Writing a Literature Review for a Dissertation
All academic writers are required to provide a systematic, analytical overview or the literature published on the topic of the dissertation. This is especially important if the reading audience knows less about the subject than the writer. The purpose for doing this is an instructional one. If the dissertation committee or other members of the reading audience know more about the subject than the writer, the purpose of the literature review is to demonstrate his/her expertise, familiarity and intelligence about the topic.
In a literature review, the writer is expected to do the following:
- Insert one's own original work within context of literature that already exists
- Interpret the major issues surrounding the writer's subject matter
- Describe the relationships between the different literature sources used
- Identify unique ways in which to shed light on anything lacking in previous research
- Resolve conflicts when previous studies disagree or have different results
- Determine which literature makes the most significant contribution to the writer's understanding of the topic.
- Name the reasons why the project should be further researched
Specific Contents of the Literature Review
It is important that the person who writes a literature review write in a manner that causes his/her ideas to flow logically. The review should also be well organized and soundly structured. This information should be presented by using present terminology and an unbiased, comprehensive stance should be taken.
A Literature Review should include the following content:
- Give readers a complete overview of the theory that is under consideration.
- Make divisions between outside works that fit into categories and concepts.
- Connect one's current work to the previous work.
- Provide conclusions about the literature used in the dissertation.
The following should be considered when thinking about which literature to include:
- Proper Qualifications: Does the author have the proper credentials to qualify him/her to make authoritative statements about the subject at hand?
- Neutrality: Is the author's perspective unbiased?
- Credibility: Are the authors theses are convincing? Why?
- Value: Do the author's conclusions add to the worth to the dissertation?
The writer's transitions between outside perspectives do not merely translate or summarize them. They synthesize, analyze and access them.
The writer's attitude towards works that are personally presented conveys clearly whether the claims in the other authors' work are accepted or not.
Use reporting verbs to indicate:
- Positive assessment
- Neutral assessment
- Tentative assessment
- Critical assessment
The manner in which a writer presents his/her material in the literature review needs to indicate that he/she is:
- Choosing and quoting materials that are relevant
- Making logical sense of any quotation used within the context of own arguments.
- Introducing only relevant quotes from the literature review and discarding those without relevancy.
- Focusing on the language used in the quotations.
Through citations, one's research should be presented within the context of a larger narrative. The intentional use of citations reflects the writer's decisions to place greater emphasis on the reported message or author.
- The name of the cited author should occur in the citing sentence. These are the integral citations.
- Non-integral citations always make reference to the author through end or footnotes or via the use of parenthesis.
The writer's original ideas should be at the core of his/her writing. However, the work itself must be embedded in previous works to demonstrate why the writer's project is relevant and why it is of any importance to the topic at hand. The overall intent of the literature review is to connect the writer's ideas with those ideas that already exist in the field.
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