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  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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literature review for a phd thesis

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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literature review for a phd thesis

  • What Is a PhD Literature Review?
  • Doing a PhD

A literature review is a critical analysis of published academic literature, mainly peer-reviewed papers and books, on a specific topic. This isn’t just a list of published studies but is a document summarising and critically appraising the main work by researchers in the field, the key findings, limitations and gaps identified in the knowledge.

  • The aim of a literature review is to critically assess the literature in your chosen field of research and be able to present an overview of the current knowledge gained from previous work.
  • By the conclusion of your literature review, you as a researcher should have identified the gaps in knowledge in your field; i.e. the unanswered research questions which your PhD project will help to answer.
  • Quality not quantity is the approach to use when writing a literature review for a PhD but as a general rule of thumb, most are between 6,000 and 12,000 words.

What Is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

First, to be clear on what a PhD literature review is NOT: it is not a ‘paper by paper’ summary of what others have done in your field. All you’re doing here is listing out all the papers and book chapters you’ve found with some text joining things together. This is a common mistake made by PhD students early on in their research project. This is a sign of poor academic writing and if it’s not picked up by your supervisor, it’ll definitely be by your examiners.

The biggest issue your examiners will have here is that you won’t have demonstrated an application of critical thinking when examining existing knowledge from previous research. This is an important part of the research process as a PhD student. It’s needed to show where the gaps in knowledge were, and how then you were able to identify the novelty of each research question and subsequent work.

The five main outcomes from carrying out a good literature review should be:

  • An understanding of what has been published in your subject area of research,
  • An appreciation of the leading research groups and authors in your field and their key contributions to the research topic,
  • Knowledge of the key theories in your field,
  • Knowledge of the main research areas within your field of interest,
  • A clear understanding of the research gap in knowledge that will help to motivate your PhD research questions .

When assessing the academic papers or books that you’ve come across, you must think about the strengths and weaknesses of them; what was novel about their work and what were the limitations? Are different sources of relevant literature coming to similar conclusions and complementing each other, or are you seeing different outcomes on the same topic by different researchers?

When Should I Write My Literature Review?

In the structure of your PhD thesis , your literature review is effectively your first main chapter. It’s at the start of your thesis and should, therefore, be a task you perform at the start of your research. After all, you need to have reviewed the literature to work out how your research can contribute novel findings to your area of research. Sometimes, however, in particular when you apply for a PhD project with a pre-defined research title and research questions, your supervisor may already know where the gaps in knowledge are.

You may be tempted to skip the literature review and dive straight into tackling the set questions (then completing the review at the end before thesis submission) but we strongly advise against this. Whilst your supervisor will be very familiar with the area, you as a doctoral student will not be and so it is essential that you gain this understanding before getting into the research.

How Long Should the Literature Review Be?

As your literature review will be one of your main thesis chapters, it needs to be a substantial body of work. It’s not a good strategy to have a thesis writing process here based on a specific word count, but know that most reviews are typically between 6,000 and 12,000 words. The length will depend on how much relevant material has previously been published in your field.

A point to remember though is that the review needs to be easy to read and avoid being filled with unnecessary information; in your search of selected literature, consider filtering out publications that don’t appear to add anything novel to the discussion – this might be useful in fields with hundreds of papers.

How Do I Write the Literature Review?

Before you start writing your literature review, you need to be clear on the topic you are researching.

1. Evaluating and Selecting the Publications

After completing your literature search and downloading all the papers you find, you may find that you have a lot of papers to read through ! You may find that you have so many papers that it’s unreasonable to read through all of them in their entirety, so you need to find a way to understand what they’re about and decide if they’re important quickly.

A good starting point is to read the abstract of the paper to gauge if it is useful and, as you do so, consider the following questions in your mind:

  • What was the overarching aim of the paper?
  • What was the methodology used by the authors?
  • Was this an experimental study or was this more theoretical in its approach?
  • What were the results and what did the authors conclude in their paper?
  • How does the data presented in this paper relate to other publications within this field?
  • Does it add new knowledge, does it raise more questions or does it confirm what is already known in your field? What is the key concept that the study described?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of this study, and in particular, what are the limitations?

2. Identifying Themes

To put together the structure of your literature review you need to identify the common themes that emerge from the collective papers and books that you have read. Key things to think about are:

  • Are there common methodologies different authors have used or have these changed over time?
  • Do the research questions change over time or are the key question’s still unanswered?
  • Is there general agreement between different research groups in the main results and outcomes, or do different authors provide differing points of view and different conclusions?
  • What are the key papers in your field that have had the biggest impact on the research?
  • Have different publications identified similar weaknesses or limitations or gaps in the knowledge that still need to be addressed?

Structuring and Writing Your Literature Review

There are several ways in which you can structure a literature review and this may depend on if, for example, your project is a science or non-science based PhD.

One approach may be to tell a story about how your research area has developed over time. You need to be careful here that you don’t just describe the different papers published in chronological order but that you discuss how different studies have motivated subsequent studies, how the knowledge has developed over time in your field, concluding with what is currently known, and what is currently not understood.

Alternatively, you may find from reading your papers that common themes emerge and it may be easier to develop your review around these, i.e. a thematic review. For example, if you are writing up about bridge design, you may structure the review around the themes of regulation, analysis, and sustainability.

As another approach, you might want to talk about the different research methodologies that have been used. You could then compare and contrast the results and ultimate conclusions that have been drawn from each.

As with all your chapters in your thesis, your literature review will be broken up into three key headings, with the basic structure being the introduction, the main body and conclusion. Within the main body, you will use several subheadings to separate out the topics depending on if you’re structuring it by the time period, the methods used or the common themes that have emerged.

The important thing to think about as you write your main body of text is to summarise the key takeaway messages from each research paper and how they come together to give one or more conclusions. Don’t just stop at summarising the papers though, instead continue on to give your analysis and your opinion on how these previous publications fit into the wider research field and where they have an impact. Emphasise the strengths of the studies you have evaluated also be clear on the limitations of previous work how these may have influenced the results and conclusions of the studies.

In your concluding paragraphs focus your discussion on how your critical evaluation of literature has helped you identify unanswered research questions and how you plan to address these in your PhD project. State the research problem you’re going to address and end with the overarching aim and key objectives of your work .

When writing at a graduate level, you have to take a critical approach when reading existing literature in your field to determine if and how it added value to existing knowledge. You may find that a large number of the papers on your reference list have the right academic context but are essentially saying the same thing. As a graduate student, you’ll need to take a methodological approach to work through this existing research to identify what is relevant literature and what is not.

You then need to go one step further to interpret and articulate the current state of what is known, based on existing theories, and where the research gaps are. It is these gaps in the literature that you will address in your own research project.

  • Decide on a research area and an associated research question.
  • Decide on the extent of your scope and start looking for literature.
  • Review and evaluate the literature.
  • Plan an outline for your literature review and start writing it.

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How To Write An A-Grade Literature Review

3 straightforward steps (with examples) + free template.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewed By: Dr. Eunice Rautenbach | October 2019

Quality research is about building onto the existing work of others , “standing on the shoulders of giants”, as Newton put it. The literature review chapter of your dissertation, thesis or research project is where you synthesise this prior work and lay the theoretical foundation for your own research.

Long story short, this chapter is a pretty big deal, which is why you want to make sure you get it right . In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to write a literature review in three straightforward steps, so you can conquer this vital chapter (the smart way).

Overview: The Literature Review Process

  • Understanding the “ why “
  • Finding the relevant literature
  • Cataloguing and synthesising the information
  • Outlining & writing up your literature review
  • Example of a literature review

But first, the “why”…

Before we unpack how to write the literature review chapter, we’ve got to look at the why . To put it bluntly, if you don’t understand the function and purpose of the literature review process, there’s no way you can pull it off well. So, what exactly is the purpose of the literature review?

Well, there are (at least) four core functions:

  • For you to gain an understanding (and demonstrate this understanding) of where the research is at currently, what the key arguments and disagreements are.
  • For you to identify the gap(s) in the literature and then use this as justification for your own research topic.
  • To help you build a conceptual framework for empirical testing (if applicable to your research topic).
  • To inform your methodological choices and help you source tried and tested questionnaires (for interviews ) and measurement instruments (for surveys ).

Most students understand the first point but don’t give any thought to the rest. To get the most from the literature review process, you must keep all four points front of mind as you review the literature (more on this shortly), or you’ll land up with a wonky foundation.

Okay – with the why out the way, let’s move on to the how . As mentioned above, writing your literature review is a process, which I’ll break down into three steps:

  • Finding the most suitable literature
  • Understanding , distilling and organising the literature
  • Planning and writing up your literature review chapter

Importantly, you must complete steps one and two before you start writing up your chapter. I know it’s very tempting, but don’t try to kill two birds with one stone and write as you read. You’ll invariably end up wasting huge amounts of time re-writing and re-shaping, or you’ll just land up with a disjointed, hard-to-digest mess . Instead, you need to read first and distil the information, then plan and execute the writing.

Free Webinar: Literature Review 101

Step 1: Find the relevant literature

Naturally, the first step in the literature review journey is to hunt down the existing research that’s relevant to your topic. While you probably already have a decent base of this from your research proposal , you need to expand on this substantially in the dissertation or thesis itself.

Essentially, you need to be looking for any existing literature that potentially helps you answer your research question (or develop it, if that’s not yet pinned down). There are numerous ways to find relevant literature, but I’ll cover my top four tactics here. I’d suggest combining all four methods to ensure that nothing slips past you:

Method 1 – Google Scholar Scrubbing

Google’s academic search engine, Google Scholar , is a great starting point as it provides a good high-level view of the relevant journal articles for whatever keyword you throw at it. Most valuably, it tells you how many times each article has been cited, which gives you an idea of how credible (or at least, popular) it is. Some articles will be free to access, while others will require an account, which brings us to the next method.

Method 2 – University Database Scrounging

Generally, universities provide students with access to an online library, which provides access to many (but not all) of the major journals.

So, if you find an article using Google Scholar that requires paid access (which is quite likely), search for that article in your university’s database – if it’s listed there, you’ll have access. Note that, generally, the search engine capabilities of these databases are poor, so make sure you search for the exact article name, or you might not find it.

Method 3 – Journal Article Snowballing

At the end of every academic journal article, you’ll find a list of references. As with any academic writing, these references are the building blocks of the article, so if the article is relevant to your topic, there’s a good chance a portion of the referenced works will be too. Do a quick scan of the titles and see what seems relevant, then search for the relevant ones in your university’s database.

Method 4 – Dissertation Scavenging

Similar to Method 3 above, you can leverage other students’ dissertations. All you have to do is skim through literature review chapters of existing dissertations related to your topic and you’ll find a gold mine of potential literature. Usually, your university will provide you with access to previous students’ dissertations, but you can also find a much larger selection in the following databases:

  • Open Access Theses & Dissertations
  • Stanford SearchWorks

Keep in mind that dissertations and theses are not as academically sound as published, peer-reviewed journal articles (because they’re written by students, not professionals), so be sure to check the credibility of any sources you find using this method. You can do this by assessing the citation count of any given article in Google Scholar. If you need help with assessing the credibility of any article, or with finding relevant research in general, you can chat with one of our Research Specialists .

Alright – with a good base of literature firmly under your belt, it’s time to move onto the next step.

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literature review for a phd thesis

Step 2: Log, catalogue and synthesise

Once you’ve built a little treasure trove of articles, it’s time to get reading and start digesting the information – what does it all mean?

While I present steps one and two (hunting and digesting) as sequential, in reality, it’s more of a back-and-forth tango – you’ll read a little , then have an idea, spot a new citation, or a new potential variable, and then go back to searching for articles. This is perfectly natural – through the reading process, your thoughts will develop , new avenues might crop up, and directional adjustments might arise. This is, after all, one of the main purposes of the literature review process (i.e. to familiarise yourself with the current state of research in your field).

As you’re working through your treasure chest, it’s essential that you simultaneously start organising the information. There are three aspects to this:

  • Logging reference information
  • Building an organised catalogue
  • Distilling and synthesising the information

I’ll discuss each of these below:

2.1 – Log the reference information

As you read each article, you should add it to your reference management software. I usually recommend Mendeley for this purpose (see the Mendeley 101 video below), but you can use whichever software you’re comfortable with. Most importantly, make sure you load EVERY article you read into your reference manager, even if it doesn’t seem very relevant at the time.

2.2 – Build an organised catalogue

In the beginning, you might feel confident that you can remember who said what, where, and what their main arguments were. Trust me, you won’t. If you do a thorough review of the relevant literature (as you must!), you’re going to read many, many articles, and it’s simply impossible to remember who said what, when, and in what context . Also, without the bird’s eye view that a catalogue provides, you’ll miss connections between various articles, and have no view of how the research developed over time. Simply put, it’s essential to build your own catalogue of the literature.

I would suggest using Excel to build your catalogue, as it allows you to run filters, colour code and sort – all very useful when your list grows large (which it will). How you lay your spreadsheet out is up to you, but I’d suggest you have the following columns (at minimum):

  • Author, date, title – Start with three columns containing this core information. This will make it easy for you to search for titles with certain words, order research by date, or group by author.
  • Categories or keywords – You can either create multiple columns, one for each category/theme and then tick the relevant categories, or you can have one column with keywords.
  • Key arguments/points – Use this column to succinctly convey the essence of the article, the key arguments and implications thereof for your research.
  • Context – Note the socioeconomic context in which the research was undertaken. For example, US-based, respondents aged 25-35, lower- income, etc. This will be useful for making an argument about gaps in the research.
  • Methodology – Note which methodology was used and why. Also, note any issues you feel arise due to the methodology. Again, you can use this to make an argument about gaps in the research.
  • Quotations – Note down any quoteworthy lines you feel might be useful later.
  • Notes – Make notes about anything not already covered. For example, linkages to or disagreements with other theories, questions raised but unanswered, shortcomings or limitations, and so forth.

If you’d like, you can try out our free catalog template here (see screenshot below).

Excel literature review template

2.3 – Digest and synthesise

Most importantly, as you work through the literature and build your catalogue, you need to synthesise all the information in your own mind – how does it all fit together? Look for links between the various articles and try to develop a bigger picture view of the state of the research. Some important questions to ask yourself are:

  • What answers does the existing research provide to my own research questions ?
  • Which points do the researchers agree (and disagree) on?
  • How has the research developed over time?
  • Where do the gaps in the current research lie?

To help you develop a big-picture view and synthesise all the information, you might find mind mapping software such as Freemind useful. Alternatively, if you’re a fan of physical note-taking, investing in a large whiteboard might work for you.

Mind mapping is a useful way to plan your literature review.

Step 3: Outline and write it up!

Once you’re satisfied that you have digested and distilled all the relevant literature in your mind, it’s time to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard). There are two steps here – outlining and writing:

3.1 – Draw up your outline

Having spent so much time reading, it might be tempting to just start writing up without a clear structure in mind. However, it’s critically important to decide on your structure and develop a detailed outline before you write anything. Your literature review chapter needs to present a clear, logical and an easy to follow narrative – and that requires some planning. Don’t try to wing it!

Naturally, you won’t always follow the plan to the letter, but without a detailed outline, you’re more than likely going to end up with a disjointed pile of waffle , and then you’re going to spend a far greater amount of time re-writing, hacking and patching. The adage, “measure twice, cut once” is very suitable here.

In terms of structure, the first decision you’ll have to make is whether you’ll lay out your review thematically (into themes) or chronologically (by date/period). The right choice depends on your topic, research objectives and research questions, which we discuss in this article .

Once that’s decided, you need to draw up an outline of your entire chapter in bullet point format. Try to get as detailed as possible, so that you know exactly what you’ll cover where, how each section will connect to the next, and how your entire argument will develop throughout the chapter. Also, at this stage, it’s a good idea to allocate rough word count limits for each section, so that you can identify word count problems before you’ve spent weeks or months writing!

PS – check out our free literature review chapter template…

3.2 – Get writing

With a detailed outline at your side, it’s time to start writing up (finally!). At this stage, it’s common to feel a bit of writer’s block and find yourself procrastinating under the pressure of finally having to put something on paper. To help with this, remember that the objective of the first draft is not perfection – it’s simply to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, after which you can refine them. The structure might change a little, the word count allocations might shift and shuffle, and you might add or remove a section – that’s all okay. Don’t worry about all this on your first draft – just get your thoughts down on paper.

start writing

Once you’ve got a full first draft (however rough it may be), step away from it for a day or two (longer if you can) and then come back at it with fresh eyes. Pay particular attention to the flow and narrative – does it fall fit together and flow from one section to another smoothly? Now’s the time to try to improve the linkage from each section to the next, tighten up the writing to be more concise, trim down word count and sand it down into a more digestible read.

Once you’ve done that, give your writing to a friend or colleague who is not a subject matter expert and ask them if they understand the overall discussion. The best way to assess this is to ask them to explain the chapter back to you. This technique will give you a strong indication of which points were clearly communicated and which weren’t. If you’re working with Grad Coach, this is a good time to have your Research Specialist review your chapter.

Finally, tighten it up and send it off to your supervisor for comment. Some might argue that you should be sending your work to your supervisor sooner than this (indeed your university might formally require this), but in my experience, supervisors are extremely short on time (and often patience), so, the more refined your chapter is, the less time they’ll waste on addressing basic issues (which you know about already) and the more time they’ll spend on valuable feedback that will increase your mark-earning potential.

Literature Review Example

In the video below, we unpack an actual literature review so that you can see how all the core components come together in reality.

Let’s Recap

In this post, we’ve covered how to research and write up a high-quality literature review chapter. Let’s do a quick recap of the key takeaways:

  • It is essential to understand the WHY of the literature review before you read or write anything. Make sure you understand the 4 core functions of the process.
  • The first step is to hunt down the relevant literature . You can do this using Google Scholar, your university database, the snowballing technique and by reviewing other dissertations and theses.
  • Next, you need to log all the articles in your reference manager , build your own catalogue of literature and synthesise all the research.
  • Following that, you need to develop a detailed outline of your entire chapter – the more detail the better. Don’t start writing without a clear outline (on paper, not in your head!)
  • Write up your first draft in rough form – don’t aim for perfection. Remember, done beats perfect.
  • Refine your second draft and get a layman’s perspective on it . Then tighten it up and submit it to your supervisor.

Literature Review Course

Psst… there’s more!

This post is an extract from our bestselling Udemy Course, Literature Review Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

You Might Also Like:

How To Find a Research Gap (Fast)

37 Comments

Phindile Mpetshwa

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Thank you for this good job.

Keep it up!

Derek Jansen

You’re welcome, Yinka. Thank you for the kind words. All the best writing your literature review.

Renee Buerger

Thank you for a very useful literature review session. Although I am doing most of the steps…it being my first masters an Mphil is a self study and one not sure you are on the right track. I have an amazing supervisor but one also knows they are super busy. So not wanting to bother on the minutae. Thank you.

You’re most welcome, Renee. Good luck with your literature review 🙂

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Thank you Gradcoach.

Tahir

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Suilabayuh Ngah

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It is very good video of guidance for writing a research proposal and a dissertation. Since I have been watching and reading instructions, I have started my research proposal to write. I appreciate to Mr Jansen hugely.

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Mary

Thank you for this whole literature writing review.You have simplified the process.

Maithe

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You’re welcome, Maithe. Good luck writing your literature review 🙂

Anthony

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Eunice

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uku igeny

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Maserialong Dlamini

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Suleiman Abubakar

Good morning scholar. I’m delighted coming to know you even before the commencement of my dissertation which hopefully is expected in not more than six months from now. I would love to engage my study under your guidance from the beginning to the end. I love to know how to do good job

Mthuthuzeli Vongo

Thank you so much Derek for such useful information on writing up a good literature review. I am at a stage where I need to start writing my one. My proposal was accepted late last year but I honestly did not know where to start

SEID YIMAM MOHAMMED (Technic)

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Norasyidah Mohd Yusoff

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Thank you. I requested to download the free literature review template, however, your website wouldn’t allow me to complete the request or complete a download. May I request that you email me the free template? Thank you.

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  • What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples

What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples

Published on 22 February 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 7 June 2022.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research.

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarise sources – it analyses, synthesises, and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

Why write a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1: search for relevant literature, step 2: evaluate and select sources, step 3: identify themes, debates and gaps, step 4: outline your literature review’s structure, step 5: write your literature review, frequently asked questions about literature reviews, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a dissertation or thesis, you will have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position yourself in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your dissertation addresses a gap or contributes to a debate

You might also have to write a literature review as a stand-alone assignment. In this case, the purpose is to evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of scholarly debates around a topic.

The content will look slightly different in each case, but the process of conducting a literature review follows the same steps. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

Prevent plagiarism, run a free check.

Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research objectives and questions .

If you are writing a literature review as a stand-alone assignment, you will have to choose a focus and develop a central question to direct your search. Unlike a dissertation research question, this question has to be answerable without collecting original data. You should be able to answer it based only on a review of existing publications.

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research topic. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list if you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can use boolean operators to help narrow down your search:

Read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

To identify the most important publications on your topic, take note of recurring citations. If the same authors, books or articles keep appearing in your reading, make sure to seek them out.

You probably won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on the topic – you’ll have to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your questions.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models and methods? Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • How does the publication contribute to your understanding of the topic? What are its key insights and arguments?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible, and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can find out how many times an article has been cited on Google Scholar – a high citation count means the article has been influential in the field, and should certainly be included in your literature review.

The scope of your review will depend on your topic and discipline: in the sciences you usually only review recent literature, but in the humanities you might take a long historical perspective (for example, to trace how a concept has changed in meaning over time).

Remember that you can use our template to summarise and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using!

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It’s important to keep track of your sources with references to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography, where you compile full reference information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

You can use our free APA Reference Generator for quick, correct, consistent citations.

To begin organising your literature review’s argument and structure, you need to understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly-visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat – this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organising the body of a literature review. You should have a rough idea of your strategy before you start writing.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarising sources in order.

Try to analyse patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organise your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text, your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

If you are writing the literature review as part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate your central problem or research question and give a brief summary of the scholarly context. You can emphasise the timeliness of the topic (“many recent studies have focused on the problem of x”) or highlight a gap in the literature (“while there has been much research on x, few researchers have taken y into consideration”).

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, make sure to follow these tips:

  • Summarise and synthesise: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole.
  • Analyse and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole.
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources.
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transitions and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts.

In the conclusion, you should summarise the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasise their significance.

If the literature review is part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate how your research addresses gaps and contributes new knowledge, or discuss how you have drawn on existing theories and methods to build a framework for your research. This can lead directly into your methodology section.

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a dissertation , thesis, research paper , or proposal .

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarise yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your  dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

Cite this Scribbr article

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McCombes, S. (2022, June 07). What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved 22 February 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/thesis-dissertation/literature-review/

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Trapped in dissertation revisions?

How to write a literature review for a dissertation, published by steve tippins on july 5, 2019 july 5, 2019.

Last Updated on: 2nd February 2024, 04:45 am

Chapter 2 of your dissertation, your literature review, may be the longest chapter. It is not uncommon to see lit reviews in the 40- to 60-page range. That may seem daunting, but I contend that the literature review could be the easiest part of your dissertation.

It is also foundational. To be able to select an appropriate research topic and craft expert research questions, you’ll need to know what has already been discovered and what mysteries remain. 

Remember, your degree is meant to indicate your achieving the highest level of expertise in your area of study. The lit review for your dissertation could very well form the foundation for your entire career.

In this article, I’ll give you detailed instructions for how to write the literature review of your dissertation without stress. I’ll also provide a sample outline.

When to Write the Literature Review for your Dissertation

Though technically Chapter 2 of your dissertation, many students write their literature review first. Why? Because having a solid foundation in the research informs the way you write Chapter 1.

Also, when writing Chapter 1, you’ll need to become familiar with the literature anyway. It only makes sense to write down what you learn to form the start of your lit review.

Some institutions even encourage students to write Chapter 2 first. But it’s important to talk with your Chair to see what he or she recommends.

How Long Should a Literature Review Be?

There is no set length for a literature review. The length largely depends on your area of study. However, I have found that most literature reviews are between 40-60 pages.

If your literature review is significantly shorter than that, ask yourself (a) if there is other relevant research that you have not explored, or (b) if you have provided enough of a discussion about the information you did explore.

Preparing to Write the Literature Review for your Dissertation

barefoot woman sitting on a large stack of books

1. Search Using Key Terms

Most people start their lit review searching appropriate databases using key terms. For example, if you’re researching the impact of social media on adult learning, some key terms you would use at the start of your search would be adult learning, androgogy, social media, and “learning and social media” together. 

If your topic was the impact of natural disasters on stock prices, then you would need to explore all types of natural disasters, other market factors that impact stock prices, and the methodologies used. 

You can save time by skimming the abstracts first; if the article is not what you thought it might be you can move on quickly.

literature review for a phd thesis

Once you start finding articles using key terms, two different things will usually happen: you will find new key terms to search, and the articles will lead you directly to other articles related to what you are studying. It becomes like a snowball rolling downhill. 

Note that the vast majority of your sources should be articles from peer-reviewed journals. 

2. Immerse Yourself in the Literature

woman asleep on the couch next to a giant pile of books

When people ask what they should do first for their dissertation the most common answer is “immerse yourself in the literature.” What exactly does this mean?

Think of this stage as a trip into the quiet heart of the forest. Your questions are at the center of this journey, and you’ll need to help your reader understand which trees — which particular theories, studies, and lines of reasoning — got you there. 

There are lots of trees in this particular forest, but there are particular trees that mark your path.  What makes them unique? What about J’s methodology made you choose that study over Y’s? How did B’s argument triumph over A’s, thus leading you to C’s theory? 

You are showing your reader that you’ve fully explored the forest of your topic and chosen this particular path, leading to these particular questions (your research questions), for these particular reasons.

3. Consider Gaps in the Research

The gaps in the research are where current knowledge ends and your study begins. In order to build a case for doing your study, you must demonstrate that it:

  • Is worthy of doctoral-level research, and
  • Has not already been studied

Defining the gaps in the literature should help accomplish both aims. Identifying studies on related topics helps make the case that your study is relevant, since other researchers have conducted related studies.

And showing where they fall short will help make the case that your study is the appropriate next step. Pay special attention to the recommendations for further research that the authors of studies make.

4. Organize What You Find

As you find articles, you will have to come up with methods to organize what you find. 

Whether you find a computer-based system (three popular systems are Zotero, endNote, and Mendeley) or some sort of manual system such as index cards, you need to devise a method where you can easily group your references by subject and methodology and find what you are looking for when you need it. It is very frustrating to know you have found an article that supports a point that you are trying to make, but you can’t find the article!

focused woman studying inside a bright library

One way to save time and keep things organized is to cut and paste relevant quotations (and their references) under topic headings. You’ll be able to rearrange and do some paraphrasing later, but if you’ve got the quotations and the citations that are important to you already embedded in your text, you’ll have an easier time of it.  

If you choose this method, be sure to list the whole reference on the reference/bibliography page so you don’t have to do this page separately later. Some students use Scrivener for this purpose, as it offers a clear way to view and easily navigate to all sections of a written document.

Need help with your literature review? Take a look at my dissertation coaching and dissertation editing services.

How to Write the Literature Review for your Dissertation

Once you have gathered a sufficient number of pertinent references, you’ll need to string them together in a way that tells your story. Explain what previous researchers have done by telling the story of how knowledge on this topic has evolved. Here, you are laying the support for your topic and showing that your research questions need to be answered. Let’s dive into how to actually write your dissertation’s literature review.

1. Create an Outline

If you’ve created a system for keeping track of the sources you’ve found, you likely already have the bones of an outline. Even if not, it may be relatively easy to see how to organize it all. The main thing to remember is, keep it simple and don’t overthink it. There are several ways to organize your dissertation’s literature review, and I’ll discuss some of the most common below:

  • By topic. This is by far the most common approach, and it’s the one I recommend unless there’s a clear reason to do otherwise. Topics are things like servant leadership, transformational leadership, employee retention, organizational knowledge, etc. Organizing by topic is fairly simple and it makes sense to the reader.
  • Chronologically. In some cases, it makes sense to tell the story of how knowledge and thought on a given subject have evolved. In this case, sub-sections may indicate important advances or contributions. 
  • By methodology. Some students organize their literature review by the methodology of the studies. This makes sense when conducting a mixed-methods study, and in cases where methodology is at the forefront.

2. Write the Paragraphs 

I said earlier that I thought the lit review was the easiest part to write, and here is why. When you write about the findings of others, you can do it in small, discrete time periods. You go down the path awhile, then you rest. 

Once you have many small pieces written, you can then piece them together. You can write each piece without worrying about the flow of the chapter; that can all be done at the end when you put the jigsaw puzzle of references together.

woman with curly hair studying in her home office

The literature review is a demonstration of your ability to think critically about existing research and build meaningfully on it in your study. Avoid simply stating what other researchers said. Find the relationships between studies, note where researchers agree and disagree, and– especiallyy–relate it to your own study. 

Pay special attention to controversial issues, and don’t be afraid to give space to researchers who you disagree with. Including differing opinions will only strengthen the credibility of your study, as it demonstrates that you’re willing to consider all sides.

4. Justify the Methodology

In addition to discussing studies related to your topic, include some background on the methodology you will be using. This is especially important if you are using a new or little-used methodology, as it may help get committee members onboard. 

I have seen several students get slowed down in the process trying to get committees to buy into the planned methodology. Providing references and samples of where the planned methodology has been used makes the job of the committee easier, and it will also help your reader trust the outcomes.

Advice for Writing Your Dissertation’s Literature Review

  • Remember to relate each section back to your study (your Problem and Purpose statements).
  • Discuss conflicting findings or theoretical positions. Avoid the temptation to only include research that you agree with.
  • Sections should flow together, the way sections of a chapter in a nonfiction book do. They should relate to each other and relate back to the purpose of your study. Avoid making each section an island.
  • Discuss how each study or theory relates to the others in that section.
  • Avoid relying on direct quotes–you should demonstrate that you understand the study and can describe it accurately.

Sample Outline of a Literature Review (Dissertation Chapter 2)

close-up shot of an open notebook and a laptop

Here is a sample outline, with some brief instructions. Note that your institution probably has specific requirements for the structure of your dissertation’s literature review. But to give you a general idea, I’ve provided a sample outline of a dissertation ’s literature review here.

  • Introduction
  • State the problem and the purpose of the study
  • Give a brief synopsis of literature that establishes the relevance of the problem
  • Very briefly summarize the major sections of your chapter

Documentation of Literature Search Strategy

  • Include the library databases and search engines you used
  • List the key terms you used
  • Describe the scope (qualitative) or iterative process (quantitative). Explain why and based on what criteria you selected the articles you did.

Literature Review (this is the meat of the chapter)

literature review for a phd thesis

  • Sub-topic a
  • Sub-topic b
  • Sub-topic c

See below for an example of what this outline might look like.

How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation: An Example 

Let’s take an example that will make the organization, and the outline, a little bit more clear. Below, I’ll fill out the example outline based on the topics discussed.

If your questions have to do with the impact of the servant leadership style of management on employee retention, you may want to saunter down the path of servant leadership first, learning of its origins , its principles , its values , and its methods . 

You’ll note the different ways the style is employed based on different practitioners’ perspectives or circumstances and how studies have evaluated these differences. Researchers will draw conclusions that you’ll want to note, and these conclusions will lead you to your next questions. 

man browsing on his laptop

Next, you’ll want to wander into the territory of management styles to discover their impact on employee retention in general. Does management style really make a difference in employee retention, and if so, what factors, exactly, make this impact?

Employee retention is its own path, and you’ll discover factors, internal and external, that encourage people to stick with their jobs.

You’ll likely find paradoxes and contradictions in here that just bring up more questions. How do internal and external factors mix and match? How can employers influence both psychology and context ? Is it of benefit to try and do so?

At first, these three paths seem somewhat remote from one another, but your interest is where the three converge. Taking the lit review section by section like this before tying it all together will not only make it more manageable to write but will help you lead your reader down the same path you traveled, thereby increasing clarity. 

Example Outline

So the main sections of your literature review might look something like this:

  • Literature Search Strategy
  • Conceptual Framework or Theoretical Foundation
  • Literature that supports your methodology
  • Origins, principles, values
  • Seminal research
  • Current research
  • Management Styles’ Impact on employee retention
  • Internal Factors
  • External Factors
  • Influencing psychology and context
  • Summary and Conclusion

Final Thoughts on Writing Your Dissertation’s Chapter 2

The lit review provides the foundation for your study and perhaps for your career. Spend time reading and getting lost in the literature. The “aha” moments will come where you see how everything fits together. 

At that point, it will just be a matter of clearly recording and tracing your path, keeping your references organized, and conveying clearly how your research questions are a natural evolution of previous work that has been done.

PS. If you’re struggling with your literature review, I can help. I offer dissertation coaching and editing services.

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Steve Tippins, PhD, has thrived in academia for over thirty years. He continues to love teaching in addition to coaching recent PhD graduates as well as students writing their dissertations. Learn more about his dissertation coaching and career coaching services. Book a Free Consultation with Steve Tippins

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Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.

Introduction:

  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

Conclusion:

  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

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Writing your thesis and conducting a literature review

  • Writing your thesis

Your literature review

  • Defining a research question
  • Choosing where to search
  • Search strings
  • Limiters and filters
  • Developing inclusion/exclusion criteria
  • Managing your search results
  • Screening, evaluating and recording
  • Snowballing and grey literature
  • Further information and resources

Most PhD and masters’ theses contain some form of literature review to provide the background for the research.  The literature review is an essential step in the research process. A successful literature review will offer a coherent presentation and analysis of the existing research in your field, demonstrating:

  • Your understanding of the subject area
  • Gaps in current knowledge (that may in turn influence the direction of your research) 
  • Relevant methodologies

There are different approaches and methods to literature reviews, and you may have heard of terms like systematic, structured, scoping or meta-analysis. This is when the literature review becomes the research methodology in its own right, instead of forming part of the research process.

This table shows the differences between a traditional literature review and a structured or systematic literature review.

Structured vs traditional literature reviews

What is a traditional literature review?

A traditional literature review is a critical review of the literature on a particular topic. The aim of this type of literature review is to identify any background research on your topic and to evaluate the quality and relevance of the literature. You will use your literature review to understand what has already been researched, help develop your research questions and the methodology that you should follow to collect and to identify any areas that your research can explore. You want your research to be unique so you will use a literature review to prevent you duplicating any previous research but also identifying any errors or mistakes that you would want to avoid.

A literature review is aimed at Masters (MSc students) and research level.

What is a structured literature review?

A structured literature review involves bringing many research studies together to use them as the data to determine findings (known as secondary research). There is no other form of data collection involved such as creating your own surveys and questionnaires (primary research). This approach allows you to look beyond one dataset and synthesise the findings of many studies to answer your clearly formulated research question.

Sometimes a structured review can be described as being a systematic literature review. A structured review typically does not fulfil all of the criteria for a full systematic review but may take a similar approach by taking a systematic, step by step method to find literature. They tend to follow a set protocol for determining the research studies to be included and every stage is documented.

To help you prepare for your structured literature review please complete this interactive workbook.

For Logistics students only

To help you prepare for your systematic literature review please complete this interactive workbook.

What is a systematic literature review?

A systematic literature review is a specific research methodology to identify, select, evaluate, and synthesise relevant published and unpublished literature to answer a particular research question. The systematic literature review should be transparent and replicable, you should follow a predetermined set of inclusion and exclusion criteria to select studies and help minimise bias. A systematic literature review may be registered, so that others can discover and minimise duplication, and can take several years to complete.

The systematic literature review is aimed at research (PhD students) level.

Useful background reading

Cranfield Libraries have several books offering guidance on how to approach and conduct literature reviews, and structured or systematic literature reviews:

  • Reading list for  literature review and study skills
  • Reading list of items to support a structured or systematic literature review

Looking at previous structured and systematic literature reviews is an effective way to understand what is required and how they should be structured and written up. Structured literature reviews can be found in the Masters Thesis Archive (MTA) and systematic literature reviews can be found in the Cranfield University institutional Repository, CERES. Check out the Theses  link.

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  • Next: Defining a research question >>
  • Last Updated: Feb 21, 2024 2:01 PM
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  • Apr 15, 2021

7 Secrets to Write a PhD Literature Review The Right Way

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

A literature review gives your readers an idea about your scholarly understanding of the previous work in your research domain. It requires you to justify your work and demonstrate the importance of your research work with respect to the current state of knowledge. It is a great opportunity for you to examine the previous work and fill any gaps in it which may help you to make it a foundation for your own research.

The role of a literature review and its importance in your thesis can also be seen from here:

Role of a Literature Review|Walden University

Writing a literature review requires gathering loads of information by reading many articles, books, and papers related to your Ph.D. topic. And once you are done with the initial stage, you have to organize the important data collected and discuss it according to your learning. Now, all of this seems quite tedious.

literature review for a phd thesis

You may have seen many people ranting when they have to write a literature review, and it is totally fine. But, does it help in writing a review? Obviously, no. You have to make this process interesting for yourself to remain focused.

Here are some secrets which can help you to enjoy writing an amazing literature review.

1. Make a Well-Structured Outline:

A literature review is exhaustive research on the topic under investigation so that you can become an expert on that topic. Therefore, it is important for you to make a well-structured outline before you start writing otherwise you won’t understand where to end as you’ll be having a lot of information. For example, a literature review must include an introduction and conclusion section, you should avoid direct quotations and use paraphrasing instead. Your literature review should be organized according to the theme and should be divided into various headings to shift from one topic to another. You can use comparative terms to agree or disagree with the author and provide your own opinion.

Check out this literature review template to have a more clear understanding of creating a well-structured outline for your literature review: Literature Review Template|Thompson Rivers University

2. Use Synthesis Matrix:

When you are gathering information from a lot of resources, and you have to ultimately gather them in one place then using a synthesis matrix could be very helpful for this purpose. A synthesis matrix is an outline that permits a researcher to sort and arrange the various contentions introduced on an issue. Across the highest point of the chart are the spaces to record sources, and at the edge of the chart are the spaces to record the primary concerns of contention on the current theme.

literature review for a phd thesis

You can outline your whole literature review and keep a check and balance of which things you have covered and what is left. It simplifies your work greatly and helps in writing a literature review in a very organized manner.

See more on the use of synthesis matrix at Literature Review using synthesis Matrix and Synthesizing various sources

3. Change Your Perspective:

Another important thing that you must do before you start writing a literature review is to change your writing perspective. You don’t have to take it as a burden that Why am I even doing this? Yes, we know it is quite a dull task, but why not enjoy it if you have to do it after all?

Write it for yourself. Question yourself from time to time. Like what information would you like to extract from it while you are reading this review? Would it sound interesting to your self? Would you remain focused while reading this writing style? Will you love this review as a third person? Will this be an interesting thing to read?

When you become your critique you have high chances of improvement. You start writing a review such that you would like to read it yourself, and gradually you can write one interesting literature review for your thesis.

literature review for a phd thesis

4. Read and Write Simultaneously:

A common mistake that many people make while writing a literature review is that they do all the readings and information gathering first and leave the writing at last. What happens is that they utilize all their energy and focus in the reading phase and when it's time to start the actual writing they feel exhausted and over-worked. Moreover, when they see a blank page in front of them after reading piles of paperwork they get demotivated and feel anxious that how they will manage to write such a long review.

How to avoid this anxiety?

One simple way is to start writing parallel to reading. When you are reading an article or paper, make notes of it or short bullet points. It will help you to keep a track of both what you have read and what you need to add to your literature review. And when you finally start compiling the review you will have your guideline instead of a blank paper which makes it quite easy for you to jot it all down on a paper.

5. Make a Proper Timeline and Stick To It:

Making a proper timeline to write a literature review is crucial. You don’t want to get stuck in it and end up completing your review in a year instead of weeks. To avoid this, take a day or two off, search through the internet or other resources that what helping material you would require reading, and then make a proper timeline of completing them and making notes simultaneously.

It will help you a lot to stay on track.

Here is a sample timeline you could follow: Research Sample Timeline

6. Go Easy On Yourself:

Yes, you heard it. Don’t be so harsh on yourself. Keep days off in your schedule and relax fully on those days. You don’t have to keep reading and writing 24/7, all days a week. Our mind needs to be relaxed on and off to remain functional. If you over-burden yourself you will eventually end up doing absolutely nothing because of over-work.

literature review for a phd thesis

If you get stuck somewhere, seek help from your supervisor, friends or other resources, Don’t let your shyness or shame keep you away from achieving your target. We are all humans, and we do need help at some point in our lives so don’t discourage yourself to do so.

7. Interpret Your Understanding Comprehensively:

When writing a review you need to portray what you have truly learned from the already published work of other scholars. What many people do is they start cramming information to write a review and end up writing only a summary of that data, They don’t learn and understand anything from it. They just take it as a formality that has to be fulfilled. That is wrong.

literature review for a phd thesis

You need to have clear concepts and must be able to demonstrate to others what you learned from the previous work and how your work would contribute towards it. This is the true essence of writing a literature review, and it will benefit you the most for your research process.

If you are having any difficulty in writing or editing your thesis Literature Review you can visit our website to seek help and guidance by the following link:

Scholars Doctoral Editing and Consulting

Scholars Professional Editing Group LLC :

Website: https://www.thescholarsediting.com/

Email Us: [email protected]

Contact Us: (302) 295-4953

CLICK HERE TO BOOK A FREE CONSULTATION NOW: Scholars Consultation

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  • How to write a literature review

This example shows how a literature review from a PhD thesis can be analysed for its structure, purpose and content.

Three sections of the thesis are analysed to show the:

  • relationship between the introduction and the literature review
  • structure and purpose of dedicated literature review chapters
  • inclusion of literature review in other chapters of the thesis.

Access the thesis

Co-witnesses and the effects of discussion on eyewitness memory by Helen M Paterson

Overview of thesis (introduction)

This introductory section is less than two pages long.

The first paragraph:

  • states the overall objective of the thesis
  • defines the introduced term
  • provides broad motivation for interest in the area
  • introduces the sections of the thesis that will address the overall objective.

The other paragraphs describe the content and purpose of each section of the thesis.

Literature review

The literature review is made of up of two chapters.

Chapter 1: Literature review of relevant research

The overall goals of this chapter are to firstly establish the significance of the general field of study, and then identify a place where a new contribution could be made.

The bulk of the chapter critically evaluates the methodologies used in this field to identify the appropriate approach for investigating the research questions.

Chapter 2: Theoretical explanations of memory conformity

Chapter 5, study 3: co-witness contamination.

This chapter has the following structure:

  • Introduction
  • Discussion.

The introduction introduces the particular study to be reported on, and includes a three-and-a-half page literature review.

The literature review in this chapter:

  • links back to the relevant general findings of the earlier literature review chapters
  • briefly reviews the broad motivation for this study
  • identifies that two previously used methodologies in this field will be compared to resolve questions about the findings of previous studies which had only used a single methodology
  • uses previous literature to generate specific hypotheses to test
  • reviews additional literature to provide a justification for a second objective to be investigated in the study reported on in this chapter.

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Developing a Literature Review for a Doctoral Thesis

Profile image of Gavin Mount

A literature review is ‘integral to the success of academic research’ and an indispensable component of a doctoral thesis. Brief versions are particularly important for the Confirmation phase of your candidature. Often this work will form a significant component of the introduction or early chapters of your thesis.

Related Papers

• Learning outcomes • The nature of a literature review • Identifying the main subject and themes • Reviewing previous research • Emphasizing leading research studies • Exploring trends in the literature • Summarizing key ideas in a subject area • Summary A literature review is usually regarded as being an essential part of student projects, research studies and dissertations. This chapter examines the reasons for the importance of the literature review, and the things which it tries to achieve. It also explores the main strategies which you can use to write a good literature review.

literature review for a phd thesis

Auxiliadora Padilha

Rebekka Tunombili

InSITE Conference

shardul pandya

Aim/Purpose: Identify the prerequisites, the corequisites, and the iteration processes in organizing and writing the literature review chapter of doctoral dissertations. Background: Writing the literature review chapter of doctoral dissertations presents unique challenges. Students waste a lot of time identifying material to write, and the experience is generally that of frustration and time delay. Methodology: Paper reviews literature to identify levels of information helpful for writing the literature review chapter: prerequisites, corequisites, and iteration process. Contribution: Paper identifies and explains the prerequisites, the corequisites, and iteration steps that go into organizing the reviewed literature and suggests putting them into use when starting the literature review chapter of a doctoral dissertation. Findings: Writing a doctoral dissertation literature review is long and complicated be-cause some delve into the writing without much preparation. By identifying wh...

Andrew Johnson

This chapter describes the process of writing a literature review and what the product should look like

Amanda Bolderston

A literature review can be an informative, critical, and useful synthesis of a particular topic. It can identify what is known (and unknown) in the subject area, identify areas of controversy or debate, and help formulate questions that need further research. There are several commonly used formats for literature reviews, including systematic reviews conducted as primary research projects; reviews written as an introduction and foundation for a research study, such as a thesis or dissertation; and reviews as secondary data analysis research projects. Regardless of the type, a good review is characterized by the author’s efforts to evaluate and critically analyze the relevant work in the field. Published reviews can be invaluable, because they collect and disseminate evidence from diverse sources and disciplines to inform professional practice on a particular topic. This directed reading will introduce the learner to the process of conducting and writing their own literature review.

Frances Slack

This article offers support and guidance for students undertaking a literature review as part of their dissertation during an undergraduate or Masters course. A literature review is a summary of a subject field that supports the identification of specific research questions. A literature review needs to draw on and evaluate a range of different types of sources including academic and professional journal articles, books, and web-based resources. The literature search helps in the identification and location of relevant documents and other sources. Search engines can be used to search web resources and bibliographic databases. Conceptual frameworks can be a useful tool in developing an understanding of a subject area. Creating the literature review involves the stages of: scanning, making notes, structuring the literature review, writing the literature review, and building a bibliography .

International Journal of P R O F E S S I O N A L Business Review

With a view to examining the entire proposed structure for an empirical article, this editorial focuses on the Literature Review, also known as the Theoretical Framework. The literature review may be defined as “a documented review of published or unpublished works (articles, books, etc.) in specific fields of interest to the work of the researcher” (Ferreira, 2015: 36). It is to be found in conceptual articles such as empirical articles, whether qualitative or quantitative. It has a clear link to the article as a whole and provides support for the section on the development of the concept and the hypotheses/propositions that follow it in the structure of an empirical article.

Diane Keeble-Ramsay

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From admission to dissertation. Tips on making the PhD journey happy, productive and successful

How to Write a Literature Review for Your Thesis

While writing a literature review for your PhD thesis or dissertation, you will have to dig past literature on your topic throughly.

Simple steps to write a literature review for PhD thesis :

  • Prepare upto 10 research questions.
  • Keep ready with topic’s keywords.
  • The length is a quarter of whole thesis.
  • Gather Primary and Secondary Sources
  • Take sources from all channels.
  • Save every source weblink on your laptop.
  • Never deviate from your topic of research.
  • Prepare summaries for each source.
  • Finally, derive conclusions.

Advanced tips to write a literature review for PhD thesis

Where to start.

You must first take it into consideration about the date bases that your professors are recommending you.

A lot of people start the literature review by quickly searching google scholar with some keywords. The issue with this is that you got so many results.

These bunch of results are not in a way going to help you and are not relevant either. Those results are not sometimes specific to the questions that you need to answer your review.

You need to ask you tutors or supervisor or professor to search rightly and which portal you must use. Come up with central research questions.

What this does is that these central research questions will refer strongly to the title of the review.

By answering these questions you can basically say that you have answered basic questions.

You must also talk to your classmates and colleagues when you are doing a literature review. There are chances that you may do your Ph.D. literature review in isolation.

Do meet your friends and ask them whether they have come across your literature questions. You must also choose bibliography. For a lot of PhD, scholars bibliography is quite intimidating.

You can use some software for the purpose of bibliography.

How to search for resources?

After choosing research questions, carefully use keyword terms in your PhD literature review.. There are chances that you may not use right key terms.

So take care that you are using appropriate key terms or keywords that are relevant to the research questions.

The best way to know that you used the wrong keyword in your PhD literature review  is that when you end up with lot many results. This says that your keyword is way too general.

So you need to pull with a narrow keyword to get the right rich results. Sometimes you may not find even though you use right key terms.

In such a case you must make sure to change the search portal that you are using. Do not rely on only one portal.

Have lots of journals, magazines which your tutor or supervisors suggest. Also check the results carefully. Pick up the right result for your literature review.

The best way to know the right result is that see that the article has lots of citations and the very latest one that is highly trending.

And also make sure that the article is a peer-reviewed journal. To know this you can go to the about section of the article’s journal and check whether that is peer-reviewed or not.

Peer review is nothing but it speaks the academic originality. It is not that you just read the title of the article but try to read the abstract and a few lines at the beginning of the article.

See whether that article matches to your research questions and keywords so that it matches to your literature review piece.

There are some sources that you can do this. They are with the help of Zotero and Mendeley .  Zotero is the add on the google chrome which will store all the bibliography of the articles you are coming across.

You do not need to write them on an extra piece of paper or store them on your folders. It all gets stored in the cloud any amount of them.

You can access at any point of time unlimited.

Picking up right sources

You must understand how many sources that you are going to quote in your PhD literature review. Also, it depends now on 20, 30 or 40. Ask you a lecturer or PhD supervisor about this. Use Zotero for this.

Make sure you are picking up right sources that are written by established scholars with good citations.

Try to pick up resources also from direct journals which are written directly about your topic. You can also take from authored books.

Read actively and review literature thoroughly.

Always read the articles analytically by keeping the keywords in mind. Try to compare different articles that you are reading to get a good literature review for your thesis. This will really help your PhD literature review.

Try to constantly exercise your brain by thinking in an analytical way. Try to engage what is going on in the filed that you have chosen.

Many scholars make mistake by just highlighting the text while they read but forget to take notes about why they have highlighted.

Probably you may think that you can remember later why have you highlighted a particular text but after some days, when you look into the article you do not remember why it was worth highlighting.

Again constantly thinking about the relevance and validity of what you are reading, try to talk to your PhD supervisor.

Structure of the PhD literature review for thesis

Use subheadings in your literature review clearly. This will help you to navigate properly. The essential central research questions can act as subheadings at the beginning.

If your supervisor is telling you not to use subheading and asks you flow through a paragraph, you can do it at the end. But particularly while doing a PhD review it is good to have good subheadings.

Use the technique of color coding in the literature review so that you know which color represents what. And also go with cross-referencing.

Keep always connected how critics are bringing up the topic differently by comparing and contrasting in order to position yourself in the field of research.

The other common mistake in literature review is keeping block quotations. Use only essential quotations.

The problem with block quotation is that critic’s work is very difficult to understand just by reading block quotations.

Always put block quotations in your own words.  You need to just slow down and read the chapter.

Say to yourself a challenge, give yourself 4 sentences and understand the chapter what is going on.  If there are particularly important quotations, then you can include. Always make yourself comments while doing a literature review. You can delete them later.

Use footnotes. This is useful to understand better though it is something outside the parameters. The next important thing is the bibliography and the works that are cited.

Works cited are those specifically analyzed in the review. The bibliography is something a larger work if you want to come back and review and if you want to double check the source.

It tells what the review is about. what points it addresses and what is the conclusion that you are going to give.

It is not an introduction to what you are going to do but the abstract is much more complete than that and it is usually to 100 to 150 words in length followed by keywords.

Introduction

It is an overview of the literature review. You can also list some subheadings and describe briefly about each.

Bonus helpful tips

Take short notes always. Do not read everything line by line. Look for reviews and major journals . Set some deadlines.

You may limit your review. For PhD length will vary. Avoid being remorse. Do not be too lengthy. Be focused.

Why literature review?

The main reason that you want to do literature review or submitting dissertation is to improve your understanding so that you can follow your work based on your understanding. During PhD, you are expected to be more knowledgeable more than your PhD supervisor.

It is because you are going to be an expert in that particular field. Another important thing why you need to do a literature review is to demonstrate knowledge.

This demonstration is useful when you want to depend on your thesis with your opponent. Also, you do this review to give the reader what is happening in the context of research in the field of professionalism.

One of the major checks that you need to see when you start your literature review is that you need to collect good quality of resources. Quality means relevancy.

Be narrow. Take the field of specialization rightly. There are different types of resources like dissertations, thesis, magazines, newspapers, recordings, online articles, conferences, peer-reviewed works, technical works and journals, and standards.

  Make sure they are of good quality. When professors see your literature review, they see references. You must cite peer-reviewed journals. Use more resources.

The source must not come from one domain. You must make sure that your resources are coming from different geographical backgrounds.

This shows that your review is of quality from various resources. The bad resources are Wikipedia and lecturer notes etc.

A literature review is trying to cover major concepts of the literature of your topic. Make sure that your review is up to date. This is all important to do. Extract and present well.

Any literature review asks this question whether it gives a good understanding of topics. Once you did your review you must start with resources screening list.

This is based on the idea to regroup all the sources. If you only depend on google scholar, you are not sure whether have you covered fully.

You can look at Elsevier or government or google scholar and many other portals.  Keep on growing with the exploration of domains to have better coverage of review. Also, make sure you have to use keywords.

This is also called a literature survey.

Literature review must have at least 100 references and later on pick right ones. Also, make sure the quality of citations. Google scholar will list all the citations.

It does not mean that a document with zero citations is not of quality. It can also help you more with more intelligence.

So keep in mind citations are everything when comes to quality.

Syam Prasad Reddy T

Hello, My name is Syam, Asst. Professor of English and Mentor for Ph.D. students worldwide. I have worked years to give you these amazing tips to complete your Ph.D. successfully. Having put a lot of efforts means to make your Ph.D. journey easier. Thank you for visiting my Ph.D. blog.

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Writing the Literature Review for the Proposal

Posted by Rene Tetzner | Oct 11, 2021 | PhD Success | 0 |

Writing the Literature Review for the Proposal

3.2 Writing the Literature Review for the Proposal

The literature review you write for your proposal should be a more formal document than the preliminary reviews you may have written as you first read your key sources (see Section 2.1.3), although you can certainly make use of those initial reviews as you draft the formal review. The literature review for your proposal will in most cases also be the first draft of the literature review that will serve as the second chapter of your completed thesis (see Section 1.2.2 and Section 4.3). The review can instead be combined with other parts of the thesis (the introduction, for instance) or be presented more gradually throughout the thesis in association with relevant ideas, methods and results as they arise. In some cases, a student’s engagement with previous research can be established very briefly in a short section of the thesis that provides some background on what has already been done in an area and simply clarifies why the student’s topic and approach are valuable and interesting.

If a separate chapter is required, which will be the case for many theses, the chapter should give readers an accurate and thorough idea of previous scholarship on the topic, problem or phenomenon under investigation; it should summarise and interpret the content of each relevant source; it should evaluate each source critically with regard to the methods used, results achieved and conclusions reached by its author(s); it should reveal what you believe to be the gaps, misconceptions and limitations associated with the existing scholarship as a whole; and it should indicate how your research will provide what is lacking, establish new perspectives and move beyond the traditional limitations. Some of this may have been mentioned briefly in your proposal introduction, but in the literature review you need to discuss these matters in greater detail, make it absolutely clear where your work fits into the larger picture and set the stage for using key sources later in the thesis.

literature review for a phd thesis

Even a chapter-length literature review for a doctoral thesis often does not need to be completely comprehensive – including, that is, every piece of scholarship ever written on your topic – unless your university, department or thesis committee insists on this or one of the goals of your thesis is specifically to provide a complete review of all scholarship in the area. You should, however, be familiar with all the scholarship dealing with the topic, problem or phenomenon you explore, and if very little has previously been written on it, you should no doubt include all the available scholarship in your review and perhaps even go beyond that to related areas that might enhance your research. Yet it is more likely that you will have to narrow your scope rather than broadening it, since most effective literature reviews are at least somewhat selective.

The criteria for selection vary from thesis to thesis because they are based not only on the specific research topic, but on the aims and objectives of the thesis, as well as on any research questions and hypotheses formulated and used in the thesis. So there will probably be one or more key themes that form the backbone of your discussion, providing both structure and direction, with each of the sources you review considered specifically and often exclusively in terms of those themes and your own thoughts about them. Without key ideas and a focus of this sort to guide your journey through numerous different sources, a literature review can quickly become an excessively long and disorganised trail of summaries and critiques that are more or less relevant to your thesis.

literature review for a phd thesis

Although approaches to writing a literature review vary enormously depending on the thesis topic and methodology, a practical way to start is with a brief explanation of the topic, problem or phenomenon and a general statement about scholarship in the area (abundant, scarce, outdated, recent, limited in origin and approach, and so on) before moving on to particular sources. The first source you review should be a key one, whether it is the first piece written on the topic or simply the first one relevant to your thesis, and it should establish a position from which you can proceed. Let us say, for instance, that the thesis topic focuses on the ability of marginal commentary in medieval manuscripts to teach the researcher something about the readers of those manuscripts.

The first source reviewed will likely (and ideally should) take a strong position on or establish a tradition of thought about the topic, which in early scholarship on manuscripts would probably be to dismiss the importance of marginal annotations altogether (the Victorians, for instance, simply trimmed them off to ‘clean up’ medieval manuscripts when rebinding them). The sources reviewed after this initial source might trace a chronological path of the development of approaches to marginalia and their usefulness in research on readership and reception until arriving at works published in the twenty-first century that take the comments of medieval readers very seriously indeed and explore via those comments medieval conceptions of education, self-knowledge, heresy, gender and many other fascinating topics.

literature review for a phd thesis

A chronological approach of the kind I have just described can often be effective in providing an extra layer of organisation or, perhaps more accurately, in tracing a meaningful route through complicated and sometimes slippery territory (the distinction between primary and secondary sources might also prove useful, on which see Section 7.1, as might that between theoretical and experimental studies). In the sciences, recent publications (usually those published within the last decade or two) are often prioritised, and some thesis committees will want the literature review to focus on recent scholarship only. No source is too old to be considered if it is important to your research, however, and if you are tracing the history of an idea or approach (one may, for example, want to go all the way back to medieval texts to see what they had to say about marginalia) or if very early sources are central because they establish a long tradition of thought relevant to your topic, they should definitely be included in your review. You need not treat every source you review in the same detail: some might require thorough summaries and a considerable amount of interpretation and discussion (those that significantly overlap your own research should receive such treatment, for instance), whereas others can simply be mentioned in passing or in groups or by focussing only on a couple of key points. The members of your thesis committee, your supervisor in particular, will almost certainly be able to assist you in deciding which sources should or should not be included and which among them might or might not require detailed treatment, as well as suggesting sources of which you may not be aware.

How you might best deal with each source may also change, however, as the results of your research mount up and you discover that you need to emphasise slightly different ideas and approaches than you originally envisioned. Remember that the literature review for the proposal is a draft that can be revisited and revised as necessary, which is not to say that it should be written or presented in an informal way. Like all parts of the proposal, it should be written in correct scholarly English and make consistent use of the editorial guidelines or style guide your department recommends or you and your supervisor have agreed upon, including complete and accurate references (for more information on formal English, formatting and style, and references, see Chapters 5–7). A literature review often closes with a brief summary, especially if the review is a long one, and a statement (or restatement) regarding how your thesis will contribute to the body of scholarship on the topic, problem or phenomenon. Finally, please note that neither ‘the literatures’ nor ‘the researches’ is an appropriate way of referring to the body of literature or scholarship dedicated to a particular topic, problem or phenomenon; ‘articles,’ ‘studies,’ ‘conferences,’ ‘papers’ and ‘books’ are all acceptable in the plural, but when using ‘the literature’ or ‘the research’ to describe such a body of work, the singular is the correct form.

Why PhD Success?

To Graduate Successfully

This article is part of a book called "PhD Success" which focuses on the writing process of a phd thesis, with its aim being to provide sound practices and principles for reporting and formatting in text the methods, results and discussion of even the most innovative and unique research in ways that are clear, correct, professional and persuasive.

literature review for a phd thesis

The assumption of the book is that the doctoral candidate reading it is both eager to write and more than capable of doing so, but nonetheless requires information and guidance on exactly what he or she should be writing and how best to approach the task. The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples.

literature review for a phd thesis

The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples. PhD Success provides guidance for students familiar with English and the procedures of English universities, but it also acknowledges that many theses in the English language are now written by candidates whose first language is not English, so it carefully explains the scholarly styles, conventions and standards expected of a successful doctoral thesis in the English language.

literature review for a phd thesis

Individual chapters of this book address reflective and critical writing early in the thesis process; working successfully with thesis supervisors and benefiting from commentary and criticism; drafting and revising effective thesis chapters and developing an academic or scientific argument; writing and formatting a thesis in clear and correct scholarly English; citing, quoting and documenting sources thoroughly and accurately; and preparing for and excelling in thesis meetings and examinations. 

literature review for a phd thesis

Completing a doctoral thesis successfully requires long and penetrating thought, intellectual rigour and creativity, original research and sound methods (whether established or innovative), precision in recording detail and a wide-ranging thoroughness, as much perseverance and mental toughness as insight and brilliance, and, no matter how many helpful writing guides are consulted, a great deal of hard work over a significant period of time. Writing a thesis can be an enjoyable as well as a challenging experience, however, and even if it is not always so, the personal and professional rewards of achieving such an enormous goal are considerable, as all doctoral candidates no doubt realise, and will last a great deal longer than any problems that may be encountered during the process.

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literature review for a phd thesis

Rene Tetzner

Rene Tetzner's blog posts dedicated to academic writing. Although the focus is on How To Write a Doctoral Thesis, many other important aspects of research-based writing, editing and publishing are addressed in helpful detail.

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The Essential – Preliminary Matter

October 3, 2021

The Main Body of the Thesis

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COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Literature Review

    Examples of literature reviews. Step 1 - Search for relevant literature. Step 2 - Evaluate and select sources. Step 3 - Identify themes, debates, and gaps. Step 4 - Outline your literature review's structure. Step 5 - Write your literature review.

  2. A Guide to Writing a PhD Literature Review

    A literature review is usually one of the first things you'll do after beginning your PhD. Once you've met with your supervisor and discussed the scope of your research project, you'll conduct a survey of the scholarly work that's already been done in your area.

  3. PDF The Thesis Writing Process and Literature Review

    Literature Review Hypotheses (in short) Methods Results Conclusion + Overall Writing Strategies and Your Questions Why am I writing a literature review anyway? Three Key Reasons (and One to Avoid) DO To identify a puzzle or problem in the existing academic debates. To motivate a research question that helps to address this puzzle or problem.

  4. How To Structure A Literature Review (Free Template)

    How To Structure Your Literature Review. Like any other chapter in your thesis or dissertation, your literature review needs to have a clear, logical structure. At a minimum, it should have three essential components - an introduction, a body and a conclusion. Let's take a closer look at each of these. 1: The Introduction Section

  5. PDF Writing an Effective Literature Review

    literature review in academia, at this point it might be useful to state what a literature review is not, before looking at what it is. It is not: § A list or annotated bibliography of the sources you have read § A simple summary of those sources or paraphrasing of the conclusions § Confined to description of the studies and their findings

  6. What Is a PhD Literature Review?

    In the structure of your PhD thesis, your literature review is effectively your first main chapter. It's at the start of your thesis and should, therefore, be a task you perform at the start of your research. After all, you need to have reviewed the literature to work out how your research can contribute novel findings to your area of research.

  7. What Is A Literature Review (In A Dissertation Or Thesis)

    The word "literature review" can refer to two related things that are part of the broader literature review process. The first is the task of reviewing the literature - i.e. sourcing and reading through the existing research relating to your research topic. The second is the actual chapter that you write up in your dissertation, thesis or ...

  8. How To Write A Literature Review (+ Free Template)

    Step 1: Find the relevant literature. Naturally, the first step in the literature review journey is to hunt down the existing research that's relevant to your topic. While you probably already have a decent base of this from your research proposal, you need to expand on this substantially in the dissertation or thesis itself.. Essentially, you need to be looking for any existing literature ...

  9. What is a Literature Review?

    A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research. There are five key steps to writing a literature review: Search for relevant literature. Evaluate sources. Identify themes, debates and gaps.

  10. How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation

    Preparing to Write the Literature Review for your Dissertation. 1. Search Using Key Terms. Most people start their lit review searching appropriate databases using key terms. For example, if you're researching the impact of social media on adult learning, some key terms you would use at the start of your search would be adult learning ...

  11. PDF LITERATURE REVIEWS

    ¡ a carefully curated set of sources from a small number of subfield literatures ¡ a narrative of where your project comes from and how it fits in with existing knowledge ¡ an argument for why your project makes a valuable contribution PRAGMATISM: WHAT'S REQUIRED FOR MY THESIS?

  12. Writing a Literature Review

    Research and Citation Conducting Research Writing a Literature Review Writing a Literature Review A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ).

  13. Write a PhD literature review in 9 steps

    A PhD literature review is a critical assessment of the literature in your field and related to your specific research topic. When discussing each relevant piece of literature, the review must highlight where the gaps are and what the strengths and weaknesses are of particular studies, papers, books, etc.

  14. PDF PhD Thesis Writing Process: A Systematic Approach—How to Write ...

    1. Introduction Review of literature is the second stage in the thesis writing process. It is a criti-cal appraisal of published literature by qualified and accredited scholars and re-searchers in the field of your study.

  15. Your literature review

    Most PhD and masters' theses contain some form of literature review to provide the background for the research. The literature review is an essential step in the research process. A successful literature review will offer a coherent presentation and analysis of the existing research in your field, demonstrating:

  16. 7 Secrets to Write a PhD Literature Review The Right Way

    1. Make a Well-Structured Outline: A literature review is exhaustive research on the topic under investigation so that you can become an expert on that topic. Therefore, it is important for you to make a well-structured outline before you start writing otherwise you won't understand where to end as you'll be having a lot of information.

  17. Literature review example analysis

    This example shows how a literature review from a PhD thesis can be analysed for its structure, purpose and content. Three sections of the thesis are analysed to show the: relationship between the introduction and the literature review structure and purpose of dedicated literature review chapters

  18. Developing a Literature Review for a Doctoral Thesis

    The literature review may be defined as "a documented review of published or unpublished works (articles, books, etc.) in specific fields of interest to the work of the researcher" (Ferreira, 2015: 36). It is to be found in conceptual articles such as empirical articles, whether qualitative or quantitative.

  19. PDF How To Conduct A PhD Literature Review

    A PhD literature review is a critical assessment of the literature in your field and related to your specific research topic. By the end, the reader should understand the case for your research. Tips to elevate your review: Be critical Don't just list authors. Critically engage with each text. Structure the review thematically

  20. How to do a Literature Review

    How to do a Literature Review | Step by Step | PhD Thesis Writing - YouTube © 2024 Google LLC #thesiswriting #literaturereview #howtodoaliteraturereviewI have been getting some questions...

  21. (PDF) PhD Thesis Writing Process: A Systematic Approach ...

    The purpose of the literature review was to provide a theoretical basis to the rationale for the DEMETER project by identifying effective teaching and learning methodologies for developing key...

  22. How to Write a Literature Review for Your Thesis

    While writing a literature review for your PhD thesis or dissertation, you will have to dig past literature on your topic throughly.. Simple steps to write a literature review for PhD thesis:. Prepare upto 10 research questions. Keep ready with topic's keywords. The length is a quarter of whole thesis. Gather Primary and Secondary Sources

  23. Writing the Literature Review for PhD Theses Proposals

    The literature review you write for your proposal should be a more formal document than the preliminary reviews you may have written as you first read your key sources (see Section 2.1.3), although you can certainly make use of those initial reviews as you draft the formal review.

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