Last edited 31 May 2016

Construction dissertation guide part 2 - Literature review

This is part of a series of Construction Dissertation Guides for students. Click here for the whole series.



[edit] What is a literature review?

A literature review is a critical summary and analysis of the existing material that has been written on your chosen subject.

The literature review is very important as it provides the foundations upon which the research will be built. Depending on the particular requirements of the dissertation it may constitute a significant proportion of the end content.

The purpose of the literature review is to is to give direction and focus to the research methodology, to demonstrate a fully-rounded understanding of the subject, and to enable the research to be approached in an independently-minded way.

It review should highlight and discuss contradictions and similarities between different writers’ viewpoints and identify any gaps in the existing body of knowledge.It should establish previous research that has been conducted and the issues they address, and make connections between the source texts, and where you position yourself and your research among those sources. (Ridley, D. (Dr), 2008 : p2)

[edit] Sources of information

To begin the literature review you need to identify and classify relevant sources of information, which will either be primary, secondary or reference guides.

[edit] Primary sources

These are sources that publish original research and so are often the rigorous:

  • Academic research journals.
  • Refereed conferences, which often have published papers attached to them.
  • Existing dissertations, theses and research projects, which can help to point in the direction of other sources of information.
  • Reports and research papers.
  • Government publications. The government is a valuable source of statistics and data, and official reports.
  • Legislation, contracts, codes of practice and standards.

[edit] Secondary sources

  • Textbooks. Be aware that books may not be as up-to-date as more recently published reports or journals.
  • Trade journals and news sources. These can have valuable interpretations of subjects but may have a vested interest in their reporting. This is not to discount the information but it should be borne in mind when referencing it in the review.

[edit] Reference guides

These provide easy and quick answers to basic questions.

  • Dictionaries and glossaries.
  • Search engines and encyclopaedias.

Very often, the bibliographies and references in this material will help identify other sources of information.

Occasionally, vital information will only be available from a source published in a different language, and in this case translation may be necessary.

[edit] Taking notes and critical appraisal

Take informed and accurate notes when reviewing the literature, focusing on the issues and arguments addressed, and not getting side-tracked away from the subject of the dissertation. Remember that you are looking less at what different writers are saying and more at what you need from the source itself:

  • What do you already know?
  • What do you need from the source?
  • What makes the source different, or more authoritative/reliable, than other providers of the same knowledge?
  • How does it complement or contradict other information?
  • What are the common issues raised?
  • Are there any gaps in the existing body of knowledge?

Use the note-taking process as a means of categorising the various parts and stages of your argument, don’t succumb to the trap of capturing unnecessary levels of detail. The more concise your notes, the easier they will be to organise and arrange into a coherent discussion.

It can help to organise notes from different sources in a standardised way. Try creating and filling them in a summary form that adheres to these headings:

  • Reference details (author/s, publication year/date accessed, title of article/chapter, volume and issue no., place of publication, publisher, page nos., source).
  • Main issues being discussed.
  • Main arguments being put forward.
  • Research methodology.
  • Main conclusions.

It is very important to record reference details accurately and in full as you go along for each piece of information. It can be almost impossible to re-find the source of a piece of important information later.

[edit] Organisation of literature review

It is wise to create a research file (physical or digital) that can be maintained as the literature review progresses. This will make categorisation of relevant material easier and later incorporation and analysis less time-consuming.

Divide the file into relevant sections and sub-sections and insert the information accordingly together with the standard form.

By maintaining the file, you will be able to draw links and make comparisons between sources without having to revisit the information in detail again. The divisions may naturally develop into chapters of the final dissertation. But be aware that the dissertation is not just a summary of existing work, it should be different to and add to the body of knowledge.

Continue to the next stage: Research strategy.