The following question has been induced by a comment to the question What to do if chosen topic has been done in a foreign language.

I know four languages (+-1) sufficiently well to be able to read and comprehend literature specific to my field (math/phys). When doing a literature survey before starting the research phase for my thesis (masters now, phd later) should I look for literature in all the languages I comprehend or would only two (i.e., EN/DE or EN/RU) suffice?

Specifically for masters a check in all the languages seems like an overkill to me, given the limited amount of time available.

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    Think of the literature search from a different perspective -- you might be able to find a gem in one language that you could reveal to people who don't speak that language. Or a gem that provides an unexpected connection upon which to build your thesis. This is power available to you. Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 19:19
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    No one ever covers enough in their literature review, and part of the responsibility of your supervisor is to ensure that you cover enough. But being able to read four languages is surely an advantage, so don't waste it! Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 22:22

1 Answer 1


I would not do a multi-language literature search for Master's degree (due to limited time, as you mentioned, plus simply because expectations for a Master's level of research are significantly lower than the one of Ph.D. level. Having said that, I've seen some pretty solid research-focused Master's theses, but they are relatively rare.

On the other hand, performing a multi-language literature review for a Ph.D. research seems like a good idea, as it would allow you to cover the topic as well as related fields of study and research streams much more comprehensively (in both width and depth), which is an expectation for a doctoral-level research. However, you should always be focused on your main goals and assess your literature search with overall Ph.D. program's and dissertation's time frames in mind. It is so very easy to get addicted to exploring vast volumes of existing research, even restricting yourself to a particular subject domain. That introduces the risk of spending way too much time on that, jeopardizing other essential parts of your research study. You have been warned! And good luck!

  • While both expectations and experience are indeed lower when writing a Master's thesis, having (depending on the university) six months entirely devoted to one particular endeavour, the Master thesis topic, without any other tasks and deadlines in parallel, usually allows for a lot more net time than what any PhD candidate can generally spend on literature search for any given single paper. (This is only partially compensated for by the fact that sometimes, several papers benefit from the same literature research to some extent due to overlapping topics.) Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 7:18
  • @O.R.Mapper: It's a good point, however, I don't think that such time difference is a common case. IMHO it's very dependent on the institution as well as on student's circumstances at the moment. Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 7:24
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    Indeed, it depends a lot on the organization and culture of the university. My comment was based on the situation where PhD candidates generally have to write one or more papers at a time, while also doing or managing some implementation work for projects they are funded from, having some teaching tasks related to lectures, tutorials or seminars, supervising Bachelor and Master students, and possibly performing some minor secondary duties in the department all the time, whereas Master students have six months to work on their thesis and only their thesis. Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 7:29
  • @O.R.Mapper: I see. As I haven't had such an extensive experience (very school- and program-dependent), I can't confirm that. However, I believe you on that and your point makes a lot of sense. Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 7:37

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