new record

According to Nature ’s analysis, which includes only English-language journals, more than 17,000 retraction notices for papers published by Chinese co-authors have been issued since 1 January 2021, which is the start of the period of review specified in the notice. The analysis, an update of one conducted in December , used the Retraction Watch database, augmented with retraction notices collated from the Dimensions database, and involved assistance from Guillaume Cabanac, a computer scientist at the University of Toulouse in France. It is unclear whether the official lists contain the same number of retracted papers.

Regardless, the timing to submit the information will be tight, says Shu Fei, a bibliometrics scientist at Hangzhou Dianzi University in China. The ministry gave universities less than three months to complete their self-review — and this was cut shorter by the academic winter break, which typically starts in mid-January and concludes after the Chinese New Year, which fell this year on 10 February.

“The timing is not good,” he says. Shu expects that universities are most likely to submit only a preliminary report of their researchers’ retracted papers included on the official lists.

But Wang Fei, who studies research-integrity policy at Dalian University of Technology in China, says that because the ministry has set a deadline, universities will work hard to submit their findings on time.

Researchers with retracted papers will have to explain whether the retraction was owing to misconduct, such as image manipulation, or an honest mistake, such as authors identifying errors in their own work, says Chen: “In other words, they may have to defend themselves.” Universities then must investigate and penalize misconduct. If a researcher fails to declare their retracted paper and it is later uncovered, they will be punished, according to the ministry notice. The cost of not reporting is high, says Chen. “This is a very serious measure.”

It is not known what form punishment might take, but in 2021, China’s National Health Commission posted the results of its investigations into a batch of retracted papers. Punishments included salary cuts, withdrawal of bonuses, demotions and timed suspensions from applying for research grants and rewards.

The notice states explicitly that the first corresponding author of a paper is responsible for submitting the response. This requirement will largely address the problem of researchers shirking responsibility for collaborative work, says Li Tang, a science- and innovation-policy researcher at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. The notice also emphasizes due process, says Tang. Researchers alleged to have committed misconduct have a right to appeal during the investigation.

The notice is a good approach for addressing misconduct, says Wang. Previous efforts by the Chinese government have stopped at issuing new research-integrity guidelines that were poorly implemented, she says. And when government bodies did launch self-investigations of published literature, they were narrower in scope and lacked clear objectives. This time, the target is clear — retractions — and the scope is broad, involving the entire university research community, she says.

“Cultivating research integrity takes time, but China is on the right track,” says Tang.

It is not clear what the ministry will do with the flurry of submissions. Wang says that, because the retraction notices are already freely available, publicizing the collated lists and underlying reasons for retraction could be useful. She hopes that a similar review will be conducted every year “to put more pressure” on authors and universities to monitor research integrity.

What happens next will reveal how seriously the ministry regards research misconduct, says Shu. He suggests that, if the ministry does not take further action after the Chinese New Year, the notice could be an attempt to respond to the reputational damage caused by the mass retractions last year.

The ministry did not respond to Nature ’s questions about the misconduct investigation.

Chen says that, regardless of what the ministry does with the information, the reporting process itself will help to curb misconduct because it is “embarrassing to the people in the report”.

But it might primarily affect researchers publishing in English-language journals. Retraction notices in Chinese-language journals are rare.

Nature 626 , 700-701 (2024)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-024-00397-x

Data analysis by Richard Van Noorden.

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Lydia Polgreen

Restoring the Past Won’t Liberate Palestine

An illustration of two faces atop the ground. A small white person stands on top of one of the faces.

By Lydia Polgreen

Opinion Columnist

Amid the graphic images, fierce polemics and endless media criticism that have dominated my social media feeds since the war in Gaza began late last year, I noticed a seemingly bizarre subplot emerge: skin cancer in Israel.

“You are not Indigenous if your body cannot tolerate the area’s climate,” one such post read, highlighting outdated news coverage claiming that Israelis had unusually high rates of skin cancer. (They do not .) Skin cancer, these posts claimed, was proof that Israeli Jews were not native to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea but were white Europeans with no ancestral connection to the region, enactors of one of the worst crimes of the modern age: settler colonialism.

On one level, the claims about skin cancer — like similar ones about Israeli cuisine and surnames — are silly social media talking points from keyboard warriors slinging hashtags, hyped up on theories of liberation based on memes of Frantz Fanon quotes taken out of context. In the context of the ongoing slaughter in Gaza — more than 28,000 people dead, mostly women and children — such posturing may seem trivial. But even, or maybe especially, at this moment, when things are so grim, the way we talk about liberation matters. And I find this kind of talk revealing of a larger trend on the left these days, emanating from important and complex theories in the academy but reflected in crude and reductive forms in the memes and slogans at pro-Palestine protests — an increasingly rigid set of ideas about the interloping colonizer and the Indigenous colonized. In this analysis, there are two kinds of people: those who are native to a land and those who settle it, displacing the original inhabitants. Those identities are fixed, essential, eternal.

I have spent much of my life and career living and working among formerly colonized peoples attempting to forge a path for themselves in the aftermath of empire. The rapacious carving up of much of the globe and the genocide and enslavement of millions of people by a handful of European powers for their own enrichment was the great crime of early modernity. The icons who threw off the yoke of colonial oppression — including Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, India’s Jawaharlal Nehru and Fanon — were my childhood heroes, and they remain my intellectual lodestars. But I sometimes struggle to recognize their spirit and ideas in the way we talk about decolonization today, with its emphasis on determining who is and who is not an Indigenous inhabitant of the lands known as Israel and Palestine.

A good deal of the antipathy toward Israeli Jews today is undergirded and enabled, I believe, by something that to some ears sounds progressive: the idea that people and lands that have been colonized must be returned to their indigenous peoples and original state. But that belief, when taken literally, is, at best, a kind of left-wing originalism, a utopian politics that believes the past answers all the questions of the present. At worst, it is a left-wing echo to the ancestral fantasies of the far right, in which who is allowed to live in which places is a question of the connection of one’s blood to a particular patch of soil.

Implicit in the emphasis on indigeneity is a promised restoration, albeit one of a very different sort from the imperial fantasies of Vladimir Putin or the gender obsessions of Ron DeSantis. Decolonization “is not converting Indigenous politics to a Western doctrine of liberation; it is not a philanthropic process of ‘helping’ the at-risk and alleviating suffering; it is not a generic term for struggle against oppressive conditions and outcomes,” as the scholars Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang write in an influential academic paper published in 2012, “ Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor .”

“The broad umbrella of social justice may have room underneath for all of these efforts,” Tuck and Yang write. “By contrast, decolonization specifically requires the repatriation of Indigenous land and life.”

There is perhaps no more vexed question in the world than how this might play out in Israel and Palestine. There is no doubt that Palestinians long lived in the land that became Israel. Jews have deep historical roots in that land, but a vast majority of the people who established the state of Israel came from elsewhere, fleeing genocide and persecution in Europe and forced into exile by Middle Eastern and North African nations. It is impossible to separate Israel’s birth from the dying gasps of the old colonial order. It was, in the indelible phrase of Arthur Koestler, “one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.”

In theory, decolonization includes the disestablishment of the very idea of land as property, of modern notions like nationhood and citizenship. In theory, it is a chance to do it all over and replay history with the benefit of indigenous ideas and traditions to guide us.

But history doesn’t work that way. People do bad things. Other people resist those bad things. Humans invent and discover; they create and destroy. There is no going backward to some mythic state. There is no restoration. The events that unfold over time shape the land and the people who live on it, and those people shape one another in manifold ways, some brutal and destructive, some generative and loving. But time and experience ensure that nothing can ever be the same as it was before the last thing that happened.

A s I was thinking through these issues, I came across a series of social media posts about settler colonialism by Iyad el-Baghdadi, a Palestinian writer and activist whose work has been an indispensable guide for me in the present crisis. I sent him an email, and he agreed to speak with me to expand on his ideas. I explained my unease with the reliance on concepts like indigeneity to decide who has a just claim to live in a place.

“Don’t take these people seriously,” he told me, though he made clear that he has some sympathy for those who espouse such views. “They’re not really motivated by some kind of ideology. They’re really motivated by emotion, and they kind of slap together an ideology to satisfy their emotion, but then emotions, by their very nature, cannot be satisfied that way.” He told me that sometimes when he hears people talk about Palestinian liberation, it is almost as though they are expecting a literal reversal of 1948, what Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe, of their expulsion upon the founding of the state of Israel.

“It is as if there will be this magical moment and all our villages are going to appear out of the earth. And then 75 years of settler colonialism is going to disappear,” he said. “But this romantic idea is really unmourned trauma.”

Questions of indigeneity are simply a distraction, he said, from the real challenge of building Palestinian political power. “I don’t care if they’re settlers or not,” he said. “The solution is not to constantly try to moralize. The solution is to fix the power imbalance. The future needs to be rooted in the truth that all human beings are equal and that Jewish life is equivalent to Palestinian life and that we can together work on a future in which nobody is oppressed and we can address the inequities of the past.”

Eventually our conversation came around to Fanon, whose writings on political violence are now once again in vogue, taken up with alacrity by the activists focused on undoing settler colonialism — even, or perhaps especially, if it requires bloodshed.

“People are really using him to lend some kind of intellectual legitimacy for political violence,” he said. “And I find that really, really obscene. When I read Fanon, I think he’s talking about power. He’s not really talking about violence. Violence is a weak person’s idea of what power is.”

Fanon, a psychiatrist turned anticolonial political figure, had a lot to say about violence. In his book “The Wretched of the Earth” he wrote that “violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect.”

There is no question that Fanon, who devoted much of his short life to the often violent struggle to liberate Algeria from French rule, believed that violence was a legitimate tool to fight oppression. But what did he actually mean, and did he write these words as a physician’s description or a revolutionary’s prescription?

The writer Adam Shatz argues in “The Rebel’s Clinic,” his terrific new biography of Fanon , that “cleansing” is a misleading translation: “The English translation of ‘la violence désintoxique’ as ‘violence is a cleansing force’ is somewhat misleading, suggesting an almost redemptive elimination of impurities,” Shatz writes. “Fanon’s more clinical word choice indicates the overcoming of a state of drunkenness, the stupor induced by colonial subjugation.”

Indeed, what violence restored to the colonial subject was agency, the ability to shake off the role imposed by the colonizer and begin to act of his or her own volition. Colonized people may harbor fantasies of returning to a long-lost past, before their land was stolen. But it is equally likely that they, like Fanon, want to build a new and different future.

Fanon had a lot to say about history. Shatz’s book details Fanon’s early infatuation with the romantic ideas of thinkers like Léopold Sédar Senghor, the poet and anticolonial leader who would become Senegal’s first president. Senghor and some of his generation of Black colonial intellectuals posited an idealized and mystical precolonial African past that needed to be unearthed and revived.

Eventually, Fanon rejected these backward-looking ideas: “In no way do I have to dedicate myself to reviving a Black civilization unjustly ignored,” he wrote in his book “Black Skin, White Masks.” “I will not make myself the man of any past.”

A nd yet. How can we not look to the past to try to find a path through the present, just as we look to the future as the repository of some long-awaited justice that never quite arrives? This human propensity leaves us stuck between memory and dreams, neither of which tell us all that much about our present difficulties.

We think understanding the past with hindsight will somehow save us. But what is that hindsight? A perfect knowledge of the past that was not accessible or visible to those experiencing it. Somehow, we believe, the future will be untainted by the passions of the present and able to see what unfolded more clearly. In practice, it works the other way: We see the past through the prism of the present and often in the blinding light of our hopes for the future, eliding and emphasizing the role of the past as suits our present purpose.

A theory of decolonization that seeks to move backward will inevitably run up against this human tendency. But it also, perhaps unwittingly, strips the formerly colonized of the very self-determination they seek.

Olúfémi Táíwò, a Nigerian philosopher at Cornell University, argued in his book “Against Decolonisation: Taking African Agency Seriously” that the Manichaean divide between the colonized and the colonizer and the rejection of everything emanating from the latter stripped the colonized of agency by denying them the creative freedom to make something new out of the experience of being oppressed. “It must and does foreclose the possibility that the colonized could find anything of worth in the life and thought of the colonizer which they could repurpose for their own societies, both during and after colonialism,” he wrote.

Africans, Táíwò argues, should be able to take what they want from modernity and use it, like any free people, to invent their own future, not look backward to a past that in any case can never be recovered.

The agonizing months since Oct. 7 have made it seem all but impossible for any of us to imagine what kind of hopeful future might be invented out of the present nightmare. We have reached a terrifying new stage of the war with the looming assault on Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled Israeli bullets and bombs only to find themselves once again in the cross hairs with nowhere left to run. But generations of Palestinian activists and intellectuals, people who have perhaps the greatest reason to find sustenance in fantasies of a mythic past free of Israel and its people, do not dream of rolling back time.

“Successful liberation movements were successful precisely because they employed creative ideas, original ideas, imaginative ideas, whereas less successful movements (like ours, alas) had a pronounced tendency to formulas and an uninspired repetition of past slogans and past patterns of behavior,” wrote the Palestinian American scholar Edward Said. “The future, like the past, is built by human beings. They and not some distant mediator or savior provide the agency for change.”

Said was perhaps the most influential intellectual heir to Fanon, and in a tragic twist, he too died of leukemia, the same cancer that killed Fanon at the age of 36. Both of them died without seeing their lifelong struggles won. But both went to their graves as modern, cosmopolitan men, engaged with the world not as they wished it was but as they found it, chronicled it and shaped it toward their unshakable vision of self-determination and freedom for the colonized peoples of the world. Liberation requires invention, not restoration. If history tells us anything, it is this: Time moves in one direction, forward.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , X and Threads .

Lydia Polgreen is an Opinion columnist and a co-host of the “ Matter of Opinion ” podcast for The Times.

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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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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).


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.


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


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
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility


  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

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 .  

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

McCombes, S. (2023, September 11). How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates. Scribbr. Retrieved February 19, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/literature-review/

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