The process of writing a literature review is simple!
- Drown yourself in the sea of information
- Swim through the deep sea to get relevant and authentic data
- Hit the writer’s block
- Procrastinate for days even months
- Start writing the paper
- After writing a few pages, start wondering how to make the paper interesting
- Quit writing after not getting any perfect answer
Sounds crazy, isn’t it? Well, most of the students, pursuing their post-graduation degree undergo more or less similar situations during the course of writing a dissertation literature review. And the end result is not really blissful. Sometimes, they submit an ill-quality paper. Sometimes, they do not submit at all. But your problem with crafting literature review can be solved right here and right now. Here we tell you the most practical and disciplined ways to present evidence, ideas and thoughts in the literature review section, so that it becomes a solid foundation of your dissertation.
Writing a winner literature review
As you are intelligent enough to know what a literature review is, we are not going to bore you explaining the term, ‘literature review’. We will straight jump to the main point.
- What goes into a literature review?
Writing a faulty literature review is one of the best ways to ruin your paper. It is the top tip of how ‘Not’ to write a dissertation. If this section of this dissertation is flawed, then the whole paper will be considered as flawed because a researcher cannot perform successful research without the understanding of the literature. An experienced evaluator knows this. He or she wants to see a well-conceptualized review on their tables. But surprisingly, most of the literature reviews submitted for assessments are poorly conceptualized. Yours will not be if you follow the section carefully. Here we discuss what goes into the dissertation literature review and what makes it a good one.
Include the following content in your review section:
- First, write an overview of the issue, idea or the subject that takes the centre stage in discussion
- Second, make the audience aware of the major issues related to the topic that needs attention
- Third, explain how each work presented in this chapter is related to other works
- Fourth, shed light on any visible gaps in previous researches and how to fulfil them
- Fifth, identify ways to resolve conflicts among seemingly contradictory previous studies
- Sixth, show your readers the future of the research: how study can be taken further in the future.
- What is the ideal length of a literature review?
If you go by the general rule, a dissertation literature review should not be longer than the 25% of the whole length. But there are no strict rules that bind students. It mostly depends on the wider structure of the dissertation and the scope of literature available to you. In any case, if you as a dissertation writer is considering including and excluding any criteria from this section, you need to be sure of its consequences. In order to do so, you need to ask yourself,
Is this relevant, suitable or necessary at this point?
This practice will ensure that the content remains topic-focussed. At some point, if you find that your literature review is losing its shape or becoming too sparse, it is worth reconsidering the paper and putting it back to the track; developing a more constrained focus on the topic at hand.
- Talk to your supervisors before the finalizing the chapter
- Know about the regulations that you are supposed to follow in that particular section
- Set yourself a limit before start writing the section
- Review it at least once after done writing it.
- Who is the audience for the paper?
It might sound too obvious. But we need to make it clear before you go and make some mistake. Your supervisors and reviewers are the primary audience for your dissertation. The secondary audience are the scholars in the fields that the dissertation relates to. So it would be better if you avoid writing a dissertation for a non-academic audience. What makes a good book is not what we call a good dissertation. An ideal dissertation does not serve mass. It only satisfies the need a group of people who are working in the same field.
- Understand the intellect level of your audience so that you can serve them in a better manner
- Ensure the content does satisfy the curiosity of the audience
- Have someone to check your literature review.
- How to conduct a literature review?
Conducting literature review (or primary research) includes various steps. Students need to take one step at a time to reach the top of the stairs. You might know what they are, but you will be aware of how to perfect each step. Here is a list of actions that students need to practice while formulating a literature review.
In this step, the dissertation expert decides what question the literature will respond to. It is significant that you make a difference between literature review questions (that can be answered by reviewing the secondary research and empirical questions (that can be answered only through primary research) at this stage. The reason is the literature review is the primary source of the empirical research question.
In the course of formulating a problem, the writer needs to determine the questions that guide you through the chapter. The only criterion is that the questions should significantly reflect the review’s goal and focus.
For example, if the goal of the review is to integrate research outcomes, then a meaningful question would be: From the previous literature, what is the effect of intervention X on outcomes Y and Z? If the focal point of the review is to examine the research methods, the question should sound like this, what research methods have been used to in the past investigation on Phenomenon X? And what are the methodological flaws in them?
After determining the goal of questioning, the writer needs to shift his or her focus to the criteria for inclusion and exclusion. In simple words, in this stage, you will be determining which article you think can be included and what articles need to be excluded.
Students should begin with an electronic search of academic databases and other sources available on the internet. While searching for relevant research material for literature review, students need to be careful of keeping details of sources. It is advised that students should use keywords and different combination of keywords in order to get impactful results. Experts say searching online only covers 10% of the whole data available to the researcher. However, there are several other ways to approach those unexplored data and information.
The most effective method is to search for those articles that have been retrieved. Determine which ones seem relevant to the topic and find those. While getting hold of the articles, read its references. Repeat this process until it reaches some saturation level – a point where you cannot find any relevant articles.
When you exhaust the internet and reference searching, you need to share your list or articles with the colleagues and experts. If they find any missing link in your research, they will immediately recommend you. It is also advisable that you share the final list with the supervisors and reviewers, as they too, may be aware of the relevant literature.
Now at the final stage, the researcher needs to separate relevant articles from the irrelevant ones. They need to read every word of either abstract or the title. Students can choose whichever method they think is suitable. This is how they can discard the irrelevant ones and keep the related articles
First, the researcher needs to create a system that helps them extract data from the selected articles. If the focus of the review is research outcome and goal is integration, then the writer has to extract data from all articles and decide how to integrate those outcomes. Then he or she needs to categorize the type of data extracted and process used. As researcher needs to focus on the extensive detail, they might need to use some coding system in order to document the gathered data.
Whether the writer chooses to use coding system or add the data in the body of the dissertation, they details should be crystal clear. It should be presented in a manner that another researcher can reach the same results by using this same recording procedure. Sometimes, this procedure reveals what more data can be extracted to shape the review. In this case, students should revise the details where they recorded the data.
Literature reviews are assessed on the quality of the research material. So many reviewers suggest students should include top-quality articles. But there some conflicting views on the quality of articles included. Some say there should both low and high quality articles to showcase the difference between two. On the other hand, some experts suggest incorporating high quality articles.
Data analysis and interpretation:
After weighing the data, this is the time to interpret the collected material. The writer needs to be certain how the collected data connects with main and related topics under consideration. It again depends on the goal of the review. If the focus remains on the integration, then the writer needs to combine the data in a manner that makes sense to the readers.
Then, the writer needs to devise a plan in order to synthesize the data at hands. The type of plan depends on the nature of the data he or she extracted. If it is quantitative data, then the synthesis method should be the same. The same goes with the qualitative data. In case, the writers extracted both quantitative and qualitative data, they need to use mixed-methods synthesis.
Presentation of data:
At this stage, the writer needs to finalize which set of data, information and literature they need to include in the final paper. They need to determine which piece of information is more important and which articles seem less important.
Generally, three methods are followed to organize the literature review that are historically, conceptually or methodologically. Students have to choose which type suits their study better.
In this final stage of literature review, students’ focus should be the audience. As mentioned before the primary audience of your dissertation will be dissertation supervisor and dissertation committee members. And the secondary audience is the scholars in the same fields. If you are thinking about publishing the paper, then you might need to change the literature review later for a more general audience.
Have we done enough to inspire you to write a good literature review? You bet we did. If you follow these suggestions carefully, you will be able to craft a piece of writing that demonstrates how your research fits into a larger field of study. But before you go and test your writing skills, you need to read these no-fail tips.
Last minute tips
Here we present some last minute suggestions that might get you started right away:
- Identify the key themes
While you indulge in the bundle of books, article and research papers, you need to take out key themes that emerge from the literature you are studying. You need to draw out, explain, interpret and evaluate those key themes. Thematic analysis will not only demonstrate a genuine engagement with the literature, but also provide you with the foundation on which you build the body of the text.
- Bring out your ‘critical’ self
Everything that makes it to the literature review section must be scrutinised, questioned and dissected. A critical approach will ensure that the content remains focused on original analysis. While reading out all reading material, you as a critic need to challenge assumptions, generate arguments against the existing ones, and also justify your stands, reactions and ideas.
- Should be based on a theory
The analysis should be formed on a theory involving working assumptions, paradigms aims and so on. Explicitly articulate the rationale behind the theoretical aspect to your own findings and the position you have reached at the end of the reviewing literature.
So this is how, you should take preparation for writing a literature. Hopefully, things are pretty easier than before.
May all odds be in your favour! Happy dissertation writing.
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