If you are reading this article right now, it means that you either simply demonstrate interest in the principles of dissertation literature review writing or you have been assigned one and you are now looking for some tips on how to cope with it. At first sight, it may seem quite simple to work on a literature review — you just have to devote enough time to studying a variety of sources and then have time for their detailed analysis. However, since writing a review differs a lot from providing a simple book summary, keep in mind that you need to follow some specific recommendations. To get in-depth understanding regarding what they are, read on the article and find out.
What Is a Literature Review?
To put it bluntly, a dissertation literature review first intends to critically analyze a set of sources collected in relation to the assigned dissertation topic with the further aim of identifying a gap in the research. As such, based on the wide array of sources, you are then able to find out what this research still lacks and what possible contribution your dissertation paper can bring.
There is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to the structure and requirements of a dissertation literature review. Sometimes it can simply be a concise summary of crucial sources, whereas it can also refer to a detailed and in-depth analysis of the chosen sources, where you will also convey your personal opinion and evaluation of the highlighted ideas.
At times, you may even have to include your own interpretation of the sources. Once you realize that your evaluation or interpretation differs from those provided in the literature, you can actually organize your overview on this aspect.
Despite the fact that many students find a lot of similarities between a review and a summary, keep in mind that the latter merely focuses on the general overview of the main arguments. On the other hand, a review is more specific and concise as it provides in-depth explanations. When it comes to summary writing, it does not bring any novelty into the research field or a specific area of expertise. A review, however, can provide a brand-new perspective on a specific topic and suggest some interpretations. A literature review may even sometimes serve a function of a critique of the existent sources on a specific topic.
It is also important to differentiate academic paper writing from literature review writing. Normally, a literature review can be a constituent part of an academic paper (an essay, a research paper or a dissertation whatsoever). The main aim of academic papers is to provide some kind of a new vision or perspective on a specific subject but a review can be one of the instruments that carry out this function.
When it comes to the role of a literature review in a research paper, it is actually one of the most important chapters in it since a review focuses on the material and information already existent within the subject area. As such, its function is limited to helping outline any existent gaps in the topic or propose some new insights that you have personally gained from the studying process.
When you compose a literature review, be sure that you can put forward new arguments on the topic and find for new ways of proving them. As such, when you are working on a review, you are not actually required to contribute to the area of research with some peculiar originality or novelty.
Is It Always Necessary to Write Literature Reviews for Research?
Hopefully, the point of writing a literature review will be more understandable once you are aware of the peculiarities of this writing type and its underlying essence. So, if you are eager to know whether a literature review is an inseparable part of research paper writing, we should admit that it really is. One of the fundamental meanings of a review is that it helps your target audience understand that you provide a credible research and that you are good at analyzing the data.
Even if it may seem strange to you at first, but a literature review actually helps a writer to convince target readers of the credibility of the study. With the help of review writing, you actually persuade the readers that the information is worth trusting and relying on.
How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation: Top Tips
Normally the process of working on a literature review starts with a general preparatory stage, when you search for the sources, skim read them according to the area of interest, then pick those that you find credible and relevant, and only after that you can start their analysis in a written form. Once you have identified the sources and read them, you can think of the possible gaps in the research area.
- Identify sources for your review. The fundamental step towards delivering a successful review is to have a clear idea what sources are relevant and appropriate to your topic. Only after you have realized then can you be sure what sources to look for and review. Sometimes, the task may be easier once you have been given a comprehensive list of sources to use by your professor. In other cases, you need to come up with the sources on your own and make sure you have chosen appropriate ones. Another valuable tip here is to send the list of sources you have chosen to your instructor or academic supervisor for approval. As you work with the sources, make sure they are well balanced: you should have a sufficient number of books, articles, journals, online sources, and other types of sources. The core thing to consider here is to make sure they are peer-reviewed and come from reputable libraries and databases. If you wonder what can help you choose appropriate sources, try thinking of the main aims and objectives of your research and then try to conform the sources to these parameters. Another question you may ask yourself is what you expect to find out after you conduct your literature review. Are there any specific theoretical or practical issues you would like to handle? What methods would you choose for researching the topic? Would you mainly focus on quantitative or qualitative sources? If you want to draw attention of your readers to a specific topic or concept, just provide a list of keywords in the abstract.
- Read the sources. If you have no sufficient time to read each source in detail, keep in mind that you should at least scan through them. Skim reading may be also helpful especially if you have an immensely long list of sources. If you want to manage your time effectively and not waste many efforts on this reading process, make sure that you can use some specific techniques. First, it is recommended to skim read all of the sources to get the general idea that unites all of them (i.e. why these specific sources are good to use specifically within this realm). This fast reading may also help you to get the gist of the general content as well as the main arguments presented there. Second, reading all sources will help you decide which of them you will mainly rely on in the very paper. Afterwards, as you are proceeding to the next stage, you may pay closer attention to the narrowed list of sources and you may also cast a critical look at them. This is the perfect stage for asking questions.
- Pay attention to the possible gaps or contradictions in the research. When working on a dissertation literature review, one of the basic tasks is to be able to identify the existent gap in the research and try to bring some novelty in the process of conducting a study. As a rule, each consequent research intends to identify the existent gap and bring some novelty or a fresh perspective on the topic. However strange it may sound, but it is first essential to identify the gap before you can actually fill it in. Normally, a gap can be found somewhere at the core of your research question that you formulate after the research introduction. Thus, the research you are conducting has the core aim — to bridge this gap and provide some new findings. Many students find it difficult and challenging to identify a gap in a research and then provide original findings. If you have faced such a complexity while performing the task, check out the main ways that will help you overcome this difficulty:
- Start reading more. Investigate different scholarly sources in your research area, pay attention to keywords and then have a look at some blank areas. You will definitely identify some specific keywords that repeat throughout different sources whereas some others will be missing at all. Apart from extensive reading, you can also use Google Scholar for help; specifically it provides overview of the existing methodology and the existing keywords from findings.
- Pay attention to abstracts and recommendation sections. While reading numerous research works, be sure that you pay specific attention to the abstract page and recommendation section. The abstract page is a brilliant starting point to get familiar with the main notion or essence of the paper and to notice some of the main keywords. Furthermore, when you look through recommendation section, you should also pay attention to the information that provides some facts and details on the gaps and contradictions or specific recommendations for the future research.
- Write the body of your review. Now once you have undergone all of the aforementioned stages, keep in mind that you are ready for working on the very body of your review. However, some preliminary planning or composing an outline will definitely come in handy for you. When developing the main body of your review, please consider the following:
- If you lack ideas or clear understanding what you are required to write, address sample literature review writing for help.
- Make the literature review simple and easy to comprehend.
- Use only credible and up-to-date sources.
- Think ahead of the mode of organization of your paragraph.
- Once you have devised a detailed plan or an outline, be sure to develop body paragraphs.
- Write a conclusive paragraph.
As you are writing the text of your review, keep in mind that it is not some kind of a narration or summary of the sources. You should not merely describe what each author said — you should rather focus on your personal analysis of the ideas that you have found in each of the sources. Make sure your analysis is critical and that you provide evaluation of different types of information.
When it comes to structuring the paper, keep in mind that you choose the technique that you find most convenient for you as well as relevant to the topic of your research. It is recommended to structure the ideas appearing in the review according to different thematic aspects or methodology.
When appealing to some sources, be sure to use only those ones that are credible and reliable. However, all of them should come from different sources. When you analyze and interpret them, be sure to back them up with solid evidence.
Be particularly selective when it comes to reviewing different sources you have found. Without a doubt, you need to demonstrate that you have processed a huge variety of sources but on the other hand, you also need to refer to those ones that are specifically relevant and from which you can derive some benefit for your research.
Do not overuse direct quotes. You may cite some specific aspects or facts or even include direct quotes but make sure that you use them only as supporting evidence or illustration. The quotes should not compose the major part of the review. So, make sure there is reason behind using specific quotes.
Make your voice heard. Keep in mind that you have your own peculiar writing style even when it comes to review writing. When it comes to providing a critique of sources for a dissertation, make sure that you analyze them in-depth and provide your expert analytic opinion.
After you have completed the review, make sure you get back to the initial paragraph and review the whole of it.
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