How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation

The literature review chapter in a thesis or dissertation allows the writer to show they are familiar with work that has previously been done in their field. It additionally enables the writer’s research to be placed in the context of existing work.  

A literature review can make up one or even more of the key chapters in a thesis or dissertation. Alternatively, it can be included in the introduction section or incorporated as background information in any number of such a paper’s chapters. It is the area of study that usually determines how or where the literature review is integrated.    

Literature reviews may serve several purposes in a dissertation or thesis, such as to:

  • Highlight any gaps in existing research
  • Demonstrate how well a writer understands their field
  • Justify a particular research project
  • Develop new research theories and/or hypotheses
  • Put the writer’s research into the context of existing work
  • Highlight likenesses, differences, consistencies or discrepancies in previous or existing research
  • Evaluate and summarize previous research
  • Provide an overview of the limitations or controversial aspects of previous research.

It will be necessary for you to identify, interpret and analyze any main and/or relevant themes in previous research and put these into the context of your own endeavors. You will need to do more than simply describe in chronological order how each individual study has contributed. Rather, you will need to identify the links between the different studies and integrate these into their rightful place. If you are to fully justify the work you are doing, you should show the gaps and limitations in previous or existing work. Put another way, your task is to evaluate available literature to make space for your research work. In some cases or subject areas, the ultimate purpose decides how a literature review will be organized, while it is placed in specific sections in other cases or disciplines.     

Your literature review should be up-to-date and highly focused. Furthermore, it is important it is comprehensive yet concise, and that your method is original and critical. Feel free to use our guide on how to think critically if or when you need help critiquing or reviewing any project-related literature.   

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