Q: Can I write the theoretical background for my literature review in a thematic order?

Detailed Question -

According to my university, the chapter of the literature review includes not only the previous studies but the theoretical background as well. I am wondering if it is okay to present the content of the sections under this chapter in a thematic order. For instance, if one of the sections discusses manipulation, can I start by citing a recent source, and then, in the next paragraphs, I cite an older one? I usually hear that the content should be presented chronologically. The problem is that sometimes I find the thematic order much more appropriate.

1 Answer to this question

Hello Safaa – Welcome back to the forum! Let’s get to your query straight away, but with a ‘disclaimer.’ So, as you have begun your question with the phrase “according to my university,” it may be a good idea to also check with your supervisor and follow their advice if you find that to be different from that provided below.

So, the theoretical background will presumably include several topics, each of which can be treated as a theme. Each theme will form a separate heading, and the themes will be the main headings in that chapter. Within each heading, what you are suggesting will work better because readers will see the latest research first, followed by the next most recent work, and so on. You are thus following the chronological order, but in reverse.

Most research builds on earlier research, and you will need to explain how the latest research was based on the research that came only a little before, and how, in turn, that research was based on slightly less recent research, and so on. Organized this way, your literature review will present all the relevant work systematically. To explain through a literature/humanities analogy (as that seems to be your field), you would be following the Agatha Christie model: her murder mysteries open with the murder, and the rest of the book, by working backwards, shows the reader how that moment was reached. :-)

For more information, you may find the following resources helpful:

All the best for your review!

[With inputs from Yateendra Joshi]