How to Write a Dissertation Literature Review: Guide

The literature review is a crucial chapter that highlights the background of the topic, clarifying the knowledge gaps that justify your research. Often, students tend to think that the literature review is a summary of the sources they have interacted with in the course of their research.

However, the literature review serves to critique these sources, justifying your research objectives and showing the tutor that you are well-versed in the topic. Unfortunately, many students struggle with writing their literature reviews owing to a poor grasp of what is expected of them when writing this chapter.

Here, we’ll highlight the structure of a literature review and discuss the tips for writing a comprehensive PhD literature review.

Steps for writing a dissertation literature review

  1. Identify your sources

The initial step of writing your literature review should be to search for relevant sources relating to your topic. these sources should preferably touch on the ideas you intend to develop, allowing you to support existing arguments or to highlight inadequacies in the arguments which you intend to criticize.

When searching for sources, consider using Wikipedia reference lists as a starting point or engaging your librarian as they are better placed in identifying the content within your topic.

  1. Analyze the sources

After collecting your sources, read through each source to identify the main arguments presented by the author. Here, gauge the themes, debates, and knowledge gaps in each source to offer a detailed analysis of the literature review. 

When analyzing the sources, relate the sources that develop an idea and identify the variations in arguments within your sources. This will allow you to justify your opposition to a given idea, and to connect various sources in support of your arguments. 

  1. Critique your sources

As stated earlier, your literature review chapter should serve a bigger purpose than highlighting the arguments in various sources. Therefore, be keen to offer your criticism of various sources, building upon your solution for the inconsistencies in the existing knowledge. 

  1. Outline your literature review

Like all chapters of your paper, the literature review requires a meticulous outline to keep track of the major arguments within your paper. The outline also allows you to organize your ideas for a smooth flow, bringing out your intended weaknesses in a manner that is easy for the reader to identify. 

The outline of a literature review may either organize your ideas in chronological order, following through the development of thought from the initial research to the current state. Alternatively, you could also take a thematic approach, organizing your content based on the themes you intend to tackle within your paper. 

  1. Writing

After outlining your literature review, develop various parts, organizing the ideas in a manner that’s easy for the reader to comprehend. Also, consider seeking assistance for editing to ensure that your literature review chapter serves your intended purpose of highlighting the gaps that necessitate various research objectives. 

How to structure a literature review

The literature review, like an essay, is divided into an introduction, the body, and a conclusion. The introduction states the objectives of your paper and introduces various research questions under investigation. 

The body then develops your criticism of the sources you have encountered while linking various research problems to the sources. Finally, the conclusion refocuses on your research questions, making for a smooth transition to the methodology chapter.

For this, we recommend that you look at a literature review dissertation example for a better grasp of the ideas within various sections of your literature review.

How to start a literature review

The introduction of your literature reviews should hook your reader into the section, allowing you to introduce your stance before providing support from the existing sources. Your introduction should discuss the purpose of your literature review and the focus of your research.

You could opt to start your introduction using a fact or rhetorical questions to make the reader aware of your approach to the argument at hand.

How many sources for a literature review

As stated earlier, your literature review section should not simply echo the sentiments of another author. With 15% of the total word count dedicated to the literature review section, you require several sources for a worthwhile literature review section.

The literature review chapter should have a minimum of one hundred and fifty to two hundred sources. This can be translated to a single source per page or a higher number of sources, enabling you to tackle relevant criticisms without falling short of the recommended word count.

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