A vital aspect of any dissertation is the literature review. The literature review is the section of the thesis that reviews and colates the existing research that has been conducted about areas aligned with the dissertation topic. However, the task of writing the literature review can be complex and may feel overwhelming, especially if there is a large amount of literature that can be applied to the topic selected. Frequent errors in literature reviews may include review of articles which are unneeded or irrelevant to the topic, a lack of focus, as well as insufficient critical analysis, and poor structure. Following this guide will help to enhance the quality of a literature review and reduce the potential for errors.
It is necessary to review the research question and identify the known theories relevant to the research topic before examining the literature. The search for suitable literature may include online academic journal database searches using keywords, the review of journal article reference lists to identify additional original sources which may also be useful, as well as traditional library-based research. Each article identified should be assessed to determine its appropriateness for inclusion in the literature review, this will include assessing;
- The source or provenance of the material which should be a peer-review journal or other academic or professional source, such as conference papers.
- The date of the article to assess whether the information is likely to be out of data. Furthermore, some universities may require only recent literature within predefined dates to be included.
- The robustness and objectivity of the research presented, if the methodology is weak, easily refuted, or appears biased, it may be discarded or balanced with other contradictory evidence.
- Relevance of the findings to determine if they add value to a literature review.
Create a record of the different articles identified for use, including the referencing details and the fundamental findings that will be included. The record of the various sources should then be used to organise the research into different categories.
Writing the Literature Review
The next stage is to write the review. Before the writing starts, it is necessary to create an outline which will structure the research. The general rule is to start with the more general theories, findings and ideas and narrow them down throughout the review, with the review acting as a funnel. The literature review will benefit from a logical organisation into subsection with relevant heading. As each theory or findings is discussed the literature review should describe the ‘relevant issue and then acknowledge and discuss any supporting or dissenting views and recognise any weaknesses or omissions in the literature surveyed, with the student comparing and contrasting various findings from alternate researchers. In all cases the ideas of others included in the review should be accurately cited.
A good literature review will provide a good foundation and detail the theories and knowledge needed to understand any subsequent research, while concurrently identifying the gap in current knowledge to justify the current research which will lead seamlessly to the subsequent dissertation sections.