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Literature Review

A literature review is one of the required chapters in a dissertation. In it, a student cites and discusses published research and existing dissertations related to his or her dissertation topic. Literature reviews can also be assigned as part of the coursework for a class. The following steps will assist the student in planning and writing literature reviews.

Ask a question. What question does the student wish to pursue through the literature review? If the student already has a dissertation topic, than this can be phrased as a question and used to focus the student's search of the literature. The topic or question may be assigned in the case of a stand-alone literature review. If the student is still working to frame a focused topic, a preliminary search of the literature may be in order to apprise the student of the currently significant issues within his or her field.

Search the literature. Indices listing journal articles and abstracts of existing dissertations are available for search online and in the university library. The student will search for relevant literature that may have a bearing on his or her topic. The student may also consult reading done during his or her coursework, which itself may be relevant to the topic which may cite research that could be relevant. The university librarian and the student's faculty advisor may be able to suggest further sources of literature.

Select relevant literature. The student will obtain copies of the relevant literature and review it, selecting those papers which have the most direct bearing on the topic at hand. The student should then read each paper closely, making extensive notes about the research completed and the results obtained.

Outline and write. Finally, the student is ready to write the actual literature review. Grouping the cited research in some way will be helpful in creating an outline. Which examples of the literature tend to agree with one another and which disagree? These can be placed in separate sections. For each example in the literature review, the student should briefly summarize the research methodology and the conclusions drawn, then relate each cited example with the others being discussed in the literature review. The result will be a coherent, well-written paper that presents a comprehensive literature review for the student's dissertation.