[Article] Don't Write a Lit Review

Why is writing a literature review one of the worst things you can do for your dissertation? I’ll tell ya.

They say that actions speak louder than words. This saying is quite true in dissertation-writing land.

Me, The Candidate

I remember sitting at my keyboard, attempting to write my Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 with no success: I was drawing dead (as they say in the poker world). There was no hope in finishing — because I was trying to build something for which I had never seen the blueprints; I was trying to build something without having the materials to actually build it.

Do It — Don’t Write It

A “literature review,” in all actuality, is far more a verb (action) than a noun (thing). How often does someone say “Do you have a literature review?” Personally, I’ve never heard those words.

People, most often, ask, “Have you DONE your literature review?”

A literature review is a verb. You DO one; you don’t have one.

The day I made the most progress in my literature review was the day I stopped trying to write it. Instead, I decided to actually get on the library’s website and find the books, dissertations, and journal articles that would be required to complete this thing.

How to Finish

First, take one day to get as many sources into your hands as possible relating to your topic or theory areas. Download full-text PDFs of dissertations and journal articles from ProQuest. Order loads of books from your library’s interlibrary loan program (many schools will ship them to you for free with a return envelope).

Second, take another day to get them into your possession, in a dedicated space used ONLY for your dissertation writing.

Finally, skim each text and grab the five best quotes from that source you can find, and place those quotes into a matrix (spreadsheet) with full citation.

Gather 25 quotes a week (5 quotes x 5 sources). Do that for 20 weeks.

Get the information you’ll need to write your literature review.

If you want to see a video about this, go here.