Research Administration

How to Write your Literature Review

The background and significance sections are the least understood sections of your grant proposal. Most people summarize the relevant field and impress reviewers with their scope of knowledge; this is what you should NOT do. This section is not solely to justify you as a principal investigator, this section is to justify your proposed research.

The Literature Review should be integrated throughout the entire proposal.

  • Many organizations have stopped using a separate literature review section and instead, have opted to integrate relevant literature throughout the application.
  • The Significance Section should contain all of the literature citations relating to your founding need and the existing gap in knowledge.
  • The Innovation Section should contain literature to provide the platform you build your research on and show that innovation is needed to advance the field further.
  • The Research Design Section should include references to defend your methodological feasibility

The Background is for justifying your research proposal.

  • Educate the reviewer on the background leading to the present application
  • Show the health burden related to the project on the health of individuals and/or populations.
  • Critically evaluate existing knowledge and specifically identify and reveal opportunities, gaps or roadblocks in this field that the project is intended to fill.
  • Describe the effect of these studies on the methods, treatments, or services.
  • Demonstrate the relevant current theoretical concepts and approaches.
  • Describe how the concepts/methods will be changed if the proposed aims are achieved.
  • Explain existing methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions that will be of importance later when you describe any refinements or improvements in your proposal .

Don’t forget to support your future.

  • Many investigators spend a lot of time adding citations to the main proposal sections and forget to add citations in the future directions part of their approach. Supporting your vision for the future is just as important as supporting the methodologies and technology.
  • Use the literature to point out gaps in what has not yet been published.
  • Focus on critically evaluating the existing knowledge gaps the existing knowledge.

Stop and Consider: You don’t know who your reviewers may be. There is nothing worse than to condemn a publication as a fraud, only to have the author as your reviewer.


  • Consider citing literature using the author/year in the following format (last name; year) Your reviewers will likely recognize the author without flipping to the bibliography section.
  • If you opt for numerals, the reviewers will have to go to the bibliography section with every citation which causes the reviewer to lose focus and become confused.
  • The literature review after each section should list citations in order of appearance, if the application instructions allow, to minimize confusion.
  • Do not try to cite the comprehensive background of your entire field. You should have enough knowledge of the literature to choose only the most relevant articles to cite.
  • Include PubMed Central reference numbers (PMCID)if available.


Article publié pour la première fois le 18/11/2015

Further Reading

%d bloggers like this: