Learn how to write a literature review for a dissertation

how to write a literature review for a dissertation

Writing a literature review for a dissertation is one of the most time-consuming tasks that require effort and proper research. Considering all the important steps and rules that must be observed, this helpful article will teach you how to write a literature review for a dissertation more easily. The main trick is to narrow things down to your main thesis so your work remains relevant as you evaluate available sources and create a brief outline before starting. By reading further, you will also learn what to avoid and see the checklist to help your work stand out and impress! 

Important Disclaimer: The rules provided in this guide are meant for dissertation help, which will differ from when composing a critical literature review for argumentative or reflective writing. The same remains relevant for word count and subtle changes that will be mentioned further below. 

The importance of writing a literature review 

Unlike many types of academic writing, composing a dissertation always comes down to the quality of your literature review or the content you have used to synthesize your arguments. Therefore, an accurate list of sources is essential, as the faults can easily ruin your dissertation. As you learn how to write a literature review for a dissertation, you showcase that you can perform significant research in your chosen subject.

When a skilled professor examines your thesis statement, your literature review will be the backbone for your arguments. If your concept is poor, a literature review may support and improve it. Now, when you have a list of outstanding ideas supported by a poor literature review, you are bound to fail and won't be able to get a good grade. 

When you provide an accurate dissertation literature review with no flaws, you show the college or university professor what sources have been used to support your ideas. If you came up with a poor literature review section, you must support your dissertation with correct data collection or analytical work to remedy your thesis. Therefore, even as you seek dissertation literature review help, you must work hard to secure your arguments with trustworthy and verified citations, quotes, and a literature review. 

Literature review in a dissertation: the main rules to consider 

A literature review is a type of academic writing with the purpose of showing your knowledge regarding a specific field of study. It shows your level of awareness regarding technical terms, relevant vocabulary, theories that relate to your subject, all the key variables, the history of the subject, and the methods that have been used by other researchers. The practice of conducting a literature review must show that a student has checked works of influential personalities in the field and actually took time to research. In other words, a literature review dissertation can be summed up as a publishable scholarly document that helps to support one's dissertation's main ideas and theses. 

The goals of a literature review in a dissertation

The main scientific purposes of writing a literature review for a dissertation include:

  • To determine and outline the main research problem related to your dissertation.
  • To seek new ways of inquiry regarding the chosen problem.
  • To avoid unnecessary approaches or repeating others and to make your literature review for dissertation example unique and plagiarism-free.
  • To gain new methodological insights and help the readers gain clarity. 
  • To identify possible recommendations for further research.
  • To provide support for a grounded theory. 

The literature review for a dissertation length 

A typical dissertation literature review example will take 5 to 40 pages, depending on the chosen topic and the field of study. While there is no strict rule depending on the volume of your literature review, these are mostly outlined in your guidelines. Besides, the core difference with the number of pages relates to supporting your research methods. If you are not dealing with a dissertation project, your literature review will only be up to five pages long as the core content and relevance do not have to be written with similar depth. 

When dealing with a Ph.D. thesis, your literature review has to take one chapter of your dissertation (around 7-10,000 words). A typical Master’s structure of a dissertation literature review may be around 3,000 words for a middle-sized dissertation. Finally, an undergraduate dissertation can be up to 2,000 words in total. Once again, quite a lot will depend on the final length of your work, so always check your graduate project’s instructions and start from there. 

Another interesting aspect many students ask is the number of sources to include. As a rule, there is no perfect match here, as the subjects and institutions will always differ in their requirements. Therefore, asking how many sources should a dissertation have yields many different results and options. One can assume that a dissertation that is 10,000 - 12,000 words should include at least 40-45 reliable resources for a literature review. Having at least 8 references for every 1,000 words is recommended, yet it may change depending on your research subject. 

How to write a literature review for a dissertation?

Learning how to write literature review for dissertation purposes may easily feel overly challenging and mind-blogging, yet do not let it bring you down, as the secret trick is to know where to start. Here are the steps you must take after prior preparation.

Step 1: Outline your literature review's main scope and research objectives for a dissertation. 

In other words, you must narrow things down and ensure that you do not try to cover all the possible arguments and ideas that go well beyond your thesis statement. You must specify how exactly each source you discovered helps support your main thesis. Accordingly, it helps to understand what is literature review in dissertation writing and use it correctly. Do not make it too narrow or too broad as you talk about what has been included to inform your target audience about the scope and type of literature implemented. 

Step 2: Develop the key guidelines to narrow down your search. 

It is one of the most difficult aspects of writing a literature review because you must develop a clear dissertation methodology that follows your thesis. It is where you start with an outline with all the key elements and a list of aspects you must describe. A search strategy must help you find accurate and relevant sources that work well together and make sense. As you learn what is a literature review in a dissertation, your strategy will assist you as you eliminate poor or unclear sources by making your research work sound credible. Look into research databases (Google Scholar, PubMed, local libraries, journals, JSTOR database, websites, conferences, etc). 

Step 3: Conduct comprehensive research based on your thesis or the main arguments. 

The main part to consider as you compose an excellent literature review is the actual research. While you may start with Google and see what sources come up, it is always better to approach Google Scholar and enter keywords related to your main idea. Likewise, when you have a dissertation plan, it helps to narrow things down to theoretical sources where the authors have taken an empirical approach. Depending on the database, click on relevant keywords and see what relevant sources may help you sort things correctly. Don’t forget to focus on chronological searching; the latest and updated resources should come first. 

Step 4: Read and analyze discovered sources to identify the most suitable resources. 

Once you have a list of literature sources to work with and already understand what is a literature review dissertation writing challenge, you must look through your sources critically. Consider finding the strengths and the weaknesses as you must choose the best and strongest entries to support your main thesis. Focus on finding the methodology, possible gaps, limitations, or general ideas that impress you as you check each source discovered. This is where you must take notes and compare different sources, as this information must be included in your dissertation writing.

Once you narrow things down to the best resources and know your literature review structure dissertation in terms of volume and requirements, double-check the reliability and clarity of information provided by the author. All the citing information must be included to make each provided entry valid. The main research goal is to provide a conceptual framework and sort your sources based on your thesis statement from the strongest to the weakest literature review resources. 

Step 5: Sort and manage your citations and descriptions. 

Another challenging aspect of dissertation writing is sorting your sources and correctly completing all the citations and descriptive parts. Indeed, much will depend on the writing style and formatting (APA, MLA, Harvard, or others). It can be frustrating without a good literature review example dissertation, so you can consider reviewing already available citations at the online libraries or the journals that have published the original work. Most reliable resources already have various entry citation data in different writing styles to help you save time and mental health!  

Step 6: Provide a synthesis where you include a summary of the key aspects. 

One of the main aspects of making your literature review good is to provide a synthesis where you arrange the order and content of each source. It must be done in a coherent narrative with the following pattern and research objectives. As you learn how to write a conclusion for a literature review, you must discuss what you have identified while checking each resource and specify why you have linked them to your main topic's argument. If specific objectives are provided for a dissertation, also mention these theses here. 

Step 7: Revise and edit your work accordingly. 

The major reason literature reviews for a dissertation seem to fail is the lack of proper editing and proofreading. When your dissertation structure looks odd and does not make sense, it becomes hard to see the logic. Your literature review must follow the rules of clarity and accessibility, as some kind of sorting must be there. Even when you provide a systematic literature review dissertation, you must avoid plagiarism risks in the best way possible by paraphrasing and changing structure compared to what you have found in the original review. 

The main Do's and Don'ts when writing a literature review 


  • Provide relevant, comprehensive, and focused content based on your thesis. 
  • Sort your sources based on a clear theoretical framework. 
  • Keep your literature review current by sorting things on Google Scholar and other databases on chronology and time of publishing. 


  • Do not provide just mere descriptions but offer a synthesis and research. 
  • Avoid low-quality sources in your example of a dissertation literature review. 
  • Do not ignore proofreading and editing your sources according to the format. 

Getting your literature review for a dissertation done correctly 

Without a doubt, writing a literature review is always different, as you never know what you may or may not discover as you look through the databases. The most important aspect of doing things correctly is defining your topic and audience first so you can check in advance if any sources are available per se. The experts at EduBirdie recommend searching and researching twice, as your attitude and ideas may change.

When staying critical and consistent is too challenging, you may approach our dissertation writers for hire and let them assist you with the write my dissertation challenge. No matter what subject you may be dealing with, we know how to guide you by offering a sample literature review for dissertation purposes and helping you succeed. Feel free to get in touch and ask for help, as we are available 24/7!

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