When I have previously published papers, I have written about how much my work contributes to the discipline and builds on the work of others. I am currently writing my literature review for my PhD upgrade and even though I am featuring a lot of work, I am not focusing that much on how my work builds on those of the cited authors. My research is multi-disciplinary, covering three fields.

In a literature review therefore, is my job just to review the literature? Or should I also mention how my work builds on the literature I have mentioned?

1 Answer 1


You would usually not just review "the literature" (How would you do that anyway as there are thousands of papers coming out everyday in most fields).

I like to see the literature review like building a pyramid: You start broad and then narrow down and come closer and closer to what you actually did. Your thesis/paper should then come as the last stone on the top of the pyramid. Along the lines of "This is what other people did, this is how it all builds up but in the end a very important part was missing (= your thesis!) and here it is! Then you start describing your actual work.

In other words you can see the literature review as something what helps to emphasise how important your work is. Literature review is not something that you have to do but something that you want to do because it makes your own work shine.

  • 1
    This is a useful metaphor (+1). However, PhD theses often need to show off a bit more knowledge about the existing research than papers and books. That's because the former speak to the defense committee, while the latter speak to a broader scientific audience.
    – henning
    Mar 28, 2019 at 10:53

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .