Literature Reviews from the Ground Up

Literature Review

So, your dissertation chair has told you to start drafting your literature review. You have identified a framework, and you have read through far too many studies, taking notes on everything you come across. How do you take all that information and it put into a literature review your committee will approve? The key is structure.

Organization is critical in the literature review because there is so much content being presented. When looking at the information you want to include, try looking at the bigger picture. You will want to start the literature review with the broad scheme and then work your way down to narrower, more specific topics (more information on organizing your literature review can also be found in our previous blog). Beyond that, you will also need to determine the key themes in the literature you are presenting.

Each major theme of your literature review (i.e., classroom management, student behavior, etc.) should also be looked at in terms of the bigger picture, focusing on the broad-to-narrow structure. For example, if your literature review headings look like this:

Then your major themes would be subheadings under the “Literature Review” heading. For example:

Under those subheadings, you would present the general information regarding those themes. In cases where there is a lot of information to present, you would want to narrow it down further.

It is important to note that not all sections of the literature review will need narrower subsections- that is completely dependent on the subject matter and the breadth of existing research pertaining to it.

Structure is critical in the literature review, and it can be a really daunting task in drafting. Starting broad and working your way to narrower concepts is a helpful strategy both for making your literature review clear and logical to readers and for helping you draft it. Keep your focus on the themes present in the literature you have identified, and let those themes guide the direction of your discussion.


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