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How to write literature review for dissertation

Literature review chapters in dissertations tend to account for around 10 to 15% of these types of papers. In certain dissertations, however, this chapter can take up a significantly larger amount of the paper. For example, papers about nursing and medicine can have quite long literature reviews. Writing a literature review is the writer’s opportunity to showcase how deeply they have read up on their subject and to show how their work is supported by the opinions of existing experts and how it builds on the work done by other scholars and experts.

However, you should not think of a literature review as merely repeating the words and opinions of other people. Certainly, it is not nearly enough to simply list the names of up to twenty articles and/or books and to restate what the author of each has said. Instead, your task is to analyze what has been written and connect this to your dissertation’s question in a direct and exacting manner (as your dissertation progresses, the questions may change – in subtle ways – so you need to leave time at the end to review the introduction you have written).

What should you include in your literature review chapter

When reviewing the literature and writing about your findings, you should demonstrate that you fully understand how existing written materials in the field your study concerns are related to your own work and how you are building on these materials. Regardless of what you think, you are not working blindly. Neither, however, is your work likely to be absolutely new and unique. Hence, a literature review provides a type of foundation in which you can base and ground your research work and put it in its context in the wider sphere of academic writing. Doing things this way gives you the opportunity to examine and review any existing scholarly debates concerning your subject.

You should not blatantly say the thinking or views of another scholar or subject matter expert are wrong. This is arrogant, not very polite, and not an academic approach, particularly at the undergraduate stage of education. The piece you are writing is relatively short and the experts you are referring to have probably devoted many years to studying and researching this particular subject. It is, however, acceptable to say that one author thinks another author is wrong and that your work supports the view of one or other (while avoiding using the first person perspective). Accordingly, you can use articles and books from your literature review to advance your argument(s) and beliefs and to counter any arguments you are not convinced by. Nonetheless, drawing on the opinions of other people (using quotes and references) you can take the personal element out of an argument and thereby ensure your work complies with best practice in the field of academic writing. And, most likely, you will reap your reward for this approach.

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How to quote different authors or sources in your literature review chapter

When you are writing a literature review there is no need to remark or comment on each and every text you examined or to provide quotes from each article or book you refer to. Nonetheless, the person marking your paper needs to see you really did read the texts you mention or comment on. Students do not usually get top marks for literature review chapters with sentences that are merely comprised of lengthy lists of the names of the authors of texts they have read e.g. “Author A recommends ABC, but authors B, C, D, E, and F do not agree.” Sentences like these suggest the writer has not read much or absorbed much from the texts in question and that they have simply copied authors’ names. Essentially, it would seem they did not engage to any great extent with the texts they have read or referred to.

On the other hand, where a sentence in this type of review states something along the lines of, “Author A recommends ABC while Author C agrees and additionally recommends that (add quotation),” the writer can expect a higher mark by virtue of referencing expert opinion and including a quotation. A sentence such as the following would be even better: Author A recommends ABC; Author C agrees with A and additionally suggests that (include quotation and fully cite the work). In the context of this study, this is essential because the experiments described later on in this paper prove the previous claims of both these authors.

The last example showcases the highest standards in dissertation writing in that it directly connects the literature you have reviewed to your own particular dissertation and demonstrates how your efforts will contribute to and broaden existing knowledge. Furthermore, each sentence is clear and easy to follow, and including a direct quotation shows your marker you have properly read (the relevant section at least) of the article or book you made reference to. Paying careful attention to every detail is what helps to bring high marks for the literature review in a dissertation.

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October 27, 2017
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