Reflections of a mature student: Getting ahead of the game

So I started to read the handbook for writing your dissertation, these handbooks are great for giving you all the information that your college department is looking for when you hand in your projects. This blog post is just about what a literature review is and the best ways to approach the research of the topic that you want to cover.

Why a literature review?

Not every thesis has a literature review, but every thesis writer has to write about the literature, showing how his or her work relates to others’. Your literature review demonstrates your abilities as a researcher. A literature review discusses published information in a subject area, and sometimes information in a particular subject area within a certain time period. The focus of a literature review is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions. Literature reviews provide you with a handy guide to a topic. If you have limited time to conduct research, literature reviews can give you an overview or act as a steppingstone. Literature reviews also provide a solid background for a research paper’s investigation and comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field.

Reviewing the literature can be a means of learning from others’ thought processes, expanding their view of the field, becoming familiar with different theoretical perspectives and parallel developments.

Questions to consider when developing your review:

  • Roughly how many sources should you include?
  • What types of sources (books, journal articles, websites)?
  • Should you summarize, synthesize, or critique your sources by discussing a common theme or issue?
  • Should you evaluate your sources?
  • Should you provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history?

Read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider instead what themes or issues connect your sources together. It is important to ask yourself Does the literature present one or different solutions? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? How well do they present the material and do they portray it according to an appropriate theory? Do they reveal a trend in the field?

Another thing thing to do is to look at other literature reviews from your college library to see what the format is like (obviously make sure that you follow your supervisors advice). When writing your review it has to be made clear that you are selecting certain material, and give reasons for those selections. You also have to say what you are not going to write about, and why. Literature reviews, must include a definition, background and chronology, not just a simple summary of other people’s work. The main point is to link the literature to your own work.

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