The label ‘literature review’ is a misnomer which sometimes leads thesis writers to produce unfocused and badly written literature review chapters. This post begins a series of four that untangles the purpose of working with literature. The literature review chapter usually follows the introductory chapter which has argued for a specific research problem and question, and precedes the research design chapter which will explain how the question is to be answered. In the introductory chapter the question is posed, but in the research design chapter the question is taken for granted. Positioning the literature review chapter between these two chapters tells us a lot about its purpose – and there is much more to it than simply ‘reviewing’ the literature. I suggest that a primary aim of the literature review chapter is to make the case that the question should be accepted. To state it differently: the literature review is a series of connected arguments in support of the research question. Instead of a mere ‘review’, it must firmly scaffold the overall argument, the thesis, by argumentatively engaging with the literature.
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