Dissertation Literature Review

You cannot write an academic paper without studying the works of other scholars in your field of study, at least the most prominent of them - this is what thesis or dissertation literature review is. The process of building new research on the previously constructed base of knowledge is how the advancement of education and science takes place. You need to know the roots a scientific fact to explain it to those who are not familiar with your area of study, and you also need that to exchange scholarly views with your fellow academics. All in all, as a student, you need this knowledge to prove your proficiency to professors and more experienced researchers. Here is where the literature review comes in.

A literature review can be a part of an academic research paper, and it can be a research project in itself. It involves exploration and analysis of numerous written materials concerned with a specific topic. Its goal is to create one integral body of information that serves as a foundation for your own research, covering the topic you study and exposing all of its relevant aspects in an analytical way.

Purpose of Literature Review

What is the purpose of literature review? It gives your paper its place among the existing resources. It also helps you to effectively establish all substantial aspects of your topic, see the links between different authors, the connections between various scholarly works regarding the topic. The purpose of any new scholar that comes along, including you, is to find those links and try to fill all the blank spaces on the map of a subject matter. They move knowledge forward through an increasingly deeper and more advanced research, going into topics and subject matters that were not previously explored in a certain way. In the process of using different resources when writing your paper, you will encounter conflicting opinions and under-investigated issues, you’ll be challenged to learn how to discern between those works that are more valid or more relevant to your topic and those that are less important for its proper understanding. You will search for desired books and papers that explain the exact specifics of the subject matter that you study, as opposed to general, non-specific resources. After you’ve done your piece of work and added it as another brick to the scholarly temple, you also create new triggers and new space for further research by the students and academics that will come along after you.

Dissertations are expected to bring something new into the field of knowledge. That's why a literature review in a dissertation cannot be conducted just as some kind of literature systematization or literature summary without a context. Its goal is to help you discover or come up with a different way of looking at the issue under study, make corrections, specifications, put ends to arguments - or on the contrary, add new conclusions that bring up more ideas to dispute about. Of course, such goals in their pure essence are ideal, and it's not every time someone writes a dissertation that they can be fully achieved. Nevertheless, the task of science or any other discipline is to try and find a way ahead even if there doesn’t seem to be one. You cannot promise a grand solution if your paper doesn’t present any, but a scholar’s inquisitive mind drives them to test the present limits and erase them, despite their awareness of perhaps small chances for that.

Writing an academic literature review allows to establish clear boundaries of the problem you investigate, eliminate those methods of research that failed in the past and cannot be done differently in the present, and see the key line of strategies that are best to use in the study of the topic. The review also helps to set up a supporting literature background for your ideas, it helps you to find the gaps that you could try to fill with your work and new directions to go in, as well as figure out general guidelines for your research. When you look through various resources, united under the same topic, your mind accumulates a particular vocabulary of keywords and terms encountered most frequently in the literature that plays a major role in the subject study. The importance of literature review is that through the insight into literature you see the past of the topic’s research, which helps to envision its future. All the accounts of the subject indicate the impact areas that are influenced by the changes in this subject. All pieces of research create a whole network that grows bigger and stronger with every new scholarly contribution, whereas every new contribution relies heavily on the net. While making the literature review, you learn from other authors about how to make the research effective, how to pick out appropriate research methods, what concepts are the most important or curious, and how to use all of that. On the whole, this part of working on your paper draws a clear picture of the subject’s present state of being. Upon studying relevant resources, you can also prevent yourself from doing the exact research that someone has conducted already.

How to structure a literature review for a dissertation? The structure depends on the focus of the review. Sometimes a literature review has a narrow focus and concentrates solely or primarily either on the history of the topic, on the recent findings, on a clashing debate between scholarly views on the topic, or any other specific goal. However, with most of academic papers, literature review usually pursues multiple goals in order to create a multi-aspected picture of the subject matter and analyze all of its sides - of course, only those of them that are relevant to the topic of the paper. The topic of your paper - its main statement or hypothesis, to be precise - is the force that defines your particular dissertation literature review outline and its focus in the first place. The problem statement of your paper is the central reference point that sets the rules for the whole research, mainly outlining its scope and depth. Both empirical research and literature review should match the claim of your thesis statement or specifics of the issue you aim to resolve. Empirical research and literature review deal with different aspects of scholarly knowledge, yet they are concerned with the same questions. They cooperate, with literature review provoking certain questions for empirical investigation and empirical investigation giving material for discussion in the literature.

Before conducting your literature review, establish what exactly you are looking for. Make a sort of literature review outline, a system of questions or key points that you need to answer or work through. What is essential for the research? Certain methods, mysterious theories, reasons behind contradictions in the data? Write down exactly what you need. If you are doing a preliminary review without a set goal - for example, in the early stages when you haven't defined yet what subject matter you want to work on - make notes about what you find interesting throughout the resource examination, and save the information you’ll probably use. There are numerous methods with specific calculation formulas for data analysis that may help with the analysis of information presented in the resources.

How to Write a Literature Review

When it comes to the question of how to write a literature review, we obviously start with the search for the resources. Your supervisors will give you their advice and guidance on all questions that you may have, including your concerns about the literature. They can provide you with at least a basic set of most important or profound works regarding your subject matter or the general area of study that it comes from. Reading through a couple of such sources will give you a kick-start, offer you many lines deriving from the main subject to investigate, and also draw the general picture of the subject for you. Start gathering keywords from the very first source and throughout the whole review process. If you hesitate with that, thinking that some term or concept may not be that important (but you don’t know for sure), just forget your doubts and do that. Indecision steals much more time than taking notes that can seem to be unnecessary at first, yet may as well turn out to be very useful.

How to do a literature search? The resources for review are various: books, monographs, periodicals, encyclopedias, textbooks, even video or audio lectures, et cetera. These can be found at university libraries and electronic databases, open for students only or offering a free access. Free access internet libraries make it harder to find the necessary literature, because they either have a limited range of resources or are overcrowded with questionable, not academically approved writings. Despite all that, they may contain hidden gems, and not all online libraries are of poor quality. There are electronic databases that have works in specific fields of study, while others present a collection of interdisciplinary resources. Some of them are international and include works of scholars from all over the world, but many countries and regions have their individual databases too. There are numerous electronic catalogs with different types of access - although, the access shouldn’t be a problem for a student with a library account anyway. Some of the most popular ones are Academic Search Complete, Microsoft Academic Research, ScienceDirect, Project Muse, BPubs, PubMed, WorldCat, JSTOR, ProQuest, Google Scholar, and many others. By the way, looking through papers similar to the one you’re writing can give you a better idea of the dissertation literature review template.

The advantage of resources you can touch, as opposed to electronic copies, is that working with paper copies is more reliable than letting a machine do the search. When you put into a search engine the keywords it should look for in papers, the engine cannot take into account those nuances that a human mind is aware of. For example, when a term is used in many different disciplines and has different meanings, most of the search systems would find papers that refer to each of the disciplines. As a result, you waste your time scrolling down the long line of papers, many of which are irrelevant for you. A computer cannot get specific enough even if you give it a big list of words that try to define your query more specifically. With paper resources, you are the one who operates the search, and you have bigger chances to notice something interesting or valuable.

However, a lot depends on the level of an engine’s functionality. Electronic search is not without advantages either. The search engine of a database can find key concepts that your eye would miss when flipping through a paper, but for the search to be effective enough, you must know the exact words you are looking for rather than have an abstract notion of your goal. Use as many words as the engine allows, and don’t ignore synonyms - even if you think you don’t need those because you’ve already put in the main word, its synonyms can bring more results to you. The two ways, electronic and paper, work fine together, but it’s also possible that one of them suits an individual student better than the other. Try them for yourself. It doesn't matter much what format a resource has. The main criteria for the choice of literature are still the two points: credibility and relevance to the topic of your research. Also, make sure there is enough bibliographical information about the resource for the reference list in your paper.

How to write a literature review for a dissertation that won’t lead your research astray? You cannot work with just any resource that you find. The information presented in it must show signs of validity and reputability. In a way, you are engaging the resources in a sifting process, passing them through critical analysis to establish which of them are the most useful or crucial in the research of your subject matter. For this, you need to know if the qualifications of the author are sufficient enough, specifically in the area of the subject matter that you are studying. Their material has to be written in an unbiased manner, they should be objective in their views, and their work must be substantiated, with its validity being confirmed by numerous references to this work from other reliable sources. Usually, good specialists are published in reputable periodicals. The resources you review should also be up to date unless you are giving a historical background for your subject matter and need older resources for that. Some information in outdated resources may still be useful today.

Important point number two when choosing works for the literature review is, of course, their relevance to your specific topic and how much they can contribute to your research. Remember that scientific literature review is not about simply enumerating scholarly opinions on the topic - your analytical thinking must be applied to present those opinions in ways that explain your subject matter, both generally and particularly. When it comes to two or more sources that are concerned with the same aspect of the topic, they may have pieces of information that complement or confirm each other. However, if the opinions and theories presented in them are different, choose resources with more evidential support of their information.

Checking reliability of resources may take a lot of time and effort. It’s impossible to check every single argument or exclusively come across those methods and concepts that are not all disputable. There's a thin line between being meticulous and becoming narrow-minded in the process of resource sifting, down to the point of discarding innovative and not yet fully explored ideas with great potential just because they don't follow the traditional course of thinking or have a limited research capacity at the moment. Verify the information you encounter, use your logic, but don't forget to listen to your gut and follow the passion for moving forward that lead you to your scholarly career. There is no way to know for sure until you try.

It would be nice to always be able to scan through full texts, yet it’s not always possible. Annotations and abstracts presented at the beginning of a paper save time, as they offer a brief summary of the paper’s essence, and you can see from the start whether the work is relevant for your research. Aside from abstracts and annotations, you can read the introduction and conclusion in the paper for the same purpose. In case you’re wondering how to write an abstract for a literature review, the principles of building an abstract are generally the same for all kinds of academic papers.

The list of references at the end of every resource you look through can serve two functions: first, the quality and the number of resources used by the author may help you establish credibility and objectivity of their work; and second, if the work passes your screening process, the list can serve you as a bank of references to other literature that you can use as well. It can give you hints at popular and significant scholarly works - you know you come across them when you keep seeing the same name or the same book or paper title.

How to conduct a literature review economically? It’s easy to get lost in a sea of scholarly literature when you’re doing a review and your mind jumps from paper to paper, attentively reading into their content and forgetting information of seemingly minor importance - like the fact that you already looked through a certain paper, or that you’ve just skipped a bunch of resources because you confused them with the ones you had reviewed before. Therefore, you need to keep track of the works you review, create a system of some kind to make it a bit easier to recognize a resource. For example, you can make alphabetically arranged notes with the names of the papers or their authors, or even take pictures of the front pages for a quick visual сheck.

Alongside with keeping your record of what has been done already, what things you’ve found and what literature review goals have been achieved, keep the list of things that yet have to be found and accomplished. This will help you stay focused on the important stuff when conducting the literature research.

For many, it seems easier to break their research process into stages, with the actual literature review first and writing that section of the paper afterward. However, such literature review methodology is not always a win. You actually lose time when you ignore one part of the process when doing another, because if you don’t record the essentials and details of your review while doing it, you forget many of those things by the time you get to writing, and then, you must come back to the literature and look through it again. It’s better to do the two at the same time, as one integral procedure, and edit your writings afterward. Besides, you don’t know how your course of thinking may change or reveal unanswered questions when you put it all on paper. That’s why you need to do the research and the writing together.

How to write dissertation literature review in a legit way? Beware of plagiarism, which can be unintentional. It happens sometimes that after reading numerous materials, someone else’s ideas seem to be your own, or you find it in so many books that it seems like common knowledge, and you don’t bother including names of actual scholars who supported that view. In the question of plagiarism, as with the whole research and writing, attention is one of the key ingredients of success. Write down those arguments and ideas that you find valuable in the texts you work with, and put quotation marks around them to remember that it’s a quote. Write down the name of the book or its author, and if you’re totally sure you’ll use this idea in your paper, write down the whole bibliographical information in the required format right at that moment. In your paper, you may choose to keep it as a direct quote, or you can explain it in your own words (still indicating the author or the followers of the idea!), but for the time you are working raw with the literature, just make these important steps. For all that, there are fixed key terms that are crucial for the subject matter that you study. Such fixed scholarly vocabulary is unavoidable, it cannot and shouldn't be paraphrased, it is off limits to the plagiarism question.

As you are doing a literature review, save all the necessary data for the bibliography or list of references section of your paper. This data generally includes the name of the author, the name of the resource, the year it was issued, and the pages from which you took information. The referencing format - the order in which every piece of data is presented and the exact components of it - is indicated in a style guide that you are required to comply with when writing your paper, and so, standards differ. As for the style guides, knowing the secrets of writing a good literature review APA style or any other requires nothing more than reading the manual and perhaps looking through a paper performed in that format. Actually, the difference between styles is not so much in the structure of the text as in the way references and citations are made. APA literature review guidelines are often used for sciences, Chicago/Turabian - mostly in Arts and Business, while MLA literature review guidelines are used for the humanities The choice, however, is after your faculty. The main point here is that you don't wait until the paper is ready to collect the bibliography data - you do it right on the spot while you're working with a certain resource.

There are different standards of citation in the text that you should follow, indicated in the style guides as well. Citations should be followed by your interpretation of the given information within the frame of your research. Citations can be direct, when you insert an actual quote from someone's book or paper into your text, and indirect, when you paraphrase their exact words. Citations can also be integral, when you mention an author’s name together with your citation of their words, and non-integral, when the name of the author is mentioned separately - for example, in endnotes or in brackets. Citations shouldn’t “crowd” your paper, frequently showering the text and leaving sparse breaks between each other. They are important, but in themselves, they’re just pointers for your own scholarly interpretation of the subject, and they shouldn’t dominate your paper and be invasive.

Structure of a Literature Review

Requirements for the structure and format of your paper, including the literature review, will most likely be set by your supervisors or other faculty members. The general academic paper as well as literature review template is the usual introduction-main body-conclusion that works for a whole paper and its substantial parts as well. Down to the specifics, there is a bunch of ways you can arrange the arguments and explanations in your literature review: you may present developmental stages of your paper’s topic throughout time; place theories about your topic in the order of their popularity; analyse of the topic aspect by aspect, regardless of the chronology of their study; point out the areas of science or life itself that the issue touches; and many other ways.

You can write the introduction to a literature review in one of these or other ways:

  • explain the criteria by which you selected the literature;
  • outline the scale of your research;
  • point out which areas or aspects of an issue your research concerns;
  • set the goal of your literature review;
  • put your research into its niche among other issues in your field of study.

What to include in a literature review main text? You may:

  • explain similar and differing views of scholars on the issue under study;
  • give an account of the history of the issue and its research;
  • draw comparisons and make critical evaluations and analyses of different aspects of the issue, different approaches to its study, different theories about it;
  • draw the readers’ attention to unresolved problems;
  • make suggestions about possible solutions;
  • explain the value of studying this specific issue.

Literature review format of conclusion typically involves:

  • a summary of the review’s main points;
  • an outline of the future of the issue and perspectives for further research;
  • emphasizing how the goal of the review was accomplished;
  • specifying how your own actual research matches the research conducted by the authors cited in the review;
  • making predictions about how your research can move the study further and what contribution it will make.

Mistakes to look out for in the literature review:

  • presenting information that is not exactly relevant to the topic of your research;
  • presenting the views of scholars solely as quotes without their interpretation in regard to your research;
  • turning your review into a list of scholarly concepts and opinions without conducting their analysis and integrating them into your research;
  • forgetting to mention findings from your own research that match the ones encountered in the literature;
  • not drawing links and not showing relationships between the concepts in different resources.

How long should a literature review be? The size of the literature review depends on the whole thesis or dissertation structure, its volume, and the particularities of its focus. Usually, being a significant part of the paper, literature review may take about one-fourth of the whole dissertation, but this general estimation may vary for different schools, faculties, and even individual papers.

The literature review section in your academic paper should be coherent. You cannot just drop separate paragraphs there that don't seem to be connected to each other. All the arguments, whether coming from different sources or taken from one, must be clearly and strongly united by the main point of the paper - its thesis statement, hypothesis, or literature review thesis, if the review is a paper on its own.

Aside from giving a general account of the subject matter that you write about, literature review acts as an important and powerful tool of navigation in the world of multiple aspects of one piece of scholarly knowledge. Categorising the resources you use, for example, putting some into a group that proves your thesis statement or hypothesis and others - into a group that defies those statements is not only a useful technique to apply during the research, it’s also an effective a way to express the obtained arguments in writing. The literature review structure may also be organized in a chronological order, classified by their approach to the issue they study or by the scope of the research they present.

The way you conducted your literature review for masters dissertation or any other project may also be one of the questions of the committee that will examine your paper. You may be required to reveal the principle by which you picked the resources for review, explain what were you looking for in them and expound on the criteria by which you evaluated the eligibility of the reviewed literature for your paper. This aspect of the examination may be either a part of the defense or a part of the paper itself as well. All the requirements are given by your supervisors or other faculty members.

How to write literature review for thesis or dissertation without bias? Remember that you're not supposed to take sides, prefer one resource and discriminate another. The closest thing to this that you can do is point out the disadvantages or advantages of one point of view over another, when some of them are experientially or logically proven ineffective or lacking evidence.

You don't have to leave a little space for your own ideas and visions that you came up with - they are the central, most important element of your work, and they deserve and need more than just a little space. The purpose of a literature review in a dissertation is not to imply that the opinions of accomplished scholars are more important than those of the young, beginner scholars like you. Profound literature review is done so you could know where you stand, what research has been done so far within your paper’s subject matter, what it can tell you and where it can direct you.

When writing a literature review for a dissertation, we have a tendency to grip a serious task like that too tightly and perform it hectically, losing track of time and resources we look through - even though we’ve gathered so many of them that a whole archive could be made of them. It’s harder to set any boundaries when you’re on the earlier stages of your research and don’t really know what exactly you are looking for. More often than not, we have that established soon enough. The main focus of our research is the controlling agent for work with the literature. At some point, you have to just ask yourself, “Have I found what I was looking for? What else am I trying to find? Why do I think it’s not enough, what I already have?”. Oftentimes, we keep on rummaging through books and periodicals in attempts to find something dazzling, or we’re just too critical of our work and never feel like what we do is good enough. These “symptoms” should be recognized early in the process. Scholarly anxiety may not be an official thing, but it does exist under no name. Idealists, who want to get to the very truth, have a hard time being grounded in reality with its restrictions in the capacity of research. People with an exaggerated sense of responsibility don’t want to stop until their duty is done to the fullest, even when getting to the very core of a problem is highly improbable at the moment. Of course, we shouldn’t give up on our aspirations, no matter how high they go, but we also need to stay aware of the fact that it may take more time and means to get there than we currently are in possession of and not feel frustrated about it. Take a look at the work you’ve done so far once more. Maybe, you really have found enough already. If you can soberly and realistically say that the goal is not reached yet, keep looking, but don’t demand of yourself more than you can do at the moment.

The most important thing in how to write a research literature review is not to get caught up in the idea that anything written on paper and labeled as academic-related is undeniably valid. Moreover, if we always agreed with the theories presented to us, there would be no science and no research, for they’re built on the tendency to doubt, question, and examine - although, this is no the same as discard and subjectively criticize. In your research, you need to do exactly that: take unsupported theories, no matter how enticing, as mere assumptions. But yet, they shouldn’t retain the status of assumptions for you. In case you’re really interested in them as a scholar, they should be properly examined by you to the best of your ability until some of them are proven and accepted as true. As for the rest, they may still remain assumptions, even if disproven, for you never know when the means of research and its results can change. Nevertheless, you may include them in your paper, explaining their undefined status. But those arguments that you build your conclusions on must be solid knowledge that makes sense not only to the general scholarly public but to yourself as well. You should test it by your research and give it your own evaluation as a scholar, whose work will be cited next.