Literature review

The literature review explores the research context and background of the study in some detail. It focuses on the findings of previous research and may also examine theoretical issues and research methodology. Depending on its scope, it may occupy one or more chapters of the thesis or dissertation.

The literature review is a collection of citations, but this does not mean that it is a descriptive or chronological account of the existing research. A good literature review is a coherent argument organised around key contributions, themes, trends and controversies. The literature review summarises, synthesises and critically evaluates research, and identifies gaps and inconsistencies which provide the justification for further research.

It is important that you avoid presenting citations as a simple list, as in this example:

X found that ….
Y identified ….
Z reported that ….

Since a literature review is a critical evaluation of existing research, it is important that you take a position towards the sources you cite. Use phrases that indicate whether your stance is positive, negative or neutral. For example:

In a landmark study, X argued that …. (positive)
This study made a major contribution to …. (positive)
As X states, …. (positive – indicates agreement with X’s position)
X found …. (neutral)
X overlooks …. (negative)
The main limitation of this approach is …. (negative)
X offers no explanation for …. (negative)

 

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