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Literature reviews in dissertations

As the next section of this blog is quite lengthy, we've broken it down into several key steps which should make it easier to follow when writing your own dissertation literature review. You start by identifying your sources, then you read and re-read them. Next, you think about any gaps in the research or literature you have used, and finally, you write your review using all the preparation and information gathered in the steps prior.

To write a good dissertation literature review, you need to have a fair idea of what sources you would like to review. Make sure that your sources are balanced; include enough books and academic journals and any useful published work from reputable scholars. To help you choose your sources appropriately, you might want to think about the parameters and objectives of your research. What are you hoping to find out? In your literature review , what theoretical issues or perspectives do you aim to tackle? How about your methodology? Will you focus on mainly qualitative or quantitative studies, or a mixture of both?

These general questions should help guide you in selecting your sources and again, remember that the abstract of a source is a very useful tool. Reference tools such as Mendeley allow you to store your sources online and via a desktop app, and are a great way to keep your bibliography organised.

The citation tools attached to these programmes will also allow you to simply export citations in a format of your choice when required later. They will save you countless hours trying to figure out how to use Harvard or APA referencing correctly. First, go through all the texts to get a sense of their general content and arguments.

This will also help you judge which sources you mainly want to focus on in your review. During the second stage of your reading, you can then take a more critical, in-depth look at your sources.

How to write a literature review

Make a lot of notes, be critical, ask questions. What is your academic opinion on the text? Do you have any comments on the methodological approach, the theoretical argument or the general hypothesis? Note these down. It will ensure that your literature review is not merely a summary of your readings, and will encourage a clear line of argument so that your work is logical and coherent.

Literature reviews

When writing a dissertation literature review , an essential thing to consider is identifying the research gap. Identifying the gap is particularly important if your review forms part of a research proposal, as it will highlight the pertinence of your research — assuming that your research has been designed to fill this gap. In other instances, identifying the gap is an indication of good critical analysis and can score you extra points.

A research gap is essentially the existence of a research question, perspective or problem that has not been answered in the existing literature on any field of study. It also shows that you are very much aware of the status of the literature in your chosen field of study, which in turn, demonstrates the amount of research and effort you have put into your review.

Many students, especially at post-graduate level, find it extremely difficult to identify research gaps in their subject area. For post-graduate research papers, identifying research gaps and formulating research questions that can address these gaps form the very essence of a research paper. Identifying research gaps does not have to be a difficult endeavour and there are several ways to overcome this difficulty:. Start by reading A simple approach will be to read important parts of key articles in your research area.

A quick search using keywords on Google Scholar will often give you a quick overview of the available literature. Abstracts and recommendations Whichever avenue you choose, reading the abstract is often a good starting point to get a sense of what the articles entails. Another route would be to simply read as much as you can on your research subject while considering which research areas still need addressing in the literature — this is usually an indication of research gaps.

Use sample literature reviews Have a look at sample dissertation literature reviews in your subject area and read them thoroughly to familiarise yourself with existing key debates and themes. This can be a good starting point for framing and structuring your own review. If you are not familiar with academic writing, going through samples will help you to get a sense of what is expected in this regard. Pay attention to the academic language and formal style used.

Literature Review Writing Services, Dissertation Literature Review

Also, remember that the bibliography or reference section of your selected texts will help you to snowball further references if you need any. Keep it simple Keep your topic as narrowed down as possible. Remember that there are hundreds — or in some instances, thousands — of sources or perspectives concerning any subject area or topic. 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.

Definition

A limitation of this approach is that it inhibits continuity in your arguments and in some instances, can undermine the coherence of your work. Use with caution. 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.

Consider this statement:. 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.

When do you have to write a literature review?

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.


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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.

The conclusion to the review will summarise the most significant findings of your review and identify gaps in knowledge. There are various points you need to consider when writing a literature review. The first is to make sure you use evidence to back up your points.


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This can be done by referring to specific writers or studies. In addition, you need to make sure that all information contained in the review is related to the review focus.