FinishLine | Tips Tools Techniques for Completing a Thesis or Dissertation from Dr Wendy Carter

October, 2006spacerVolume 2, Issue 10

In This Issue:

Name Dropping, Book Review, or Writing a Literature Review - Part 1

I am sending out a big thank you and hello to the students who attended my workshop at Women In Engineering (WIE) Conference in Baltimore Maryland.

Scholars/researchers use literature reviews to help keep them up to date with what is being published and discussed in their field. Because of its importance, at some point in your academic career you will be asked to write a literature review, either as a separate assignment or part of a research report, thesis or dissertation.

Keep in mind that the purpose of all literature reviews is to tell a concise story i.e. provide the “big picture” about a particular research topic.

Three basic steps to writing a literature review are: (1) selecting a research topic (2) collecting and reading the relevant articles (3) writing the review article.  Since February 2005 FinishLine dealt with step one selecting a topic, this newsletter will focus on steps two and three.

Step 2: Collecting and Reading the Relevant Articles

In order to maximize your efforts, you must be organized and efficient in your research. The more organized you from the very start, the more time you will have to write your thesis. Be diligent about keeping track of your files in the early phases of your research to reduce stress levels later on, when your enthusiasm begins to wane. If you have to backtrack on your research efforts, being organized from the beginning will help make the process less painful.

Every academic discipline requires that you submit with your paper, literature review, thesis, or dissertation a bibliography or list of works cited. A bibliography must include every work you read in your research, even if you don’t quote every source directly. A list of works cited, on the other hand, is just that: a list of works that you quoted, paraphrased or alluded to in your paper.

One of the most important organizational points is to keep track of your sources. Nothing is more frustrating than having a great quotation and not knowing the source. Develop a consistent, organized system for keeping notes.

Be organized – the more organized you are in the beginning the more time you will have to write your thesis or dissertation

•  Be meticulous in your references
•  Keep an electronic bibliography with the list of key words you used to search for these articles
•  Keep and file all the papers you have read or skimmed or considered
•  File and organize these papers based on broad categories such as similar methodologies, conclusions, approaches, or populations
•  Make a photocopy of the bibliography from each book, journal article, or webpage, to make a master reference file to use as a checklist
•  Develop a system to organize your data

Gone are the days when you read first, then thought about what you have read, and then proceeded to write a research paper. You must train yourself to actively and critically read scholarly texts. When you read actively, you should pretend that you are in an active conversation with the writer.

Take electronic notes on every journal article, book, website, related to your proposed topic

•  Be sure to document bibliographic information and page numbers in case you need to quote the author/s directly
•  Take notes in a conversational approach with the author by taking time to write out your thoughts about the quotes you are copying
•  Identify the research problem in the paper
•  Identify the author’s approach/How did the author construct his/her argument?
•  Determine how his/her approach is different from other approaches?
•  Identify whether or not the author’s argument is effective?
•  Identify the author’s similarity to other approaches? — same population/species, same methodology, same time period, same results?
•  Be diligent in your use of quotation marks to distinguish your thoughts from the author’s own words

Be efficient - only read what is necessary

•  Start by reading/scanning the abstract, the methodology, the conclusion, and figures and tables
•  If the material is relevant, read the other sections and make a copy of the references
•  Use the references to decide what to read next

Create a summary sheet for each article you have read — although this process might seem a bit time consuming at the outset, it will save you a lot of time later by helping you to easily categorize and compare each article in your literature review. In each article note the following:

•  Copy all the pertinent bibliographic information in its entirety
•  Copy the abstract exactly as is rather than paraphrasing or summarizing it
•  Document key findings in the abstract
•  Identify the research question in each paper
•  Identify the methodology used in each study
•  Identify the specific hypotheses
•  Establish and document the relationship among the various approaches
•  Identify assumptions and limitations
•  Jot down the conclusion
•  Document the author’s future recommendations

Compare and categorize your summary sheets — After creating your summary sheets your next goal should be to categorize this research. Your summaries sheets could be categorized chronologically, thematically or methodologically. Once you have the basic categories in place you must then consider how you will compare and present the sources themselves within body of your literature review. Depending on the factors most relevant to your research question, the possibilities for comparisons include;

•  research assumptions
•  design methodologies used
•  variables selected or defined
•  equipment used
•  instructions given
•  results obtained
•  interpretation of results
•  speculations about future studies
•  population/sample examined
•  research question
•  research theories tested
•  species tested

If you have difficulty organizing and synthesizing the summary sheets don’t be afraid to go back and reread the original journal article. Once you have settled on a general pattern of organization, you are ready to write your review. Our next month’s newsletter will provide a few guidelines you should follow during the writing stage as well.

Step 3: Writing a Literature Review Part I

A literature review is a scholarly text, so your writing style should be formal and similar to what you find in the scholarly journals of your discipline. Review models of literature review in your discipline to get a sense of what is expected in terms of structure, style, and language. You can also use this approach to consider what is "hot" and what is not in your field.

An effective literature review isn’t simply an annotated list of related studies; rather, it is an organized summary of ideas that are directly related to the thesis or research question you are developing. As such, your literature review should be written in an essay format that leads the reader through an exploration of what has been written about the topic, and a summary of the strengths and weaknesses of each piece of writing.

Be sure that you provide a critical assessment of the material rather than just “dropping names,” or beginning each paragraph with another researcher/author’s name. The task is not about simply listing all of the material that has been published, but about synthesizing and evaluating the published material in an organized and meaningful relative to the guiding concept of your thesis or research question.

Writing a Literature Review Part 2 - Click here

Email Question of the Month:


Dr. Carter

Thanks a lot for your assistance in the thesis guidelines. I have already choosen a topic on Legalization of Marijuana, i would kindly request you to send me or share with me some of the materials you already have.

Thanking You in advance,



Hello Willy

Thank you for contacting us at TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. You said that you have chosen your topic, however a thesis or dissertation topic often comes in the form of a research question based on a particular academic perspective.  Hence all you have given me is a broad topic which seems like it needs to be narrowed down still even further.

Are you looking at legalization of Marijuana as a social, political, criminal justice, family, medical or business issue?   What perspective will you be using to analyze the issue?

Here is an example of possible research questions:

How does the legalization of marijuana compare with criminalization of marijuana?
How does the legalization of marijuana affect other effective pain management strategies?
How does the legalization of marijuana reduce crime in society?
How does the legalization of marijuana affect the War on Drugs in the United States?
How does the legalization of marijuana affect the use of other illegal drugs?
What are the political implications for legalizing marijuana?

I hope my answer has moved you forward in narrowing your research topic further. Once you have narrowed your topic you can use our "Links and Resources" section in the upper right-hand side of our website to search further. Be sure to read our January 2006 Newsletter FinishLine titled Scholarly Journals, Popular Magazines, Newspapers, Trade Publications, and the Internet"

Wishing you all the best

Dr. Carter

TA-DA!™ Graduates —
Congratulations on Your Success

Hello Dr. Carter, I met with you a few months ago. I had an impossible deadline to meet: to complete my dissertation proposal in 6 weeks time. I just wanted you to know that I successfully defended the proposal on October 3rd!! Thanks for your help and encouragement! All the best, Harriette W.

What TA-DA!™ Users Have to Say...

If you're still wondering whether or not TA-DA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished™ can help you — don’t take our word for it. Take a few moments to read what some of our customers have told us.
See how TA-DA!™ helped them...

Ph.D. Doctoral Students

•  How it (TADA) Helped: In many ways but I will mainly highlight two areas for now. 1. The TADA Calender. The main problem I faced before was how to get down and do my work. But with the TADA Calender, I have made a committment and I everyday I have the motivation to fulfill this commitment. 2. The 12 Minutes Tasks. I was never even aware of some of those requirements. Now I feel more confident since each day I know exactly what is expected of me and I can make an exact plan of how to accomplish them. Dear colleagues in Thesis/Dissertation writing. Anybody wanting to have a peace of mind and confidence in whatever she/he does during the whole Thesis/Dissertation writing, you have no choice but to buy the TADA CD. I won't explain what wonders it will do to you, but buy it and experience it." Connie, U.K.

•  TA-DA gave me the incentive to "get the lead out" and finish. The 12 minutes a day has lead to approximately two to three hours. I have really got a lot done, just knowing that the twelve minutes does wonders for the psyche.
Maryjane, Fayetteville, NC

•  The commitment to a deadline and to working 12 minutes a day actually reduces stress. I can always do 12 minutes--even if I'm tired, sick, uninspired or grumpy. Facing a deadline makes it feel like I will actually get done! "I have to do my 12 minutes" we say in our house these days. I've been progressing steadily on my dissertation by committing to 12 minutes, and my husband has covered huge amounts of material for an upcoming professional exam. My friend has committed to completing the annulment papers she has procrastinated on for 10 years, and my father-in-law has started studying Spanish 12 minutes a day. Thanks!
Christine, Seattle, WA

•  It helped me to set goals for my chapters and give me some practical strategies for finishing. Also I believe it's good to list your finish date. It gives you something to strive for rather than letting the thesis become nebulous.
Martha; Albany, CA

•  TA-DA explains the dissertation process and lifts the curtain to a process that seems impossible to accomplish. It provides strategy for selecting the committee and provides timelines that enable accomplishment of the dissertation within a specific time frame.
Randall; USMC Jacksonville, NC

•  The program helped me to understand the dissertation concept much better. I am a visual individual; the tutorial was a great help.
Deborah; U.S. Army

•  Provides helpful suggestions for how to proceed as well as suggesting disciplined and reasonable timelines for completion.
Lawrence; Philadelphia, PA

Master’s Thesis Students…

•  It has helped with the fact that my graduate school does not have a formal format for the proposal. The Journal has helped a lot.
Talia; Naranjito, Puerto Rico

•  This is a great tool for those who will be starting either their Master's Degree or Dissertation. I highly recommend it.
Teresa; Naguabo, Puerto Rico

•  Requesting that I set a goal date for finishing, kept me focused and it was the first step in accomplishing the task. Also, I kept remembering the words; a good thesis is a done thesis.
Gladys; NY, NY

•  It guided me to a fair start. Gracias!
Jess; San Francisco, CA



Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.

About the Author: As a single mother, professor Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters' degrees and a PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation. She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool on CD—TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. To learn more and sign up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at Privacy is our policy. TADA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers' names or e-mail addresses.

Published monthly.
To subscribe to FinishLine, see below.
To manage your account, see the end of this message

Inside This Issue:

Name Dropping, Book Review, or Writing a Literature Review - Part 1

Email Q & A of the Month

Congratulations Graduates

What TA-DA!™
Users Say

Next FinishLine Features:

When Faculty Say "X" They mean "Y"





Want to Advertise in this newsletter? Contact us at