Helpful Pointers for the Literature Review of Your Dissertation

The Literature Review is a key area of your dissertation, usually making up a quarter of the entire paper. In it, you present to the reader the existing research in your field of study and connect it to what you are doing in your paper. This gives the reader an idea of the relevance of your research to the current body of knowledge.

Because it is so important, it is necessary to do it right so that the reader is not overwhelmed by a list of sources that seemingly don’t connect to your work. So take a look at some helpful pointers for your Literature Review.

  1. Relate it to your work, don’t just give a synopsis

Before even beginning your literature review, you need to keep in mind that this section is NOT just supposed to be a synopsis of what each source contains - a big mistake that may Ph.D. candidates create. You need to connect the sources to one another and to your work, showing how they differ or how they support particular findings or theories. Doing so allows the reader to see the relevance of these sources to your paper.

  1. Make sure your research questions are clear

Although reading is a necessary step to formulating your questions in the first place, before you keep reading some more, ensure your questions are clear. A clear set of questions will direct your search so that you are generally only reading materials that help your paper. This is much better than aimless reading which takes up much time and may even confuse you in the end.

  1. Conduct a very wide search of material

Don’t be satisfied with just one database of materials. Ask your advisor for other possible sources of journals and other studies. Moreover, you can also ask your peers if they know of other resources like to use.

Aside from adding to your Literature Review, a wide search for material may help you discover an angle that you never thought about. This may alert you to possible errors in your train of thought or to methods to make your research easier.

  1. Be very critical about what you insert

Don’t stockpile sources for the sake of adding to your Literature Review. Consider the validity of the resource, the time it was made (as researches from long ago may not be acceptable to the dissertation committee), the methodology used, and other details. If something doesn’t feel right, remove it from your list.

  1. Summarize the key ideas

At the end of your Literature Review, you need to sum up the major ideas presented so that it is easier for your reader to remember. In doing so, also connect them to your research to show how your dissertation differs from previous studies.


Even though the Review of Literature is not the research itself, it is an essential component of your paper. Take note of the 5 tips above so that your efforts in searching, reading, and writing do not become a waste of time.