What’s the Gap?
There are several jobs of the literature review of your dissertation. The first is to show that there is a need for your study, therefore it is justified. Another important job is to identify what literature has not been done on the topic or in other words, what is still not fully understood. You need to have read A LOT of research to figure this out. You will not cite everything you read, but ALL of your reading is what helps you to be able to stand up in the end, and declare the gap.
You have a gap if the research related to the level 1 topic heading:
- has not been studied with a certain population
- has been studied in some content areas but not “yours”
- has been primarily studied using a single methodology
- there is research on two sides of an issue and more research is still needed to help further understanding
- includes poor quality research (usually research design or implementation)
- is built on an incorrect assumption
- consistently uses the same conceptual framework and therefore lacks multiple views of the issues (you will propose an innovative way)
But what if you didn’t find a gap for a certain level 1 heading? That’s fine! In that case you will review the consensus on the topic and how reliable that consensus is.
While you are likely to be discussing the gap and consensus as it comes up in the body paragraphs of the level 1 writing, I am suggesting that you dedicate one full paragraph at the end of each APA level 1 heading of your literature review to stand up on a rock, fist pump in the air, and boldly identify and declare the gap!
Last Paragraph in Each Lit Review APA Level 1 Heading
Let’s talk about the last paragraph of an APA Level 1 Heading in your literature review. This paragraph is not really a summary of what was in the section; rather, it is a well thought out synthesis of the topic and related to your proposed study. Note: This applies only to the literature review, section of chapter 2, not all sections in chapters 1-3.
The purposes of this paragraph may differ slightly depending on what you’ve found in the literature, but may include any or all of the following:
- Identifying any gaps in the literature
- Discussing the consensus of what is known about the topic.
- Why the gap is important and should be studied
- Connecting the literature to your proposed study
- How your study will add understanding to that gap
- How your approach to the gap will add understanding
- How your study will be situated within and expand on current research.
This paragraph is your final synthesis of what the literature says rather than specific studies. Therefore, citations in this paragraph are not necessary unless you’re calling out a single study for a specific reason. This paragraph is YOU synthesizing. In terms of you being the glue, this paragraph is you acting as super glue! It is best to write this paragraph with a landscape view of the topic, highlighting important elements and then pulling it all together for the reader. You might however, have a citation that also identified a specific area of the topic’s gap, and so you would include it. Most importantly, this last paragraph should connect the topic to your proposed study.
Here are two templates you can use when writing this all important paragraph. Notice that it touches on a number of the bullets listed above. Each last level 1 paragraph will sound similar, but can be varied depending on what bullets need to be addressed based on what you found in the literature in that section.
Literature on [TOPIC -HEADING OF THE LEVEL 1 HEADING] ranges from [WHAT] to [WHAT]. Data from study results in the last five years have lead researchers come to the conclusion [CONSENSUS]. The gap that remains is [DESCRIBE GAP]. This gap is important because [WHY]. While some studies explored [WHAT] (cite), and [WHAT] (cite), this proposed study will explore [WHAT]. My study will expand on current research [HOW] and add understanding to the gap [HOW].
In my review of the literature related to [TOPIC -HEADING OF THE LEVEL 1 HEADING], the themes that emerged were [LEVEL 2 Heading], [LEVEL 2 Heading], and [LEVEL 2 Heading]. The research however, has primarily focused on [WHAT] and has been conducted using [METHODOLOGY]. There are several gaps that remain. One is [GAP #1]. Another gap is [DESCRIBE GAP #2]. These gaps are important because [WHY]. This proposed study will expand on current research [HOW]. The approach [DESCRIBE APPROACH] of this proposed study will add understanding to the gap [HOW].
Notice how I weaved in varying elements of the bulleted list of how to identify a gap as well as the bulleted list of the purpose of this paragraph. You’ll likely add additional sentences to further support sentence starters I’ve provided in the template, but hopefully this will get you started and show you how you might include other elements of those bulleted lists.
For really long APA level 1 headings you may find its easier to bring up the gap throughout topic writing, but for most sections, these templates provided will work as a starting place to write the last paragraph in the level 1 heading section. I encourage you to copy and paste this template and use it for every level 1 heading within the literature review section of chapter 2. While you may vary the words and mix up the order within the template while crafting this final paragraph, the purpose of highlighting the gap and connecting the literature to YOUR study must be realized. Connect the gap(s) you find aligned to the purposes of your study when you can, using the same language use to describe your problem, purpose and research questions.
You can do this!
Remember, each APA level 1 heading of the literature review can be viewed as a mini-paper. Approach your literature review this way, with a final paragraph linking it to your proposed study, and you’ll make steady progress through chapter 2. Good luck!