Writing a good literature review

By Julian Weber

The literature review should be the easiest part of your dissertation: you’ve read what you need to read and have no doubt formulated your main arguments, so it shouldn’t be a daunting task, right?

More often than not this is not the case as doubts creep in as to whether you have read the right texts in relation to your chosen topic. Don’t fret, a good literature review needn’t be encyclopaedic, but a representation of your research interests. Of course, you don’t want to leave out Marx if you’re talking about socialism or Newton if you’re writing about the laws of motion, but showing evidence of a genuine concerted interest in the topic is more important than what you think might generally be considered to represent the right content. Here are some tips:

Speak to your peers and tutor in advance

Getting hold of the right books needn’t be a lonely process. You will, no doubt, have formed a strong interest in your topic otherwise you wouldn’t be writing about it. You might, however, be missing out on an interesting author or paper. Speak to your tutor and peers about your interests and you’ll find that they will have some interesting tips and pointers as to where to find your next good read. It will also quell your anxiety when you come to writing your review.

Read and right short reviews as you go along

Most dissertation writing service websites agree that getting into the habit of writing a short summary of what you read will pay dividends when you come to writing a literature review. Try to be as critical as possible as you can then carry this over into your dissertation. If you’ve read numerous books on your topic and have 200 – 300 words for each stored on your hard drive, then it’s only a case of arranging thematically or chronologically.

Theme is a more difficult task as you need to fuse and edit your content in terms of importance and style but it is a free, open ended approach which can prompt more creativity. Chronology is easier to arrange but might restrict interesting juxtaposition and comparisons.

In essence, preparation is key!

Bring the voice of your essay into the review

Whether you chose chronology or theme as your style, try to be as critical and analytical as possible. The literature review needn’t be a bland exercise of summarising in a sterile voice. The chances are that once you have already prepared short critical summaries, your literature review will also lay the ground for the main arguments in your dissertation. If done properly, it can also help you bring to light new nuances of which you wasn’t previously aware.

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