How To Structure a PhD Literature Review

A PhD thesis writing typically starts from literature review as it is necessary to show the current state of affairs in a sphere of interest. It stipulates a lot of work since you will have to capture a broad range of literature in order to represent the scope of the research. PhD consultancy services may help you with structuring the review since it is not about merely describing different sources but rather about findings gaps in the existing body of literature and attempting to show how your PhD thesis will contribute to it.

Depending on the research field and nature, a PhD literature review can be structured in different ways, Here is a typical structure which can be adjusted to specific research objectives. 

1. Introduction

First, you need to explain what literature you are reviewing and how it is connected with your research problem and the topic of your PhD thesis. Despite shortness of this section, you should substantiate the necessity of exploring literature for you dissertation aims. 

2. Main body

Normally, a literature review consists of two main sections, namely a theoretical framework and empirical evidence. Overall, you should try to find a gap in the existing literature to validate the necessity of your research. The most effective strategy in the literature review is to criticise the existing studies, both theoretical and empirical ones, to show that the topic or the problem is not exhausted and solved by them, and additional research is needed. Otherwise, if there are no gaps and directions for developing the existing body of knowledge why are your conducting your research?

Theoretical Framework

A theoretical framework presents the main theories your research relies on and critically comprehends them. Each theory has its own restrictions and assumptions which makes its scope limited as well. And your aim is to indicate these assumptions and limitations to show how the chosen theories complement each other and to what extent the suit the research aims. You may employ one or several theories but there will likely be less appropriate and non-applicable theories in the field. So, you should explain your choice by demonstrating that the selection allows for attaining the research aims.

Empirical Evidence

Empirical evidence on the problem demonstrates what has already been done in practice and how your research will contribute to it. All practitioners conduct their empirical research within certain limits and contexts. You should compare their results obtained in different contexts and explain the distinctions in their outcomes. Moreover, you can indicate that due to the chosen methodology and data, your research will fill some of the existing knowledge gaps. 

Structure These Subsections

You can structure both subsections in a different manner. The three most commonly used ways of organising the review are the following:

  • Chronologically – is appropriate when you need to show the origins of your problem and basics of your research and their development to the time being.
  • By methods – is used when you need to compare different research methods, their limitations and outcomes, and explain the choice of a particular method.
  • By topics – when there are several aspects of your research problem, the results were obtained in distinct contexts and you need to explain the outcomes differences.

3. Conclusion

It is necessary to summarise the findings of your review. What is the gap in the existing literature? What are the main theories applicable in your study and why have you chosen particular ones? What are the main empirical findings in the literature, why are they different, and how will the outcomes you expect to obtain in your study contribute to them?