I want to write a review article in a particular narrow area of interest as part of my Doctoral research. But there is already a review article on that area published 2 years ago. So can I write a review paper on that area ?

  • 1
    A similar question was already answered here.
    – Orion
    Feb 18, 2018 at 6:08
  • @MassimoOrtolano, in fact, this question is fundamentally different because it concerns doctoral research work; the question you link does not. In fact, the accepted answer there explicitly notes the special case: "If you have to do it as part of your thesis." I understand this question here to be asking about details about this special case only.
    – Tripartio
    Feb 18, 2018 at 14:27
  • @Tripartio This question is about writing and, from the way it's written, publishing a review paper. Thus, whether it's part of doctoral research or not is irrelevant. It would be different if the review is meant to become a chapter of the dissertation, not published as paper. Feb 18, 2018 at 14:32
  • @MassimoOrtolano, I've given an answer to the question, which is very different from appropriate answers to the question that you call a possible duplicate. For me, they are not the same question and they require different answers. But you might be right; it is possible that I misunderstood the question.
    – Tripartio
    Feb 18, 2018 at 14:43

1 Answer 1


Let's look at your predicament from this perspective: A fundamental and absolute requirement for a doctoral thesis is that the work be original. One of the most important purposes of a doctoral thesis literature review is to prove that you are well aware of the work related to your topic and that you can clearly demonstrate that the work you are doing is truly original. So, if, as you say, you find a review article published on the same exact narrow area of research that your doctoral thesis aims to focus on, then you are basically saying that, in fact, your thesis topic is not original, and so fails the most basic requirement of a doctoral thesis.

From this initial consideration, I consider that there are two practical possibilities:

  • Possibility A: On closer examination, in fact, the older review does not cover exactly the same thing that you are trying to address in your doctoral thesis. (I guess this is probably the case. In my field of business research, it is extremely rare that two people have absolutely exactly the same idea, but it might be different for your area of research.) If that is the case, then you are free to do a thesis that is properly focused on your own narrow topic, and you should take great care to demonstrate and strongly prove that indeed your literature review is not quite the same thing as the superficially similar one from two years ago. You would mainly do this by including importatnt literature from areas that are related to your specific focus but outside the scope of the older review.

  • Possibility B: On close examination, sure enough, you are trying to treat a topic, however narrow, that has already been studied. In that case, you need to change your specific topic so that it is not an exact duplicate of what has already been done. You don't need to throw away what you've done so far; rather, carefully study the older review and all related work and then find a narrow focus that interests you (and for which you have feasible access to data--extremely important for choosing a doctoral thesis topic!) and then make that your unique, original focus. And because you've taken the time to develop a truly original topic, then study new literature that focuses on your new topic that was outside the scope of the older review and include that in your literature review.

In either case, be sure to include the literature from the older review that is still relevant for your own topic. Because the primary reason of a doctoral thesis literature review is to show your mastery of the topic, you must repeat your own reading and interpretation of the literature (in your own original words, of course), even if it seems to duplicate past work. If you were to publish your literature review chapter as a standalone article, you would probably have to greatly cut down that duplicate work, but from the standpoint of your own doctoral learning, it is not a duplicate, so you should fully include it to demonstrate your personal mastery of the literature.

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