PGT Dissertation writing

R21–0865 HCRI30000


  • Analyse where you are up to with your research and where you need to go next.
  • Map your research topic to visualise the discussions in your research area.
  • Communicate a logical development of argument within your research using the Toulmin Method.

SYNC session

Materials: Slides, KWH handouts, Abstracts, Literature review map handouts


A literature review is the foundation on which a piece of research sits. It is crucial that the literature is not overlooked when carrying out research as it is this that connects your work with other research in the landscape.

During the workshop the learners will have an opportunity to consider, discuss and practice mapping a literature review to support them in visualising the themes and connections that exist to make their research significant as well as reflecting on where they are up to and what their next steps will be. Finally we will think about how you decide what goes into your literature review so that you can answer the question ‘Can I make use of this?’.

The facilitator should emphasise that the workshop will be active and that this is a safe space to practice using the strategies and talking to your colleagues.

Agenda setting

The facilitator should ask the class what questions they have about writing a literature review and throughout the workshop we hope to answer most of the questions. The facilitator can write these on a white board and refer back to them towards the end of the session.

This is where to emphasise that there is some content in Blackboard that can be revisited as when it is needed by the learners. There are downloadable versions of the handouts we are using today there.

Moving your literature review forwards

Often knowing where to start can be a challenge so to assist you in moving forward with your research then you could start to think about what you know about your chosen topic. (Slide 3)

  • Know — identify what you already know about the topic
  • What — what you want to know
  • Learn — what you have learnt

KWH is a valuable strategy that you can reuse again should you feel like you are stuck or just before a meeting with your dissertation supervisor. There is information to refer back to in Bb. (Slide 4)

Activity — reflection and action planning

On the handout complete the K column in KWH to reflect on what you know now about your research topic. Spend about 7 mins now individually considering what you know.

Then spend 3 minutes talking with your neighbour summarising what you know and what you might put into the W column.

You should carry on completing the KWH beyond this class to identify your next steps.

Using this strategy will affirm what you already know and help you to identify the areas where you need to learn some more. So this strategy can be used to move you forwards into taking action and keep you motivated with a clear sense of purpose.

Identifying what is significant

Refer to a colleague’s work on the 3 Domains of Critical Reading.

These 3 domains are

Domain 1: The text on it’s own. Analyse the paper for it’s message and evaluate the validity of the paper on it’s own. Do you agree or want to argue with the paper’s findings?

Domain 2: The text in the context of other texts. How does this paper sit alongside others? Does it agree with others and in so doing is creating a body of evidence that substantiates a point. Or does it say something vastly different that is taking the topic off in a new direction. Seeing the wider discussion will help learners contextualise the topic.

Domain 3: The text as it relates to me and what I am doing. This is really referring to the relevance of the papers and the learners research topic. Asking how the papers explicitly connect to their research and going beyond thinking, oh this is interesting. Learners can then make the critical decisions about including the paper in their review.

It is Domains 2 & 3 that are most significant for learners writing a literature review and conducting research.

Here the facilitator will make the case for the value of the literature review as a crucial part of your research. Your literature review should show the following to readers/markers.

  • the research/papers that can be explicitly related to the research
  • learners view of the wider discussion
  • Understanding of where the learners research fits

In practice this means that as they read and make connections they should be sorting what they see as informing their research. The following strategy can help learners with this.

Visualise discussions.

The facilitator should ask the learners to now specifically consider Domain 2 and ‘the text in the context of other texts’. Acknowledge that they have done an activity with Luke prior to Xmas where they looked at collecting papers/articles to identify themes and patterns but they may find the literature map a helpful way of looking at texts in the context of other texts to identify:

  • Themes
  • Chronology
  • Debates
  • The central problem
  • Key researchers
  • Gaps

Talk through the slide as an example.

Explain that they will now have an opportunity to do this again using the Literature Review Map to help visualise the discussions. Encourage the learners to have a go at this to practice and that there are no right or wrong answers.

Activity — practice

Look at the handout with the abstracts and in pairs/small groups try to gather the abstracts into the discussions in the map.

Spend about 9 mins doing this and then turn to another group and look at theirs. Are there differences/similarities?

Ask the class to share what they noticed about each others maps and how they found it helpful and affirm how the student team have found it useful too. Draw attention to the following if the leaners do not:

  • the map can suggest a structure for your written review.
  • deepens your understanding of the arguments taking place, relevant to your topic
  • assists in narrowing and filtering your research topic

Indicate that they can refer back to Bb for copies of the map.

Features of your literature review

Finally the facilitator should help the learners zoom in to think about what features are usually seen in a literature review. To help them do this they may want to think about any literature reviews that they have looked at before and the overall purpose of a literature review.

Share the definition/purpose of a literature review used earlier again.

Activity — consider

The students should discuss the following in pairs and create a list:

What features would you typically see in a literature review?

Take some feedback from the class and add any that the learners do not include from the following:

1. Objectives for the literature review

What do you intend to uncover / discover in your literature review?

2. Criteria for inclusion in review

What types of literature will you include (journal articles, case studies, governmental reports etc.)? Is there a specific date-range you will look at research from?

3. Identify key researchers/ seminal studies

Who are the key researchers and the major important works in your field of research?

4. Identify the methodology/ theoretical framework used

What are the main / current methodologies used to conduct research in your field of research (quantitive, qualitative, mixed methods, specific approaches in each of these)? What types of methodologies haven’t been used? What are the main theoretical frameworks used to help understand / explain this field of research

5. What is known

What areas / topics have been well-studied and examined in the past?

6. Patterns/trends

Which authors agree with each other? How have ideas in the field developed over time?

7. Debates or disagreements

What are the areas / subjects in your field of research that academics disagree on?

8. Gaps in knowledge

What areas / topics have so far been overlooked or understudied? Can you think of any questions for further study / research?

9. Critique strengths/weaknesses

Based on your answers to the above questions, what do you think the field of research / existing research has done well and not so well in fully understanding this field of research?

Leave the learners with an action to look at a literature review relevant to their topic and to look for some of the features that we have mentioned here.

Wrap up

Reiterate that the class will all be different stages in their research and that is fine. The strategies covered today will hopefully be useful during the process of preparing to write a literature review and there is supporting information including all of the handouts for the learners to access when they need them in the Bb space. They should return to it when they need it.

The final thing so say is that there is more support available from the Library team. Crucially 1:1 writing support with the RLF — 45 mins with a sample of your writing to improve written style. 1:1 support on searching/referencing at our drop-ins. So staying in touch with us is an option.

Ask the SCONUL question.

ASYNC Content

For E-learning to be embedded here before 31 January 2022:


In this content we want to refresh your knowledge on approaching your literature review. Here we will share a strategy for analysing the progress of your literature review along with a strategy to help build ‘argument’ into your writing. This in turn will assist you in support of your thesis statement, as you move on from your literature review into your discussion/analysis.

We will introduce both of these strategies as useful tools that you can use to help you communicate your thinking

Review your literature review

You know what a literature review should include and you are all likely to be at very different stages of your research.

The Know, Want To Know and Learned (KWL) strategy is useful for you to individually reflect on where you are up to. The strategy can help you reflect on what you know from your review and what the literature review is indicating to you.

Use KWL to reflect upon where you are up to in writing your review and as a check-in point to see progress on your thinking before developing a line of argument in your writing.

(Embed table from here

Activity — What is known from your literature review and what do you want to explore?

Complete your own KWL to help identify what you are going to explore in more depth. For inspiration take a look at this one.

Use the template below to identify what you already know from reviewing the literature at this moment. What is the evidence showing you? Where might this lead you in terms of identifying further questions.

The W column is your space to identify questions and gaps in your knowledge that you want to discuss within the next section. Furthermore, you can use this list as a check list to identify the limitations — the questions that you still have and have been unable to explore, when your project is concluded.

KWL — template (word)

Map your literature review

Your literature review should share your personal view of literature and demonstrate that it is relevant to your research and has informed your opinion. It is therefore important to keep track of your discoveries in a way which ensures you are looking at the field of research as a whole, and not just in terms of individual papers and articles.

You might want to use the Literature Review Map (text only version) to help you to do this!

The map can help you to synthesise ideas across your review and identify how you might want to move forwards with creating a thesis statement.

Read about how some students have found the map helpful in their University work.

Thesis statements

The thesis statement is your answer to the dissertation question. It is this statement that you must prove throughout your dissertation.

A strong thesis statement:

  • informs the reader of the purpose of the dissertation
  • informs the reader of the scope and direction of the dissertation
  • is your main point, your main idea or central message.

At first, when you begin your research you might not necessarily know what your thesis statement will be and which you will argue for. In fact, you will likely only be able to make this decision after conducting your initial research. Listing all possible options can be a useful exercise as it will also show the things you may need to argue against.

Look back at your completed KWL document to see if this helps you identify any potential thesis statements.

Activity — Thesis statement generation

Think of and write down as many possible answers and thesis statements to your own dissertation question as you can.

As you conduct your initial research, cross out those thesis statements for which there is clearly a lack of evidence.

(This will help you identify the most appropriate answer to your dissertation question as your research progresses)

Building your argument

Your dissertation is now on its way to becoming a convincing argument for your reader as demonstrated by the evidence that you have presented in your literature review.

Any piece of argumentative writing usually contains three main components:

  • A clear position or thesis statement.
  • Evidence that supports the thesis statement.
  • Analysis of that evidence.

This means that your writing must be organised and well structured.

Work through ‘What’s the big idea: developing and organising your argument’ a resource that outlines different a strategy to support you in building your argument in your dissertation through careful organisation of the paragraphs one of the building blocks of writing.
(embed resource)

Image of ‘Whats the big idea: developing and organising your argument’
Whats the big idea?: developing and organising your argument

(Embed 1.8) Building your argument -The Toulmin Method

The Toulmin Method is an approach to constructing convincing arguments that believes strong and effective arguments can be broken down into six main parts.

  1. Thesis statement: What is your position or claim?
  2. Evidence: what evidence is there to support that position or claim?
  3. Analysis: how will you link evidence to your position or claim?
  4. Follow-up: what additional reasoning will you give to support your analysis?
  5. Counter-claims: what counter-claims and arguments are there that disagree with your position or claim?
  6. Rebuttal: what evidence or claims will you use to negate any counter-claims?

Activity — Building up your argument

You may not have all the answers to these questions yet, but you can start to think about these by doing the following.

Answer each of the six questions above with as much detail and information as you can.

Continue to add detail and information about each question as you research your topic and work on your dissertation.

As you begin to write this section you will find the Academic Phrasebank has a large collection of useful academic words and phrases that will develop your writing in this activity.

In summary

Having got under way with your literature review we wanted to remind you of some of the strategies that you can consult to further develop your dissertation.

We have covered a reflection activity that will allow you to pause and reflect upon where you have got to and inform where you might go next. We have also addressed how you can use the evidence from your literature review to transition into developing an argument within your dissertation.

Statistics support

Should you be using quantitative date and statistics you can find some guidance on this blog.

(Embed generic support and evaluation)



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