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Writing a dissertation

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The literature review

The review is where you examine and comment critically on relevant literature in your area. The purpose of this section is to provide the background to your own work and show how and where your research fits in. You should show the range of opinion amongst researchers in your field. This is where you convince your reader that your research project is relevant. In particular, it allows you to demonstrate to your readers that you are in command of all the centrally important concepts and arguments. Your research question/hypothesis should naturally complete the review.

Typically you might review:

  • Books
  • Journal articles
  • Research reports
  • Dissertations/theses
  • Other sources relevant to your subject area

A simple list of material you have read is a bibliography, and a list with brief information about each source is an 'annotated bibliography'. Neither of these is a literature review. Do not just summarise what separate authors have 'concluded' or 'found' or 'stated'. Make connections between the writers and your topic, and show how you are going to use their work.

For more information on writing a literature review, see our topic 'Literature reviews'.