How to Write a Solid Literature Review

Woman in library with books stacked in arms

The literature review is the first major component of the dissertation process. It’s a comprehensive evaluation of current scholarly literature on your proposed dissertation topic. PhD candidates are expected to identify and evaluate what is currently known about the topic for the purpose of informing their own research. As you conduct your literature review, you’ll need to consider the existing findings and conclusions in light of whether your research will support or challenge them.

Remind yourself of the purpose of the literature review

Plenty of PhD candidates struggle with the literature review. There’s a veritable mountain of information to sort through, organize and write about. Always keep the ultimate purpose of the review in mind while you write. You aren’t expected to merely write a summary of what’s already known about the topic in your field. A great literature review will also pinpoint the research that’s needed to make advancements and build off what’s already known. View everything you’re reading with a critical eye. Are there any flaws in the methodology? Are there any unanswered questions? Are the findings themselves questionable?

Develop an organizational system that’s easy for you to follow

By this point in your career, you should already have a firm grasp on which organizational tactics work for you. If you’re the type of person who enjoys color-coding and developing meticulous naming conventions, keep doing it. If organization doesn’t come naturally to you, keep your system as simple and intuitive as possible. The most important thing is that you’re able to follow it. As you work through each paper, keep track of the citations. You’ll want to be able to find those quickly when you’re writing the review.

Avoid casting too wide of a net when identifying papers

One of the most common mistakes made during the literature review process is trying to compile every paper ever published on all topics related to the research. This can quickly derail your timeline and get your dissertation out of focus. Instead, keep the literature review as narrow as your topic itself. As an example, let’s say you’re researching cyberbullying-induced suicide ideation among adolescents ages 13 through 17. Don’t try to research the long-term effects of cyberbullying as the victims reach adulthood—keep your research on that particular age group.

Solicit feedback from your dissertation committee

Keep in close contact with your dissertation committee throughout the entire process. The earlier you solicit critical feedback, the more solid your literature review (and the rest of your dissertation) will be. Keep a list of the questions you’re asked about the literature you’ve uncovered. These questions can help guide the direction of the review.

Write from your own perspective

When you’re writing the review, try to avoid starting the majority of your sentences with a citation of a particular author or paper. It’s important to source your information, but it’s also critical to put your own voice into the review. The argument you’re making should be clearly identifiable.

The College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University is a welcoming, supportive learning community of professionals seeking to expand their skillset and knowledge base. We offer a wide variety of doctoral degree programs to choose from. Use the link to Request More Information to find the program that fits your career objectives.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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