The second chapter of your thesis is the literature review (LR), and it is this segment of the written work that often presents as a major stumbling block for students. The biggest issue is not being certain where to start.
What is a Literature Review?
This is the culmination of all your research, succinctly presented and scrutinised for it’s worth. All that reading and gathering of articles, academic papers and books you read will feature here. In this chapter, you will provide an overview of key findings, concepts and developments in relation to your research problem or question.
As you make your way through the research, you should begin the writing process—take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review. It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism.
A useful technique is to copy and paste pieces of articles with precise references into your LR document. This means that as you find worthwhile and relevant quotes or explanations they are immediately placed into your written work. You will paraphrase and rearrange this text at a later stage. The importance here is to start populating.
Another useful tip is to sort your research into a table that collates important data: date, peer-reviewed, title, keywords, methodology, key findings, limitations, and any other information you deem important. This will help you to scrutinize your articles for specific data, it will specify a framework in which to work, and it will provide a summarized view of all your reading.
Key elements of a Literature Review
A decent literature review does not just summarize sources—it aims to:
- Analyze, interpret and critically evaluate the literature.
- Demonstrate a thoughtful synthesis of the material and your key constructs by highlighting patterns, themes, conflicts, and gaps.
- Show the state of current knowledge in relation to a central research question or hypothesis.
Test your review against these questions
- Is the purpose (aims and objectives) of your research clear and concise?
- Is your rationale (explanation of the fundamental reasons) clear and concise?
- Are your cited sources credible (known for their work on the topic)?
- Is the rationale for your chosen methodology articulate?
- Is your methodology justifiable given your research objectives?
- Is your LR clearly written and easy to understand?
My top academic writing tips
- Do not make your language complex. You must write straightforward, uncomplicated thoughts that are easy to read and understand. (Cresswell, 2009:24)
- In other words, read each sentence you have written carefully and make sure you understand the point and that the reader will understand it too.
- Write to express and not to impress.
- Keep your sentences short and succinct. Cut them in half and use appropriate transition words. I highly recommend the book “They Say I Say” to assist with academic writing.
- Insert pot of gold video (LINK)
- Introduce each paragraph with a theme and exit each paragraph by introducing the next. Create a flow.
- ASK so what? ASK who cares? – give reasons for your statements.
- If you are struggling, close your eyes and type what you know – the first baby draft becomes something editable.
- If you’re scared, RECORD yourself speaking and transcribe. This is a perfect way to get your thoughts onto paper.
- Remember, it is easier to edit than to write from scratch.
- Empower yourself: enhance your vocabulary, learn to punctuate correctly, etc. research all the potential tools out there.
- Avoid repetition of words and vary your sentence structure.
- Use of the word “some” – too vague, who are “some”?
- Use of “most” – too vague, who are “most?”
- “Several studies say ….” Reference them.
- Explain all your diagrams and tables, don’t add them simply for picture value.
Mind over matter
The LR is a vital and substantial part of your paper, so getting this part done means overcoming a major hurdle. But it’s not easy. Naturally, we all feel resistance to tackling work that we deem complicated and hard to do. If you’re like me, you’ll lean towards procrastination, putting off the big task while busying yourself with other less important tasks so that you still feel productive. Or maybe you’ve suddenly had an overwhelming urge to reorganise the kitchen cupboards? Unfortunately, that’s still procrastination and you’ll have to overcome the resistance to avoid getting started.
I have found these strategies to overcome resistance helpful.
- Recognize that you’re in resistance mode. That’s the first step, identifying your state of mind and owning it. Okay, so you don’t feel like getting started right this minute, fine. Take a break, go for a walk, drink a cup of coffee, then come back and start again. Repeat as many times as necessary.
- Start with a clean slate. When you start thinking of all the days you weren’t productive or all the times you didn’t cross an item off your to-do list, you start to feel really frustrated with yourself, thinking, Well, if I haven’t been successful so far, I doubt today is going to be the day! This kind of thinking can really hold you back. Don’t worry about what didn’t get done before. Just start thinking about what you can do now.
- Try a new location or tactic. Switching things up is a great way to combat resistance because it throws it off a little bit. If you have yourself in a routine that isn’t working, try something new to get the excitement (or at least interest) back in your mind. Could you move your workspace to a new location? Maybe even work in a library or coffee shop? If a new location isn’t an option, there are other ways to change it up: a new tactic like using an egg timer to keep you focused and productive in manageable increments of time. Making use of a new resource or tool like RefWorks is also a good way to overcome resistance. If your workspace is toxic, fix that first by reading this article: Workspace: Terrific or Toxic?
- Be open to being successful. Here’s the thing about resistance. It seems to like sticking around (maybe it’s part of the ego or something?) and for that reason, it does everything it can to get you used to it. If you embrace the resistance on a daily basis you start to identify with it. It starts to become a part of who you are, a part of your routine. And, with it, you close the door to being successful. The more resistance you face, the more success seems like a silly idea, rather than a tangible thing you’ll actually achieve. So start seeing the finishing line. See yourself at graduation.
- Do at least one small thing. Resistance is most powerful when it makes you feel incredibly overwhelmed by all you have to do because the more overwhelmed you are, the more likely you are to embrace the “there’s too much to do so I’ll do nothing” attitude. Feeling too overwhelmed can be paralyzing and it’s another trick resistance uses to keep you in a state of unproductivity. Combat the feeling of overwhelmedness by doing just one small thing. For example, give yourself a small achievable goal like Today I’m going to write 100 words for my thesis. Usually committing and achieving just a small goal is enough to get you unstuck and moving forward.
Working with an academic performance coach will definitely help you with any mental and emotional blocks you have to overcome challenges and offer you practical strategies and support throughout your studies.
Remember, resistance is normal, especially when facing a complex task like writing a LR, but you have to put mind over matter and get the job done.