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Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.

Introduction:

  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

Conclusion:

  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

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  • Dissertation

How to Write a Dissertation Proposal | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on 14 February 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on 11 November 2022.

A dissertation proposal describes the research you want to do: what it’s about, how you’ll conduct it, and why it’s worthwhile. You will probably have to write a proposal before starting your dissertation as an undergraduate or postgraduate student.

A dissertation proposal should generally include:

  • An introduction to your topic and aims
  • A literature review  of the current state of knowledge
  • An outline of your proposed methodology
  • A discussion of the possible implications of the research
  • A bibliography  of relevant sources

Dissertation proposals vary a lot in terms of length and structure, so make sure to follow any guidelines given to you by your institution, and check with your supervisor when you’re unsure.

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Table of contents

Step 1: coming up with an idea, step 2: presenting your idea in the introduction, step 3: exploring related research in the literature review, step 4: describing your methodology, step 5: outlining the potential implications of your research, step 6: creating a reference list or bibliography.

Before writing your proposal, it’s important to come up with a strong idea for your dissertation.

Find an area of your field that interests you and do some preliminary reading in that area. What are the key concerns of other researchers? What do they suggest as areas for further research, and what strikes you personally as an interesting gap in the field?

Once you have an idea, consider how to narrow it down and the best way to frame it. Don’t be too ambitious or too vague – a dissertation topic needs to be specific enough to be feasible. Move from a broad field of interest to a specific niche:

  • Russian literature 19th century Russian literature The novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
  • Social media Mental health effects of social media Influence of social media on young adults suffering from anxiety

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Like most academic texts, a dissertation proposal begins with an introduction . This is where you introduce the topic of your research, provide some background, and most importantly, present your aim , objectives and research question(s) .

Try to dive straight into your chosen topic: What’s at stake in your research? Why is it interesting? Don’t spend too long on generalisations or grand statements:

  • Social media is the most important technological trend of the 21st century. It has changed the world and influences our lives every day.
  • Psychologists generally agree that the ubiquity of social media in the lives of young adults today has a profound impact on their mental health. However, the exact nature of this impact needs further investigation.

Once your area of research is clear, you can present more background and context. What does the reader need to know to understand your proposed questions? What’s the current state of research on this topic, and what will your dissertation contribute to the field?

If you’re including a literature review, you don’t need to go into too much detail at this point, but give the reader a general sense of the debates that you’re intervening in.

This leads you into the most important part of the introduction: your aim, objectives and research question(s) . These should be clearly identifiable and stand out from the text – for example, you could present them using bullet points or bold font.

Make sure that your research questions are specific and workable – something you can reasonably answer within the scope of your dissertation. Avoid being too broad or having too many different questions. Remember that your goal in a dissertation proposal is to convince the reader that your research is valuable and feasible:

  • Does social media harm mental health?
  • What is the impact of daily social media use on 18– to 25–year–olds suffering from general anxiety disorder?

Now that your topic is clear, it’s time to explore existing research covering similar ideas. This is important because it shows you what is missing from other research in the field and ensures that you’re not asking a question someone else has already answered.

You’ve probably already done some preliminary reading, but now that your topic is more clearly defined, you need to thoroughly analyse and evaluate the most relevant sources in your literature review .

Here you should summarise the findings of other researchers and comment on gaps and problems in their studies. There may be a lot of research to cover, so make effective use of paraphrasing to write concisely:

  • Smith and Prakash state that ‘our results indicate a 25% decrease in the incidence of mechanical failure after the new formula was applied’.
  • Smith and Prakash’s formula reduced mechanical failures by 25%.

The point is to identify findings and theories that will influence your own research, but also to highlight gaps and limitations in previous research which your dissertation can address:

  • Subsequent research has failed to replicate this result, however, suggesting a flaw in Smith and Prakash’s methods. It is likely that the failure resulted from…

Next, you’ll describe your proposed methodology : the specific things you hope to do, the structure of your research and the methods that you will use to gather and analyse data.

You should get quite specific in this section – you need to convince your supervisor that you’ve thought through your approach to the research and can realistically carry it out. This section will look quite different, and vary in length, depending on your field of study.

You may be engaged in more empirical research, focusing on data collection and discovering new information, or more theoretical research, attempting to develop a new conceptual model or add nuance to an existing one.

Dissertation research often involves both, but the content of your methodology section will vary according to how important each approach is to your dissertation.

Empirical research

Empirical research involves collecting new data and analysing it in order to answer your research questions. It can be quantitative (focused on numbers), qualitative (focused on words and meanings), or a combination of both.

With empirical research, it’s important to describe in detail how you plan to collect your data:

  • Will you use surveys ? A lab experiment ? Interviews?
  • What variables will you measure?
  • How will you select a representative sample ?
  • If other people will participate in your research, what measures will you take to ensure they are treated ethically?
  • What tools (conceptual and physical) will you use, and why?

It’s appropriate to cite other research here. When you need to justify your choice of a particular research method or tool, for example, you can cite a text describing the advantages and appropriate usage of that method.

Don’t overdo this, though; you don’t need to reiterate the whole theoretical literature, just what’s relevant to the choices you have made.

Moreover, your research will necessarily involve analysing the data after you have collected it. Though you don’t know yet what the data will look like, it’s important to know what you’re looking for and indicate what methods (e.g. statistical tests , thematic analysis ) you will use.

Theoretical research

You can also do theoretical research that doesn’t involve original data collection. In this case, your methodology section will focus more on the theory you plan to work with in your dissertation: relevant conceptual models and the approach you intend to take.

For example, a literary analysis dissertation rarely involves collecting new data, but it’s still necessary to explain the theoretical approach that will be taken to the text(s) under discussion, as well as which parts of the text(s) you will focus on:

  • This dissertation will utilise Foucault’s theory of panopticism to explore the theme of surveillance in Orwell’s 1984 and Kafka’s The Trial…

Here, you may refer to the same theorists you have already discussed in the literature review. In this case, the emphasis is placed on how you plan to use their contributions in your own research.

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You’ll usually conclude your dissertation proposal with a section discussing what you expect your research to achieve.

You obviously can’t be too sure: you don’t know yet what your results and conclusions will be. Instead, you should describe the projected implications and contribution to knowledge of your dissertation.

First, consider the potential implications of your research. Will you:

  • Develop or test a theory?
  • Provide new information to governments or businesses?
  • Challenge a commonly held belief?
  • Suggest an improvement to a specific process?

Describe the intended result of your research and the theoretical or practical impact it will have:

Finally, it’s sensible to conclude by briefly restating the contribution to knowledge you hope to make: the specific question(s) you hope to answer and the gap the answer(s) will fill in existing knowledge:

Like any academic text, it’s important that your dissertation proposal effectively references all the sources you have used. You need to include a properly formatted reference list or bibliography at the end of your proposal.

Different institutions recommend different styles of referencing – commonly used styles include Harvard , Vancouver , APA , or MHRA . If your department does not have specific requirements, choose a style and apply it consistently.

A reference list includes only the sources that you cited in your proposal. A bibliography is slightly different: it can include every source you consulted in preparing the proposal, even if you didn’t mention it in the text. In the case of a dissertation proposal, a bibliography may also list relevant sources that you haven’t yet read, but that you intend to use during the research itself.

Check with your supervisor what type of bibliography or reference list you should include.

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How to Write a Dissertation Literature Review – Steps & Tips

Published by Anastasia Lois at August 12th, 2021 , Revised On October 17, 2023

From an academic standpoint, a dissertation literature review can be defined as a survey of the thesis, journal articles, books, and other academic resources on any given research title . This article provides comprehensive guidelines on how to write a dissertation literature review.

A literature review in a dissertation is of critical importance primarily because it provides insight into the key concepts, advancements, theories, and results of your research questions  or  research problem .

However, it is essential to note that; a first-class dissertation literature review focuses on summarizing the academic sources used for research and analysing, interpreting, and assessing them to determine the gaps and differences in opinions, judgments, themes, and developments.

A good literature review will further elaborate on existing knowledge concerning the research hypothesis or questions.

View dissertation literature review examples here.  

When do you Write a Dissertation Literature Review?

Depending on your university’s guidelines, you might be required to include a literature review in the theoretical framework or the introduction.

Or you could also be asked to develop a standalone literature review chapter that appears before  the methodology  and  the findings  chapters of the dissertation.

In either case, your primary aim will be to review the available literature and develop a link between your research and the existing literature on your chosen topic.

Sometimes, you might be designated a literature review as a separate assignment . Regardless of whether you need to write a literature review for your dissertation or as a standalone project, some general guidelines for conducting literature will remain unchanged.

Here are the steps you need to take to write the literature review for a dissertation if you cannot write the literature review.

Steps of Writing a Literature Review

1. gather, assess, and choose relevant literature.

The first seed to take when writing your dissertation or thesis is to choose a fascinating and manageable research topic . Once a topic has been selected, you can begin searching for relevant academic sources.

If you are  writing a literature review for your dissertation, one way to do this is to find academic sources relevant to your  research problem or questions.

Without fully understanding current knowledge in the chosen study area, giving the correct direction to your research aim and objectives will be hard.

On the other hand, you will be expected to guide your research by developing a central question if you are writing a literature review as an individual assignment.

A notable difference here compared to the dissertation literature review is that you must answer this central question without conducting primary research (questionnaires, surveys, interviews). You  will be expected to address the question using only the existing literature.

Dissertation Literature Review Research Question

How can company “A” improve its brand value through social media marketing?

Literature Review Research Question

What is the connection between social media marketing and brand value?

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Use Keywords and References to Find Relevant Literature

Create a list of keywords that are relevant to the topic of research. Find journals, articles, and books using these keywords. Here are links to some recognised online academic libraries and databases;

  • Inspec, (Computer science, engineering, physics, chemistry)
  • EconLit, (Economics)
  • Google Scholar
  • Your university’s online research database

Finding relevant academic sources from “the reference list” of an article you have already found in a research database effectively discovers relevant studies.

Consider noting frequently appearing references as they are likely to be highly authentic and important publications even though they didn’t appear in the keyword search.

Journal articles or books that keep appearing with different keywords and phrases are the ones you should manually look out for.

The more times an article has been referenced, the more influential it is likely to be in any research field. Google Scholar lets users quickly determine how often a particular article has been referenced.

Also Read:  How to Best Use References in a Dissertation

2. Weighing and Selecting Academic Sources

It won’t be possible for you to read every publication related to your topic. An excellent way to select academic sources for your dissertation literature review is to read the abstract , which will help you decide whether the source is supportive and relevant to your research hypothesis or research questions.

To help you select sources relevant to your study, here are some questions for you to consider before making the decision.

  • What research questions has the author answered with their research work?
  • What fundamental concepts have been defined by the author?
  • Did the researcher use an innovative methodology or existing frameworks to define fundamental methods, models, and theories?
  • What are the findings, conclusion, and recommendations in the source book or paper?
  • What is the relevance between the existing literature and the academic sources you are evaluating?
  • Does the source article challenge, confirm, or add to existing knowledge on the topic?
  • How does the publication contribute to your understanding of the topic? What are its key insights and arguments?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Any breakthrough studies and key theories relevant to your research topic should be recorded as you search for highly credible and authentic academic sources.

The method of your review of literature depends on your academic subject. If your research topic is in the sciences, you must find and review up-to-date academic sources.

On the other hand, you might look into old and historical literature and recent literature if your research topic is in the humanities field.

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how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

Recording Information and Referencing Sources

It is recommended that you start to write your literature review as you read articles, journals, and books. Take notes which can be later merged into the text of the literature review. Avoid plagiarism  and record all sources used along with references.

A good way of recording information is to analyse each source, summarise the key concepts or theories and compile a complete list of references in the form of an annotated bibliography.

This is a beneficial practice as it helps to remember the key points in each academic source and saves you valuable time as you start the literature review write-up.

3. Identify Key Themes and Patterns

The next step is to look for themes and patterns in the chosen sources that would enable you to establish similarities and differences between their  results and interpretations .

This exercise will help you to determine the  structure and argument for your literature review. Here are some questions that you can think of when reading and recording information;

  • Are any gaps in the existing literature?
  • What are the weaknesses of the current literature that should be addressed?
  • Were you able to identify any landmark research work and theories that resulted in the topic’s change of direction?
  • What are the similarities and disagreements between these sources? Were you able to identify any contradictions and conflicts?
  • What trends and themes were you able to identify? Are there any results, methods, or theories that lost credibility over time?

Also Read: How to Write a Dissertation – Step-by-Step Guide

4. Structure of Literature Review

There is no acclaimed  literature review structure , which means that you can choose from a range of approaches (thematic, chronological, methodological, and theoretical) when deciding on the structure of the literature review .

However, before you begin to  write the literature review , it is important to figure out the strategy that would work best for you. For long literature reviews, you might decide to use a combination of these strategies. For example, you could discuss each of the themes chronologically.

1: Theoretical

You can discuss various significant concepts, models, and theories in your literature review to form the basis of a theoretical framework . You could also combine a range of theoretical approaches to develop your theoretical framework or debate the significance of a particular theoretical framework.

2: Methodological

The methodological approach will require you to relate the findings of studies conducted in different research areas and use different research methods .

  • You might discover that results from the quantitative research approach are not the same as qualitative research.
  • You might split the selected academic sources based on their discipline – engineering, and sciences.

3: Thematic

You may also deploy a thematic approach, especially if you identified repeating key themes and patterns. If that is the case, you will be expected to put each aspect of the topic into different subsections within your literature review.

For example, if your research topic is “employment issues in the UK for international students,” you can divide the key themes into subsections; legal status, poor language skills, immigration policy, and economic turmoil.

4: Chronological

The most straightforward approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points, and critical debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

5. Writing your Literature Review 

Whether it’s a dissertation literature review or a standalone literature review assignment you have been assigned, you will be expected to divide your literature review into three larger sections – introduction, main body, and a conclusion.

What you write under these three segments will depend on the aim of your study.

Section 1 – Introduction

Here you will be required to state the objectives of the literature review clearly;

Introduction to Dissertation Literature Review Recapitulate your research problem or questions with a summary of the sources you reviewed when the literature review is for your thesis or dissertation. Consider highlighting gaps in existing knowledge and stress the suitability of your topic.

For example:

Research problem A has been debated in many recent studies.

While the topic has been explored concerning A, the B aspect has not yet been explored.

Individual Literature Review Project When reviewing literature for an individual literature review assignment, make sure that you clearly state the purpose of the research and debate the scope of the literature (how recent or old are the academic sources you are reviewing).

Section 2 – Main Body

As previously mentioned, you can divide this section into further subsections depending on your literature review’s length. You can also have a separate heading for each research method, theme, or theory to help your readers better understand your research.

Here are some tips for you to write a flawless main body of literature review;

  • Summarize and Combine ; Highlight the main findings from each academic source and organise them into one whole piece without losing coherence.
  • Evaluate and interpret; Make sure you are giving opinions and arguments of your own where possible. Simply rephrasing what others have said will undermine your work. You will be expected to debate and discuss other studies’ results about your research questions or aim.
  • Analytical Evaluation; It is essential to unmistakably present the literature you have reviewed and the merits and weaknesses of the literature.
  • Make Use of  Topic Sentences and Transitions; in organized subsections within the literature review to establish conflicts, differences, similarities, and relationships.

Example of How to Write a Dissertation Literature Review

The below example belongs to the body of a literature review on the effectiveness of e-recruitment in small and medium-sized enterprises in the United Kingdom’s IT sector.

E-recruitment means explicitly using digital technologies to recruit, select, and orient employees. The benefits of e-recruitment in the literature have been studied: increased access to a pool of candidates, time and cost savings, and greater flexibility for the organisation.

In contrast, the literature states that e-recruitment might not properly achieve the goal of retaining the workforce with the required skills to participate in the work environment (Lad & Das, 2016). Also, e-recruitment might be based on a flawed website design or poor application process, which might deter potential employees (Anand & Devi, 2016) .

This section of the study will focus on the existing studies linked to the effectiveness of e-recruitment. Human resource management is an essential function of business organisations because it manages the workforce.

The goal of HR should be to develop a strategic approach in which the organisation’s strategic goals can be attained efficiently and effectively. The advent of digital technologies has helped transform human resource management’s nature concerning recruiting and selecting employees for organisations.

The Internet’s benefits have reduced search time for candidates and significant cost savings for organisations. Finally, it offers a transparent method for obtaining information about specific candidates. E-recruitment helps organisations hire people from any part of the world as it promotes opportunities and benefits the organisation efficiently.

Sharma (2014) argues that 75% of human resource professionals in developed countries are now using e-recruitment to hire employees for their organisations. Additionally, some 2 out of 4 job seekers will use the Internet to source job opportunities.

Another evidence to support the rise of e-recruitment is a study by Holm (2014), which found that all Fortune 100 companies will be using some form of e-recruitment to advertise vacant positions.

The implications are that e-recruitment is a popular strategy for various positions, from blue-collar roles to white-collar and professional positions. The benefits of e-recruitment have been identified in the literature. Girard & Fallery (2009) argues that e-recruitment helps to save time for organisations and employees.

Employers can use several methods to post jobs in as little as 20 minutes. There are no limits to ad size, and they can receive resumes immediately. In contrast, the traditional methods require some time to appear, for example, in a newspaper, and might be there for a limited period.

Section 3 – Conclusion

When writing the dissertation literature review conclusion, you should always include a summary of the key findings which emerged from the literature and their relevance and significance to your research objectives.

Literature Review for Dissertation

If you are writing a dissertation literature review, you will be required to demonstrate how your research helped to fill an evident gap in research and contributed to the current knowledge in the field. Similarly, you can explain how you used the existing patterns, themes, and theories to develop your research framework.

Literature Review as an Individual Assignment

You can summarize your review of your literature’s significance and implications and provide recommendations for future work based on the gaps in existing knowledge you acknowledged.

6. Proofread

Finally, thoroughly proofread your literature review for grammatical, structural, spelling, and factual errors before submitting it to your university.

If you are unable to proofread and edit your paper, then you could take advantage of our  editing and proofreading service , which is designed to ensure that your completed literature review satisfies each of your module or project’s requirements. We have Masters and PhD qualified writers in all academic subjects, so you can be confident that they will edit and improve the quality of your to 2:1 or First Class standard, as required.

Valuable Tips for Writing Dissertation Literature Review

Your literature review must systematically comply with your research area. Underneath, we are stating some essential guidelines for a compact literature review.

Contribute to the Literature

After carefully reviewing the literature, search for the gaps in knowledge and state how you have analysed the literature with a different perspective and contributed to your research area.

Keep your Argument Systematic & Consistent

Your arguments must be consistent and systematic while discussing theories and controversial and debatable content. Be logical in your review and avoid vague statements, not to make it complex for the readers.

Provide Adequate References

Don’t forget to provide references, as they are the soul of the dissertation. While discussing different aspects of the research, provide a reasonable number of references, as your discussion and interpretations must be backed up by relevant evidence. You can see an example provided in the sample paragraph above.

Be Precise While Writing a Review

You aren’t required to write every inch of information you have studied while reviewing the literature. You will be able to find tons of information that will correlate with your research area.

Be precise while writing the review, as writing unnecessary, irrelevant information won’t give a good impression. State the most reliable sources in your review without jumping into every possible source.

Don’t go Excessively for Direct Quotes

Direct quoting is required to make a point more impactful, but you should opt for it to a specific limit. Making excessive use of it won’t be a good idea.

The direct quote is mainly used when you think that the words being used by the actual author are so authentic in their meaning that you can’t replace or rephrase them. Try to avoid relying too much on a single author/s work.

Discussing their contributions and keeping the review going briefly would be better. While mentioning the points discussed by the prior researchers – link your arguments with their discussion. Don’t write the crux of their discussion, yet tell if your argument goes along with them.

Express your Analysis

The literature review is written to summarize your perspective, which should be backed up in light of the literature. Critically analyze literature with a rational approach and express your opinion on it.

Use the Correct Referencing Style

While referencing, one must use proper referencing styles, i.e., Harvard reference style, etc. Different referencing styles are used for in-text citations, while different for end-text citations.

Feeling overwhelmed by your literature review? Still unsure about how to write a dissertation literature review? There is no need to panic. Whether you are an undergraduate, postgraduate, or PhD student, our literature review writing service  can help you have your literature review to the highest academic quality.

All papers completed by our writers are delivered along with a free anti-plagiarism report. We will amend your paper for free as many times as needed until you are delighted with the contents and the works’ quality as long as your original instructions and requirements remain unchanged.

FAQs About Dissertation Literature Review

How to find relevant literature for reference in a dissertation.

You must note down keywords related to the title of your dissertation and search journals, articles, and books using them. 

How to select academic sources?

If you have found plenty of academic resources, you can select a few of them by reading the abstract of all the papers and separating the most relevant ones. 

How to quote academic references?

It is recommended that you start to write your literature review as you read articles, journals and books. Take notes which can be later merged into the text of the literature review. 

How should a literature review dissertation be written?

You should divide your literature review into three sections: 

Introduction, main body, and conclusion. 

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Students are urged to begin thinking about a dissertation topic early in their degree program. Concentrated work on a dissertation proposal normally begins after successful completion of the Second-Year Review, which often includes a “mini” proposal, an extended literature review, or a theoretical essay, plus advancement to doctoral candidacy. In defining a dissertation topic, the student collaborates with their faculty advisor or dissertation advisor (if one is selected) in the choice of a topic for the dissertation.

The dissertation proposal is a comprehensive statement on the extent and nature of the student’s dissertation research interests. Students submit a draft of the proposal to their dissertation advisor between the end of the seventh and middle of the ninth quarters. The student must provide a written copy of the proposal to the faculty committee no later than two weeks prior to the date of the proposal hearing. Committee members could require an earlier deadline (e.g., four weeks before the hearing).

The major components of the proposal are as follows, with some variations across Areas and disciplines:

  • A detailed statement of the problem that is to be studied and the context within which it is to be seen. This should include a justification of the importance of the problem on both theoretical and educational grounds.
  • A thorough review of the literature pertinent to the research problem. This review should provide proof that the relevant literature in the field has been thoroughly researched. Good research is cumulative; it builds on the thoughts, findings, and mistakes of others.
  • its general explanatory interest
  • the overall theoretical framework within which this interest is to be pursued
  • the model or hypotheses to be tested or the research questions to be answered
  • a discussion of the conceptual and operational properties of the variables
  • an overview of strategies for collecting appropriate evidence (sampling, instrumentation, data collection, data reduction, data analysis)
  • a discussion of how the evidence is to be interpreted (This aspect of the proposal will be somewhat different in fields such as history and philosophy of education.)
  • If applicable, students should complete a request for approval of research with human subjects, using the Human Subjects Review Form ( http://humansubjects.stanford.edu/ ). Except for pilot work, the University requires the approval of the Administrative Panel on Human Subjects in Behavioral Science Research before any data can be collected from human subjects.

Registration (i.e., enrollment) is required for any quarter during which a degree requirement is completed, including the dissertation proposal. Refer to the Registration or Enrollment for Milestone Completion section for more details.

As students progress through the program, their interests may change. There is no commitment on the part of the student’s advisor to automatically serve as the dissertation chair. Based on the student’s interests and the dissertation topic, many students approach other GSE professors to serve as the dissertation advisor, if appropriate.

A dissertation proposal committee is comprised of three academic council faculty members, one of whom will serve as the major dissertation advisor. Whether or not the student’s general program advisor serves on the dissertation proposal committee and later the reading committee will depend on the relevance of that faculty member’s expertise to the topic of the dissertation, and their availability. There is no requirement that a program advisor serve, although very often they do. Members of the dissertation proposal committee may be drawn from other area committees within the GSE, from other departments in the University, or from emeriti faculty. At least one person serving on the proposal committee must be from the student’s area committee (CTE, DAPS, SHIPS). All three members must be on the Academic Council; if the student desires the expertise of a non-Academic Council member, it may be possible to petition. After the hearing, a memorandum listing the changes to be made will be written and submitted with the signed proposal cover sheet and a copy of the proposal itself to the Doctoral Programs Officer.

Review and approval of the dissertation proposal occurs normally during the third year. The proposal hearing seeks to review the quality and feasibility of the proposal. The Second-Year Review and the Proposal Hearing are separate milestones and may not occur as part of the same hearing or meeting.

The student and the dissertation advisor are responsible for scheduling a formal meeting or hearing to review the proposal; the student and proposal committee convene for this evaluative period. Normally, all must be present at the meeting either in person or via conference phone call.

At the end of this meeting, the dissertation proposal committee members should sign the Cover Sheet for Dissertation Proposal and indicate their approval or rejection of the proposal. This signed form should be submitted to the Doctoral Programs Officer. If the student is required to make revisions, an addendum is required with the written approval of each member of the committee stating that the proposal has been revised to their satisfaction.

After submitting the Proposal Hearing material to the Doctoral Programs Officer, the student should make arrangements with three faculty members to serve on their Dissertation Reading Committee. The Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee form should be completed and given to the Doctoral Programs Officer to enter in the University student records system. Note: The proposal hearing committee and the reading committee do not have to be the same three faculty members. Normally, the proposal hearing precedes the designation of a Dissertation Reading Committee, and faculty on either committee may differ (except for the primary dissertation advisor). However, some students may advance to Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR) status before completing their dissertation proposal hearing if they have established a dissertation reading committee. In these cases, it is acceptable for the student to form a reading committee prior to the dissertation proposal hearing. The reading committee then serves as the proposal committee.

The proposal and reading committee forms and related instructions are on the GSE website, under current students>forms.

Printing Credit for Use in GSE Labs

Upon completion of their doctoral dissertation proposal, GSE students are eligible for a $300 printing credit redeemable in any of the GSE computer labs where students are normally charged for print jobs. Only one $300 credit per student will be issued, but it is usable throughout the remainder of her or his doctoral program until the balance is exhausted. The print credit can be used only at the printers in Cubberley basement and CERAS, and cannot be used toward copying.

After submitting the signed dissertation proposal cover sheet to the Doctoral Programs Officer indicating approval (see above), students can submit a HELP SU ticket online at helpsu.stanford.edu to request the credit. When submitting the help ticket, the following should be selected from the drop-down menus for HELP SU:

Request Category :  Computer, Handhelds (PDAs), Printers, Servers Request Type :  Printer Operating System : (whatever system is used by the student, e.g., Windows XP.)

The help ticket will be routed to the GSE's IT Group for processing; they will in turn notify the student via email when the credit is available.

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How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal

Published on September 21, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on July 18, 2023.

When starting your thesis or dissertation process, one of the first requirements is a research proposal or a prospectus. It describes what or who you want to examine, delving into why, when, where, and how you will do so, stemming from your research question and a relevant topic .

The proposal or prospectus stage is crucial for the development of your research. It helps you choose a type of research to pursue, as well as whether to pursue qualitative or quantitative methods and what your research design will look like.

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Table of contents

What should your proposal contain, dissertation question examples, what should your proposal look like, dissertation prospectus examples, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about proposals.

Prior to jumping into the research for your thesis or dissertation, you first need to develop your research proposal and have it approved by your supervisor. It should outline all of the decisions you have taken about your project, from your dissertation topic to your hypotheses and research objectives .

Depending on your department’s requirements, there may be a defense component involved, where you present your research plan in prospectus format to your committee for their approval.

Your proposal should answer the following questions:

  • Why is your research necessary?
  • What is already known about your topic?
  • Where and when will your research be conducted?
  • Who should be studied?
  • How can the research best be done?

Ultimately, your proposal should persuade your supervisor or committee that your proposed project is worth pursuing.

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how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

Strong research kicks off with a solid research question , and dissertations are no exception to this.

Dissertation research questions should be:

  • Focused on a single problem or issue
  • Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources
  • Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints
  • Specific enough to answer thoroughly
  • Complex enough to develop the answer over the space of a paper or thesis
  • Relevant to your field of study and/or society more broadly
  • What are the main factors enticing people under 30 in suburban areas to engage in the gig economy?
  • Which techniques prove most effective for 1st-grade teachers at local elementary schools in engaging students with special needs?
  • Which communication streams are the most effective for getting those aged 18-30 to the polls on Election Day?

An easy rule of thumb is that your proposal will usually resemble a (much) shorter version of your thesis or dissertation. While of course it won’t include the results section , discussion section , or conclusion , it serves as a “mini” version or roadmap for what you eventually seek to write.

Be sure to include:

  • A succinct introduction to your topic and problem statement
  • A brief literature review situating your topic within existing research
  • A basic outline of the research methods you think will best answer your research question
  • The perceived implications for future research
  • A reference list in the citation style of your choice

The length of your proposal varies quite a bit depending on your discipline and type of work you’re conducting. While a thesis proposal is often only 3-7 pages long, a prospectus for your dissertation is usually much longer, with more detailed analysis. Dissertation proposals can be up to 25-30 pages in length.

Writing a proposal or prospectus can be a challenge, but we’ve compiled some examples for you to get your started.

  • Example #1: “Geographic Representations of the Planet Mars, 1867-1907” by Maria Lane
  • Example #2: “Individuals and the State in Late Bronze Age Greece: Messenian Perspectives on Mycenaean Society” by Dimitri Nakassis
  • Example #3: “Manhood Up in the Air: A Study of Male Flight Attendants, Queerness, and Corporate Capitalism during the Cold War Era” by Phil Tiemeyer

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The research methods you use depend on the type of data you need to answer your research question .

  • If you want to measure something or test a hypothesis , use quantitative methods . If you want to explore ideas, thoughts and meanings, use qualitative methods .
  • If you want to analyze a large amount of readily-available data, use secondary data. If you want data specific to your purposes with control over how it is generated, collect primary data.
  • If you want to establish cause-and-effect relationships between variables , use experimental methods. If you want to understand the characteristics of a research subject, use descriptive methods.

A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical first steps in your writing process. It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding what kind of research you’d like to undertake.

Generally, an outline contains information on the different sections included in your thesis or dissertation , such as:

  • Your anticipated title
  • Your abstract
  • Your chapters (sometimes subdivided into further topics like literature review , research methods , avenues for future research, etc.)

A well-planned research design helps ensure that your methods match your research aims, that you collect high-quality data, and that you use the right kind of analysis to answer your questions, utilizing credible sources . This allows you to draw valid , trustworthy conclusions.

The priorities of a research design can vary depending on the field, but you usually have to specify:

  • Your research questions and/or hypotheses
  • Your overall approach (e.g., qualitative or quantitative )
  • The type of design you’re using (e.g., a survey , experiment , or case study )
  • Your sampling methods or criteria for selecting subjects
  • Your data collection methods (e.g., questionnaires , observations)
  • Your data collection procedures (e.g., operationalization , timing and data management)
  • Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical tests  or thematic analysis )

A dissertation prospectus or proposal describes what or who you plan to research for your dissertation. It delves into why, when, where, and how you will do your research, as well as helps you choose a type of research to pursue. You should also determine whether you plan to pursue qualitative or quantitative methods and what your research design will look like.

It should outline all of the decisions you have taken about your project, from your dissertation topic to your hypotheses and research objectives , ready to be approved by your supervisor or committee.

Note that some departments require a defense component, where you present your prospectus to your committee orally.

Formulating a main research question can be a difficult task. Overall, your question should contribute to solving the problem that you have defined in your problem statement .

However, it should also fulfill criteria in three main areas:

  • Researchability
  • Feasibility and specificity
  • Relevance and originality

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Dissertations 1: getting started: writing a proposal.

  • Starting Your Dissertation
  • Choosing A Topic and Researching
  • Devising An Approach/Method
  • Thinking Of A Title
  • Writing A Proposal

What is a Proposal?

Before you start your dissertation, you may be asked to write a proposal for it.  

The purpose of a dissertation proposal is to provide a snapshot of what your study involves. Usually, after submission of the proposal you will be assigned a supervisor who has some expertise in your field of study. You should receive feedback on the viability of the topic, how to focus the scope, research methods, and other issues you should consider before progressing in your research. 

The research proposal should present the dissertation topic, justify your reasons for choosing it and outline how you are going to research it . You'll have to keep it brief, as word counts can vary from anywhere between 800 to 3,000 words at undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral levels.  

It is worth bearing in mind that you are not bound by your proposal. Your project is likely going to  evolve and may move in a new direction . Your dissertation supervisor is aware that this may occur as you delve deeper into the literature in your field of study. Nevertheless, always discuss any major developments with your supervisor in the first instance.  

Reading for your Proposal

Before writing a proposal, you will need to read. A lot! But that doesn’t mean you must read everything. Be targeted! What do you really need to know?  

Instead of reading every page in every book, look for clues in chapter titles and introductions to narrow your focus down. Use abstracts from journal articles to check whether the material is relevant to your study and keep notes of your reading along with clear records of bibliographic information and page numbers for your references.  

Ultimately, your objective should be to create a dialogue between the theories and ideas you have read and your own thoughts. What is your personal perspective on the topic? What evidence is there that supports your point of view? Furthermore, you should ask questions about each text. Is it current or is it outdated? What argument is the author making? Is the author biased?  

Approaching your reading in this way ensures that you engage with the literature critically. You will demonstrate that you have done this in your mini literature review (see Proposal Structure box).  

If you have not yet started reading for your proposal, the Literature Review Guide offers advice on choosing a topic and how to conduct a literature search. Additionally, the Effective Reading Guide provides tips on researching and critical reading.  

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Proposal Structure

So, how is a dissertation proposal typically structured? The structure of a proposal varies considerably.

This is a list of elements that might be required. Please check the dissertation proposal requirements and marking criteria on Blackboard or with your lecturers if you are unsure about the requirements.

Title : The title you have devised, so far - it can change throughout the dissertation drafting process! A good title is simple but fairly specific. Example: "Focus and concentration during revision: an evaluation of the Pomodoro technique."

Introduction/Background : Provides background and presents the key issues of your proposed research. Can include the following:

Rationale : Why is this research being undertaken, why is it interesting and worthwhile, also considering the existing literature?

Purpose : What do you intend to accomplish with your study, e.g. improve something or understand something? 

Research question : The main, overarching question your study seeks to answer. E.g. "How can focus and concentration be improved during revision?"

Hypothesis : Quantitative studies can use hypotheses in alternative to research questions. E.g. "Taking regular breaks significantly increases the ability to memorise information."

Aim : The main result your study seeks to achieve. If you use a research question, the aim echoes that, but uses an infinitive. E.g. "The aim of this research is to investigate how can focus and concentration be improved during revision."

Objectives : The stepping stones to achieve your aim. E.g. "The objectives of this research are 1) to review the literature on study techniques; 2) to identify the factors that influence focus and concentration; 3) to undertake an experiment on the Pomodoro technique with student volunteers; 4) to issue recommendations on focus and concentration for revision."

Literature review : Overview of significant literature around the research topic, moving from general (background) to specific (your subject of study). Highlight what the literature says, and does not say, on the research topic, identifying a gap(s) that your research aims to fill. 

Methods : Here you consider what methods you are planning to use for your research, and why you are thinking of them. What secondary sources (literature) are you going to consult? Are you going to use primary sources (e.g. data bases, statistics, interviews, questionnaires, experiments)? Are you going to focus on a case study? Is the research going to be qualitative or quantitative? Consider if your research will need ethical clearance.

Significance/Implications/Expected outcomes : In this section you reiterate what are you hoping to demonstrate. State how your research could contribute to debates in your particular subject area, perhaps filling a gap(s) in the existing works. 

Plan of Work : You might be asked to present your timeline for completing the dissertation. The timeline can be presented using different formats such as bullet points, table, Gantt chart. Whichever format you use, your plan of work should be realistic and should demonstrate awareness of the various elements of the study such as literature research, empirical work, drafting, re-drafting, etc.

Outline : Here you include a provisional table of contents for your dissertation. The structure of the dissertation can be free or prescribed by the dissertation guidelines of your course, so check that up. 

Reference List : The list should include the bibliographical information of all the sources you cited in the proposal, listed in alphabetical order. 

Most of the elements mentioned above are explained in the tabs of this guide!

Literature-based dissertations in the humanities

A literature-based dissertation in the humanities, however, might be less rigidly structured and may look like this: 

  • Short introduction including background information on your topic, why it is relevant and how it fits into the literature. 
  • Main body which outlines how you will organise your  chapters .
  • Conclusion which states what you hope your study will achieve. 
  • Bibliography .  

After Writing

Check your proposal! 

Have you shown that your research idea is: 

Ethical? 

Relevant? 

Feasible with the timeframe and resources available?  

Have you: 

Identified a clear research gap to focus on? 

Stated why your study is important? 

Selected a methodology that will enable you to gather the data you need? 

Use the marking criteria for dissertation proposals provided by your department to check your work.  

Locke, L.F.,  Spirduso, W.W. and Silverman, S.J. (2014).  Proposals that Work: A Guide for Planning Dissertations and Grant Proposals . Sage.

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Writing the Literature Review for the Proposal

Posted by Rene Tetzner | Oct 11, 2021 | PhD Success | 0 |

Writing the Literature Review for the Proposal

3.2 Writing the Literature Review for the Proposal

The literature review you write for your proposal should be a more formal document than the preliminary reviews you may have written as you first read your key sources (see Section 2.1.3), although you can certainly make use of those initial reviews as you draft the formal review. The literature review for your proposal will in most cases also be the first draft of the literature review that will serve as the second chapter of your completed thesis (see Section 1.2.2 and Section 4.3). The review can instead be combined with other parts of the thesis (the introduction, for instance) or be presented more gradually throughout the thesis in association with relevant ideas, methods and results as they arise. In some cases, a student’s engagement with previous research can be established very briefly in a short section of the thesis that provides some background on what has already been done in an area and simply clarifies why the student’s topic and approach are valuable and interesting.

If a separate chapter is required, which will be the case for many theses, the chapter should give readers an accurate and thorough idea of previous scholarship on the topic, problem or phenomenon under investigation; it should summarise and interpret the content of each relevant source; it should evaluate each source critically with regard to the methods used, results achieved and conclusions reached by its author(s); it should reveal what you believe to be the gaps, misconceptions and limitations associated with the existing scholarship as a whole; and it should indicate how your research will provide what is lacking, establish new perspectives and move beyond the traditional limitations. Some of this may have been mentioned briefly in your proposal introduction, but in the literature review you need to discuss these matters in greater detail, make it absolutely clear where your work fits into the larger picture and set the stage for using key sources later in the thesis.

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

Even a chapter-length literature review for a doctoral thesis often does not need to be completely comprehensive – including, that is, every piece of scholarship ever written on your topic – unless your university, department or thesis committee insists on this or one of the goals of your thesis is specifically to provide a complete review of all scholarship in the area. You should, however, be familiar with all the scholarship dealing with the topic, problem or phenomenon you explore, and if very little has previously been written on it, you should no doubt include all the available scholarship in your review and perhaps even go beyond that to related areas that might enhance your research. Yet it is more likely that you will have to narrow your scope rather than broadening it, since most effective literature reviews are at least somewhat selective.

The criteria for selection vary from thesis to thesis because they are based not only on the specific research topic, but on the aims and objectives of the thesis, as well as on any research questions and hypotheses formulated and used in the thesis. So there will probably be one or more key themes that form the backbone of your discussion, providing both structure and direction, with each of the sources you review considered specifically and often exclusively in terms of those themes and your own thoughts about them. Without key ideas and a focus of this sort to guide your journey through numerous different sources, a literature review can quickly become an excessively long and disorganised trail of summaries and critiques that are more or less relevant to your thesis.

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

Although approaches to writing a literature review vary enormously depending on the thesis topic and methodology, a practical way to start is with a brief explanation of the topic, problem or phenomenon and a general statement about scholarship in the area (abundant, scarce, outdated, recent, limited in origin and approach, and so on) before moving on to particular sources. The first source you review should be a key one, whether it is the first piece written on the topic or simply the first one relevant to your thesis, and it should establish a position from which you can proceed. Let us say, for instance, that the thesis topic focuses on the ability of marginal commentary in medieval manuscripts to teach the researcher something about the readers of those manuscripts.

The first source reviewed will likely (and ideally should) take a strong position on or establish a tradition of thought about the topic, which in early scholarship on manuscripts would probably be to dismiss the importance of marginal annotations altogether (the Victorians, for instance, simply trimmed them off to ‘clean up’ medieval manuscripts when rebinding them). The sources reviewed after this initial source might trace a chronological path of the development of approaches to marginalia and their usefulness in research on readership and reception until arriving at works published in the twenty-first century that take the comments of medieval readers very seriously indeed and explore via those comments medieval conceptions of education, self-knowledge, heresy, gender and many other fascinating topics.

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

A chronological approach of the kind I have just described can often be effective in providing an extra layer of organisation or, perhaps more accurately, in tracing a meaningful route through complicated and sometimes slippery territory (the distinction between primary and secondary sources might also prove useful, on which see Section 7.1, as might that between theoretical and experimental studies). In the sciences, recent publications (usually those published within the last decade or two) are often prioritised, and some thesis committees will want the literature review to focus on recent scholarship only. No source is too old to be considered if it is important to your research, however, and if you are tracing the history of an idea or approach (one may, for example, want to go all the way back to medieval texts to see what they had to say about marginalia) or if very early sources are central because they establish a long tradition of thought relevant to your topic, they should definitely be included in your review. You need not treat every source you review in the same detail: some might require thorough summaries and a considerable amount of interpretation and discussion (those that significantly overlap your own research should receive such treatment, for instance), whereas others can simply be mentioned in passing or in groups or by focussing only on a couple of key points. The members of your thesis committee, your supervisor in particular, will almost certainly be able to assist you in deciding which sources should or should not be included and which among them might or might not require detailed treatment, as well as suggesting sources of which you may not be aware.

How you might best deal with each source may also change, however, as the results of your research mount up and you discover that you need to emphasise slightly different ideas and approaches than you originally envisioned. Remember that the literature review for the proposal is a draft that can be revisited and revised as necessary, which is not to say that it should be written or presented in an informal way. Like all parts of the proposal, it should be written in correct scholarly English and make consistent use of the editorial guidelines or style guide your department recommends or you and your supervisor have agreed upon, including complete and accurate references (for more information on formal English, formatting and style, and references, see Chapters 5–7). A literature review often closes with a brief summary, especially if the review is a long one, and a statement (or restatement) regarding how your thesis will contribute to the body of scholarship on the topic, problem or phenomenon. Finally, please note that neither ‘the literatures’ nor ‘the researches’ is an appropriate way of referring to the body of literature or scholarship dedicated to a particular topic, problem or phenomenon; ‘articles,’ ‘studies,’ ‘conferences,’ ‘papers’ and ‘books’ are all acceptable in the plural, but when using ‘the literature’ or ‘the research’ to describe such a body of work, the singular is the correct form.

Why PhD Success?

To Graduate Successfully

This article is part of a book called "PhD Success" which focuses on the writing process of a phd thesis, with its aim being to provide sound practices and principles for reporting and formatting in text the methods, results and discussion of even the most innovative and unique research in ways that are clear, correct, professional and persuasive.

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

The assumption of the book is that the doctoral candidate reading it is both eager to write and more than capable of doing so, but nonetheless requires information and guidance on exactly what he or she should be writing and how best to approach the task. The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples.

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples. PhD Success provides guidance for students familiar with English and the procedures of English universities, but it also acknowledges that many theses in the English language are now written by candidates whose first language is not English, so it carefully explains the scholarly styles, conventions and standards expected of a successful doctoral thesis in the English language.

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

Individual chapters of this book address reflective and critical writing early in the thesis process; working successfully with thesis supervisors and benefiting from commentary and criticism; drafting and revising effective thesis chapters and developing an academic or scientific argument; writing and formatting a thesis in clear and correct scholarly English; citing, quoting and documenting sources thoroughly and accurately; and preparing for and excelling in thesis meetings and examinations. 

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

Completing a doctoral thesis successfully requires long and penetrating thought, intellectual rigour and creativity, original research and sound methods (whether established or innovative), precision in recording detail and a wide-ranging thoroughness, as much perseverance and mental toughness as insight and brilliance, and, no matter how many helpful writing guides are consulted, a great deal of hard work over a significant period of time. Writing a thesis can be an enjoyable as well as a challenging experience, however, and even if it is not always so, the personal and professional rewards of achieving such an enormous goal are considerable, as all doctoral candidates no doubt realise, and will last a great deal longer than any problems that may be encountered during the process.

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how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

Rene Tetzner

Rene Tetzner's blog posts dedicated to academic writing. Although the focus is on How To Write a Doctoral Thesis, many other important aspects of research-based writing, editing and publishing are addressed in helpful detail.

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How to Write a Successful Literature Review

One type of a proposal focus is a literature review/trend analysis . This type of a proposal is somewhat different from the other proposal foci. A sample literature/trend analysis is posted at the bottom of this guide.

A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books and other sources (e.g. dissertations, conference proceedings) relevant to a particular issue, area of research or theory, and provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works.The goal of this form of a proposal is to provide an overview of the significant trends in the literature that is published on this topic.

The topics and references you include in your proposal should be purposeful and represent the key authors and arguments in that particular area of study. This necessitates that the review be consistently up to date and include the newest findings/discussions in that particular area of study or debate.

Definition and use/purpose

In a literature review you may highlight a critical area of a thesis, or it may be a focused, selected review of writings on a subject with the following purposes. Each work should:

  • Relate to the context of its contribution to the understanding of the subject under review
  • Describe / compare each work in relationship to the others in your proposal
  • Identify new ways to interpret, and shed light on any gaps in, previous research
  • Resolve conflicts among what is deemed as contradictory previous studies
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort
  • Illustrate how this work can be a starting point for further research
  • Highlight the relevancy of the work in the context of existing literature

The literature review itself, however, does not present new primary scholarship.

What to include

  • An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review
  • Division of works under review into categories (e.g. those supporting a particular position, those who have the opposite view, and those who give alternative theses entirely)
  • An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others
  • A conclusion . Determine which aspects are key in the debates on the topic, are most convincing, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of this particular research area.

Evaluating the data

  • Authority — What are the author's credentials? Is there evidence to support the author's arguments (e.g., primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings)?
  • Objectivity — Does the author have a bias in the writing, or is the perspective even-handed? Does the author consider contrasting or opposing data or does he or she ignore other pertinent information in order to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness — Which of the author's theses are most/least convincing?
  • Value — Does the author provide enough context to make the case that this is a relevant discussion in the current state of the field? Does this work make a significant contribution to create a stronger understanding of the subject?

A sample of a well-written literature review/trend analysis is available below. If you have questions, please email Cindy Winter or call her at 612-759-8580. You may also contact one of the section chairs .

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Grad Coach

How To Write A Research Proposal

A Straightforward How-To Guide (With Examples)

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewed By: Dr. Eunice Rautenbach | August 2019 (Updated April 2023)

Writing up a strong research proposal for a dissertation or thesis is much like a marriage proposal. It’s a task that calls on you to win somebody over and persuade them that what you’re planning is a great idea. An idea they’re happy to say ‘yes’ to. This means that your dissertation proposal needs to be   persuasive ,   attractive   and well-planned. In this post, I’ll show you how to write a winning dissertation proposal, from scratch.

Before you start:

– Understand exactly what a research proposal is – Ask yourself these 4 questions

The 5 essential ingredients:

  • The title/topic
  • The introduction chapter
  • The scope/delimitations
  • Preliminary literature review
  • Design/ methodology
  • Practical considerations and risks 

What Is A Research Proposal?

The research proposal is literally that: a written document that communicates what you propose to research, in a concise format. It’s where you put all that stuff that’s spinning around in your head down on to paper, in a logical, convincing fashion.

Convincing   is the keyword here, as your research proposal needs to convince the assessor that your research is   clearly articulated   (i.e., a clear research question) ,   worth doing   (i.e., is unique and valuable enough to justify the effort), and   doable   within the restrictions you’ll face (time limits, budget, skill limits, etc.). If your proposal does not address these three criteria, your research won’t be approved, no matter how “exciting” the research idea might be.

PS – if you’re completely new to proposal writing, we’ve got a detailed walkthrough video covering two successful research proposals here . 

Free Webinar: How To Write A Research Proposal

How do I know I’m ready?

Before starting the writing process, you need to   ask yourself 4 important questions .  If you can’t answer them succinctly and confidently, you’re not ready – you need to go back and think more deeply about your dissertation topic .

You should be able to answer the following 4 questions before starting your dissertation or thesis research proposal:

  • WHAT is my main research question? (the topic)
  • WHO cares and why is this important? (the justification)
  • WHAT data would I need to answer this question, and how will I analyse it? (the research design)
  • HOW will I manage the completion of this research, within the given timelines? (project and risk management)

If you can’t answer these questions clearly and concisely,   you’re not yet ready   to write your research proposal – revisit our   post on choosing a topic .

If you can, that’s great – it’s time to start writing up your dissertation proposal. Next, I’ll discuss what needs to go into your research proposal, and how to structure it all into an intuitive, convincing document with a linear narrative.

The 5 Essential Ingredients

Research proposals can vary in style between institutions and disciplines, but here I’ll share with you a   handy 5-section structure   you can use. These 5 sections directly address the core questions we spoke about earlier, ensuring that you present a convincing proposal. If your institution already provides a proposal template, there will likely be substantial overlap with this, so you’ll still get value from reading on.

For each section discussed below, make sure you use headers and sub-headers (ideally, numbered headers) to help the reader navigate through your document, and to support them when they need to revisit a previous section. Don’t just present an endless wall of text, paragraph after paragraph after paragraph…

Top Tip:   Use MS Word Styles to format headings. This will allow you to be clear about whether a sub-heading is level 2, 3, or 4. Additionally, you can view your document in ‘outline view’ which will show you only your headings. This makes it much easier to check your structure, shift things around and make decisions about where a section needs to sit. You can also generate a 100% accurate table of contents using Word’s automatic functionality.

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

Ingredient #1 – Topic/Title Header

Your research proposal’s title should be your main research question in its simplest form, possibly with a sub-heading providing basic details on the specifics of the study. For example:

“Compliance with equality legislation in the charity sector: a study of the ‘reasonable adjustments’ made in three London care homes”

As you can see, this title provides a clear indication of what the research is about, in broad terms. It paints a high-level picture for the first-time reader, which gives them a taste of what to expect.   Always aim for a clear, concise title . Don’t feel the need to capture every detail of your research in your title – your proposal will fill in the gaps.

Need a helping hand?

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

Ingredient #2 – Introduction

In this section of your research proposal, you’ll expand on what you’ve communicated in the title, by providing a few paragraphs which offer more detail about your research topic. Importantly, the focus here is the   topic   – what will you research and why is that worth researching? This is not the place to discuss methodology, practicalities, etc. – you’ll do that later.

You should cover the following:

  • An overview of the   broad area   you’ll be researching – introduce the reader to key concepts and language
  • An explanation of the   specific (narrower) area   you’ll be focusing, and why you’ll be focusing there
  • Your research   aims   and   objectives
  • Your   research question (s) and sub-questions (if applicable)

Importantly, you should aim to use short sentences and plain language – don’t babble on with extensive jargon, acronyms and complex language. Assume that the reader is an intelligent layman – not a subject area specialist (even if they are). Remember that the   best writing is writing that can be easily understood   and digested. Keep it simple.

The introduction section serves to expand on the  research topic – what will you study and why is that worth dedicating time and effort to?

Note that some universities may want some extra bits and pieces in your introduction section. For example, personal development objectives, a structural outline, etc. Check your brief to see if there are any other details they expect in your proposal, and make sure you find a place for these.

Ingredient #3 – Scope

Next, you’ll need to specify what the scope of your research will be – this is also known as the delimitations . In other words, you need to make it clear what you will be covering and, more importantly, what you won’t be covering in your research. Simply put, this is about ring fencing your research topic so that you have a laser-sharp focus.

All too often, students feel the need to go broad and try to address as many issues as possible, in the interest of producing comprehensive research. Whilst this is admirable, it’s a mistake. By tightly refining your scope, you’ll enable yourself to   go deep   with your research, which is what you need to earn good marks. If your scope is too broad, you’re likely going to land up with superficial research (which won’t earn marks), so don’t be afraid to narrow things down.

Ingredient #4 – Literature Review

In this section of your research proposal, you need to provide a (relatively) brief discussion of the existing literature. Naturally, this will not be as comprehensive as the literature review in your actual dissertation, but it will lay the foundation for that. In fact, if you put in the effort at this stage, you’ll make your life a lot easier when it’s time to write your actual literature review chapter.

There are a few things you need to achieve in this section:

  • Demonstrate that you’ve done your reading and are   familiar with the current state of the research   in your topic area.
  • Show that   there’s a clear gap   for your specific research – i.e., show that your topic is sufficiently unique and will add value to the existing research.
  • Show how the existing research has shaped your thinking regarding   research design . For example, you might use scales or questionnaires from previous studies.

When you write up your literature review, keep these three objectives front of mind, especially number two (revealing the gap in the literature), so that your literature review has a   clear purpose and direction . Everything you write should be contributing towards one (or more) of these objectives in some way. If it doesn’t, you need to ask yourself whether it’s truly needed.

Top Tip:  Don’t fall into the trap of just describing the main pieces of literature, for example, “A says this, B says that, C also says that…” and so on. Merely describing the literature provides no value. Instead, you need to   synthesise   it, and use it to address the three objectives above.

 If you put in the effort at the proposal stage, you’ll make your life a lot easier when its time to write your actual literature review chapter.

Ingredient #5 – Research Methodology

Now that you’ve clearly explained both your intended research topic (in the introduction) and the existing research it will draw on (in the literature review section), it’s time to get practical and explain exactly how you’ll be carrying out your own research. In other words, your research methodology.

In this section, you’ll need to   answer two critical questions :

  • How   will you design your research? I.e., what research methodology will you adopt, what will your sample be, how will you collect data, etc.
  • Why   have you chosen this design? I.e., why does this approach suit your specific research aims, objectives and questions?

In other words, this is not just about explaining WHAT you’ll be doing, it’s also about explaining WHY. In fact, the   justification is the most important part , because that justification is how you demonstrate a good understanding of research design (which is what assessors want to see).

Some essential design choices you need to cover in your research proposal include:

  • Your intended research philosophy (e.g., positivism, interpretivism or pragmatism )
  • What methodological approach you’ll be taking (e.g., qualitative , quantitative or mixed )
  • The details of your sample (e.g., sample size, who they are, who they represent, etc.)
  • What data you plan to collect (i.e. data about what, in what form?)
  • How you plan to collect it (e.g., surveys , interviews , focus groups, etc.)
  • How you plan to analyse it (e.g., regression analysis, thematic analysis , etc.)
  • Ethical adherence (i.e., does this research satisfy all ethical requirements of your institution, or does it need further approval?)

This list is not exhaustive – these are just some core attributes of research design. Check with your institution what level of detail they expect. The “ research onion ” by Saunders et al (2009) provides a good summary of the various design choices you ultimately need to make – you can   read more about that here .

Don’t forget the practicalities…

In addition to the technical aspects, you will need to address the   practical   side of the project. In other words, you need to explain   what resources you’ll need   (e.g., time, money, access to equipment or software, etc.) and how you intend to secure these resources. You need to show that your project is feasible, so any “make or break” type resources need to already be secured. The success or failure of your project cannot depend on some resource which you’re not yet sure you have access to.

Another part of the practicalities discussion is   project and risk management . In other words, you need to show that you have a clear project plan to tackle your research with. Some key questions to address:

  • What are the timelines for each phase of your project?
  • Are the time allocations reasonable?
  • What happens if something takes longer than anticipated (risk management)?
  • What happens if you don’t get the response rate you expect?

A good way to demonstrate that you’ve thought this through is to include a Gantt chart and a risk register (in the appendix if word count is a problem). With these two tools, you can show that you’ve got a clear, feasible plan, and you’ve thought about and accounted for the potential risks.

Gantt chart

Tip – Be honest about the potential difficulties – but show that you are anticipating solutions and workarounds. This is much more impressive to an assessor than an unrealistically optimistic proposal which does not anticipate any challenges whatsoever.

Final Touches: Read And Simplify

The final step is to edit and proofread your proposal – very carefully. It sounds obvious, but all too often poor editing and proofreading ruin a good proposal. Nothing is more off-putting for an assessor than a poorly edited, typo-strewn document. It sends the message that you either do not pay attention to detail, or just don’t care. Neither of these are good messages. Put the effort into editing and proofreading your proposal (or pay someone to do it for you) – it will pay dividends.

When you’re editing, watch out for ‘academese’. Many students can speak simply, passionately and clearly about their dissertation topic – but become incomprehensible the moment they turn the laptop on. You are not required to write in any kind of special, formal, complex language when you write academic work. Sure, there may be technical terms, jargon specific to your discipline, shorthand terms and so on. But, apart from those,   keep your written language very close to natural spoken language   – just as you would speak in the classroom. Imagine that you are explaining your project plans to your classmates or a family member. Remember, write for the intelligent layman, not the subject matter experts. Plain-language, concise writing is what wins hearts and minds – and marks!

Let’s Recap: Research Proposal 101

And there you have it – how to write your dissertation or thesis research proposal, from the title page to the final proof. Here’s a quick recap of the key takeaways:

  • The purpose of the research proposal is to   convince   – therefore, you need to make a clear, concise argument of why your research is both worth doing and doable.
  • Make sure you can ask the critical what, who, and how questions of your research   before   you put pen to paper.
  • Title – provides the first taste of your research, in broad terms
  • Introduction – explains what you’ll be researching in more detail
  • Scope – explains the boundaries of your research
  • Literature review – explains how your research fits into the existing research and why it’s unique and valuable
  • Research methodology – explains and justifies how you will carry out your own research

Hopefully, this post has helped you better understand how to write up a winning research proposal. If you enjoyed it, be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach Blog . If your university doesn’t provide any template for your proposal, you might want to try out our free research proposal template .

Literature Review Course

Psst… there’s more!

This post is an extract from our bestselling Udemy Course, Research Proposal Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

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29 Comments

Mazwakhe Mkhulisi

Thank you so much for the valuable insight that you have given, especially on the research proposal. That is what I have managed to cover. I still need to go back to the other parts as I got disturbed while still listening to Derek’s audio on you-tube. I am inspired. I will definitely continue with Grad-coach guidance on You-tube.

Derek Jansen

Thanks for the kind words :). All the best with your proposal.

NAVEEN ANANTHARAMAN

First of all, thanks a lot for making such a wonderful presentation. The video was really useful and gave me a very clear insight of how a research proposal has to be written. I shall try implementing these ideas in my RP.

Once again, I thank you for this content.

Bonginkosi Mshengu

I found reading your outline on writing research proposal very beneficial. I wish there was a way of submitting my draft proposal to you guys for critiquing before I submit to the institution.

Hi Bonginkosi

Thank you for the kind words. Yes, we do provide a review service. The best starting point is to have a chat with one of our coaches here: https://gradcoach.com/book/new/ .

Erick Omondi

Hello team GRADCOACH, may God bless you so much. I was totally green in research. Am so happy for your free superb tutorials and resources. Once again thank you so much Derek and his team.

You’re welcome, Erick. Good luck with your research proposal 🙂

ivy

thank you for the information. its precise and on point.

Nighat Nighat Ahsan

Really a remarkable piece of writing and great source of guidance for the researchers. GOD BLESS YOU for your guidance. Regards

Delfina Celeste Danca Rangel

Thanks so much for your guidance. It is easy and comprehensive the way you explain the steps for a winning research proposal.

Desiré Forku

Thank you guys so much for the rich post. I enjoyed and learn from every word in it. My problem now is how to get into your platform wherein I can always seek help on things related to my research work ? Secondly, I wish to find out if there is a way I can send my tentative proposal to you guys for examination before I take to my supervisor Once again thanks very much for the insights

Thanks for your kind words, Desire.

If you are based in a country where Grad Coach’s paid services are available, you can book a consultation by clicking the “Book” button in the top right.

Best of luck with your studies.

Adolph

May God bless you team for the wonderful work you are doing,

If I have a topic, Can I submit it to you so that you can draft a proposal for me?? As I am expecting to go for masters degree in the near future.

Thanks for your comment. We definitely cannot draft a proposal for you, as that would constitute academic misconduct. The proposal needs to be your own work. We can coach you through the process, but it needs to be your own work and your own writing.

Best of luck with your research!

kenate Akuma

I found a lot of many essential concepts from your material. it is real a road map to write a research proposal. so thanks a lot. If there is any update material on your hand on MBA please forward to me.

Ahmed Khalil

GradCoach is a professional website that presents support and helps for MBA student like me through the useful online information on the page and with my 1-on-1 online coaching with the amazing and professional PhD Kerryen.

Thank you Kerryen so much for the support and help 🙂

I really recommend dealing with such a reliable services provider like Gradcoah and a coach like Kerryen.

PINTON OFOSU

Hi, Am happy for your service and effort to help students and researchers, Please, i have been given an assignment on research for strategic development, the task one is to formulate a research proposal to support the strategic development of a business area, my issue here is how to go about it, especially the topic or title and introduction. Please, i would like to know if you could help me and how much is the charge.

Marcos A. López Figueroa

This content is practical, valuable, and just great!

Thank you very much!

Eric Rwigamba

Hi Derek, Thank you for the valuable presentation. It is very helpful especially for beginners like me. I am just starting my PhD.

Hussein EGIELEMAI

This is quite instructive and research proposal made simple. Can I have a research proposal template?

Mathew Yokie Musa

Great! Thanks for rescuing me, because I had no former knowledge in this topic. But with this piece of information, I am now secured. Thank you once more.

Chulekazi Bula

I enjoyed listening to your video on how to write a proposal. I think I will be able to write a winning proposal with your advice. I wish you were to be my supervisor.

Mohammad Ajmal Shirzad

Dear Derek Jansen,

Thank you for your great content. I couldn’t learn these topics in MBA, but now I learned from GradCoach. Really appreciate your efforts….

From Afghanistan!

Mulugeta Yilma

I have got very essential inputs for startup of my dissertation proposal. Well organized properly communicated with video presentation. Thank you for the presentation.

Siphesihle Macu

Wow, this is absolutely amazing guys. Thank you so much for the fruitful presentation, you’ve made my research much easier.

HAWANATU JULLIANA JOSEPH

this helps me a lot. thank you all so much for impacting in us. may god richly bless you all

June Pretzer

How I wish I’d learn about Grad Coach earlier. I’ve been stumbling around writing and rewriting! Now I have concise clear directions on how to put this thing together. Thank you!

Jas

Fantastic!! Thank You for this very concise yet comprehensive guidance.

Fikiru Bekele

Even if I am poor in English I would like to thank you very much.

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How to write a literature review introduction (+ examples)

Photo of Master Academia

The introduction to a literature review serves as your reader’s guide through your academic work and thought process. Explore the significance of literature review introductions in review papers, academic papers, essays, theses, and dissertations. We delve into the purpose and necessity of these introductions, explore the essential components of literature review introductions, and provide step-by-step guidance on how to craft your own, along with examples.

Why you need an introduction for a literature review

When you need an introduction for a literature review, what to include in a literature review introduction, examples of literature review introductions, steps to write your own literature review introduction.

A literature review is a comprehensive examination of the international academic literature concerning a particular topic. It involves summarizing published works, theories, and concepts while also highlighting gaps and offering critical reflections.

In academic writing , the introduction for a literature review is an indispensable component. Effective academic writing requires proper paragraph structuring to guide your reader through your argumentation. This includes providing an introduction to your literature review.

It is imperative to remember that you should never start sharing your findings abruptly. Even if there isn’t a dedicated introduction section .

Instead, you should always offer some form of introduction to orient the reader and clarify what they can expect.

There are three main scenarios in which you need an introduction for a literature review:

  • Academic literature review papers: When your literature review constitutes the entirety of an academic review paper, a more substantial introduction is necessary. This introduction should resemble the standard introduction found in regular academic papers.
  • Literature review section in an academic paper or essay: While this section tends to be brief, it’s important to precede the detailed literature review with a few introductory sentences. This helps orient the reader before delving into the literature itself.
  • Literature review chapter or section in your thesis/dissertation: Every thesis and dissertation includes a literature review component, which also requires a concise introduction to set the stage for the subsequent review.

You may also like: How to write a fantastic thesis introduction (+15 examples)

It is crucial to customize the content and depth of your literature review introduction according to the specific format of your academic work.

In practical terms, this implies, for instance, that the introduction in an academic literature review paper, especially one derived from a systematic literature review , is quite comprehensive. Particularly compared to the rather brief one or two introductory sentences that are often found at the beginning of a literature review section in a standard academic paper. The introduction to the literature review chapter in a thesis or dissertation again adheres to different standards.

Here’s a structured breakdown based on length and the necessary information:

Academic literature review paper

The introduction of an academic literature review paper, which does not rely on empirical data, often necessitates a more extensive introduction than the brief literature review introductions typically found in empirical papers. It should encompass:

  • The research problem: Clearly articulate the problem or question that your literature review aims to address.
  • The research gap: Highlight the existing gaps, limitations, or unresolved aspects within the current body of literature related to the research problem.
  • The research relevance: Explain why the chosen research problem and its subsequent investigation through a literature review are significant and relevant in your academic field.
  • The literature review method: If applicable, describe the methodology employed in your literature review, especially if it is a systematic review or follows a specific research framework.
  • The main findings or insights of the literature review: Summarize the key discoveries, insights, or trends that have emerged from your comprehensive review of the literature.
  • The main argument of the literature review: Conclude the introduction by outlining the primary argument or statement that your literature review will substantiate, linking it to the research problem and relevance you’ve established.
  • Preview of the literature review’s structure: Offer a glimpse into the organization of the literature review paper, acting as a guide for the reader. This overview outlines the subsequent sections of the paper and provides an understanding of what to anticipate.

By addressing these elements, your introduction will provide a clear and structured overview of what readers can expect in your literature review paper.

Regular literature review section in an academic article or essay

Most academic articles or essays incorporate regular literature review sections, often placed after the introduction. These sections serve to establish a scholarly basis for the research or discussion within the paper.

In a standard 8000-word journal article, the literature review section typically spans between 750 and 1250 words. The first few sentences or the first paragraph within this section often serve as an introduction. It should encompass:

  • An introduction to the topic: When delving into the academic literature on a specific topic, it’s important to provide a smooth transition that aids the reader in comprehending why certain aspects will be discussed within your literature review.
  • The core argument: While literature review sections primarily synthesize the work of other scholars, they should consistently connect to your central argument. This central argument serves as the crux of your message or the key takeaway you want your readers to retain. By positioning it at the outset of the literature review section and systematically substantiating it with evidence, you not only enhance reader comprehension but also elevate overall readability. This primary argument can typically be distilled into 1-2 succinct sentences.

In some cases, you might include:

  • Methodology: Details about the methodology used, but only if your literature review employed a specialized method. If your approach involved a broader overview without a systematic methodology, you can omit this section, thereby conserving word count.

By addressing these elements, your introduction will effectively integrate your literature review into the broader context of your academic paper or essay. This will, in turn, assist your reader in seamlessly following your overarching line of argumentation.

Introduction to a literature review chapter in thesis or dissertation

The literature review typically constitutes a distinct chapter within a thesis or dissertation. Often, it is Chapter 2 of a thesis or dissertation.

Some students choose to incorporate a brief introductory section at the beginning of each chapter, including the literature review chapter. Alternatively, others opt to seamlessly integrate the introduction into the initial sentences of the literature review itself. Both approaches are acceptable, provided that you incorporate the following elements:

  • Purpose of the literature review and its relevance to the thesis/dissertation research: Explain the broader objectives of the literature review within the context of your research and how it contributes to your thesis or dissertation. Essentially, you’re telling the reader why this literature review is important and how it fits into the larger scope of your academic work.
  • Primary argument: Succinctly communicate what you aim to prove, explain, or explore through the review of existing literature. This statement helps guide the reader’s understanding of the review’s purpose and what to expect from it.
  • Preview of the literature review’s content: Provide a brief overview of the topics or themes that your literature review will cover. It’s like a roadmap for the reader, outlining the main areas of focus within the review. This preview can help the reader anticipate the structure and organization of your literature review.
  • Methodology: If your literature review involved a specific research method, such as a systematic review or meta-analysis, you should briefly describe that methodology. However, this is not always necessary, especially if your literature review is more of a narrative synthesis without a distinct research method.

By addressing these elements, your introduction will empower your literature review to play a pivotal role in your thesis or dissertation research. It will accomplish this by integrating your research into the broader academic literature and providing a solid theoretical foundation for your work.

Comprehending the art of crafting your own literature review introduction becomes significantly more accessible when you have concrete examples to examine. Here, you will find several examples that meet, or in most cases, adhere to the criteria described earlier.

Example 1: An effective introduction for an academic literature review paper

To begin, let’s delve into the introduction of an academic literature review paper. We will examine the paper “How does culture influence innovation? A systematic literature review”, which was published in 2018 in the journal Management Decision.

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

The entire introduction spans 611 words and is divided into five paragraphs. In this introduction, the authors accomplish the following:

  • In the first paragraph, the authors introduce the broader topic of the literature review, which focuses on innovation and its significance in the context of economic competition. They underscore the importance of this topic, highlighting its relevance for both researchers and policymakers.
  • In the second paragraph, the authors narrow down their focus to emphasize the specific role of culture in relation to innovation.
  • In the third paragraph, the authors identify research gaps, noting that existing studies are often fragmented and disconnected. They then emphasize the value of conducting a systematic literature review to enhance our understanding of the topic.
  • In the fourth paragraph, the authors introduce their specific objectives and explain how their insights can benefit other researchers and business practitioners.
  • In the fifth and final paragraph, the authors provide an overview of the paper’s organization and structure.

In summary, this introduction stands as a solid example. While the authors deviate from previewing their key findings (which is a common practice at least in the social sciences), they do effectively cover all the other previously mentioned points.

Example 2: An effective introduction to a literature review section in an academic paper

The second example represents a typical academic paper, encompassing not only a literature review section but also empirical data, a case study, and other elements. We will closely examine the introduction to the literature review section in the paper “The environmentalism of the subalterns: a case study of environmental activism in Eastern Kurdistan/Rojhelat”, which was published in 2021 in the journal Local Environment.

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

The paper begins with a general introduction and then proceeds to the literature review, designated by the authors as their conceptual framework. Of particular interest is the first paragraph of this conceptual framework, comprising 142 words across five sentences:

“ A peripheral and marginalised nationality within a multinational though-Persian dominated Iranian society, the Kurdish people of Iranian Kurdistan (a region referred by the Kurds as Rojhelat/Eastern Kurdi-stan) have since the early twentieth century been subject to multifaceted and systematic discriminatory and exclusionary state policy in Iran. This condition has left a population of 12–15 million Kurds in Iran suffering from structural inequalities, disenfranchisement and deprivation. Mismanagement of Kurdistan’s natural resources and the degradation of its natural environmental are among examples of this disenfranchisement. As asserted by Julian Agyeman (2005), structural inequalities that sustain the domination of political and economic elites often simultaneously result in environmental degradation, injustice and discrimination against subaltern communities. This study argues that the environmental struggle in Eastern Kurdistan can be asserted as a (sub)element of the Kurdish liberation movement in Iran. Conceptually this research is inspired by and has been conducted through the lens of ‘subalternity’ ” ( Hassaniyan, 2021, p. 931 ).

In this first paragraph, the author is doing the following:

  • The author contextualises the research
  • The author links the research focus to the international literature on structural inequalities
  • The author clearly presents the argument of the research
  • The author clarifies how the research is inspired by and uses the concept of ‘subalternity’.

Thus, the author successfully introduces the literature review, from which point onward it dives into the main concept (‘subalternity’) of the research, and reviews the literature on socio-economic justice and environmental degradation.

While introductions to a literature review section aren’t always required to offer the same level of study context detail as demonstrated here, this introduction serves as a commendable model for orienting the reader within the literature review. It effectively underscores the literature review’s significance within the context of the study being conducted.

Examples 3-5: Effective introductions to literature review chapters

The introduction to a literature review chapter can vary in length, depending largely on the overall length of the literature review chapter itself. For example, a master’s thesis typically features a more concise literature review, thus necessitating a shorter introduction. In contrast, a Ph.D. thesis, with its more extensive literature review, often includes a more detailed introduction.

Numerous universities offer online repositories where you can access theses and dissertations from previous years, serving as valuable sources of reference. Many of these repositories, however, may require you to log in through your university account. Nevertheless, a few open-access repositories are accessible to anyone, such as the one by the University of Manchester . It’s important to note though that copyright restrictions apply to these resources, just as they would with published papers.

Master’s thesis literature review introduction

The first example is “Benchmarking Asymmetrical Heating Models of Spider Pulsar Companions” by P. Sun, a master’s thesis completed at the University of Manchester on January 9, 2024. The author, P. Sun, introduces the literature review chapter very briefly but effectively:

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

PhD thesis literature review chapter introduction

The second example is Deep Learning on Semi-Structured Data and its Applications to Video-Game AI, Woof, W. (Author). 31 Dec 2020, a PhD thesis completed at the University of Manchester . In Chapter 2, the author offers a comprehensive introduction to the topic in four paragraphs, with the final paragraph serving as an overview of the chapter’s structure:

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

PhD thesis literature review introduction

The last example is the doctoral thesis Metacognitive strategies and beliefs: Child correlates and early experiences Chan, K. Y. M. (Author). 31 Dec 2020 . The author clearly conducted a systematic literature review, commencing the review section with a discussion of the methodology and approach employed in locating and analyzing the selected records.

how to write a literature review for a dissertation proposal

Having absorbed all of this information, let’s recap the essential steps and offer a succinct guide on how to proceed with creating your literature review introduction:

  • Contextualize your review : Begin by clearly identifying the academic context in which your literature review resides and determining the necessary information to include.
  • Outline your structure : Develop a structured outline for your literature review, highlighting the essential information you plan to incorporate in your introduction.
  • Literature review process : Conduct a rigorous literature review, reviewing and analyzing relevant sources.
  • Summarize and abstract : After completing the review, synthesize the findings and abstract key insights, trends, and knowledge gaps from the literature.
  • Craft the introduction : Write your literature review introduction with meticulous attention to the seamless integration of your review into the larger context of your work. Ensure that your introduction effectively elucidates your rationale for the chosen review topics and the underlying reasons guiding your selection.

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