How to Write a Dissertation Literature Review

The literature review is an essential part of any dissertation. The committee expects more out of it than just a regurgitation of previously written literature. It must not be simply an annotated bibliography or a brief summarization.

Although a summary is required, it goes well beyond that. It’s expected that you are very focused on your topic of interest and include a critical analysis if relationships that may exist among a variety of written work, and all must be related back to your own research. There must be substantial reason for including each work in your literature review.

Here is a step by step guide you can follow to be sure you meet all the necessary rules:

  • Make sure you know the APA guidelines, or if another style guide is required, know its rules. Pay attention to things like margins, font, spacing, text citations and quotations.
  • Decide on a specific topic. If you have already settled on your dissertation topic, then that’s the one you use. Otherwise the literature review won’t have a focus, and that’s essential.
  • Identify each piece of literature you want to include in your review and make sure you can clearly indicate why they are relevant to your topic. Use online databases, google scholar and other scholarly sources to search for literature. You may quickly discover the topic you are searching is too broad and it may become necessary to make some refinements.
  • Make an analysis of the literature. Skim the articles enough to be able to divide them into categories. Find main topics and subtopics and fit them into a hierarchy. Start reading them more in depth and take notes. You can use software for sorting and taking notes if you want to. Define key terms as you go along and make not of useful statistics, diagrams and charts.
  • You may start to collect useful quotes to include in the review. When you do this, carefully cite which article you extracted it from as well as the page number so you can easily find it later. If you do decide to use that quote, you will need the page number later anyway.
  • Look for a gap in the literature. The gaps are important because you can address them as you plan out your review. It will also show you where more research needs to be conducted.

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