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Review of the Literature

One of the essential steps in successfully completing a dissertation is conducting an extensive review of the literature. Indeed, one of the most effective ways a student can choose a dissertation topic is to conduct a review of the literature, looking for gaps in the existing research in his or field and designing research to fill one of these gaps. Here are some steps to take when conducting reviews of the literature.

Narrow the topic: the student should approach any review of the literature with a focused topic in his or her field of study. If the student’s topic is too broad, too many research papers will appear to be relevant and the research and review process will take far more time than the student has. A focused topic will keep the body of relevant literature manageable.

Research: The key to an effective review of the literature is research. The reference librarian at the student’s university library can assist in providing resources such as Dissertation Abstracts International and the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature which list dissertations and scholarly papers published in the field.

Review: Once the student has researched the most relevant literature pertaining to his or her topic, the next task is to read each paper in depth and analyze the ways in which it relates to the student’s own dissertation topic. Does the literature support the student’s hypothesis or discount it? What questions does the student’s review of the literature fail to answer? Can the student design research that will consider these questions for his or her own dissertation?

Write: After completing a review of the literature, the student will outline and write a chapter in his or her dissertation which discusses and analyzes his or her findings and conclusions regarding the existing literature. Reviews of the literature are often grouped in terms of each reviewed paper’s bearing on the student’s hypothesis. Those which support it are grouped together and discussed, and those which do not are grouped in a separate section.

A thorough review of the literature is essential to completion of a strong dissertation. The successful student will devote extensive time and effort to this aspect of the dissertation writing process in order to achieve the best overall results.