Planning your Dissertation Part 4: 'Tackling the Literature' by Roy Horn

Most people writing a dissertation dread having to work on the Literature section. But, I assure you, there is no need to be frightened about the literature if you tackle it in a systematic and organized fashion.

It is important to understand the vital importance of the literature to the successful completion of your dissertation. Your research can only exist in the context of what is already known – that means creating connections to what you want to do from the existing literature. It is not enough to list a lot of books and journals that have things similar to what you want to do. Along this route lies failure.

Successful literature reviews need to do several things:
address the right literature
describe it
be critical of it
apply it to your own situation
evaluate how effective it will be in your research

What is significant about the actions set out above is that you must engage with the literature and do something with it – you need to synthesize a range of sources to create a ‘Driving’ theory for your research.

This diagram summarises what you are trying to achieve in creating something I call synthesized theory.
The attributes of synthesized theory are:
It is relevant to the aims and objectives of the dissertation.
It has been critically considered and regarded as good research, theory or data.
It is selective – it only includes work directly related to the research.
It is concise, from evaluation, using the best theory for the research study.
It identifies and addresses gaps in the literature.
It is comprehensive – it covers the important literature, while also being concise.
It is well written and well argued.
Is up to date in that it reviews the latest literature.

According to Rowley and Slack (2004) there are five steps in the creation of a literature review:
1 scanning the document sources
2 making notes
3 structuring the literature review
4 writing the literature review
5 building the bibliography.

These steps are a sound way to proceed. Diagrammatically I would present the process and the extent of the work in the following way:

For more detail on Literature Reviews check out my book Researching and Writing Dissertations (2009), Roy Horn, CIPD: London, pages 88:106.

Finally, use Tom’s Planner to develop the timescale of the dissertation. Tom’s planner is quick and easy to learn and use and will be crucial to the success of your dissertation. The literature review often spreads over the whole period of your dissertation research so it will be worth planning the various steps using Tom’s Planner. Click here for an example of a Tom’s Planner setup with the literature review actions highlighted.

In the next blog, I will look at what methods are available to carry out your research.

Get a head start on your dissertation by using this template and start planning now! This schedule will save you lots of time and energy.

Roy Horn is an academic at Buckinghamshire New University in the UK and tutors dissertation students. He has written two books, one on dissertations and one on skills.

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