dissertation literature review
dissertation literature review
Part of your analysis of reviewed material will almost certainly involve a consideration of the theoretical underpinning of each source, inherent working assumptions, paradigmatic aims, and so on. Explicitly articulate the rationale behind the theoretical aspect to your own findings and the position you have reached by the end of the literature review.
The need to consult a broad range of material has already been stated, but consider also the validity of the sources you review. In some subject areas classic texts retain their authority for literally thousands of years; cutting edge scientific research will need to be more mindful of the dangers of consulting obsolete data.
In “A review of consumer food safety studies”, Redmond and Griffith (2003) describe how they examined the studies according to social cognitive components, observed behaviours, and food safety findings.
The paper is clearly laid out with the structure as described above. Under each of the headings of consumer knowledge, attitudes, self-reported practice and behavioural intentions, findings are reported relating to such issues as hand washing, raw and cooked food, and temperature control. There are numerous tables which allow for comparisons, for example between Europe, North America and Australia and New Zealand, and the conclusions are given as a numbered list (p. 27) so are easy to follow.
Example of trends and gaps In reviewing the literature on social media and body image, you note that:
- Your university’s library catalogue
- Google Scholar
- Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
- Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
- EconLit (economics)
- Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)
There are a lot of misunderstandings about what a dissertation literature review entails. Whilst in some cases a dissertation literature review can be a simple summary of important sources, most often it requires you to critically engage with the text to convey your opinions of it, as well as any critiques that you may have. What is your interpretation of a particular source? Does this interpretation differ considerably from other viewpoints in the literature? This is the sort of critical engagement expected in a literature review.
Whereas a summary will most likely provide a simple recap of the general arguments of the source(s), the expectations concerning a literature review extend beyond this. A literature review may provide a new perspective on a classic research paper or it may combine both new and old interpretations (this is the “gap” – more on this later). A literature review may also provide a thorough and critical outline of the intellectual developments in a field with a focus on major, and often polemical, debates. In other scenarios, a literature review may also provide an assessment of a source and inform a reader about its validity, pertinence and relevance to the research subject.
EndNote and RefWorks are software packages you can use to store your references. You can also record your comments on them. As you review the references, remember to be an active and critical reader. For further advice, see the study guide Active reading.
Tables can be useful within a literature review to display numerical data. They can also be useful when comparing other kinds of material. For example, you could use a table to display the key differences between two or more: