When writing your literature review, it is important to synthesise information to improve the flow of your writing and avoid the “laundry list” reviews that Pat Thomson discusses in her blog post. This is a common mistake, where paragraphs are littered with he said/she said sentences. This can be very hard to read, does not show connections between ideas and experiments, and does not link to your own ideas. In her blog post she highlights how switching to the active voice and using literature to enhance your point rather than just adding it to the end of sentence can greatly improve your writing. This way you are producing an original work with your own voice rather than a collection of the notes you have created. She discusses this issue of “citation dumping” further, while giving you an idea of what an examiner might think and how to improve the way you treat referencing material, I highly recommend reading Pat Thomson’s post on citation dumping as well.
In terms of identifying the gap, the likelihood is you already know the gap in the field that your research degree is hoping to answer, either because your supervisor advertised the project or from meetings with your supervisor. The important point to remember is that your entire literature review should be aiming towards your knowledge gap. From explaining the background in the field, to the detailed particular concepts and theories to the unknown information, it should all point towards what you plan to do in your research degree. This allows the reader to follow your thinking and understand why you are doing the work and what it will mean for the field.
What is the gap in your field, and how will your research help answer those questions? The most common use of a literature review is to introduce your research and explain why your research is needed and important. Dr. Ben Ellway’s Academic Toolkit includes a Research Framing and Justification Canvas is useful here. Use the canvas structure to map out your litetature and ‘gap’, by:
- Identifing and specifing (summarising the literature)
- Analysing and Evaluating (issues/themes, gaps/problems)
- Framing and justifying (research questions)
This process will enable you to to articulate the exisiting literature, and the gap in the field that your research will address.