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DRDP: Literature Review

A guide for Doctoral Researchers at University of Westminster

Literature Review

The Literature Review may be one of the first sections that your supervisor suggests that you do. Often this is to ensure that you understand your topic, the current research, main resources, key authors, debates, concepts, frameworks, models, and theories, and can start to situate yourself within this. It is a great opportunity to start engaging with your research and honing in on what is most relevant and important to your project. 

You do not need to include everything that has ever been written on your topic. Take ownership of the material you include by being selective, and ensuring that everything that is included is relevant and important to YOUR argument. 

Keep in mind that this is a progressive and evolving part of your experience. What starts off as your Literature Review in the first year will often not remain your Literature Review until the very end. As you progress, you will encounter more research, your approaches may shift, or even your argument may go in another direction, and your Literature Review needs to evolve and alter along the way to reflect this process. 

What is a literature review?

What is a literature review?

The term “literature” in “literature review” comprises scholarly articles, books, and other sources (e.g. reports) relevant to a particular issue, area of research or theory. In a dissertation, the literature review illustrates what the literature already says on your research subject, providing summary, synthesis and critical analysis of such literature. It is generally structured by topic, starting from general background and concepts, and then addressing what can be found - and cannot be found - on the specific focus of your dissertation. Indeed, the literature review should identify gaps in the literature, that your research aims to fill. 

What is the purpose of a literature review in a dissertation?

  • To some extent, it provides background information, concepts, theories and analytical models that will be used in the discussion/analysis chapter(s) of the dissertation.
  • To some extent, it shows the limitations and gaps in the existing literature. This justifies your research and shows why the literature doesn’t fully answer your research question (or hypothesis).

Sage Research Methods

How to write a literature review

Whe have a handy step by step guide on how to write a literature review

This guide covers:

  1. Framing the research question/hypothesis
  2. Identifying relevant work
  3. Assessing the quality of studies
  4. Structuring your work
  5. Synthesising information
  6. Expressing critical analysis 

Literature Review Resources


Booth, W., Colomb, G., and Williams J. (2016). The Craft of Research. Fourth Edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Greetham, B. (2020). How to Write Your Literature Review. London: Macmillan Education UK.

Gruba, P., and Evans, D. (2014). How to Write a Better Thesis. Third Edition. New York: Springer International Publishing.

Petre, M., and Rugg, G. (2020). The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research. Third Edition. London: Open University Press.

Ridley, D. (2008). The literature review: a step-by- step guide for students. London: Sage.