Tips for writing literature review in dissertation
Here are some of the tips for writing literature review in dissertation.
Understand what is a literature review?
The ability to review, and to report on relevant literature is a key academic skill. A literature review:
situates your research focus within the context of the wider academic community in your field;
reports your critical review of the relevant literature; and
identifies a gap within that literature that your research will attempt to address.
To some extent, particularly with postgraduate research, the literature review can become a project in itself. It is an important showcase of your talents of: understanding, interpretation, analysis, clarity of thought, synthesis, and development of argument. The process of conducting and reporting your literature review can help you clarify your own thoughts about your study. It can also establish a framework within which to present and analyse the findings. After reading your literature review, it should be clear to the reader that you have up-to-date awareness of the relevant work of others, and that the research question you are asking is relevant. However, don’t promise too much! Be wary of saying that your research will solve a problem, or that it will change practice. It would be safer and probably more realistic to say that your research will ‘address a gap’, rather than that it will ‘fill a gap’.
When to review the literature
With small-scale writing projects, the literature review is likely to be done just once; probably before the writing begins. With longer projects such as a dissertation for a Masters degree, and certainly with a PhD, the literature review process will be more extended.
There are three stages at which a review of the literature is needed:
an early review is needed to establish the context and rationale for your study and to confirm your choice of research focus/question;
as the study period gets longer, you need to make sure that you keep in touch with current, relevant research in your field, which is published during the period of your research;
as you prepare your final report or thesis, you need to relate your findings to the findings of others, and to identify their implications for theory, practice, and research. This can involve further review with perhaps a slightly different focus from that of your initial review.
This applies especially to people doing PhDs on a part-time basis, where their research might extend over six or more years.
You need to be able to demonstrate that you are aware of current issues and research, and to show how your research is relevant within a changing context.
How to start with literature review for your research
Reading anything on your research area is a good start. You can then begin your process of evaluating the quality and relevance of what you read, and this can guide you to more focussed further reading.
What is the specific thesis, problem, or research question that my literature review helps to define?
What type of literature review am I conducting? Am I looking at issues of theory? methodology? policy? quantitative research? qualitative research?
What is the scope of my literature review? What types of publications am I using (e.g., journals, books, government documents, popular media)?
What discipline(s) am I working in (e.g., nursing, psychology, sociology, medicine)?
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