I have to include an individual chapter on literature review in PhD thesis. While going through the theses of seniors in the library, I found that typically the chapter is 30-40 pages long and covers a review of more than 30-40 articles.

The chapter is generally organized into different themes, each related to a specific aspect and a review of studies that address the theme.

There are only about 15 research articles relevant to my work. Moreover, when I arrange them into four themes, I get only 3-4 articles in 2 of such themes. I am not sure how do I organize the chapter with scarce literature.

When I brought this issue to my supervisor, they suggested adding reviews of other studies that are of the same broader domain as my work but are not directly relevant. I think this suggestion may negatively impact the thesis review.

  • 2
    Why do you think your supervisor's suggestion may negatively impact your literature review?
    – Jeroen
    Oct 28 '21 at 7:08
  • Because when the thesis is submitted for evaluation, the examiner may think that the review included in the chapter is not relevant (maybe tangential) to the work. Oct 28 '21 at 7:14
  • 1
    Your issue seems to be bigger than what you're explicitly asking about. If you are able to understand and communicate connections between your narrow topic and the broader field, as well as possible implications of your results in that broader field, it normally is a big plus. By contrast, narrowing the scope too much is usually crippling and indicative of someone lacking either understanding or metacognition (being aware that something they know is not totally trivial).
    – Lodinn
    Oct 28 '21 at 7:34
  • 1
    Gladly. In this case, I mostly it's usually wrong to think something is too well-known to talk about it and be concerned with that talk being perceived as "padding" the thesis. While you are working on a narrow topic, it feels like everyone knows a whole lot about it. This does not hold true for even the thesis committee. Dissertations have this above average tendency to escalate really quickly from "1 + 1 = 2" to differential topology in a couple of pages, that's true, but they do still include "1 + 1 = 2". Came up recently, relevant: xkcd.com/2501.
    – Lodinn
    Oct 28 '21 at 8:29
  • 1
    Talk to a fellow student generally familiar with the field but working on something notably different. You'd be surprised how much context you need to bring up before you even start explaining your own work. Aim at approximately that level of competence, not your supervisor's one, when writing the thesis. In other words, you should know that others don't know as much of what you know about the topic. Duh, that metacognition stuff does lead to confusingly sounding sentences...
    – Lodinn
    Oct 28 '21 at 8:31

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