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I have selected a single question for my master's thesis, within my field of Foreign Language Teaching. Most papers I have read contain just short literature reviews providing some background for a research study that occupied most of the writer's time. I think I could understand my question better if I focusing all of my effort on creating a 100-200 page literature review, examining and critiquing all existing literature on the subject, rather than on trying to come up with some new results.

Can a master's thesis be comprised of just a literature review? Do journals publish literature reviews on their own?

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  • What is your area of study?
    – earthling
    Jan 28, 2014 at 13:01

3 Answers 3

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At least in my Faculty (of Computer Science), a master thesis can be "just" a literature review. A literature review can be an important contribution, and is part of what is usually called secondary research.

However, you should consider performing a systematic literature review, which is a literature review comprising several analytic and precise steps to enhance the reliability of the study. A systematic literature review is a time consuming research activity but a very useful one. Please verify that such a review has not already been conducted recently, before starting it by your own.

Systematic reviews are publishable research and often get many citations. As for thesis, I think that any publishable research activity can be a student's master thesis. However, ask your (potential) advisor.

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  • (+1) Yes, I strongly appreciate literature reviews. It is not a trivial contribution to accurately summarize the history, state of the art, and current challenges of a discipline. Doing a systematic literature helps with the quality and feasibility of producing the literature review.
    – Galen
    Jan 17 at 19:15
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You're asking two different questions here.

  • Yes, you can publish a high-quality literature review in some, but not all, journals. However, many journals also solicit such reviews rather than take them automatically, and many will have length restrictions associated with them. So check with the journal before you start working!

  • As for a master's thesis, that depends a lot on the requirements of your field. In the humanities, you would probably have to do some searches for primary references, but a large-scale literature review is an important part of such a work. In the sciences and engineering, however, you are much less likely to be able to submit such a thesis. The usual standards there require more original work than can typically be accomplished with a literature review.

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A literature review with well-defined research questions that provides a synthesis of high-quality literature is considered very useful research. Generally, such reviews present a taxonomy of the domain, summarize the contributions and furnish them in an abstract manner from different aspects involved. A good quality review gets many citations, and it provides a very useful stepping stone for new researchers in a given area. Thus, it can certainly be considered as an MS thesis.

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    But it depends, of course, on what an advisor or a university will permit.
    – Buffy
    Jan 17 at 18:43
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    Though there are different contexts and meanings of the word, often when people say "research" they mean "original research". Reviews are certainly useful to the research process, but may not be considered themselves research.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 17 at 19:06

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