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Reviewing the Literature

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Chapter 4 indicated the significant role that exploring the existing literature plays in developing and writing a doctoral thesis. In this chapter we focus on the process of reviewing the literature in more detail. The chapter begins with a note of caution. A traditional thesis (see Chapter 9) has an identifiable chapter or chapters which constitute a literature review. The purpose of such chapters includes: establishing what research has been done in the field of study; debating critically the issues arising in the literature in the context of the study being undertaken; and establishing the gap that the present study will aim to fill, or the further contribution the study will make to the field. However, such aims may be achieved in other ways than through a chapter or chapters devoted to the literature. Theses, dissertations and books do not all have specific chapters obviously dedicated to reviewing the literature. Searching and reviewing the literature form significant parts of the overall research process, and their purpose is not simply to write a chapter entitled ‘Literature review’. Writing about the literature provides a means of working out a critical view of current thinking, ideas, policies and practice. As the thesis develops into a whole piece of work the overall research process may lead to an alternative way of presenting the literature to a dedicated ‘literature review’ chapter. In focusing on reviewing the literature in this chapter, we are aware that we may appear to encourage a separation of the literature from the wider research process, and we would caution against this.

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