The Literature Review as Dinner Party

The best advice I had on starting my PhD was to write 3000 words each month, no matter what. After 9 months, my average is closer to 2000 words each month and my literature review, minus the conceptual framework, research questions and methodology, is only around 10,000 words. It hasn’t been easy. I chucked out around 5000 words after 4 months, having re-scoped my research and completely changed the research question. There are still areas in family business, innovation and internationalisation which I haven’t explored in sufficient depth yet. Though with new papers coming out all the time, perhaps I will always feel insufficiently knowledgeable. So what’s the answer? It’s too early to say. As my research question, sub-questions and objectives continue to get refined, and my philosophy, methodology and research design take shape, the literature review will continue to evolve. Sensible advice, as always, comes from Kamler and Thomson (2014) in their chapter on literature reviews; this is unforgettably titled: “Persuading an octopus into a glass”. I read their book early on in my studies. It made a profound impression. Thinking of the literature review as a dinner party, where, as the host, I am orchestrating different conversations, showing appreciation asking probing questions and firmly in charge of proceedings. By the end of the evening, I hope my guests will have been entertained and informed. If my literature review can illustrate the fields relevant to my research, whilst also outlining the nature of the debate, define terms and establish how gaps in the literature justifies my research questions…then I will be satisfied.

Image below “Family Meal” by PascalCampion


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