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A Guide To Writing The Dissertation Literature Review

Tom Baldwin - Jan 22, 2024

Do you want to know a guide to writing the dissertation literature review? You are at the right place. This latest post will explore how to write a literature review, Purposes for writing a literature review, How to conduct a literature review and, most importantly, how to write a methodology for a literature review dissertation

And many more that can be helpful for you. So, without any delay, let’s get started.

Key Take Away

  • Focused Scope: Clearly define your research question and key concepts to maintain focus and avoid information overload.
  • Comprehensive Search: Use diverse sources and search techniques for a thorough literature review. Apply strict criteria for inclusion/exclusion to ensure relevance.
  • Structured Presentation: Organize selected literature into themes and develop a concise thesis statement for a clear and guided narrative.
  • Methodological Precision: Outline a rigorous methodology, detailing search strategy, inclusion/exclusion criteria, data extraction, and synthesis. Reflect on choices, acknowledging strengths and limitations.
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How To Write A Literature Review

Writing a literature review involves summarizing, evaluating, and synthesizing existing research on a particular topic. Here’s a guide to help you:

1. Define Your Scope

Begin by explicitly defining the scope and parameters of your literature review. Clearly articulate the specific research question or topic you aim to explore. 

Consider the key concepts, keywords, and terms relevant to your inquiry. This step is crucial for setting boundaries, ensuring focus, and avoiding information overload.

2. Search For Relevant Literature

Conduct a comprehensive literature search using a variety of sources such as academic databases, library catalogs, and search engines. Experiment with different combinations of keywords and synonyms related to your topic. 

Use advanced search features and filters provided by databases to refine and narrow down your results. Be mindful of the inclusion and exclusion criteria to ensure relevance.

3. Select And Evaluate Sources

As you gather sources, critically evaluate each one. Examine the author’s credentials, institutional affiliations, and any potential biases. Consider the publication venue and its reputation within the field. 

Pay attention to the publication date to ensure that you are incorporating recent and relevant research. Evaluate the research methodology employed in each study to assess the validity of the findings.

4. Organize The Literature

Organize the selected literature into themes or categories based on commonalities and differences. This can be achieved through the creation of an annotated bibliography or a matrix that categorizes studies based on key characteristics. 

This organizational step will serve as the backbone of your literature review, providing a structured framework for presenting information.

5. Develop A Thesis Statement

Craft a clear and concise thesis statement that encapsulates the main theme, findings, or trends within the literature. This thesis statement should provide a roadmap for readers, guiding them through the overarching narrative of your literature review. 

Ensure that the thesis aligns with the specific research question or objective you outlined in the initial stages.

6. Write An Introduction

In the introduction, contextualize the topic by providing background information, historical context, or relevant theoretical frameworks. Clearly state the purpose of your literature review and articulate the significance of the research question. 

Transition smoothly from the general context to your specific focus, and conclude the introduction with your thesis statement.

7. Body Of The Review

Organize the body of your literature review logically. If following a thematic approach, discuss studies within each theme, summarizing their main findings, methodologies, and contributions to the field. 

If following a chronological approach, trace the evolution of research over time. Ensure a coherent flow between paragraphs and sections, making connections between studies and highlighting key relationships.

8. Critical Analysis

Engage in a critical analysis of each source. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the studies, considering factors such as sample size, research design, and potential biases. Identify any conflicting findings or gaps in the literature. 

Discuss how methodological choices in each study may have influenced the results and interpretations.

9. Synthesize Information

Synthesize information by identifying common themes, trends, or patterns across studies. Explore the relationships between different sources and offer insights into the cumulative knowledge generated by the literature. 

Discuss how the collective findings contribute to the overall understanding of the topic and address your research question.

10. Write A Conclusion

Summarize the main findings and themes discussed in the body of the literature review. Reiterate your thesis statement and emphasize its significance. 

Discuss the broader implications of the reviewed literature and its relevance to the field. Consider proposing areas for future research and potential avenues for exploration.

11. Cite Sources

Ensure proper citation of all sources using the designated citation style (e.g., APA, MLA). Adhere to formatting guidelines consistently throughout your literature review. Maintain accuracy in citing authors, publication years, and other relevant details.

12. Revise And Edit

Carefully review your literature review for clarity, coherence, and logical flow. Check for consistency in tone and style. Edit for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. Consider seeking feedback from peers, mentors, or writing support services to refine your work further.

Additional Tips

  • Consider the cultural and geographical context of the studies you include.
  • Be aware of any evolving debates or shifts in perspectives within the literature.
  • Engage with your sources by offering critiques, connections, and reflections on the methodologies employed.
  • Keep track of the publication status of the studies, as ongoing research might have been published after your literature search.

By following this detailed guide, you can create a comprehensive and nuanced literature review that not only summarizes existing research but also contributes valuable insights to the academic discourse in your field of study.

11 Purposes For Writing A Literature Review  

Writing a literature review serves several important purposes within the academic and research context. Here are key reasons why researchers and scholars engage in the process of writing a literature review:

1. Establishing Context

Purpose: Provide background and context for a research study.

Explanation: A literature review helps situate a research project within the existing body of knowledge. By reviewing relevant studies, researchers establish a foundation for their work and demonstrate an understanding of the historical and theoretical context of their research.

2. Identifying Gaps In Knowledge

Purpose: Identify areas where further research is needed.

Explanation: By examining existing literature, researchers can pinpoint gaps, unanswered questions, or areas with conflicting findings. This identification of gaps helps justify the need for new research and contributes to the advancement of knowledge.

3. Demonstrating Scholarly Understanding

Purpose: Showcase a deep understanding of the subject matter.

Explanation: A well-crafted literature review demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with key concepts, theories, and empirical studies related to the research topic. It showcases the researcher’s expertise and positions them within the scholarly conversation.

4. Synthesizing Existing Knowledge

Purpose: Synthesize information from various sources to form a cohesive narrative.

Explanation: The literature review is an opportunity to synthesize information from diverse studies, presenting a comprehensive overview of existing knowledge. This synthesis helps researchers and readers understand the broader patterns, trends, and relationships in the literature.

5. Evaluating Methodologies

Purpose: Assess the strengths and weaknesses of research methodologies.

Explanation: Researchers critically evaluate the methodologies used in previous studies to understand the reliability and validity of their findings. This assessment informs the methodological choices in the current research and contributes to the overall research design.

6. Supporting Theoretical Frameworks

Purpose: Provide a theoretical foundation for the research.

Explanation: Literature reviews often explore and discuss theoretical frameworks relevant to the research topic. By doing so, researchers ground their work in established theories and frameworks, contributing to the theoretical development of their field.

7. Demonstrating Scope And Breadth

Purpose: Showcase a wide-ranging exploration of literature.

Explanation: Writing a literature review requires the exploration of a broad range of sources, providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of the field. This demonstration of breadth adds credibility to the research and indicates a thorough examination of relevant scholarship.

8. Guiding Research Questions Or Hypotheses

Purpose: Inform the formulation of research questions or hypotheses.

Explanation: Through the review process, researchers gain insights into the existing gaps and patterns, helping them formulate specific and targeted research questions or hypotheses. This ensures that the research is purposeful and directly addresses gaps in the current knowledge.

9. Building A Conceptual Framework

Purpose: Construct a conceptual framework for the study.

Explanation: The literature review aids in the development of a conceptual framework by identifying key concepts, variables, and relationships explored in previous research. This framework serves as a theoretical foundation for the current study.

10. Informing Methodological Choices

Purpose: Guide decisions on research methods.

Explanation: Researchers can draw on the literature review to inform decisions about the most appropriate research methods. By understanding how previous studies were conducted, researchers can make informed choices regarding data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

11. Contributing To Academic Discourse

Purpose: Contribute to ongoing academic discussions.

Explanation: Writing a literature review is a scholarly contribution in itself. By summarizing, analyzing, and synthesizing existing research, researchers actively engage in the academic discourse of their field, adding their perspectives to the broader conversation.

A literature review serves as a critical component of the research process, enabling researchers to situate their work within the larger academic landscape, identify gaps, synthesize knowledge, and contribute to the ongoing scholarly conversation.

How To Write A Methodology For A Literature Review Dissertation

How To Write A Methodology For A Literature Review Dissertation

Writing the methodology for a literature review in a dissertation involves outlining the methods you will use to gather, organize, and analyze the literature. While a traditional research methodology might involve data collection and analysis. 

The methodology for a literature review focuses on your approach to reviewing and synthesizing existing research. Here’s a guide on how to write the methodology section for a literature review dissertation.

1. Search Strategy

Describe your approach to searching for relevant literature. Include details such as the databases you used, keywords, and any specific criteria for inclusion or exclusion. This helps readers understand the comprehensiveness of your literature search.

2. Inclusion And Exclusion Criteria

Clearly outline the criteria you used to select or exclude studies. This might include factors such as publication date, study design, geographical location, or the type of participants. Justify your choices to demonstrate the rigour of your selection process.

3. Data Extraction

Explain how you extracted relevant information from the selected studies. Discuss the variables or themes you focused on and any tools or frameworks you used for data extraction.

4. Quality Assessment

If applicable, describe any criteria or tools you used to assess the quality of the studies included in your literature review. This is important for establishing the reliability and validity of your review.

5. Data Synthesis

Detail how you synthesized the information gathered from the literature. Discuss the methods you used to organize, categorize, and analyze the findings. This could involve thematic analysis, content analysis, or other qualitative synthesis methods.

6. Frameworks Or Models

If you used any theoretical frameworks or models to guide your literature review, explain them in this section. Discuss how these frameworks influenced your approach to analyzing and synthesizing the literature.

7. Categorization And Synthesis

Outline the process you followed to categorize the literature and synthesize key themes or concepts. This is the heart of your literature review methodology, so be specific about the steps you took to identify patterns and relationships in the literature.

8. Reflection On Methodological Choices

Reflect on the strengths and limitations of your methodology. Discuss any challenges you encountered and how you addressed them. This shows your awareness of potential biases and enhances the transparency of your work.

Conclude the methodology section by summarizing the key methods employed and how they contributed to the structure and content of your literature review. Remember to follow the specific guidelines provided by your institution and dissertation committee. 

Adapt the above steps based on the requirements and expectations of your academic program.


1. What Is The Primary Purpose Of A Literature Review In A Dissertation?

A literature review aims to provide a comprehensive overview of existing research, establish context, identify gaps, and contribute to the scholarly discourse within a specific field.

2. How Do I Define The Scope Of My Literature Review?

Begin by clearly articulating your research question and identifying key concepts. This helps set boundaries, maintain focus, and avoid information overload.

3. What Criteria Should I Consider When Selecting And Evaluating Sources?

Evaluate author credentials, institutional affiliations, publication venue reputation, and research methodologies. Consider biases and the relevance of the publication date.

4. Why Is It Important To Organize The Literature Into Themes Or Categories?

Organizing literature helps create a structured framework for presenting information and highlights commonalities and differences between studies.

5. What Role Does A Thesis Statement Play In A Literature Review?

A thesis statement encapsulates the main theme, findings, or trends within the literature, providing a roadmap for readers and aligning with the research question.


In crafting a literature review for your dissertation, mastering the art of synthesizing existing research is key. By defining scope, organizing systematically, and critically analyzing sources

You contribute not only to your research but also to the broader academic conversation. Follow the methodology guide, employ purposeful writing, and create a compelling narrative to enrich your academic exploration.

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