The Framework of a Literature Review – Thesis Writing Guide
A literature review is probably the first large chapter that you write in your thesis. And its purpose is to be a critical evaluation of the current literature.
So that means that you’re looking at the literature out there, and trying to figure out where your research stands within the literature. So you’re critically evaluating, which means you’re not just reading it, reviewing it, and trying to find out flaws within it’s trying to be selective, trying to find gaps within the research to fit yourself into a bit of a research space.
So you’re trying to look at the literature and find that gap.
Where do you fit in, have any answers that are unknown? Are there any questions that have been unanswered?
So really, the literature review should not have any new information, it’s simply a review of what you found. I think that’s why the literature review is probably one of the most important parts of your thesis, particularly because it really does define and encourage the reader to understand what it is that you are going to be presenting, and the importance of it.
Today’s focus will be on the literature review, and we’re gonna be talking about how to plan for literary review, how to search for literature, how to refine that search to find those papers that can really add substance to your literature review, and also how to actually write and how to structure the review in detail.
So thinking about the structure of a literature review, you may have seen something like figure 1 described before, which is sort of an upside down triangle.
And this essentially is the structure of a literature review. So you want to start off with the background.
The background here includes everything that’s sort of as general as possible. So you want to be as general as possible, when you begin. You then want to go into more narrow categories. And this is where the review becomes a bit more evaluative, and also a bit more critical in its description.
So the second would be in more narrow categories, then you go into a bit more focus and menu last the state what the hypothesis is, based on the missing information and the critique and analysis in the evaluation that you’ve done in this review.
So you’re telling a story, you’re starting as general as possible. And then you go into more specifics and manual saying, right, based on this information, here is what I want to look at. And here is the gap. In this research that I’ve just selected.
As I mentioned earlier, you want it to be selective, but substantial. So selective means you’re picking out those papers that are relevant, but substantial means you’ve given enough detail that you’ve really kind of pinpointed what the missing part is of your kind of topic.
So before we even think about the literature review, we need to think about the research question. Now, if you’re in the STEM subjects, you probably have this question defined for you pretty deep in a lot of detail. So, like a general PhD in a stem subject, like science or biology may have funding already. And this funding is defined based on the research question.
So the supervisor applies for funding. And they asked for funding for this very specific bit of research. So you don’t necessarily have a lot of autonomy when it comes to deciding what the question is, although you can have some leeway as to what methods you use, what technique you use, or what the specific focus is.
Whereas in the humanities, or the social sciences, you may not necessarily have a specific question. And so you actually need to design that yourself. Now there are four types, four main types, I would say of research questions.
Descriptive Research Question: this type is a question that describes what’s going on. So for example, you might want to run a survey or have a questionnaire to identify what people in a specific area think about a specific thing.
And that’s just a description, you’re not finding out why or how or when, or going into much depth, we’re simply just finding out some information.Comparative Research Question: This is also known as relational causal.
And so you’re comparing two sort of variables against each other. So what is the effect of one variable on another variable? And so that’s a comparative type.Experimental Research Question: Now, if you are doing, for example, a biology based PhD or biology based research, then you’re probably looking at an experimental type of research question, you have two or more variables that you’re comparing against each other.
But in this hype, you probably are going to change one of the variables. So you might increase a concentration of something, you might remove one of the variables to see the effects on the other one, and this question be quite measurable.
So you might be doing some sort of experiments where you’re measuring the length, the size, the amount, the concentration, the effects through some sort of experiment. So this is another type of research question.
Historical Research Question: So in this one you tend to be asking the whys, the causes, the how’s, the when’s, what happened, what happened in that event. So this would be a historical type of research question.
So if they about what your topic is, and what kind of question you want to be looking at if you do need to formulate your own question. And even if you have a question already, where does your question for what kind of research question is it?
This does really make a difference when it comes to the review that you’re writing the mixture that you have selected.
Now that you’ve formulated your research question and think about the outline of your literature review. So this is a work in progress simply because the more that you read, the more you might think this topic is interesting. And you might want to change up your order a little bit.
But it’s good to think about the outline and sort of how you’re going to draft your literature review.
So what I said is to use similar theses to help you structure your review. So if there is a thesis of someone who has published recently, who finished their PhD recently, you might want to look at their review to understand what topics do they think is most important to support their research, I’ve given these three types of structures.
The first is a chronological order.The second is schools of thoughts or arguments. And the third is boundaries of research.
Chronological Order: this simply describes the order of things happening. So this could probably be, for example, the order of time. So when do things happens, if you’re maybe discussing a particular event in history, you might want to go in chronological order from sort of the first thing that happened, and what how that led to the tevents, the later events.
Schools of Thoughts or Arguments: So if you’re thinking about a topic where there’s different kind of points of views, then you might want to think about the schools of thought and arguments. This would be maybe a point of view type of literature review.
Boundaries of Research: So imagine a Venn diagram.
So a Venn diagram has overlapping sections, and you’ve got this bit in the middle. So this bit in the middle is your research. And you want to think about what it that fits into these gaps? What topics overlap in order for your research to be understood?
For me, I was looking at the acting cortex. So acting cortex went in the middle topics that on the side were acting myosin, and the acting cortex or cytoskeleton movements. So division, all these topics, were around this Venn diagram, because that my research is on the boundary of other topics. So it wasn’t really sort of one specific topic by itself. So think about these three structural possibilities. And which one do you want to go for?
Again, you can change it, not all reviews will suit all of them. For me, it wouldn’t make sense to do chronological order, because there isn’t really an order for anything. But definitely the third one fits for my PhD.
So here is the introduction for my thesis, and I thought it’d be nice to see an example of the kind of content I would include for my type of PhD. And you can kind of see how I’ve sort of planned my structure, and you will want to plan it in a similar way. So I’ve started off with the largest most general part of my research, that would be the molecule and that what I would say would be acting, let’s say that’s my molecule best acting. So that’s 1.1.
I’ve then gone on to 1.2, which are the proteins that bind to this acting. So here’s my acting, here are the proteins that bind to the acting, that would be 1.2. So we’re now going sort of more depth as we go along.
Then 1.3 is acting nucleators. So those are proteins that cause the acting molecule or acting filament to nucleate, so to form, so that’s looking at more proteins that help the filaments to form. So again, going into more details.
Then number 1.4, is nucleation, promoting factors. So its factors that help the forming to happen, then we’ve gone even into even more depth and saying, Look at the active side of skeleton, which is what is made up of this. So you’ve got your site skeleton here. And that is kind of made up there.
And then I went into even more depth and looked at more properties of this. And you can see kind of how that staggers and how that looks. So the most general thing, then the next thing, then a next and the next. And then lastly, where this leads to. It wouldn’t make sense for me to start writing about these promoting factors without knowing what acting is, what the proteins are, etc.
So you want to think about your project in a similar way. What is the most general piece of information that someone needs to know? Then what’s the next thing and what’s the next thing and maybe even something that you could do is work backwards, so why not start and say why I’m looking at the promoting factors, what are the things I need to know to know those and so on till you get to the top which is the most general piece of the information.
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