A literature review may also provide a thorough and critical outline of the intellectual developments in a field with a focus on major, and often polemical, debates. In other scenarios, a literature review may also provide an assessment of a source and inform a reader about its validity, pertinence and relevance to the research subject.
There tends to be confusion between literature reviews and academic papers in general, but they are not one and the same. Generally, academic papers aim to provide new research material about a particular subject, and a literature review features as part of this objective. In a research paper, the literature review forms the basis of the research — it helps to highlight any research gaps as support for a new argument or insights you intend to provide. In a literature review, you're aiming to summarise and provide a critical analysis of the research arguments you have found in your readings, without making new contributions to the literature.
Now that we know what a literature review is, the next step is to understand the point of writing one in the first place. Like it or not, a literature review is an essential part of any academic piece of writing, as it demonstrates to your tutor or reader that you have a nuanced understanding of the sources concerning your research area or question.
Although it may seem arbitrary, the literature review helps to persuade the person reading and marking your assignment that what you have written about is relevant and your arguments are justified and worthwhile.
So, in short, a literature review is essential, and you need to put the necessary time into getting it right. 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.
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? 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.
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. 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. With longer projects such as a dissertation for a Masters degree, and certainly with a PhD, the literature review process will be more extended. 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. Staff and students in your area can be good sources of ideas about where to look for relevant literature.
They may already have copies of articles that you can work with. If you attend a conference or workshop with a wider group of people, perhaps from other universities, you can take the opportunity to ask other attendees for recommendations of articles or books relevant to your area of research.
Each department or school has assigned to it a specialist Information Librarian. You can find the contact details for the Information Librarian for your own area via the Library web pages. This person can help you identify relevant sources, and create effective electronic searches:.
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. Taylor and Procter of The University of Toronto have some useful suggested questions to ask yourself at the beginning of your reading:.
You can add other questions of your own to focus the search, for example: What time period am I interested in? You may also want to make a clear decision about whether to start with a very narrow focus and work outwards, or to start wide before focussing in. You may even want to do both at once. It is a good idea to decide your strategy on this, rather than drifting into one or the other. It can give you a degree of control, in what can feel like an overwhelming and uncontrollable stage of the research process.
Searching electronic databases is probably the quickest way to access a lot of material. Guidance will be available via your own department or school and via the relevant Information Librarian. There may also be key sources of publications for your subject that are accessible electronically, such as collections of policy documents, standards, archive material, videos, and audio-recordings.
If you can find a few really useful sources, it can be a good idea to check through their reference lists to see the range of sources that they referred to. This can be particularly useful if you find a review article that evaluates other literature in the field. This will then provide you with a long reference list, and some evaluation of the references it contains. An electronic search may throw up a huge number of hits, but there are still likely to be other relevant articles that it has not detected.
So, despite having access to electronic databases and to electronic searching techniques, it can be surprisingly useful to have a pile of journals actually on your desk, and to look through the contents pages, and the individual articles. Often hand searching of journals will reveal ideas about focus, research questions, methods, techniques, or interpretations that had not occurred to you.
Sometimes even a key idea can be discovered in this way. It is therefore probably worth allocating some time to sitting in the library, with issues from the last year or two of the most relevant journals for your research topic, and reviewing them for anything of relevance. To avoid printing out or photocopying a lot of material that you will not ultimately read, you can use the abstracts of articles to check their relevance before you obtain full copies.
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. Are you struggling with any aspect of your dissertation? We have British qualified academics waiting to assist. Your writer can help with as little or as much of your dissertation as you like - from choosing a title to producing a complete, fully referenced, fully researched original piece of work.
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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.
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.
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.
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 .