Conducting Dissertation Literature Review – A Complete Guide for PhD Researchers

A literature review, typically the first chapter of your dissertation, is the starting point for most PhD studies. A dissertation literature review allows you to demonstrate that you comprehend the corpus of prior scholarly work that has been published about your topic, including books, journals, statistics, and research papers. You should be ready to provide your analytical assessment of the literature to show where your study fits into the area and how it adds something new and valuable to your subject. A flawed literature review makes the entire dissertation faulty and incoherent. Therefore, it is imperative to grasp the technique of writing a dissertation literature review. This article will guide you on how to write a dissertation literature review.

What Is A Dissertation Literature Review?

A literature review is one of the first tasks you will normally complete after starting your PhD. You will review the body of academic work that has already been published in your field after meeting with your supervisor and discussing the parameters of your proposed study. A dissertation literature review encompasses reviewing books, journal articles and data relevant to your topic. The entire corpus of information available on your topic is called scholarly literature. The goal of the dissertation literature review goes beyond simply summarising the work others have conducted before you. In your analysis and evaluation of the scholarly literature, you should place your study within that framework and show how it will significantly advance the field.

What Is The Purpose Of A Dissertation Literature Review?

A dissertation literature review aims to achieve the following objectives:

  • Show that you are knowledgeable about the subject and the scholarly background.
  • Create a theoretical framework and a research methodology.
  • Consider how your work compares to those of other scholars and theorists.
  • Demonstrate how your research fills a gap or advances a discussion.
  • Analyse the research’s current state and show that you are knowledgeable about the scholarly discussions surrounding your chosen issue.

How To Conduct A Literature Review?

Step 1: Find the Relevant Literature

The first step in conducting a dissertation literature review is finding relevant sources. You can find relevant sources only if you have a clearly defined topic because vague topics are too broad, and you might get confused with information overload. So, it is imperative to ensure that the scope of your topic is specific yet comprehensive. A clearly defined research topic entails specific and targeted research problem and research questions because they help you find the relevant literature.

You can find the relevant literature for your topic using keywords relevant to your research questions. You must incorporate the important concepts and variables. Use synonyms and identical terms to narrow down your research. You can then use your keywords to find relevant sources from credible databases. You can use the following databases to find the relevant information:

  • Google Scholar
  • Semantic Scholar
  • Project Muse
  • PubMed

It is imperative that when you are searching for the relevant sources, you must read the abstract of the relevant articles to see if they are relevant to your research problem. You can also find the relevant articles for the dissertation literature review by reading the bibliography section of the research papers.

Step 2: Analyse The Sources And Eliminate The Irrelevant Sources.

It is impossible to read everything published in your subject area; therefore, you must use some strategies to narrow down the scope of your reading. Writing a flawless dissertation literature review necessitates a thorough evaluation of the sources. You can ask the following questions to evaluate the sources:

  • What is the key concern of this particular research article?
  • What are the main ideas, and what do they mean?
  • What are the theoretical frameworks and research methodologies used by other researchers? Can I replicate any one of the research methodologies to address my research problem?
  • What are the study’s findings and recommendations?
  • How does the publication compare to other works in the field? Does it support, bolster, or contradict previously held beliefs?
  • What are the strong and weak points of the already published research on my subject area?

Evaluating the scholarly literature is a hectic task, especially if you are a PhD candidate and doing a full-time job. It takes a lot of time to sift through all the information. Therefore, if you feel like you cannot do it alone, you can always take PhD dissertation help from specialized writers.

Step 3: Structuring Your Literature Review

Once you find and evaluate the sources for the dissertation literature review, it is imperative to structure your dissertation. Create a clear outline to help you write a focused and comprehensive literature review. The structure must include:

  • An introduction of your topic along with its significance
  • Evaluation of the scholarly literature in reference to your research problem

Give a summary that considers the implications of your research for future research. The bulk of your literature review will evaluate the prior research that academics have completed in your study area. Depending on the topic and the type of your dissertation, you might choose to structure this section of the review in one of the following ways:

Chronological Order

Reviewing the literature chronologically while charting the evolution of ideas, perspectives, and theories may make sense if your research examines how something has evolved over time. Although it may appear like a straightforward format for the review, it’s crucial to identify the themes and disagreements among scholars along the road rather than just listing the books and articles.

Thematic Order

You may choose to categorise the dissertation literature review thematically and emphasise the links between the themes if your dissertation covers several distinct areas.


It may be a good idea to evaluate the various techniques that prior researchers in your field have utilised to develop an appropriate PhD dissertation literature review if you will be dealing with experimental results or analytics.

Whatever method you choose to employ, be careful not to limit your dissertation literature review to a simple list of several books, journals, and published papers without adding any of your own perspectives. Always draw attention to the commonalities and contrasts amongst them while explaining the significance of these connections, contradictions, and linkages.


Conducting a dissertation literature review becomes easier once you have a method and a clear idea of what it is you are seeking to investigate. You must find the relevant sources, evaluate them and make comparisons. It is imperative to justify the significance of your research problem and inform the readers how your research fills the existing gaps and adds value to the corpus of knowledge.

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