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How to Write the Literature Review of a Dissertation

Top dissertation literature review tips

❶Even though this criteria is extremely specific and tough, but doing so makes your research much better and focused. One way of doing this is to examine each paragraph in turn, and to write in the margin a very brief summary of the content, and the type of content e.

Why do I need a literature review?

Step-by-step guide
What is a literature review?

EndNote and RefWorks are software packages that you can use to collect and store details of your references, and your comments on them. As you review the references, remember to be a critical reader see Study Guide What is critical reading? Keeping a record of your search strategy is useful, to prevent you duplicating effort by doing the same search twice, or missing out a significant and relevant sector of literature because you think you have already done that search.

Increasingly, examiners at post-graduate level are looking for the detail of how you chose which evidence you decided to refer to. They will want to know how you went about looking for relevant material, and your process of selection and omission. You need to check what is required within your own discipline. If you are required to record and present your search strategy, you may be able to include the technical details of the search strategy as an appendix to your thesis.

Plagiarism is regarded as a serious offence by all Universities, and you need to make sure that you do not, even accidentally, commit plagiarism. It can happen accidentally, for example, if you are careless in your note-taking. This can mean that you get mixed up over what is an exact quote, and what you have written in your own words; or over what was an idea of your own that you jotted down, or an idea from some text.

This has the advantage that, when you come to use that example in your writing up, you can choose:. Help is available regarding how to avoid plagiarism and it is worth checking it out. Your department will have its own guidance. It is important to keep control of the reading process, and to keep your research focus in mind. Rudestam and Newton It is also important to see the writing stage as part of the research process, not something that happens after you have finished reading the literature.

Wellington et al Once you are part way through your reading you can have a go at writing the literature review, in anticipation of revising it later on. It is often not until you start explaining something in writing that you find where your argument is weak, and you need to collect more evidence. A skill that helps in curtailing the reading is: Decisions need to be made about where to focus your reading, and where you can refer briefly to an area but explain why you will not be going into it in more detail.

The task of shaping a logical and effective report of a literature review is undeniably challenging. Some useful guidance on how to approach the writing up is given by Wellington et al In most disciplines, the aim is for the reader to reach the end of the literature review with a clear appreciation of what you are doing; why you are doing it; and how it fits in with other research in your field. Often, the literature review will end with a statement of the research question s.

Having a lot of literature to report on can feel overwhelming. It is important to keep the focus on your study, rather than on the literature Wellington To help you do this, you will need to establish a structure to work to. A good, well-explained structure is also a huge help to the reader. As with any piece of extended writing, structure is crucial. There may be specific guidance on structure within your department, or you may need to devise your own.

Once you have established your structure you need to outline it for your reader. Although you clearly need to write in an academic style, it can be helpful to imagine that you are telling a story. The thread running through the story is the explanation of why you decided to do the study that you are doing.

The story needs to be logical, informative, persuasive, comprehensive and, ideally, interesting. It needs to reach the logical conclusion that your research is a good idea. If there is a key article or book that is of major importance to the development of your own research ideas, it is important to give extra space to describing and critiquing that piece of literature in more depth. Similarly, if there are some studies that you will be referring to more than to others, it would be useful to give them a full report and critique at this stage.

As well as using tables to display numerical data, tables can be useful within a literature review when you are comparing other kinds of material. For example, you could use a table to display the key differences between two or more:. The table format can make the comparisons easier to understand than if they were listed within the text.

It can also be a check for yourself that you have identified enough relevant differences. An omission will be more obvious within a table, where it would appear as a blank cell, than it would be within text.

Almost all academic writing will need a reference list. This is a comprehensive list of the full references of sources that you have referred to in your writing. The reader needs to be able to follow up any source you have referred to. A bibliography is not usually necessary or relevant, unless you have been asked to produce one. This experience is common in PhD study, but it can happen at any level, and can feel as if you have wasted a lot of effort.

Looking at this positively, however, you have probably read more widely than you might otherwise have done. That probably confirms that it was a good question to ask!

Although this can feel very disappointing at first, it can often be transformed into a benefit. It is important that your research fits logically within the existing research in your area, and you may have found an ideal study to link with and to extend in some way.

Firstly, this is unlikely. Perhaps if you modify your search strategy you will find something. Check out whether there is an important reason why the research has not been done, which would make it sensible for you to choose a different focus. If you do decide to go ahead, then take extra care designing your research, in the absence of guidance from previous studies.

Ploughing a little-known furrow as a novice researcher is going to be very difficult, and you may find it difficult to get much support or help. An important aspect of your thesis and your viva, is that you can show how your research fits with other research. This will be just as important when there is limited existing research in your area, as when there is an abundance. Once you have a first draft of your literature review it is possible for you to assess how well you have achieved your aims.

One way of doing this is to examine each paragraph in turn, and to write in the margin a very brief summary of the content, and the type of content e. These summaries then provide the outline of the story you are telling, and the way that you are telling it. Both of these are important and need to be critically reviewed. Beware of becoming too attached to your writing.

You need to be ready to cross out whole paragraphs or even whole sections if they do not pass the above tests. It may be mainly a case of cutting and pasting material into a different order, with some additional explanation and linking. Researchers investigate research problems in many divergent ways and the literature available on any given subject is extremely broad. In your review, ensure that you clearly state what the focus of your work will be. In the social sciences this rule may not apply, as many theoretical works are classics and you will be expected to be familiar with these perspectives.

You might have to the review the work of Marx, or Hobbes, or any other classic scholar. You still need to balance theory with current approaches, as you will need to demonstrate the ways in which perspectives in the literature have changed over the years, or you may even want to demonstrate how scholars have used classic theories to inform their work.

Consider the organisation of your work In a dissertation literature review, organising your work goes beyond having an introduction, body and conclusion. Below is a detailed guide on how to do this:. Like any other academic paper, a dissertation literature review will comprise a basic introduction, body, and conclusion.

The introduction of a literature review should be clear, short and focused. It should outline the focus of the review — in other words, it should clearly state the main topics to be covered. A good literature review will also state the arguments to be made, as well as underlying rationale that underpins these arguments. The body of your literature review will include an in-depth discussion of the academic sources you have chosen to review. You may choose to organise your sources according to themes, methodology or even based on a chronological order.

In the body of your review, ensure that your arguments are presented clearly and that you link these arguments with the literature. Is there a scholar that agrees with your view? Say so, in a way that the reader will understand easily. This demonstrates that you are very familiar with the academic research in your field.

Remember to also make note of any views that do not agree with your position; excluding these arguments will reduce the methodological robustness of your piece. Instead, try to paraphrase quotations and only use direct quotes if it really helps to illustrate your argument. If your literature review forms part of a broader research proposal, reiterate the gaps in the literature here, and clearly state how your proposed research will fill these gaps.

Make recommendations for future research in this section too, which demonstrates your analytical skills and will score you some extra points. You have options here — you can choose to organise the content of your work based on a chronological method, based on themes, trends or methodology, or based on arguments.

To structure the body of work chronologically, you will have to organise your sources based on when they were published. A limitation of this approach is that it inhibits continuity in your arguments and in some instances, can undermine the coherence of your work.

Say you were trying to convey the debates on European migration policy, you might want to start by writing something along these lines:. They specifically espouse a perspective based on a human rights approach…".

This approach also leaves room for you to insert your voice into the literature. Using this technique also allows you to introduce additional literature that supports your position. Another way of organising your content is according to theme; or sub-themes, if your review focuses on one overarching topic. This method of organisation still allows you to present an overview of any polemical debates within these sub-themes. A thematic review can easily shift between chronological periods within each sub-section too.

This method is particularly evident in introductory sections whereby researchers may simply want to state that a particular subject has been mostly studied from a qualitative or quantitative perspective they will often then cite a number of scholars or studies to support this claim.

In scientific reviews however, a methodological approach may form the basis of the discussions in the body. If this is the case for you, focus on the methods used by various researchers. How did they go about answering a particular research question? Were there any limitations to this method? If so, what method s would have been better? The body of your research may also include additional sections that do not necessarily form a part of its organisational structure. It may also focus on historical considerations.

You could include a short methodology section that details the approach you used in selecting and analysing your sources. Write the paragraphs of the body Once you have settled on the approach to writing your body, you must now write each of its paragraphs in a way that is in keeping with academic conventions. Consider this paragraph from a literature review about stakeholder participation for environmental management, to clarify the discussion that follows:.

Despite the rhetoric and the concerns that have been expressed, there have been few attempts to investigate the validity of the many claims that have been made for stake-holder participation Webler, ; Beierle, ; Brody, ; Blackstock et al. The few attempts that have been made have tended to focus on evaluating the process rather than the outcomes e.

Beierle, ; Renn et al. This may be partly due to the challenge of selecting appropriate evaluation criteria and data collection methods. However, this is not straightforward. Webler and Tuler found strong differences of opinion between participants that they selected from ten case studies, about what constituted a "good" participatory process. Stakeholder participation for environmental management: Biological conservation, 10 , pp.

As the example above suggests, a dissertation literature review must be written using a formal and academic style. Also, note how sources have been grouped according to both arguments and themes. Remember we noted that the process of grouping sources in the body of your literature review is never a linear one?

You will often use a combination of the approaches that we have discussed. Ensure that your writing is concise, coherent and devoid of any personal or strong language. There are exceptions at post-graduate level or generally — like when you have conducted your own primary research or published your work widely — which give you the academic authority to boldly make claims. Remember also to generally use present tense when referring to opinions and theories although in the context of specific research experiments, the use of the past tense is better.

Useful linking words and phrases include: When there is disagreement, you may want to use any of the following: However, conversely, on the other hand, diverges from, antithetical to, differential from…. Write the conclusion The conclusion of a dissertation literature review should always include a summary of the implications of the literature, which you should then link to your argument or general research question.

The overall structure of your literature review will be largely based on your research area and the academic conventions that are in line with it. Nevertheless, there are some essential steps that apply across all disciplines and that you should ensure you follow:. Do not simply describe the opinions of writers Analyse, analyse, analyse, and ensure that your analysis is critical what have the writers missed; where does your opinion sit with theirs, etc.

Structure the body of your argument using various techniques Your structure should be organised based on thematic areas, key debates or controversial issues, and according to methodological approaches. Keep your review dynamic, but coherent. Remember to identify literature gaps and link this to your own research. Use ample evidence This is extremely important and forms the very essence of a dissertation literature review.

You must refer to various sources when making a point; see the sample paragraph above for an example of this. Your arguments and interpretation of a research topic must be backed by evidence. Do not make baseless claims, as a literature review is an academic piece of writing and not an opinion piece. Be very selective Not every piece of research has to be reviewed. If you are determined to show that you aware of the available literature out there, try writing techniques such as: There is robust literature available concerning the migration patterns of Syrian refugees.

X , y , Z Once you have acknowledged these works, you do not have to review them in detail. Be selective about the sources that you will discuss in detail in your review. Do not rely too much on direct quotes Only use them to emphasise a point. Instead, highlight the importance of that author in your research and move on.


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Writing a Literature Review As an academic writer, you are expected to provide an analytical overview of the significant literature published on your topic. If your audience knows less than you do on the topic, your purpose is instructional.

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Writing a faulty literature review is one of many ways to derail a dissertation. This article summarizes some pivotal information on how to write a high-quali ty dissertation literature review.

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In the summary of your dissertation literature review, it’s important to give a summary of the conclusions you’ve drawn from your readings. If your literature review forms part of a broader research proposal, reiterate the gaps in the literature here, and clearly state how your proposed research will fill these gaps. Writing the literature review of a dissertation is one of the most challenging tasks. Literature review is usually the second section of a dissertation. It shows your readers that you’ve read sufficient studies and researches related to the topic.

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As a general guide, a dissertation literature review will account for approximately ten to fifteen per cent of a dissertation. However, there are some dissertations, for example within subjects such as nursing, where the literature review may account for significantly more. The literature review is. 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 .