A dissertation does not take place in a vacuum; it builds on the basis of previous research in your field. As a result, it’s critical to contextualize your study and place it in the perspective of a wider body of knowledge. A literature review does this by providing an overview of previous research in your field.

However, this isn’t just a summary of the research’s history. It’s more than that; it’s a critical evaluation of this history, an opportunity for you to discover knowledge gaps, recurring themes, and research methodologies, and, most crucially, a chance to put out your line of thought.

The question you’re trying to address here is: How did your study of existing research bring you to the research question you’re working on, and why does this trajectory matter?

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review examines scholarly articles, books, dissertations, conference proceedings, and other materials related to a certain topic, study area, or theory, and offers context for a dissertation by identifying previous research. The existing literature helps us determine where we are in the tale right now because research tells a story.

It is up to those writing dissertations to continue the study with new and additional research and new viewpoints, but they must first understand the story in order to move on.

Where to place the literature review?

The literature review is generally found at the start of a thesis or dissertation. Following the introduction, it establishes a scholarly framework for your study and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology.

What is the purpose of a literature review?

  • Gaps in existing research is identified.
  • Allows you to avoid reinventing the wheel by discovering previous research on a topic.
  • Sets the background on what has been discovered so far about a topic.
  • Increases the scope of your knowledge in your field of research
  • It can help you in identifying seminal works in your field.
  • Allows you to provide your research with an intellectual context and compare it to other similar studies.
  • Provides you with different and opposing perspectives. 
  • It will help recognizing research methodologies that may be suitable to your work.

The steps of writing a literature review

The steps of writing a literature review in Dissertation

Step 1: Identify and choose relevant sources

It’s very likely that you’ll read hundreds of thousands of articles in the wide field of research, many of which you won’t even cite! It’s essential to activate your critical thinking when you become lost in this sea of study and find articles, books, or even particular arguments that are closely connected to the research issue you’re researching.

Only the most important of these will be included in your dissertation.

Keep the sources you’re using diverse and balanced. Consult books, journal articles, and other literature reviews.

Step 2: Organizing your Literature Review

As you read through the literature, you’ll see that there are a lot of different categories or parameters you may utilize to build your dissertation.  Let’s look at various options for strategizing this order.

1. Chronological:

Writing from a historical lens will shine a light on how your research topic evolved over time, which is why this is perhaps the most obvious approach for evaluating research.

2. Thematic:

If you’ve found recurring themes in the literature you’ve read so far, you can present them in a similar way.

3. Methodological:

If your issue has been studied using a variety of approaches, you may utilize this method to compare and contrast what has been done so far.

4. Theoretical:

A theoretical framework is frequently built on the ground of a literature review. It may be used to explain various ideas, models, and important concept definitions.

You might provide a case for a particular theoretical approach, or you could combine several theoretical concepts to build a framework for your research.

Step 3: Assess if there is a knowledge gap

How did your analysis of existing literature bring you to this particular topic?

You can keep this section short or long depending on whether or not you need to do a literature review. In either case, consult your university’s guidelines for specifics on word count and chapter count.

Clearly describe the type of knowledge that your dissertation wants to provide.

  • Is it able to fill a knowledge gap in the existing literature?
  • Propose a new methodological approach to an issue that already exists?
  • Examine or re-examine existing literature from a new angle?

Step 4: Write your Literature Review

Your literature review should include an introduction, a major body, and a conclusion, just like any other academic paper. What you include in each section depends on the objectives of your literature review.

1. Introduction:

The focus and purpose of the literature review should be clearly stated in the introduction.

2. Body:

  1. You may want to divide the body of your literature review into subsections depending on how long it is. Each subject, time period, or methodological approach might have its own subheading.

You can use the following tips as you write:

  • Summarize and synthesize: Provide a summary of each source’s main points and combine them into a coherent whole.
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just repeat what other researchers have said; add your own interpretations when appropriate, and describe the importance of findings in the context of the whole literature.
  • Critically Evaluate: Examine your sources critically, mentioning their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts in well-structured paragraphs.

3. Conclusion:

In the conclusion, you should summarize and underline the important results from the literature that you have gathered.

Why write a literature review?

You’ll need to conduct a literature review to place your research within existing knowledge while writing a thesis, dissertation, or research paper. The literature review provides you with the opportunity to:

  • Demonstrate your understanding of the topic and scholarly background.
  • Create a theoretical framework and research methodology for your study.
  • Place yourself in relation to other theorists and researchers.
  • Demonstrate how your study fills a void or contributes to a debate.

As a stand-alone assignment, you may be required to prepare a literature review. The goal here is to assess the current state of research and demonstrate your understanding of scholarly debates on a certain issue.

Each case will have somewhat different content, but the methods for doing a literature review will be the same.

If you want to apply to graduate school or pursue a career in research, writing literature reviews is a crucial skill.

Thanks and Regards,

Isabell S.

The TrueEditors Team

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