Writing and Presenting Your
Thesis or Dissertation
S. Joseph Levine, Ph.D.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan USA
Note #12 - Why waste your time on a Review of Literature?
When it's time to get going on a thesis/dissertation it seems that our energy is first directed toward thinking through the focus of our research and then moving right ahead with working on the methodology. After all, it's the research that we're interested in - not reading a bunch of other studies and attempting to organize them in a Review of the Literature.
For many of us this is exactly the way we approach the beginning of our thesis/dissertation. We can finally see the end of the path we have been on and we would now like to finish the journey in a very short amount of time. We don't want to waste our time right now and have to do a Review of Literature. After all, we have to do the Review of Literature for the final report - why waste time doing it now?
Aha - I can see you nodding your head and agreeing with me!
Be careful because I feel this type of thinking is not very helpful for the speedy completion of the thesis/dissertation. If you want to effectively move toward the end of your research project I feel it is essential to do your Review of Literature NOW. Don't wait until later.
Let me explain -
Well, there you have it. Whether or not you do a Review of Literature and whether or not you do it at the beginning of your project is up to you. However, I hope that I've convinced you to do a Review of Literature at the beginning of your research project so you may gain from the experience and move toward your goal more quickly and effectively.
1. As you start reviewing other studies that relate to your proposed research study you will find that your thinking will grow much more clear. Your Review of Literature review will show you mistakes that others have made (that you will want to avoid) and will provide new ideas for enhancing your research study that you had not considered. For many students who are not able to schedule time with an advisor, the Review of Literature can serve a similar function - to help us reflect on the project we are proposing.
2. When you find a research report of a similar study to what you are proposing, look toward the end of the report to see the section that describes "Recommendations for Further Research". If you can directly link your proposed research to a recommendation from a completed study you will have a strong foundation for your own work. Your thesis/dissertation committee will like this.
3. Don't forget to carefully review the Methodology section in other studies. Have the authors of these studies described their methodology in such a clear and systematic way that you can replicate their study if you desire? That's the purpose of the methodology section - to allow others to conduct the same study and to compare findings. Gather ideas from these studies so that your methodology section is written very clearly and is easy to replicate.
4. If you cannot find any other study that can provide a foundation to your own proposed study than you may have a problem! Good research is always built on the foundation that is created by other research. As a "new" researcher there is a strong expectation for you to show very clearly what your foundation is. What other research has preceded the study you propose? If you cannot find any other research to build on ("There's no other research like mine. Hurray. I am working in a brand new area!") you may then want to consider changing your topic. And, the review of literature can help you decide on what a better topic would be.
5. And finally - there is no purpose in writing your review of literature AFTER you have collected and analyzed your data. By then it's too late and you will not gain any insight from the literature that could have helped you with your study. Doing your Review of Literature after you have collected/analyzed your data is really a waste of your time!
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Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation