Doctoral Writing Center

  1. Home
  2.  | 
  3. Doctoral Writing Center
  4.  | 
  5. Doctoral Support
  6.  | 
  7. Resources
  8.  | Dissertation Specific: Literature Review

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review provides the reader with a thorough understanding of the topic being studied based on what scholarly literature has determined and proven about it. Cumulatively, the review provides a rationale for why the researcher will engage in research by indicating patterns in research and identifying the gaps.

Remember, in writing your dissertation, you are proving your expertise in this area. Throughout the review, you prove to your readers your level of understanding of the topic and exactly how your research fits into what is already known about this topic.

To Start

1. Identify

Identify the focus of your research (what does your reader need to know prior to reading your study?)

2. Search

Search for literature related to your topic (focus on relevant literature (past 5-10 years) and credible sources)

3. Evaluate

Evaluate the literature (identify patterns, similarities, differences, limitations, and gaps)

4. Outline

Outline the review (samples)

What Should I Look for in the Research?

For many individuals, creating a record of the articles you have read and the information you have gathered from them saves a lot of time in the future! Annotated bibliographies are a common way of organizing information. (Note the differences between an annotated bibliography and literature review here). There are also free reference management organizers like Mendley and Zotero.

When looking at the research, try to identify:

  1. What patterns can you identify in the research?
  2. What are the similarities and differences between the literature/findings?
  3. What are the limitations of the previous research?
  4. Which studies are the most prevalent? (ensure you include these in your review)
  5. What gaps have you identified? (this will be where your research comes into focus – you are situating yourself in what is already available)

How do I Organize my Literature Review?

Literature reviews will typically make up the second chapter of your dissertation. They are, on average, twenty pages in length (though this will differ amongst authors). They are organized similarly to a typical paper, where they have an introduction, body, and conclusion.

Literature Review Outline

How do I organize the body of my literature review?

The way you choose to organize your literature review will vary based on what you have found within the literature and how you want to present it to the readers so that it is logical and easy to follow. You will just need to be mindful of how you transition between your points and paragraphs. Typically, think wider to narrower. Here are a few different approaches that are commonly used (note: you do not need to stick to only one approach; you can mix them in your review).

Understanding the Approaches

  1. Chronological (over time)
  2. Thematic
  3. Methodological
  4. Theoretical

Language Focus:

Should I Just Summarize the Articles I Have Found?

No, in your literature review, you do not want to simply summarize information. You want to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize. You are making connections for your readers.

What Tense Should I Use?

There are three primary tenses used within the literature review. This is by no means to say that you cannot use any other tense, but just to give you an idea of what is common, please see below.

Tense: Present Simple

Explanation: Used when providing definitions, stating general truths or repeated actions.

Examples: In the literature, there are many examples of the negative ramifications associated with ineffective leadership (Henderson, 2019; Bryson et al., 2021).

Tense: Present Perfect

Explanation: Used when discussing something that started in the past and is not finished or when something happened in the past but is relevant now.

Examples: Many of the theories have been rooted in the belief that learning is most effective if personalized (Johnson, 2013).

Tense: Past Simple

Explanation: Used when describing a definite or finished time in the past. Also used when referring to a specific finding in research

Examples: From 2011 to 2017, Jones (2017) researched the effect of inequitable practices on the achievement gap.

Adamson (2019) found…
Blark (2020) identified that…

Note with Past Simple

If you state a past year in the sentence of your text, use past tense. If you are only using a year in a citation, you do not have to be limited by the past tense.

Note, the difference between:

  1. The approach was attempted in 1987.
  2. The approach is widely regarded as effective for stopping ageism in the hiring process (Gelson, 2001).

What Should I Know About Citing in the Literature Review?

When considering citing in the literature review, you will want to consider how to use citations to show that you are synthesizing and not summarizing, how to cite research that spans multiple sentences, and when to quote. To answer all of these questions and more, please refer to this tutorial.

Samples of Literature Reviews

For samples of literature reviews that have both business and educational focuses, please click here.