How To Write a Literature Review For Your Dissertation

A literature review explores and evaluates existing academic research in a particular subject or field of study, putting it into context and demonstrating its wider significance. A literature review as part of your dissertation needs to be a critical analysis of all the sources you have studied in relation to your research subject along with the identification of any knowledge gaps in those sources, which your dissertation will address in more depth.

Why is a literature review important to your dissertation?

These are just some of the reasons to incorporate a literature review in your dissertation:

– It helps you broaden your overall knowledge in your field of study.
– It serves as a technique to appraise the research that has already been done in a particular field or subject and identify any gaps or inconsistencies there may be in that research.
– It helps you to develop and demonstrate fresh perspective on a particular field of study.
– It helps you to identify research methodologies that may be pertinent to your work.

Preparing to Write a Literature Review for your Dissertation

Use a range of keywords for literature searches.

Many students begin their literature review with a keyword search of the main discovery services and literature databases. So, if you’re researching the influence of the internet on the teenage learning experience, you could start with broader keywords or terms such as ‘teenage learning’, ‘pedagogy and internet’ and ‘learning and internet’ at the start of your search, and then refine these keywords further based on your results.

Scanning the abstracts before reading the article saves time – so if the article doesn’t look like what you expected, you can skip it and move on. Article summarizers can help at this literature screening stage by giving you the key points and main findings of the paper in a digested format, enabling you to quickly evaluate how useful a paper is to your research.

When you search for articles using keywords you will often come across additional key terms you hadn’t thought of and will likely want to investigate these further. Discovery services will also recommend related articles, so the number of papers you need to screen can quickly pile up, making it difficult to skim read every one, so you’ll need a system or software to help you manage the volume of information.

Keep in mind as well that most of your sources should have undergone thorough peer-review processes to give credibility to your work.

– Get familiar with the literature

A strong dissertation is really dependent on your familiarity with the existing literature on your given subject.

Imagine this stage as a journey into a deep, unfamiliar woodland — the silent heart of the woods. Your research questions are the motivation for this journey, and you will have to assist your readers in understanding the arguments, studies, and theories led you there.

This particular woodland has lots of different paths and you also need to convince your readers of the path you’ve chosen and why it’s the right one. What distinguishes this from the others? Why did you select the study by X instead of Y’s? What was it about A’s argument that convinced you more than B’s? Why are you persuaded by C’s theory?

You’re demonstrating to the reader that you’ve thoroughly explored your research topic and that the questions you’ve chosen to address in your dissertation are both novel and worthy of exploration.

– Identify any gaps in the research

Knowledge gaps are instrumental to your research. To justify the work you are about to undertake, you need to demonstrate that the subject merits further exploration and that your line of enquiry is novel. Identifying gaps in the research literature can help with this.

Finding and discussing related studies on the subject can help you show that your work is both relevant and necessary. And pointing out gaps in related research as well as paying attention to the authors’ recommendations for further study will help you argue that your research is important.

– Organise your findings

Once you’ve located relevant articles, you’ll need to organise them methodically to keep track of everything and correctly cite your full range of sources. Poorly organised articles can result in lots of wasted time and frustration, so think about using article storage and referencing tools such as Mendeley, EndNote and Zotero.

A good way to organise your writing is to cut and paste pertinent sections of text (including their citations) under topic headings. It will be easier to rearrange or paraphrase later but if you embed quotations and citations into your writing early on, this will save time later.

It’s also worth considering word-processing tools such as Scrivener to quickly organise and re-arrange the different sections of your work.

Drafting the literature review

– Form an Outline

You can use several methods to draft your literature review for your dissertation. Some of the most common are listed here:

– 1. Organise your ideas into topics – so that readers can follow your argument more easily. Topics such as leadership style, organisational performance, employee satisfaction, and knowledge management are good examples for a review of the literature on business management.

– 2. Chronological approach: structure your literature review to show how the knowledge and concepts related to your subject have evolved. This approach might group breakthroughs, major developments, and setbacks under subsections.

– 3. Focus on research methods: other researchers may choose to arrange or organise their literature review according to the research method. This is very appropriate for mixed-method studies.

– Main Body

Depending on how extensive your literature review is going to be, you can split this section into several sub-sections. To help structure your work and assist your readers use a different heading for each theme, method, or theory.

Below are some guidelines that will help you achieve the perfect main body for your literature review:

– Summarise and combine: emphasise the most important results from each authoritative article or source and organise them into a single cohesive narrative.

– Examine and analyse: where applicable, incorporate your own ideas and reasoning. Simply rewording what’s been said will diminish the quality of your work. You should be critically evaluating the findings of previous studies in relation to your own study objectives or goals.

– Analytical Evaluation: It’s essential to correctly interpret the material you have examined including any relevant data, study subjects, and limitations. Wherever possible identify and outline commonalities and contradictions in your source material.


Make sure you include a summary of the important key findings that you may have taken away from the literature as well as its applicability, pertinence and importance to the objectives of your research.

You will also be expected to show how your research has contributed to an advancement in understanding of the topic or filled a knowledge gap. You also need to outline how your research framework is developed using established themes, theories and patterns.

It’s good practice to summarise the implications and relevance of your literature review and make recommendations based on the findings and the knowledge gaps you have identified.