You first need to decide what you need to read. In many cases, you will be given a booklist or directed towards areas of useful published work. Make sure you use this help. With dissertations, and particularly theses, it will be more down to you to decide. It is important, therefore, to try to decide on the parameters of your research. What exactly are your objectives and what do you need to find out? In your review, are you looking at issues of theory, methodology, policy, quantitive research, or what? Before you start reading, it may be useful to compile a list of the main areas and questions involved, and then read with the purpose of finding out about or answering these. Unless something comes, up which is particularly important, stick to this list, as it is very easy to be sidetracked, particularly on the internet.
A good literature review needs a clear line of argument. You therefore need to use the critical notes and comments you made whilst doing your reading to express an academic opinion. Make sure that:
you include a clear, short introduction which gives an outline of the review, including the main topics covered and the order of the arguments, with a brief rationale for this.
There is always a clear link between your own arguments and the evidence uncovered in your reading. Include a short summary at the end of each section.
Use quotations if appropriate.
You always acknowledge opinions, which do not agree with your thesis. If you ignore opposing viewpoints, your argument will in fact be weaker.
Your review must be written in a formal, academic style. Keep your writing clear and concise, avoiding colloquialisms and personal language. You should always aim to be objective and respectful of others’ opinions; this is not the place for emotive language or strong personal opinions. If you thought, something was rubbish, use words such as “inconsistent”, “lacking in certain areas” or “based on false assumptions”! (See Guide 1.21)
When introducing someone’s opinion, do not use “says”, but instead an appropriate verb, which more accurately reflects this viewpoint, such as “argues”, “claims” or “states”. Use the present tense for general opinions and theories, or the past when referring to specific research or experiments:
Although Trescothick (2001) argues that attack is the best form of defence, Boycott (1969) claims that…
In a field study carried out amongst the homeless of Sydney, Warne (1999) found that…
In addition, remember at all times to avoid plagiarizing your sources. Always separate your source opinions from your own hypothesis. Making sure, you consistently reference the literature you are referring to. When you are doing your reading and making notes, it might be an idea to use different colures to distinguish between your ideas and those of others. (See Guide 1.13).
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