Do Review Papers Count for the Award of a PhD Degree?

survey paper for PhD

Embarking on the journey towards a PhD is akin to setting sail on uncharted waters, with the promise of exploration and discovery. Yet, the path to earning this pinnacle of academic achievement is not a one-size-fits-all expedition. The question that often arises in the minds of aspiring scholars is, “Do review papers count for the award of a PhD degree?”

In the academic realm, where original contributions are highly esteemed, the role of review papers in the pursuit of a doctoral degree becomes a topic of intrigue and contemplation. As we delve into the depths of this discussion, we’ll navigate the nuances of PhD requirements across disciplines, explore the multifaceted purposes of review papers, and consider their significance in meeting the expectations of discerning PhD committees.

Join me on this intellectual voyage as we unravel the complexities, challenge assumptions, and seek a deeper understanding of the role review papers play in the grand tapestry of PhD research. Whether you’re a doctoral candidate, an academic mentor, or simply curious about the dynamics of scholarly pursuit, let’s set sail together into the realm where academia and originality converge.


Have you ever wondered if the traditional path to a PhD, marked by original research and groundbreaking discoveries, could also embrace the synthesis and critical analysis of existing knowledge? According to a recent survey, the role of review papers in doctoral research has been a subject of growing interest, prompting scholars to question the conventional boundaries of academic contributions.

In the academic landscape, a PhD represents the pinnacle of scholarly achievement, often associated with the creation of new knowledge. However, the spotlight is turning towards an intriguing question: Can review papers, which distill and evaluate the wealth of existing literature, also be considered a valuable currency on the journey to earning a doctoral degree?

As a doctoral candidate navigating the labyrinth of research methodologies and academic expectations, I found myself at a crossroads. Contemplating the conventional wisdom that a PhD must be built on original research, I began to question the role of review papers in my own academic journey. This curiosity sparked a quest to unravel the perceptions, challenges, and potential triumphs associated with incorporating review papers into the fabric of a PhD dissertation.

Definition and Purpose of Review Papers

Review papers, often referred to as literature reviews, serve as comprehensive examinations and critical syntheses of existing research within a specific field. Unlike empirical studies that generate new data, review papers meticulously analyze, summarize, and evaluate the collective findings of numerous studies, providing a panoramic view of the current state of knowledge on a particular subject.

The integration of review papers into a PhD dissertation involves synthesizing existing knowledge, addressing gaps or challenges in the literature, and leveraging a comprehensive review to contribute meaningfully to the scholarly discourse within a specific field.

Purpose of review papers in academia

In academia, review papers play a crucial role in several dimensions. One primary purpose is to offer a comprehensive overview of existing research, distilling complex information into an accessible format for both seasoned scholars and those entering the field. This function aids in consolidating the vast body of knowledge, allowing researchers to grasp the historical context, major findings, and potential gaps in understanding a specific topic.

Furthermore, review papers serve as valuable tools for researchers aiming to identify patterns, trends, and areas of consensus or contention within a field. They act as intellectual roadmaps, guiding scholars through the labyrinth of published literature, and enabling a nuanced understanding of the subject matter.

Review papers contribute significantly to the expansion and refinement of the existing body of knowledge within a particular discipline. By synthesizing diverse studies, methodologies, and perspectives, these papers not only provide a snapshot of the current understanding but also pave the way for further exploration and inquiry. They serve as catalysts for intellectual discourse, helping researchers navigate the ever-evolving landscape of their field and inspiring new avenues of investigation.

For instance, a review paper on advancements in cancer research may not only summarize key findings but also identify gaps in understanding, suggesting areas where additional research is warranted. In this way, review papers become integral to the continuous dialogue that propels academic disciplines forward.

PhD Requirements Across Disciplines

The pursuit of a PhD is a diverse and multifaceted journey, and the expectations for doctoral candidates can vary significantly across disciplines. In the realm of the natural sciences, for instance, a traditional dissertation might involve the design and execution of novel experiments, pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge.

Contrastingly, in the humanities or social sciences, a dissertation may lean towards in-depth archival research, extensive fieldwork, or the critical analysis of existing texts and theories.

Common expectations for original contributions in PhD dissertations

Across diverse disciplines, a common thread that binds the fabric of a PhD is the expectation of original contributions to the field. In the realm of computer science, this might manifest as the creation of innovative algorithms or software solutions that address pressing challenges. Meanwhile, in literature or history, original contributions could involve uncovering untold narratives, challenging established interpretations, or introducing novel theoretical frameworks.

Importance of understanding discipline-specific norms

Crucial to the success of any doctoral endeavour is a profound understanding of the specific norms and expectations within one’s discipline. A groundbreaking contribution in one field might be defined by pioneering experimentation, while in another, it could be a thought-provoking reinterpretation of existing paradigms.

For example, a doctoral candidate in environmental science might be expected to produce tangible, real-world applications for their research, while a philosophy candidate may contribute significantly through the development of new philosophical frameworks.

Understanding and navigating these discipline-specific norms ensures that PhD candidates not only meet the expectations of their evaluators but also make meaningful contributions that align with the unique challenges and opportunities of their chosen field.

The Role of Review Papers in PhD Dissertations

The integration of review papers into a PhD dissertation represents a dynamic approach to contributing to the scholarly conversation. Rather than adhering strictly to the conventional format of original research, some doctoral candidates choose to include comprehensive review papers that not only showcase their mastery of existing literature but also demonstrate their ability to synthesize and critically analyze diverse perspectives.

For instance, a PhD candidate in psychology might structure their dissertation to include a review paper on the evolution of therapeutic interventions for a specific mental health condition, setting the stage for their subsequent empirical research.

Examples of successful PhD theses that included review papers

Numerous successful PhD theses stand as testaments to the efficacy of incorporating review papers. Take, for instance, the work of my research scholar who authored a survey paper titled ‘Systematic analysis of satellite image-based land cover classification techniques: literature review and challenges’.

The inclusion of the survey paper not only provided a comprehensive review of existing literature but also positioned the original research within the broader landscape of satellite image-based land cover classification advancements.

Potential benefits of using a review paper format

The benefits of adopting a review paper format within a PhD dissertation are multifaceted. Firstly, it allows candidates to showcase their analytical and synthesis skills, demonstrating a deep understanding of the current state of knowledge in their field.

Secondly, it offers a platform to identify gaps and challenges in existing literature, laying the groundwork for subsequent original contributions.

Lastly, a well-crafted review paper can enhance the overall coherence of a dissertation, providing a structured narrative that guides the reader through the evolution of ideas and research in a given domain.

Consider a candidate in education whose dissertation includes a comprehensive review paper on the efficacy of different pedagogical approaches. This sets the stage for their subsequent empirical study, showcasing not only their commitment to original research but also their ability to situate their work within the broader educational landscape.

Synthesizing Existing Knowledge

At the heart of every review paper lies the invaluable skill of synthesizing and critically evaluating existing literature. Imagine a doctoral candidate in neuroscience tasked with exploring the neural mechanisms underlying memory formation.

By engaging in a meticulous review of studies spanning decades, they can synthesize disparate findings, identify patterns, and critically evaluate methodologies. This process not only lays the groundwork for their original research but also showcases their ability to navigate the complexities of their field.

How a comprehensive review demonstrates a deep understanding of the field

A comprehensive review is a testament to a researcher’s profound understanding of the field. Consider a PhD candidate in economics undertaking a dissertation on the impact of monetary policies on economic growth.

By conducting a comprehensive review of economic theories, historical policy implementations, and empirical studies, they not only demonstrate a deep understanding of the intricate web of economic literature but also set the stage for their own contributions to this complex conversation.

Examples of how review papers can contribute to the scholarly conversation

Review papers play a pivotal role in contributing to the scholarly conversation by offering new insights, identifying gaps, and fostering dialogue.

Take, for instance, a review paper on sustainable urban development within the realm of architecture. By synthesizing existing knowledge on green building practices, urban planning, and social considerations, the paper contributes a holistic perspective that inspires further research and informs future architectural endeavours. This not only enriches the existing literature but also invites a broader discourse on sustainable urban development.

In another example, a review paper in psychology exploring the evolving understanding of a specific mental health disorder could shed light on changing diagnostic criteria, treatment approaches, and societal perceptions. By critically evaluating the evolution of thought in the field, the review paper contributes to the ongoing dialogue surrounding mental health, guiding future researchers and practitioners.

How review papers can identify gaps, controversies, or challenges in the existing literature?

One of the pivotal roles of a review paper is to serve as a compass, guiding researchers to uncharted territories within a field by identifying gaps, controversies, and challenges in the existing literature. Consider a review paper in the field of artificial intelligence, exploring the applications of machine learning in healthcare.

Through a meticulous examination of the literature, the paper may uncover a gap in research regarding the ethical implications of using machine learning algorithms in medical decision-making. By addressing this gap, the review paper not only contributes to the understanding of current knowledge but also lays the groundwork for future exploration and ethical considerations in the field.

Emphasize how this identification can pave the way for future research directions

The identification of gaps, controversies, or challenges in existing literature acts as a catalyst for future research directions. Imagine a review paper in the realm of environmental science examining the impact of climate change on biodiversity.

If the literature reveals a dearth of studies on the specific effects of climate change on a particular species, the review paper not only points out this gap but also provides a roadmap for researchers to delve into this unexplored aspect. This identification serves as an open invitation for scholars to address the existing gaps, fostering a continuous cycle of research and knowledge expansion.

Meeting PhD Committee Expectations

Communication with your PhD committee is paramount to the success of your academic journey, especially when choosing a non-traditional format such as incorporating review papers.

Consider a student pursuing a PhD in public health who has decided to include a comprehensive review paper on emerging infectious diseases in their dissertation. Before embarking on this path, the student could schedule a meeting with their committee to discuss the rationale behind choosing this format.

During the meeting, they might emphasize the value of providing a holistic context for their empirical studies and seek feedback on how to structure the review paper effectively. Open and transparent communication sets the stage for a collaborative and supportive relationship with the committee.

Aligning your work with the expectations of your specific program

Each PhD program comes with its own set of expectations, and aligning your work with these expectations is crucial. For instance, a candidate pursuing a PhD in sociology might choose to include a review paper on the historical evolution of social inequality before delving into their primary research on contemporary income disparities.

To ensure alignment with the program’s expectations, the candidate can proactively engage with their advisor and committee, seeking guidance on how to integrate the review paper seamlessly into the dissertation. By doing so, the candidate not only demonstrates their commitment to meeting program expectations but also ensures that their chosen format enhances the overall quality of their dissertation.

In another scenario, a candidate pursuing a PhD in computer science may opt for a review paper on the state-of-the-art algorithms in their subfield. To align their work with program expectations, they might discuss their approach with the committee, highlighting the potential contributions of synthesizing existing knowledge before introducing their original algorithms.

This proactive communication allows the candidate to navigate potential concerns and ensures a clear understanding of how the review paper aligns with the program’s requirements.

Personal Insights and Experiences

Embarking on a PhD journey is not merely an intellectual endeavor but a personal and transformative experience. As a doctoral candidate, I found myself at the intersection of tradition and innovation in structuring my dissertation. In my research on sustainable urban planning, I chose to incorporate a review paper that delved into the historical evolution of green infrastructure practices. This decision stemmed from my belief that understanding the historical context would enrich the empirical findings of my original research.

Discuss any challenges or successes you encountered during the process

The integration of a review paper into my dissertation was not without its challenges. Navigating the expectations of my committee, who were more accustomed to traditional empirical dissertations, required open communication and a willingness to address concerns. However, this challenge became an opportunity for constructive dialogue, allowing me to articulate the pedagogical value of presenting a comprehensive historical overview before introducing my innovative urban planning models.

On the flip side, the success of this approach became evident as my dissertation unfolded. The review paper served as a powerful introduction, laying a solid foundation for the subsequent chapters. It not only contextualized my original research within the broader field of urban planning but also received positive feedback from colleagues and scholars in the field. This dual approach not only fulfilled the requirements of my program but also allowed me to contribute a unique perspective to the scholarly discourse.

By sharing these personal insights and experiences, I hope to encourage fellow researchers to embrace the challenges of unconventional formats and find value in weaving personal convictions into the fabric of their academic contributions.

Unlock Exclusive Access to the PhD Navigator Tool – for a Streamlined Research Experience for FREE!

Dear fellow researchers,

If you are a PhD research scholar or planning to pursue PhD, I understand the value of time in your PhD journey. That’s why I have organized my blog posts related to PhD meticulously, categorizing more than 100 articles into various stages of PhD (from planning of PhD to careers after PhD).

You can get this tool ABSOLUTELY FREE, by sending an email to [email protected] with the subject line “Subscribe: PhD Navigator Tool-1.0” By subscribing not only will you gain free access to this invaluable tool, but you’ll also receive regular updates on this tool and our blog’s latest insights, tips, and resources tailored for researchers.

You can also visit my all articles related to PhD in my PhD Section. Of course, theses articles are in random order as I have written them whenever I got new ideas.

Happy researching!

Best regards,

Dr Vijay Rajpurohit


In navigating the intricate terrain of review papers within the realm of PhD dissertations, we’ve explored the multifaceted roles they play in contributing to scholarly conversations. From synthesizing existing knowledge and addressing gaps to meeting the expectations of PhD committees, the versatility of review papers has been underscored throughout our exploration.

By delving into the value of synthesizing and critically evaluating existing literature, we’ve seen how review papers showcase a deep understanding of a field. The examples provided, ranging from neuroscience to economics, illustrated the diverse ways in which researchers can leverage this format to distill complex information and set the stage for their original contributions.

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Dr. Vijay Rajpurohit
Author: Dr. Vijay Rajpurohit
Dr. Vijay Rajpurohit is a researcher in Computer Science. He loves to educate researchers and research scholars on Research Paper Writing, Thesis Writing, Research Grants, Patenting Research Work and the latest Research-related issues. You can reach him @ [email protected]