Writing a Literature Review: Examining Relevant Works

A literature review can be loosely defined as an overview of all relevant research findings related to the topic of your dissertation or thesis. In other words, writing a literature review sets the stage for the rest of your thesis or dissertation and should include both what is known and what is unknown about your topic. Before you begin writing a literature review, you need to have a good idea about what makes your study relevant to know what your literature review should include.

Finding Literature for the Literature Review

The first step to writing a literature review is fully examining your own topic. Obviously, there will be few (if any) studies already available or published that are identical to your own. Therefore, you need to imagine any subjects that could possibly be related to your own. Then, you should begin searching articles and databases for relevant works. Remember that a literature review for your thesis or dissertation should be comprehensive, so you may need to pull primary sources of seminal work, which may require interlibrary loans. Your literature search should include studies that are both slightly broader and more specific than is your own study but that have similar subject matter to that of your study. Also, relevant studies could include similar experiments that were conducted on different subjects other than that of your study. Some universities may require you to include a certain number of studies in your literature review. Some universities may even have more specific requirements about maximum or minimum limits on using studies conducted before or after certain years (often within the past 5–10 years). Make sure that you are aware of your graduate school’s guidelines for literature reviews. After you have collected a plethora of literature, narrow it down to only literature that will make a significant contribution to the understanding of your research. Now you are ready to write about the findings and conclusions of the works that you have chosen for you literature review.

Writing a Literature Review

Your literature review should include the following elements:

  • A brief overview of the subject matter of your study and of the objectives that you hope to accomplish in conducting your study,
  • Some categories of literature that are relevant to your study (e.g., studies that include the same tests and surveys to collect data, studies that support or refute the hypotheses of your study, and studies that have already been conducted but that might lack current technology or theories),
  • A clear explanation of how the literature that you have chosen relates to yours and to other studies, and
  • A conclusion in which you synthesize the findings of studies that are most convincing and that make the greatest contribution to your study.

While you are writing these elements of your literature review, you should keep in mind several considerations regarding the authors and viewpoints of the literature: Are the authors reliable? What other studies have the authors conducted? Are the perspectives of the studies objective or subjective? Are all sides of the topics represented in the studies? Do the studies significantly contribute to the broader field of study? For your review to successfully provide readers with relevant understanding of your topic, you should try to achieve some of the following goals: to identify new ways to interpret data or to understand research, to resolve conflicts among contradictory studies, to emphasize the need for further research about your topic, and to place your study in the context of discussed works.

 

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