How to write a PhD thesis literature review

How to write a PhD thesis literature review

How to write a PhD thesis literature review


What is a literature review?

In summary, a dissertation literature review evaluates the sources (literature) you have acquired and read on your topic area and then finds a “gap” in that literature that your study will seek to fill.

There are several misconceptions regarding what constitutes a dissertation literature review. While a thesis literature review might be a straightforward summary of significant sources, it frequently needs you to interact critically with the material in order to communicate your thoughts about it, as well as any critiques you may have. How would you interpret a specific source? Is this interpretation significantly different from other perspectives in the literature? This is the type of critical interaction that a literature review requires.

While a summary will most probably provide a brief rehash of the source’s points, the requirements for a literature review go beyond this. A literature review might shed fresh light on an established research study or it can mix new and old views (this is referred to as the “research gap” ). A literature review can also serve as a comprehensive and critical overview of a field’s intellectual evolution, with an emphasis on significant, and sometimes contentious, disputes. In other instances, a literature review may analyze a source and inform the reader of its validity, pertinence, and relevance to the study issue.


Step 1: Choose a general subject

Because you will be evaluating literature on a specific subject, understanding your topic in advance allows you to focus your search. At this point, your subject is wide. You won’t know the specifics until you conduct the review.

For my PhD, which examined the role of local government in climate change policy, I began my literature study with the broad subject of ‘climate change policy.’ I didn’t narrow my emphasis to local government until I examined the literature on climate policy and noticed a gap.

Thus, having a clearly stated purpose is critical. Otherwise, you would be looking in vain. If you go to your PhD Dissertation Template, check at the box under ‘Aims & Objectives’ – you’ll want to ensure that you’ve defined your aims, scope, and research questions.


Step 2: Dig into the literature within your scope

If you conduct a broad subject search on Google Scholar, you will come across millions of results. A quick search would yield a massive volume of research publications on a particular topic.

Obviously, reading through all of these not efficient. Thus, where do you begin? Simple: select the most illustrious names in your profession.

There are three methods for locating these, check textbooks, check review articles and check the top cited articles. After reading through these foundational books, you’ll gain a sense of the subject’s scope.


Step 3: Check the most important works in your area

At this point, your task is to ascertain the major controversies in the subject. Who is having the most impact in this area? What are they communicating? How are they expressing themselves? What are they omitting?


Step 4: Write as you read, simultaneously

Every time you read something, you should take notes. Notes in detail. These should address the following points:

What is the author attempting to convey?
What relevance does this have to your research?
What gaps/weaknesses exist?
Which important references should you read?
The more of these kind of standardised notes you have, the easier your literature review will be to write.


Step 5: Zoom in to your research area

As you study significant books, you will get an understanding of the major debates and points made in your area. For instance, there might be various viewpoints. Once you become aware of them, you may begin to center your literature study on them.


Step 6: Filter unwanted research works

Not everything should be read. You must devise a method for sifting through the articles or books that are pertinent. Scrutinize the abstracts, introductions, keywords, titles, and references, for example. Sort the sources you encounter into three distinct categories: Important, May Read Later, and Won’t Read.


Step 7: Implement Snowball Sampling Techniques

While reading these articles, take note of their reference list. Gather articles you believe will be relevant and include them into your literature study. This technique is referred to as snowball sampling.


Step 8: Consider the Unasked Questions

You must read critically, which entails identifying flaws and suggesting ways in which certain articles or books may be improved.


Step 9: Finally, write the literature review

The review will generally adhere to the major debates identified in step five just above. Concentrate on providing additional detail about certain sources as you write. When writing, the emphasis is on expanding on the major patterns and ideas that have developed.

You must, however, incorporate your own synthesizing of the content. As I have said, you should not just summarize the material. Rather than that, you should communicate critically. You should convey your point succinctly and precisely. The argument will center on the unasked questions – step nine above – and will serve as a foundation for the literature review. We’ve compiled a guide to doing a critical evaluation of the literature. If you’re unclear about what’s necessary, you should read it.

Therefore, begin writing early and swiftly complete the first draft. It is preferable to begin writing the literature review as soon as possible. Accept the fact that your initial draft will be just this: a draft. When writing the first draft, concentrate on the overall framework initially. This implies that you should concentrate on the major ideas you wish to cover in the review.

Something to consider is the chapter’s structure. The straightforward answer is that you may organize it chronologically as well as thematically.

The lengthy response is that chronological surveys of the literature are constraining and oversimplify the field. They are advantageous for very early versions of the review since they aid in the organization of the literature and the identification of threads and linkages within it. However, your supervisor and examiners are searching for thematic evaluations (unless otherwise specified), in which you analyse the literature in terms of the emerging themes.

Equally critical is understanding when to pause your literature review. The sooner you begin fieldwork, the better. The literature review is a wondrous thing; you’ll struggle to completely grasp all of its components and to comprehend how everything you’ve read is connected. However, do not despair; when you reach the field and begin collecting data, certain parts of the literature review would become obvious.


Final words

It’s understandable if you’re fearful of the literature review. To conduct one, hundreds or even thousands of words must be read, processed, and synthesized. However, it is not impossible. Keep this handbook close at hand and consult it whenever you feel lost. Discuss it with your peers so they, too, may overcome their apprehension about conducting a literature review.



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