Tuesday, 18 July 2017

What is a Literature Review?

What is a Literature Review?

You master’s or doctoral thesis literature review will usually be the second chapter of your thesis, after your introduction. All students who are venturing into graduate studies have to do a literature review at some point. This is an important rite of passage, as it indicates that you’ve read a great deal in your field and that you are able to integrate information in a focused way. You are showing your supervisor, examiners and anyone else who reads your research that you are a capable researcher and that you have a lot of experience and knowledge in your field.

You can’t embark on a new study if you don’t already know what other scholars have done before you; a large part of the academic project is building on the knowledge and understanding of our academic peers, so you firstly need to show that you know what others have done and the contributions they have made before you can do an effective study of your own.

Your literature review needs to accomplish a few things:
·         Look at the various literature relating to your theoretical background
·         Show a deep and clear understanding of the concepts involved in your study
·         Demonstrate a broad range of knowledge related to your field
·         Review as many of the studies that were similar to yours, and show gaps in knowledge
·         Show understanding and critical engagement with the literature you review

All of these aspects are important in a literature review, yet the requirements for different types of research documents can be very different.

In your research proposal, you will only be required to give a preliminary literature review, and your critical reflection on the literature will not have to be very intensive. Your proposal’s literature review will usually be around 3-5 pages in length. It should cover some basic ideas linked to your topic, and touch on the keywords you’ve provided on your cover page of your proposal. You need to demonstrate the breadth of your research here; show your reader that you’re a serious academic who knows something about your field. This will probably take the most time to complete in your research proposal, but it shouldn’t take longer than a few weeks if you work in a focused way. You can find out more about writing a proposal in the guide at the resources page of the Academic Coaching website.

For a master’s thesis, your literature review is usually between 10-25 pages, and for a doctoral dissertation, it can be up to 40 pages for social sciences or humanities studies, but is usually much shorter for other fields. You shouldn’t aim for the higher end of these ranges unless you have a very broad topic with a lot to cover. For most studies, around 15 pages should be more than enough, and many studies in Engineering or natural sciences can comfortably cover everything they need to in 10 pages. You should judge the projected length of your literature review by how many theories, themes, topics or similar studies you have to cover. We’ll look at those aspects in the chapter on structure.  

Finally, it’s important to remember that a literature review has to be planned thoroughly before you start writing. You should plan the themes, theories, and the concepts you want to cover before you start working on your literature review. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do some exploratory reading just to find out more about your field, but sometimes researchers get so stuck on doing as much reading as possible that they never get to writing their thesis. If you know what your intention is with your literature review, and if you have a clear plan, then you will know very quickly if a reading is relevant or not, and you can move on to something that will be more helpful.

Many degree programs advise their students to take the first year of study (or even two years) to do reading and to write the proposal and literature review. While this is very good practice to help you expand your thinking and understanding, it’s not necessary to spend too much time reading if you have a good plan beforehand. For a master’s thesis, a literature review doesn’t need to take more than three or four months of fairly regular work, if you can manage to get through an article or two every few days. The key is not to read everything, but to read the most important articles and books and then pepper in some broader reading.

Review Your Learning:
·         Your literature review shows that you are knowledgeable in your field and a capable researcher
·         For a master’s study, your literature review should be around 10-25 pages long

·         You need to cover the most important theories, themes and similar studies, showing that you understand them and how they connect to your own study