Writing a literature review: reading a real one

This article links to a short easy-to-read and real literature review

The most important thing ahead of your literature review is identifying a good topic for your dissertation, and a good topic is one which there is literature for. If you can’t find books and journals for a topic then it is likely that you need to change your topic! You probably have to do a proposal for your dissertation and this proposal may well be an assessed piece of work. You should take this very seriously - if you find that there is not enough literature on your topic don’t pretend that there is. You might get through the proposal but you will not be able to write a literature review without some good sources to refer to.

So what is a literature review? A literature review shows the reader that you have read what others have said about the chosen topic. It is a summary of the current thinking about your topic. You will group together authors who have said the same thing and contrast them with authors who said different things. You will need to show that you understand what these people say, and draw out the main principles, beliefs and arguments. This is the foundation for your dissertation. If you are writing a dissertation about ‘Theories of Management’ at the end of your literature review you should have shown the reader that you understand what the main theories of management are. Your research will then test these theories and see if they can be to applied to real life situations. Your literature review will use a lot of reporting verbs such as:

Smith 2006) believes that …… however Brown (2007) considers that the main theories are ……

(You can see more support in Paraphrasing and Referencing links at the right of the page for doing this sort of thing.)

You cannot do a good literature review without reading a few examples. If you are in a university with subscriptions to online journals here’s one article that overseas students from all subject areas will find readable because it is on the subject of overseas students themselves. Read the abstract, then read the literature review carefully. You should see how the writer presents what other authors have said about the topic - and the topic is the problems of overseas students! Here are the details for the article:

Li, Rose Yanhong and Kaye, Mike (1998) ‘Understanding Overseas Students’ Concerns and Problems’, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 20:1,41-50

URL: URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1360080980200105

When you read articles like this (in fact when you read anything) you should be mentally and physically underlining words and phrases that you can take out and use in your own writing. Useful ‘literature review’ phrases from this article are things like:

A review of literature suggests that…

..many studies reported…

Elketeron (1985) highlighted…

Barker et al (1991) reported…

Kinnell (1990) points out…

 

The literature has provided us with some valuable insights into …

 

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