Copyright is retained by the first or sole author, who grants right of first publication to the Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation. Permission is granted to distribute this article for nonprofit, educational purposes if it is copied in its entirety and the journal is credited. Volume 14, Number 13, June 2009 ISSN 1531-7714
A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review
Justus J. Randolph Walden University Writing a faulty literature review is one of many ways to derail a dissertation. This article summarizes some pivotal information on how to write a high-quality dissertation literature review. It begins with a discussion of the purposes of a review, presents taxonomy of literature reviews, and then discusses the steps in conducting a quantitative or qualitative literature review. The article concludes with a discussion of common mistakes and a framework for the self-evaluation of a literature review. Writing a faulty literature review is one of many ways to derail a dissertation. If the literature review is flawed, the remainder of the dissertation may also be viewed as flawed, because “a researcher cannot perform significant research without first understanding the literature in the field” (Boote & Beile, 2005, p. 3). Experienced thesis examiners know this. In a study of the practices of Australian dissertation examiners, Mullins and Kiley (2002) found that, Examiners typically started reviewing a dissertation with the expectation that it would pass; but a poorly conceptualized or written literature review often indicated for them that the rest of the dissertation might have problems. On encountering an inadequate literature review, examiners would proceed to look at the methods of data collection, the analysis, and the conclusions more carefully. (Boote & Beile, 2005, p. 6) Given the importance of literature reviews in both dissertations and journal articles, it may be surprising that so many of them are faulty. Boote and Beile (2005) claim that “the dirty secret known by those who sit on dissertation committees is that most literature reviews are poorly conceptualized and written” (p. 4). Further, dissertations and theses are not the only types of publications that suffer from poor literature reviews. Many literature reviews in manuscripts submitted for publication in journals are also flawed—see Alton-Lee (1998), Grante and Graue (1999), and LeCompte, Klinger, Campbell, and Menck (2003). Given that so many literature reviews are poorly done, it is surprising there is not more published information on how to write a literature review. Boot and Beile (2005) write, Doctoral students seeking advice on how to improve their literature reviews will find little published guidance worth heeding. . . . Most graduate students receive little or no formal training in how to analyze and synthesize the research literature in their field, and they are unlikely to find it elsewhere. (p. 5) Not only is there a lack of published information to guide writers of literature reviews, the labor intensive process of writing one compounds the problem. Gall, Borg, and Gall (1996) estimate that completion of an acceptable dissertation literature review will take between three and six months of effort. The purpose of this guide is to collect and summarize the most relevant information on how to write a dissertation literature review. I begin with a discussion of the purposes of a review, present Cooper’s (1988) Taxonomy of Literature Reviews, and discuss the steps in conducting a quantitative or qualitative literature review. A discussion of common mistakes and a
Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, Vol 14, No 13 Randolph, Dissertation Literature Review framework for the self-evaluation of literature reviews concludes the article. Purposes for Writing a Literature Review Conducting a literature review is a means of demonstrating an author’s knowledge about a particular field of...