Pave the way for literature review

I recently found a good article: A guide to writing the dissertation literature review by Justus Randolph. It’s a long article but I recommend you to read it if you are trying to write literature review too. I agree with Justus that there are not many good journal article about writing literature review,  therefore I really appreciate his article even more.
There’s no denying it that writing literature review is the hardest part of the dissertation and unfortunately, it’s the most important part of the dissertation too. I once heard a speaker said that the examiners always look at the literature review first before any other parts. If the literature review is good, the examiners automatically will presume the dissertation is good. Otherwise, they will presume you are not doing the dissertation right. Scary but it’s true and justified. If the literature review is not thorough to make the argument, what can others expect of the rest of your dissertation, right? That’s why I have been quite worried about doing my literature review. I wish there are clearer steps in doing it but all I found are quite ambiguous until I found Justus’s article.

Read Justus’s article here:
Randolph, J. J. (2009). A guide to writing the dissertation literature review. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 14 (13), 1-13. Available online:

In my opinion, Justus has clearly written about the different types of review, taxonomy of literature review and most importantly the steps in doing literature review. Surprisingly, the steps are similar to doing primary research and they are as followed:
1. Problem formulation
– What questions we are trying to answer in this literature review? What criteria for inclusion/exclusion of articles?
2. Data Collection
– Justus recommends that the process of collecting articles must be documented clearly and in detail. Apparently, searches through the databases can only produce 10% of articles we want (or is relevant). The other 90% requires us to check the references of the articles (we found in that 10%) and to find/read them. (Imagine the work!) The process is not completed until we reach saturation (which means no more new articles found during this cross-reference).
3. Data Evaluation
– Once we have collected ‘enough’ articles, we have to extract/evaluate information in the articles based on the inclusion criteria that we set earlier. Justus advises to use a ‘coding book’ to record all types of data to be extracted. You have to read his article to find out more because I’m not expert in this yet. However, I believe his idea of coding book is similar to literature matrix that my faculty mentioned.
4. Data Analysis and Interpretation
– With all the data extracted, it’s time to make sense of everything.
5. Public Presentation
– This part is where we start writing, I guess. But first we must find out what’s important to be put in writing and present to the world.
Simple and clear steps but I guess can take very long time to complete because it depends how big your literature review is. And for me, after reading this, I’m no way closer to completion of literature review any time soon. Sigh!

6 thoughts on “Pave the way for literature review

Add yours

  1. So true! Thanks for summarising the article in such a great way to! One of the most difficult things to do and something which is often overlooked is the research question. To have the question in your head from the start can make the whole process much easier.

    1. Ben, you are right. I always forget my research questions. Wish I can just pin them up while working on the research. Hehe!

  2. Hi Jen,

    Are you already half way to finishing your LR? How many pages have you done and planning to do?

    I’m worried as well, so many things to cover. I think my progress is only 20%.


    1. Hi Fariha,

      Sorry for your loss. I dare not ‘kacau’ you. Hope you are fine.

      Honestly, I haven’t started writing properly yet. After reading this article, I have to redo the LR process by collecting more articles first. I have to cross-reference articles to make sure I have read all the important articles about my topic. This I find takes a lot of my time but I think it’s fruitful cause I realized I didn’t have enough articles until I did cross-reference and I found a lot more useful articles.

      I don’t think you should worry about the number of pages. Just go with the flow. If you have time, I really recommend you to read the article for better guideline.

      1. No worries, I’m doing fine….hehe… Got over it since piles of work are waiting for me to get it done T__T

        Cross-referencing means what? hehe is it like you referenced to the original source that has been referenced in another journal and you found out it’s not related?

        I’m using your blog as a reference too, lots info here hehe. Thanks for sharing! So will you be using that Mendeley for citing? coz I thought we have to use EndNote.

        The schedule for enhancement program is also out, seems like its a whole day workshop for only once a week. I accidently chose Information Seeking instead of Technical Writing.

        *sigh* really need to get a lot of things done by this month….or else prof would go beserk T__T

  3. Fariha,

    Not sure the term cross-referencing I used is correct or not but by that I mean I look at the references of the article I found and find those articles. Of course must see if those are relevant to your topic and probably you will find more new article to read. I just finished looking through one article’s references and found another 20 new relevant articles that I didn’t even know exists. Sometimes it’s faster to collect articles that way cause if you search through databases with keywords, sometimes you just can’t get a lot you want.

    How you choose which session you want. I just saw the timetable but no instruction on further action. I don’t think we are restricted to Endnote as it’s just a mean to an end. Feel free to try out Mendeley. It’s a good free tool.

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