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The Literature Review: For Dissertations

This is a multidisciplinary guide for graduate students interested in first steps to consider when starting a literature review for their dissertation.

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Subject Specialists in your discipline or area of study are available for additional help on literature reviews. 

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Literature Review for Dissertations Guide Owner:

Lori Tschirhart - Science Librarian

Ye Li and Sue Wortman co-authored this guide along with Lori Tschirhart.

For information related to your specialty, contact your subject librarian .

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What is a Literature Review?

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, dissertations, conference proceedings and other resources which are relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory and provides context for a dissertation by identifying past research. Research tells a story and the existing literature helps us identify where we are in the story currently. It is up to those writing a dissertation to continue that story with new research and new perspectives but they must first be familiar with the story before they can move forward. 

Purpose of a Literature Review

  • Identifies gaps in current knowledge
  • Helps you to avoid reinventing the wheel by discovering the research already conducted on a topic
  • Sets the background on what has been explored on a topic so far
  • Increases your breadth of knowledge in your area of research
  • Helps you identify seminal works in your area
  • Allows you to provide the intellectual context for your work and position your research with other, related research
  • Provides you with opposing viewpoints
  • Helps you to discover research methods which may be applicable to your work

Greenfield, T. (2002). Research methods for postgraduates. 2nd ed. London: Arnold.

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