How to Write a Dissertation Literature Review (9 Easy Steps)

Writing your dissertation literature review for the first time can be a challenging task. You’ll hear inexperienced writers say that “It’s an easy task; you simply dust off your books, sit down in your chair with a cup of coffee, and begin skimming through the pages, jotting down concise summaries of your readings. After a few hours, you’re certain you’ve completed your literature review.” That’s not the case.

You need to consider so many factors to synthesize the literature around your dissertation topic. is here to provide a few tips and offer help if you need it.

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We have prepared a list of 9 items that could help improve your dissertation literature review writing.

What is Dissertation Literature Review?

A dissertation literature review evaluates the sources (literature) you’ve acquired and thoroughly read in relation to your area of study, and then finding a “gap” in that area before attempting to fill.

A lot of people have misconceptions about what a dissertation literature review entails.

While a dissertation literature review can sometimes be as basic as a list of important sources, it usually necessitates critical engagement with the material in order to express your thoughts on it as well as any criticisms you may have.

What are your thoughts on a certain source? Is there a significant difference between this interpretation and other points of view in the literature?

It is through such critical engagements that your literature review will stand out.

A summary will most likely include a short overview of the source(s)’ general points, but the expectations for a literature review go beyond that.

A literature review might offer a fresh viewpoint on a well-known research publication, or it can blend new and old views (the “gap” — more on that later). A literature review can also provide a comprehensive and critical overview of a field’s intellectual progress, with a focus on key, frequently polemical arguments.

A literature review may also provide an evaluation of a source and tell a reader about its validity, pertinence, and relevance to the study topic in other contexts.

How to Write a Dissertation Literature Review

Dissertation writing is a difficult and life-changing process for any student, regardless of their academic background. Going through a massive amount of data, conducting research, and juggling a heavy workload throughout their time there provides a plethora of learning opportunities and eye openers that result in the creation of vital knowledge.

Writing your dissertation literature review is one of the many critical steps you go through when putting together your dissertation writing – and it is one of the most time-consuming.

It is a critical evaluation of the sources that you have used in your writing that constitutes a dissertation literature review.

This procedure entails reading the sources you have gathered on your dissertation topic and finding any gaps you may have discovered so that you can fill them.

The following are the steps for writing your dissertation literature review

1. Identify your Sources

In order to create a decent dissertation literature review, you must have a good concept of the sources you intend to review in your dissertation. If your professor hasn’t provided you with a formal reference list, you can look back to the strategies we discussed before.

Maintain a balanced collection of sources by including an adequate number of books and academic journals, as well as any valuable published work from recognized experts.

To assist you in selecting acceptable sources for your study, you may want to consider the parameters and objectives of your investigation. What do you want to learn from this experience?

When conducting your literature review, what theoretical concerns or views do you hope to address or clarify? What is your approach to problem solving? Will you primarily conduct qualitative or quantitative studies, or will you conduct a combination of both? These general questions should aid you in the selection of your sources, and remember that the abstract of a source is a very valuable tool in this process.

A brief check of the abstract and the source’s “keywords” will frequently provide you with an indication of whether or not the source will be relevant for your investigation.

Keep a list of all the sources used as you’re identifying them since, given the vastness of the Internet, it’s quite easy to lose track of what you’re doing. Citation management systems, like as Mendeley, allow you to store your sources both online and through a desktop application, and they are a fantastic method to keep your bibliography organized. Additionally, you will be able to easily export citations in the format of your choice using the citation tools that are included with these programs.

They will save you untold hours of time spent attempting to figure out how to properly reference in Harvard or APA style.

2. Read and Evaluate Your Sources

Following your successful organization of your materials, it is time to read through them thoroughly. As strange as it may seem, reading in stages is the most successful method, as explained below:

First and foremost, go through all of the materials to acquire a feel of their overall content and argumentation. This will also assist you in determining which sources you should concentrate your attention on in your review.

During the second stage of your reading, you will be able to examine your sources with a greater degree of criticality and detail. Make copious notes, be critical, and ask lots of questions. I’m curious as to what your academic take on the text is.

Do you have any thoughts on the methodological approach, the theoretical reasoning, or the general hypothesis? Please share your thoughts.

Make a note of these. It will guarantee that your literature review is more than just a summary of your readings, and it will help you to develop a clear line of argument so that your work is logical and coherent in its presentation.

3. Relevance of the Sources

While conducting your research, you should compile sources for your dissertation literature review.

The following stage is to evaluate their significance before incorporating them in your real literature review. This is accomplished by following the steps outlined below. It is easier to break down your sources when you go out from your original source. This will assist you in determining whether or not the source is related to your dissertation topic emphasis and in conducting an informed examination of the source.

Your sources’ relevance should change with the passage of time and technological advancements, just as they should with the changing times and realities.

Some research have survived and maintained their relevance to the present day, but others may have become obsolete or have been overthrown by technological advancements. As a result, even though these sources are authoritative, you must check that they are relevant to the time and period in which you are conducting your research before using them.

4. Identify Research Gaps

When preparing a dissertation literature review, one of the most important things to consider is identifying the research gap that has to be addressed.

In particular, if your review is included as part of a research proposal, the identification of the gap is critical since it will highlight the relevance of your research – assuming that your research is intended to fill the gap – and therefore the importance of your review. Identifying the gap, on the other hand, is an indicator of sound critical thinking and can get you additional points.

Before we can identify the “gap,” we must first determine what the “gap” is in the first place.

When there is a research gap, it is defined as the existence of a research issue, perspective, or problem that has not yet been addressed in the current literature on any given subject matter.

Identification of the research gap is critical for demonstrating the uniqueness of your research; it demonstrates that you are not merely repeating or regurgitating previously published findings. This reveals to the reader that you are well-versed in your chosen topic of study’s current state of literature, and it also demonstrates the amount of research and effort you have put into your review.

Many students, particularly those at the post-graduate level, find it incredibly difficult to discover research gaps in their subject field, which is particularly true for women.

Finding research gaps and generating research questions that can fill those gaps are the very essence of a research paper for post-graduate students, and they constitute the basis of all research papers.

The process of identifying research gaps does not have to be a difficult one, and there are various approaches that can be used to solve this difficulty:

5. Skim through Articles at the Start

A straightforward technique will be to skim through the most important sections of key papers in your research field. Please keep in mind that you will have to go through a large number of articles in order to find the ones that are most relevant to your research. A fast search on Google Scholar using keywords will frequently provide you with a concise overview of the material that is available.

Databases such as JSTOR and Wiley Online Library, among others, are also important resources. It is possible to find new publications by clicking on a link to a related article or by looking at other papers that have cited your source.

6. Check Abstracts and Recommendations of Authors

Regardless of the route you take, reading the abstract is frequently an excellent place to start to get a sense of what the piece is about.

You should also take a short look at the introduction and ending paragraphs of the article, as these parts almost always contain some information about the research’s objectives and findings, as well as “recommendations for future research.” Most of the time, these recommendations provide some insight into the research gaps that have been identified in the literature.

Other options include just reading as much information about your study issue as you possibly can while assessing which research areas still need to be addressed in the literature – this is usually a sign of research gaps.

7. Look at other Examples of Literature Reviews

This is usually for comparison purposes only.

Check out several examples of dissertation literature evaluations in your topic area and thoroughly read them to become familiar with the important debates and ideas that are currently being discussed. A solid beginning point for framing and constructing your own review can be found in this example. If you are unfamiliar with academic writing, reviewing example papers will assist you in gaining an understanding of what is required of you in this regard. Pay close attention to the academic terminology and formal manner that have been employed.

Also, keep in mind that the bibliography or reference section of your chosen texts will assist you in assembling additional references if you require them in the future.

8. Keep it as simple as possible

Maintain as much focus as possible on your chosen topic. Take into consideration the fact that there are hundreds – or in some cases thousands – of different sources or opinions on any given subject or topic.

Researchers approach research problems in a variety of different methods, and the amount of literature available on any given subject is extremely diverse and extensive.

You will not be expected to examine every argument or stance on your issue in your literature review — in fact, doing so may potentially hinder your ability to write a logical and focused work. If you keep the scope of your work as small as possible, you will find it easier to complete your tasks. Make certain that you clearly state what the primary focus of your work will be in your evaluation.

9. Use the Most Recent Sources as Possible

Since scientific work has advanced significantly over the years, it is critical that your sources are as current as possible while doing a review of a scientific piece of work.

Researchers in the medical sector are continually updating their findings, and a source that was only three years old may be completely out of date today. Many theoretical works in the social sciences are considered classics, and you will be expected to be conversant with their points of view.

However, this rule may not apply in all cases. It is possible that you will be required to review the writings of Marx, Hobbes, or any other classic scholar.

As a result, you will need to demonstrate the ways in which perspectives in the literature have changed through time, or you may even wish to demonstrate how researchers have used classic ideas to inspire their work, so you must maintain a balance between theory and current techniques.