Get Your Dissertation Written in 2021-2022:

The Literature Review

Welcome to the first in our series of blog posts to Get Your Dissertation Written in 2021-2022! We’ll kick off with the What, Why, and How of the Literature Review.

What is a Literature Review?

A Literature Review is a broad overview of what is known from the key sources in your subject area.


You’re pursuing a PhD because you read voraciously and have great passion for a particular subject, right? Be that subject Indonesian puppetry, how people agree on a definition of the situation and use Impression Management Techniques (IMT) to create successful interactions and Definitions of the Situation (DS), homicide rates, or the role of gender socialization in shaping life choices. Whatever your subject, you need to immerse yourself in the literature (i.e., the scholarly research) in your subject area. But the literature in any given subject is so colossal it will leave your head spinning, if not keep you reading until you’re old and gray. Therefore, you need to further narrow down your interest within your subject. To accomplish this, ask yourself ‘what it is about Indonesian puppetry/how people negotiate interaction/homicide rates/the role of gender in shaping lives that I want to know?’

  • Indonesian Puppetry: is your interest sparked by 1. Changes in the representation of themes over time? Or 2. The evolution of puppetry to a high art form?
  • Creating Shared Narratives in Social Interaction: Perhaps you want to know 1. What happens when IMT fail to provide enough cues to uphold the DS for one actor but not the other? or 2. Do class, race, and/or gender increase or lessen the use of IMT for DS and, if so, how?
  • Homicide Rates: You’ve been reading that homicide rates vary widely from country to country, with post-industrialized nations have a far higher death by gun homicide rate that industrializing nations, and you wonder, 1. Are these homicide rates also tied to changes in political, economic, and cultural organization and, if so, how? 
  • Gender: After immersing yourself in the literature, you notice there is a plethora of research that emphasizes understanding the role of gender as it intersects with race, class, and sexuality, leading you to wonder 1. How do these social positions intersect? or 2. Do people who identify as gender fluid score better on "happiness" scales than their gender-rigid counterparts? 


    Why Do I Have to Complete a Literature Review in the First Place?

  • Research-Question (RQ) Oriented: If you are writing an M.A. thesis or PhD dissertation, the purpose of your research is to make a contribution to the existing knowledge in your field by conducting original research; i.e., collect and analyze your own data.
  • Non-RQ Oriented: If you are completing a literature review to simply overview what is known in a particular subject area, you’re expected to develop a thesis or problem statement rather than develop research questions and contribute to the body of knowledge in a particular field of study.

However, Both RQ-Oriented and Non-RQ Oriented literature reviews entail:

  • Synthesize the various approaches, theories, methods, and findings in the research literature on your subject.
  • Evaluate and interpret each of piece of research for its methods, findings, conflict in findings, and identify patterns or themes.

How the two differ is in their goals:

  • RQ-Oriented: Since your purpose is to contribute to your field of study by expanding the knowledge (i.e., what is known) about your subject, the goal of your Literature Review is to 1. Identify gaps in the research (i.e., What is missing about what we know on this subject? What would grow our knowledge of the subject?) and 2. Develop research questions.
  • Non-RQ Oriented: Given your purpose is to f knowledge on a subject, but to synthesize and evaluate it, your goal is to 1. develop a thesis or problem statement.

Identifying gaps in the literature: A List of Examples

  • Indonesian Puppetry: So, you’ve summed and evaluated the current literature in the field, and the one theme that jumps out at you is the themes represented in the plays change dramatically over time. But this leads to the question, why? Is this connected with political regime change, economic shifts, legislation, or all of the above? Voila! You’ve identified a gap in the literature and can now develop RQs around this gap.
  • Impression Management: From immersing yourself in the literature, you’ve learned teachers use tools to present themselves as authority figures and thus control the DS in the classroom; e.g., tools include: a blackboard/whiteboard, position in the classroom at the front of the room and facing the children, etc. However, maybe you see that the research has not looked at how race, age, sex shape IM for teachers; that is, you’ve found a gap in the literature. Good for you!
  • Homicide Rates: In your reading of the relevant literature, you notice the research documents homicide rates differ drastically from country to country, and that post-industrial societies have higher rates of homicide by gun compared with agrarian societies. You start to wonder if relative adherence to religion may also be a factor; i.e., is level of religiosity (and/or type of religion) also correlated with homicide rates in certain types of societies?
  • Gender: You notice in the literature that gender and career choice are entwined; i.e., careers are gendered. But does gender intersect with race and class? That is, does this hold true even when we control for race and class?

How Do I Get Started?

After you immerse yourself in the scholarship in your field, narrow down your topic, and understand your purpose and goal, the next step is to hit the library and collect the literature. You do this through accessing the data bases for professional journals (and books). The best resource for finding these data bases is your university library. Go armed with a list of keywords so that you can search in your narrow area of study.


Literature Review Services at Dissertation Editor  

Listen, if you get stuck, overwhelmed, or could use some coaching support, the folks at Dissertation Editor would be happy to help move you forward. We can even get the search for literature started for you with our annotated bibliography service! Then, after you get your Literature Review written  -- and we’ll cover that next month -- we will edit, format, and provide feedback on your work and help move you forward toward completing the first chapter of your dissertation.   

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When writing my dissertation, I realized that I needed, and wanted, to make my final deliverables the very best representation of me and my work. I employed D|E to review and give suggestions, recommendations, and input to my efforts – and I was not disappointed. D|E’s staff were all very responsive, professional, and qualified.
After receiving my PhD, I again contacted D|E to assist and direct me in converting and expanding upon my dissertation into a Book. Once again, I was not disappointed and extremely pleased with D|E’s staff experience, knowledge, and expertise. My book is currently published and available for purchase on I highly recommend D|E.

- Zelma Talley , Dr.

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