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Crafting Your Dissertation Literature Review

January 20, 2015 - Posted to How to: Writing Dissertation

Content 24

First, lose the idea that you are just going to be writing one large research paper with a thesis statement and something to prove. The purpose of a dissertation literature review is to summarize the research studies of those who have gone before you, and the results of those research studies. Your point here is not to analyze and evaluate those studies – it is to show the results and how those results relate to your research question. Granted, you may have a need to categorize the literature that you review by sub-topics of your research question and even by studies that may run counter to the results you are looking to get. In those instances, you certainly can point to flaws in those studies, to constraints that may have impacted the reported results, and other nuisance factors that may have skewed the results. Thus a literature review for dissertation purposes is not like the structure of research papers to which you are accustomed.

Finding the Right Literature

Writing a dissertation literature review begins with finding the most current research in your research question area. Why? Because as time has evolved, and research tools have become much more sophisticated, more current research is likely to be more valid and has been built on a lot of earlier research that you really do not need to review. So, you begin with a ProQuest search, pulling up abstracts of the most recent literature that relates to your question.

Let’s suppose, for example, that you are preparing to write an English literature dissertation on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. You will find, in your search for literature on ProQuest, that there will be abstracts for dissertations that were produced as long ago as the 19th century. While some of these may be great to read, here is a more efficient method. Locate dissertations that have been written within the past two decades and read the abstracts for those first. You can then select the ones that most relate to your research question and order the full dissertations. Read through the literature reviews of those dissertations, and you are sure to find summaries of earlier dissertations on the same question. If they look promising as well, you can then order up those to read. This saves a lot of time.

Follow Your Department’s Format

In the dissertation guide that you have hopefully been given by your department advisor, review carefully how citations in your literature review are to be formatted. Many departments and/or institutions have simplified their formats, so that a literature review dissertation citation style is quite easy. For example, if your research question relates to the negative results of grade retention on elementary school children, you might cite a recent study by two prominent researchers in the field in this way. “Jimerson and Davis found that, in a study of 100 students who were retained in first grade, the academic progress that was achieved during that retention year was lost by the end of their second grade years. (Jimerson and Davis, 2002).” The full bibliographical information will either be included at the end of the chapter or at the end of the entire work, dependent upon your department format requirements.

Getting Frustrated?

Literature reviews can be frustrating, if only because of the sheer amount of time you will spend locating just the right literature, reading it, and then summarizing it so as to show its relevance to your own research. Getting help is no comment on your intelligence or your commitment to your research. Rather, it may be very smart to consult a field expert and let him/her point you to the best literature or prepare that literature review for you. TrustedDissertations.com can give you such an expert.

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