Writing a phd literature review
Study guide For a printer-friendly PDF version of this guide, click here This Study Guide explains why literature reviews are needed, and how they can be conducted and reported. Related Study Guides are: Referencing and bibliographiesAvoiding plagiarismWriting a dissertationWhat is critical reading? What is critical writing? The focus of the Study Guide is the literature review within a dissertation or a thesis, but many of the ideas are transferable to other kinds of writing, such as an extended essay, or a report.
What is a literature review? The ability to review, and to report on relevant literature is a key academic skill.
You need to show how your research fits into the big picture, relating it to article source has been done before. Every paper, including survey papers, is supposed to be a writing a phd literature review contribution. It must be clear to the reader where it is going: Here's some specific advice I got from my supervisor and things I realized while doing my own lit review: I still remember the pleasantly surprised look on his face when he said: Are there ideas that contradict each other? That balance will depend on how much you already know.
To some extent, particularly with postgraduate research, the literature review can become a project in itself. It is an important showcase of your talents of: The process of conducting and reporting your literature review can help you clarify your own thoughts about your study. It can also establish a framework within which to present and analyse the findings.
After reading your literature review, it should be clear to the reader that you have up-to-date awareness of the relevant work of others, and that the research question you are asking is relevant. Be wary of saying that your research will solve a problem, or that it will change practice. Why do I need a literature review? When readers come to your assignment, dissertation, or thesis, they will not just assume that your research or analysis is a good idea; they will want to be persuaded that it is relevant and that it was worth doing.
They will ask questions such as: What research question s are you asking? Has anyone else done anything similar? What is already known or understood about this topic? How might your research add to this understanding, or challenge existing theories and beliefs?
These are questions that you will already probably be asking yourself. You will also need to be ready to answer them in a viva if you will be having one. A critical review It is important that your literature review is more than just a list of references with a short description of each one. What is critical reading? This very short statement contains some key concepts, which are examined in the table below. The term now encompasses a wide range of web-based sources, in addition to the more traditional books and print journals. Increased ease of access to a wider range of published material has also increased the need for careful and clear critique of sources.
You need to demonstrate to your reader that you are examining your sources with a critical approach, and not just believing them automatically. Interpretation You need writing a phd literature review be actively involved in interpreting the literature that you are reviewing, and in explaining that interpretation to the reader, rather than just listing what others have written.
Your interpretation of each piece of evidence is just that: Your interpretation may be self-evident to you, but it may not be to everyone else. You need to critique your own interpretation of material, and to present your rationale, so that your reader can follow your thinking. Creating a synthesis is, in effect, like building interpretation upon interpretation.
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It is essential to check that you have constructed your synthesis well, and with sufficient supporting evidence. When to review the literature With small-scale writing projects, the literature review is likely to be done just once; probably before the writing begins. With longer projects such as a dissertation for a Masters degree, and certainly with a PhD, the literature review process will be more extended.
There are three stages at which a review of the literature is needed: This can involve further review with perhaps a slightly different focus from that of your initial review. This applies especially to people doing PhDs on a part-time basis, where their writing a phd literature review might extend over six or more years. You need to be able to demonstrate that you are aware of current issues and research, writing a phd literature review to show how your research is relevant within a changing context.
Staff and students in your area can be good sources of ideas about where to look for relevant literature. They may already have copies of articles that you can work with. If you attend a conference or workshop with a wider group of people, perhaps from other universities, you can take the opportunity to ask other attendees for recommendations of articles or books relevant to your area of research.
Each department or school has assigned to it a specialist Information Librarian. You can find the contact details for the Information Librarian for your own area via the Library web pages. This person can help you identify relevant sources, and create effective electronic searches: You can then begin your process of evaluating the quality and relevance of what you read, and this can guide you to more focussed further reading.
Taylor and Procter of The University of Toronto have some useful suggested questions to ask yourself at the beginning of your reading: What is the specific thesis, problem, or research question that my literature review helps to define? What type of literature review am I conducting? Am I looking at issues of theory? What is the scope of my literature review? What types of publications am I using e. What discipline s am I working in e. What time period am I interested in? You may also want to make a clear decision about whether to start with a very narrow focus and work outwards, or to start wide before focussing in.
You may even want to do both at once.
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It is a good idea to decide your strategy on this, rather than drifting into one or the other. It can give you a degree of control, in what can feel like an overwhelming and uncontrollable stage of the research process. Ways of finding relevant material Electronic sources Searching electronic databases is probably the quickest way to access a lot of material. Guidance will be available via your own department or school and via the relevant Information Librarian. There may also be key sources of publications for your subject that are accessible electronically, such as collections of policy documents, standards, archive material, videos, and audio-recordings.
References of references If you can find a few really useful sources, it can be a good idea to check through their reference lists to see the range of sources that they referred to.
This can be particularly useful if you find a review article that evaluates other literature in the field. This will then provide you with a long reference list, and some evaluation of the references it contains. An electronic search may throw up a huge number of hits, but there are still likely to be other relevant articles that it has not detected.
- I knew my professor was not happy either when I got an email that he wanted to see me right away.
- How might your research add to this understanding, or challenge existing theories and beliefs?
- The framing arguments and questions of your research project in general, and the purpose of the literature review in relation to this.
So, despite having access to electronic databases and to electronic searching techniques, it can be surprisingly useful to have a pile of journals actually on your desk, and to look through the contents pages, and the individual articles. Often hand searching of journals will reveal ideas about focus, research questions, methods, techniques, or interpretations that had not occurred to you.
Sometimes even a key idea can be discovered in this way. It is therefore probably worth allocating some time to sitting in the library, with issues from the last year or two of the most relevant journals for your research topic, and reviewing them for anything of relevance. EndNote and RefWorks are software packages that you can use to collect and store details of your references, and your comments on them.
As you review the references, remember to be a critical reader see Study Guide What is critical reading? Keeping a record Keeping a record of your search strategy is useful, to prevent you duplicating effort by doing the same search twice, or missing out a significant and relevant sector of literature because you think you have already done that search. Increasingly, examiners at post-graduate level are looking for the detail of how you chose which evidence you decided to refer to.
They will want to know how you went about looking for relevant material, and your process of selection and omission.
You are now better equipped to appreciate it and to review writing a phd literature review critically. It was 2 weeks before the end wrjting the semester and he said: There may also be key sources of publications for your subject that are accessible electronically, critical questions literature thinking as collections of policy documents, standards, archive material, videos, and audio-recordings. Help is available regarding how to avoid plagiarism and it is worth checking it out. It may be more challenging for M. This can mean that you get mixed up over what is an exact quote, and what you have written in your own words; or over what was an idea of your own that you jotted down, or an idea from some text. Interpretation You need to be actively involved in interpreting the literature link you are reviewing, and in explaining that interpretation to the reader, rather than just listing what others have written.
You need to check what is required within your own discipline. If you are required to record and present your search strategy, you may be able to include the technical details of the search strategy as an appendix to your thesis. Plagiarism Plagiarism is regarded as a serious offence by all Universities, and you need to make sure that you do not, even accidentally, commit plagiarism.
- There are three stages at which a review of the literature is needed:
- Once you complete these six steps, you will have a complete draft of your literature review.
- How can you prove that nobody else has done what you plan to do, without searching every paper ever published?
It can happen accidentally, for example, if you are careless in your note-taking. This can mean that you get mixed up over what is an exact quote, and what you have written in your own words; or over what was an idea of your own that you jotted down, or an idea from some text.
This has the advantage that, when you come to use that example in your writing up, you can choose: Help is available regarding how to avoid plagiarism and it is worth checking it out. Your department will have its own guidance. When to stop It is important to keep control of the reading process, and to keep your research focus in mind. Rudestam and Newton It is also important to see the writing stage as part of the research process, not something that happens after you have finished reading the literature. Wellington et al It is often not until you start explaining something in writing that you find where your argument is weak, and you need to collect more evidence.
A skill that helps in curtailing the reading is: Decisions need to be made about where to focus your reading, and where you can refer briefly to an area but explain why you will not be going into it in more detail. Writing it up The task of shaping a logical and effective report of a literature review is undeniably challenging.
Some useful guidance on how to approach the writing up is given by Wellington et al It must relate to your study. It must be clear to the reader where it is going: Wherever possible, use original source material rather than summaries or reviews by others. Engage in a dialogue with the literature, you are not just providing a summary.
Often, the literature review will end with a statement of the research question s. Having a lot of literature to report on can feel overwhelming. It is important to keep the focus on your study, rather than on the literature Wellington To help you do this, you will need to establish a structure to work to. A good, well-explained structure is also a huge help to the reader. Structure As with any piece of extended writing, structure is crucial.
There may be specific guidance on structure within your department, or you may need to devise your own. Examples of ways you might structure your literature review are: Once you have established your structure you need to outline it for your reader. A narrative thread Although you clearly need to write in an academic style, it can be helpful to imagine that you are telling a story. The thread running through the story is the explanation of why you decided to do the study that you are doing.
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The story needs to be logical, informative, persuasive, comprehensive and, ideally, interesting. It needs to reach the logical conclusion that your research is a good idea.
Writing review literature phd a this done
If there is a key article or book that is of major importance to the development of your own research ideas, it is important to see more extra space to describing and critiquing that piece of literature in more depth. Similarly, if there are some studies that you will be referring to more than to others, it would be useful to give them a full report and critique at this stage. Using tables As well as using tables to display numerical data, tables can be useful within a literature review when you are comparing other kinds of material.
For example, you could use a table to display the key differences between two or more: