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Composing A Top-Quality Doctoral Thesis Literature Review

A literature review is an important aspect of the thesis writing cycle. It lays the ground for the thesis writing stage as well as broadening the knowledge in a specific research area. We present some pointers to writing a quality literature review.

  • Identify your topic
  • Your subject topic forms and anchors all aspects of your review. It will help you define your confines or scope, the list of published works to include and the key highlights of your research. You may choose any topic, but it's advised to have one that resonates with your final thesis.

  • Decide on your literature
  • Subscribe to online databases that give access to credible journals, research papers, and books. Start with a broad description of your topic during your search for sources. If need be, you could tweak your topic to suit what literature you find. Your aim is to progressively narrow your references. Remember an aspect being tested in your literature review is your ability to find information.

  • Citation styles
  • Become familiar with the citation style adopted by your reviewing body, be it your faculty or a journal. Both of this will provide comprehensive guides on the style expected.

  • Literature analysis
  • Start with a cursory reading of your references to get a general viewpoint to the works. Group authors have a similar viewpoint, noting the relationships they share. Identify patterns and trends which you observe from the analysis of the works as you develop a holistic view all your references. You will similarly identify gaps and inconsistencies. A critical look is required for each reference. You will find and note each author’s emphasis, strength and weaknesses, their original ideas and what they have cited from others.


    Take note of statistics and quotes that you find useful to be included in your review. Take good notes throughout your analysis. Use software that organises notes. If not, use note cards.

  • Create a table
  • Use a table to organise your references. Summarize your findings per reference including all analysis you’ve come up with.

  • Writing your essay
  • From the start of your writing be sure to express your academic opinion. Provide an overview and a conclusion that supports your arguments. A correlation should be evident on what your opinion is and what you’ve derived from your sources. Follow all the relevant citation styles throughout when citing sources. Review your writing ensuring it remains consistent and retains focus to your topic.

A quality literature review takes stock of what has been written with a critical eye, identifies areas of disagreement or controversy and elaborates areas that would benefit from further research. It does all this with a strict adherence to your topic.

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