Reviewing the literature: The genesis of a writing course for PhD students

Cathy Benson and Kenneth Anderson


This paper recounts the creation of a course for PhD students offered by the English Language department of a Scottish university, from inception to delivery and evaluation. The original rationale underlying the course was an awareness that there was a large gap in our provision for second-year PhD students, and no provision for MSc by research students. While aware that reviewing literature in their field is an ongoing process throughout the PhD journey, we believed that the second year of study would be appropriate timing for a course on Reviewing the Literature. We begin this paper with a brief literature review, covering both research referring to literature reviews and publications providing more practical guidance. We go on to report on the empirical study which underpinned the course development. In order to ascertain what students found challenging about reviewing literature, and what supervisors expected of a literature review, we conducted interviews with PhD students participating in our existing courses and open-ended questionnaires were distributed to PhD supervisors. Key findings are reported here, followed by an outline of course content and a brief summary of student feedback. Some sample tasks can be found in the appendices.