How to Write a Good Dissertation: the Literature Review

(Part 2)

For some of you dissertation time has already begun, and we understand the pressure and the challenge of writing a good dissertation. In our last post we shared with you some advice on how to write good introduction, and now we will move on to the next section –the literature review.

Our dissertation writing service experts are unanimous that the literature review is perhaps the most challenging part of most dissertations. It is the skeleton of your theoretical findings, and it might help you shape your arguments, and even the research question. The literature review has several purposes:

  • To critically discuss existing literature in relevance to your chosen topic
  • To highlight existing debates, points of contention, or existing gaps in research
  • To assess the existing findings in terms of content, contributions, and methodology

In order to assist you with writing your dissertation, we have put together several tips on how to write a good literature review.

Select the right sources

The source selection is the most difficult part for most students. In a sea of information, separating the good from the irrelevant sources can be a tough job. Make sure you select sources which are relevant to your topic of discussion, and timely and up-to-date. Most students will go for the leading authors in their relative fields, but even if you choose less known authors, make sure their work is important for your research question, and sheds light to your own arguments. It could be a good idea to discuss with your tutor or academic supervisor the sources you have selected or you are planning to include while you are still at the research proposal stage.

Do not summarise, analyse!

A common mistake many students make when writing their literature review chapter is summarising the content of the sources. Of course, it would be good for you to mention the main findings and purposes of the texts discussed, or the findings and methods used by the authors, if you are discussing surveys. But the purpose of the literature review is to test your ability to critically assess academic information. Make sure you look beyond the content, and search for controversies, strengths, weaknesses, or interesting points in the texts. Why is this text or theory different from the rest? Does it make many contributions to my topic? Is there bias? What are its strengths and weaknesses? These are some of the questions which are to guide you while analysing your sources for the literature review.

Classify and arrange your sources

Literature reviews can be lengthy and usually contain a lot of information from different sources. Therefore they need to be clearly structured, and the sources need to be classed. The two most common ways to structure a literature review is to divide it by themes or chronologically. The thematic literature review will contain different sections, where readings will be clustered around common ideas, findings, or arguments. The chronological literature review will group the sources based on their year of publication – for example starting from older ones, and moving on to more contemporary ones. Whichever structure you select for your literature review, make sure you situate your readings in a broader theoretical framework which you can establish at the beginning of the review.

Wrap it all up and state your conclusions

Many students leave their literature reviews unfinished. At the end of the review, make sure you briefly summarise your main findings in a separate paragraph. Point out the gaps of research you have come across during the literature review, and suggest how your dissertation is planning to fill these gaps. Summarise the main trends, and existing debates based on the literature you have discussed. Do not forget to assess the availability of the literature on your chosen topic. For some dissertations the challenge will be the wide availability of information, but for others students might be challenged by its scarcity.

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