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How to Write an Effective Review of Literature for a Thesis or Research Proposal

Researcher compiling the literature review
Researcher compiling the literature review


The review of literature is an important segment of the thesis or research proposal since it informs about the outcomes and research gaps of the previously carried out research work on the same line of investigation.

An accurate review of the literature on proposed research work provides an opportunity to carry out the pilot study, calibrate the methodology, and facilitate a fruitful discussion.

Therefore, a systematic investigation and appropriate time investment must be considered rather than a compilation of the draft. An effective literature review for a thesis involves several key steps and considerations. Here are some tips:


Define a Clear Topic and Audience

It is necessary to clearly define the topic of the literature review and consider the audience. First, understand the meaning and exact keywords of the research proposal. Understand the tone and voice of the audience, which means the writing and phrases must be as per the audience. In such a case, the audience is an expert group, so the writing should not be general explanations and weak statements; it must be with valid reasons, proper statements, and citations. The complicated and flowery language should be avoided.


Search and Re-search the Literature

After understanding the meaning and exact keywords of the research proposal,

A search for the literature on search engines like Google Scholar (https://scholar.google.com/) or Mendeley (https://www.mendeley.com/), etc., should be carried out, and relevant papers or sources should be flagged.

A comprehensive search of the existing literature related to the topic should provide insight up to the current date, so that no gap will remain in the draft of the literature review.


Take Notes While Reading

It is a good habit to make detailed notes while reading the literature. During the reading of a paper, consider to write the purpose of the study, study area, studied objects, method employed, short findings, and conclusions. It will help to write down and keep track of the key points and ideas from each source. Don’t forget to include the citation in the desired format (APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard, Vancouver, etc.) in the bibliography section.


Choose the Type of Review

Before writing the review of literature for a thesis or research proposal, decide the type of literature review, such as chronological, thematic, methodological, or theoretical. The chronological literature review contains the discourse of the cited literature in chronological order and is useful for the introduction and review of literature chapters in the thesis. The thematic literature review is more focused and organised around particular themes, concepts, or issues, and it is useful for the introduction and discussion chapters. A methodological literature review is a type of research synthesis that summarises the research methods. It is different from methodology since a methodological literature review is a summary, while methodology is the approach or technique used to analyse data in a study. A theoretical literature review is a critical analysis of existing scholarly literature that focuses on theoretical frameworks, concepts, and models related to a particular research topic, and it is useful to give insight on a particular theory.


Avoid Common Mistakes or Pitfalls

Avoid the common mistakes, such as over-reliance on low-quality sources, repetition of the source, improper use of citation style, lack of structure, and poor integration and synthesis of the literature. Apart from that, grammar is also an important part of the literature review.

These common mistakes can be avoided by being mindful and using grammar-checking software (Grammarly, Microsoft Editor, etc.) and reference management software like Mendeley and Chat GPT Chrome extension Wiseone.

Organise the Review

Each literature review should be structured as an introduction, body, and conclusion. More precisely, it should contain the purpose of the study, study area, studied objects, method employed, shot finding, and conclusions, as said earlier in the Take Notes While Reading section.


Be Critical and Analytical

A literature review is not just a summary of the source or paper; it is a critical and analytical abbreviation. It should contain the purpose of the study, study area, studied objects, method employed, short findings, and conclusions of the source or paper, and point out the research gap identified.


Use a Logical Structure

The overall structure of the complete review of literature should be relevant, and more importantly, it must be coherent. Further, it can be organised as per the thematic areas, key debates, or methodological approaches.


Use Simple and Relevant Literature Reviews

An understandable and relevant literature review has a positive impact, and it is being appreciated by the audience or examiner. Thus, during the re-search and writing of the literature review, the relevant articles or sources would be flagged and reviewed.

Further, the selection of the words, terminology, and phrased sentence should be simple and understandable by the audience.

In summary, writing an effective literature review for a thesis involves careful planning, thorough research, critical analysis, and a well-organised structure. By avoiding common mistakes and following best practices, it can be ensured that the literature review makes a significant contribution to the thesis or research proposal.


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