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The literature review – a crucial stage of your research

For some PhDs, particularly those in science and social science, the literature review will form a discrete chapter. For others, such as those in law or the arts and humanities, it may be integrated more diffusely throughout the thesis. Beyond this structural formality, however, the literature review is also crucial to the research process.

The research process can be broken down into three broad stages: the pre-writing phase; the writing phase; and the post-writing phase. Clearly the literature review is part of the writing phase, whether as a distinct chapter or incorporated more diffusely. These phases, however, are neither completely discrete nor necessarily chronological, and producing a literature review is as much part of the pre-writing as the writing phase.

The purpose of the prewriting phase is to design your research, organise your thoughts, and retrieve or gather the information necessary to allow you to construct your argument explaining and defending your thesis. The literature review connects with all of these elements. By engaging with already published work, you should develop a deeper understanding of the area which you are researching and building on in your initial proposal.

Once completed, you should have a good idea of where your own research fits and how it will contribute to the existing body of knowledge. It should help you to refine your ideas on how to go about your research. Furthermore, by exploring how other writers have gone about tackling the issue, or related issues, you will necessarily engage with your own ideas about the subject and your research question. Engaging deeply with what other people have written and how they have organised their thoughts, should help you to organise your own. Finally, it should also help you to identify the need for new empirical work or a new perspective. In order to say something new, it helps to know what has already been said.

The PhD Consultancy can provide a full range of expert services to assist you in preparing and writing your literature review.

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