Monthly Archives: August 2012

Learnings from a Literature Review

I am knee-deep in production of a fairly extensive literature review and accompanying methodology for my PhD research.  It’s been quite a journey to say the least.  I thought it might be cathartic, helpful to others, or otherwise appropriate to share some of my ruminations around the process of writing a literature review (or at least trying to).

I think that for a lot of PhD researchers this is perhaps one of the most annoying/tiresome/interesting/why me (delete adjectives as appropriate) of the project.  I’ve certainly gone through quite a range of emotions.  But, now that I’m coming towards the end and looking back I’ve decided to share some processes  that might be useful to others.  Some of these might be blindingly obvious and basic, others may shed some insight into my own approach…who knows.

The field in which I am working is constantly evolving because it is current.  The theory around it has not been settled on.  And, heaven knows that Northern Ireland haven’t solved all their issues of dealing with the past, governance reform, or general reconciliation.  Therefore, one of my main aims with the literature review was to distinguish what has been done in the field from what still remains.  This will help identify not only my own specific area of research as an area of development and exploration, but it will highlight other areas that need to be researched and mined.

The literature review can be a bit daunting at times because you are often going to read views that differ from (or mock) your own work.  This is a little frightening.  Conversely, of course, you are encouraged by reading supporting arguments.  Therefore a good literature review, in my opinion, should seek support for your own theory and be aware of counter arguments.

Whilst my field is evolving daily (I read BBC News Northern Ireland everyday with trepidation) a good literature review should also deal with the historic context of the field to show progression and differentiation with contemporary developments.

I hear from colleagues who are further along the academic journey than me that the literature review is one of the most consistently scrutinised areas of a PhD thesis.  This is because there is commonality in this area amongst supervisory team and examiners.  Therefore, my literature review attempts to lay the ground work for the development of my own thought throughout the thesis.  Without a thorough literature review you cannot robustly argue your own theories and cannot establish how your research advances previous thought.

I am also aware that my field is particular contentious given the immediacy and contextual implications of the research therefore in my literature review I have attempted to resolve conflicts in my own theory and the theory of others.  This is the fun part.  Saying why you agree or disagree with the thoughts of others and providing a defence for it.

Anyway – that’s all I have now.  Feel free to jump in, in the comments section and add your tuppence worth or disagree entirely!


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