If you are none the wiser, you might think that a literature review is a column in the Sunday papers about the latest novel. This could also be true but if you are a postgraduate student, your internet search for how to write a literature review dissertation could be the thing that is keeping you up at night.

If that is you, keep reading for practical tips on how to write a dissertation literature review and get some sleep.

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Defining a Literature Review

Knowing how to write a dissertation literature review should start with knowing how it is defined. In a nutshell, a literature review is an academic document that presents the theoretical positions of a dissertation topic. It includes methodology, findings and is a summary of all the current knowledge on a specific topic. It does not include new work.

Don't discuss your work in your review; discuss others'
Regardless of your field of study, your literature review should discuss others' work, not yours Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

The purpose of a literature review for dissertation is to demonstrate the depth of research that you have done on your chosen topic. It should also include your own observations and conclusions on the available literature.

One of the first rules to writing a dissertation is to establish and maintain a narrow focus on your chosen topic. This will ensure that it is both concise and authoritative.

Bear in mind that when you are writing a literature review for dissertation that it is a secondary document that should be free of your own prejudices and interpretations. In fact, it would be more important that you find out all that that you can on what a dissertation literature review format looks like.

Note: this article is one in a series about how to write a dissertation.

The Different Types Dissertation Literature Review Format

Now that you know that two most important rules regarding a literature review for dissertation: keeping a narrow focus and not including original work, you’ll need to choose your dissertation literature review format.

Of course your review will need to include a list of all the sources that you read and cited for your dissertation. Remember that your aim is to read and evaluate all the available information on the topic, evaluate it and also demonstrate how it connects to your research question.

This review should illustrate the gaps and inconsistencies within your topic’s body of work as well as your own conclusions on the subject. Remember to include all aspects of the topic’s arguments whether you agree with them or not.

This differs from an argumentative dissertation literature review format where you are required to refute arguments. This format lends itself to bias and is generally seen as an unfavourable method for how to write a dissertation literature review in academic circles.

The integrated dissertation literature review format is more provocative and calls on the doctoral student to research new perspectives and build new topic frameworks through the synthesis and critique of secondary data.

You could also write a theoretical literature review for dissertation which is focused on the existing theories and the relationships, if any, between them. The integrated review invites the writer to expound on existing hypotheses as well as develop new ones.

Regardless of which literature review for dissertation that you choose, make sure that you state it, as well as your reasons for choosing it, upfront.

You can outline your literature review visually or in note form
Some students prefer to use visual notes such as these while others prefer to use notes to outline their literature review Image by Pexels from Pixabay
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A Systematic Literature Review

In your quest for how to write a literature review dissertation, you will come across the Systematic Literature Review format. This type of review involves rigorous research methodology that entails meta-synthesis and meta-analysis of your chosen topic.

Meta-synthesis uses an inductive approach that allows you to integrate, interpret and evaluate your research findings.

The meta-analysis approach will examine the findings from many different studies on the same topic. It will show the patterns and trends that you detected as well as the conclusions that were drawn.

Tip: when it comes to how to write a dissertation literature review, cross reference your research analysis section so that the common points of the argument are linked.

The Literature Review Structure

If you’re searching for how to write a literature review dissertation, one of the most important things to consider is structure. Here are a few general tips:

  • Original work should not be included.
  • It should be narrow in focus while it highlights gaps and inconsistencies within the overall topic.
  • Be sure to specify which type of literature review you are using.

Unlike other academic documents, there is more latitude for the writer of a literature review unless your institution or university specifies otherwise.

If there is no specification, you could consider a macro-to-micro structure. This means that you begin with an overall view of the topic and then narrow it down to the exact point that your dissertation will examine.

Another consideration for how to write a dissertation literature review is to use a chronological format for your topic by grouping your data according to facts, theory, history and finally, conclusions.

Bear in mind that your review should read more like a narrative than just a list of facts. Aim to keep it logical and informative yet engaging at the same time. Make sure that it effectively communicates the gaps that you see within the current body of knowledge.

Do not assume that the academic committee who will review your dissertation proposal are subject-matter experts on your particular topic. Refrain from an overuse of jargon so that the average reader will still be able to understand it.

If your topic contains its own vernacular terminology be sure to explain these early in the review so that you can freely use abbreviations, acronyms and other designations as you go.

Tips and nuances like these will not necessarily be found in your search for how to write a literature review dissertation.

Find out more about the steps need to write your dissertation.

You must read a lot before you can write your literature review
Literary reviews require a lot of study before you can draft your thesis Image by ElasticComputeFarm from Pixabay

Citing Sources

The internet has made quality research material widely available, however, you will still need to cite all that you have read.

The most effective way to achieve this is to diligently keep track of your sources through the compilation of an annotated bibliography.

As you read through various pieces of literature, you will find passages and ideas that you want to include in your review. Take a moment to note the citation information (publication, author, title and date published). At this point, write a paragraph in your own words that analyses and summarises the concept.

Once your information is neatly compiled, you can then start writing your literature review. A good idea is to refer back to the material to quickly refresh what you felt was noteworthy.

Instead of frantically going back and forth to conduct your internet searches, all your citations will be in one ordered list.

Tip: consider numbering your citations from the most to least relevant which will make your macro-to-micro format easier to follow.

During the writing of the review, you will need to cite works in the text as is the custom of an academic paper.

Bear in mind that your particular educational institution may have a specific format for citing sources that you are required to follow.

Also check out this helpful guide to research methodology to make your process easier.

Researching for Your Literature Review

Remember that not all journal articles are created equal.

This does not mean that you should exclude disproven articles, however, make sure that you clearly state the theory in question was disproven.

The secret to an excellent literature review is to include good articles from reputable journals.

Make sure that your sources are relevant to your thesis and be aware that your favourite internet search engine may cast the net too broadly in helping you to find the search results you need. This is a potential time waster. Remember that sites like Google Scholar could further stymie your efforts by confronting you with a paywall.

Of course, if you have the funds, you could choose that route, however, a better option is to note the source of the internet articles and look them up in the university library.

ResearchGate is also worth checking out as an invaluable resource for quality material for both your literature review and final dissertation.

Finally, remember that a good narrative always begins with the right question. This is why you should carefully consider the kind of keywords you include in your internet searches. Doing this can help you to get closer to the results that you seek so that you can write the best literature review possible.

Tip: remember that even though historical literature is essential for certain topics, it is important to place greater emphasis on more recent sources to formulate your conclusions.

The success of your research for your literature review can have a great influence on how you choose your dissertation topic.

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Niki

Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.