Context: I’m in a US PhD program and thus my answer may not be fully appropriate for Masters in UK.
In the US, a Masters thesis is required rather than dissertation, which is required only in PhD programs. In Social Sciences, a Masters thesis shows that you understand the relevant research in some depth and that you can also apply this research to some specific problems or questions. In contrast, a PhD dissertation needs to contribute to research in some important way (even if the contribution is narrow or small).
There are no widely accepted rules for what is appropriate for Background or Literature Review chapters, or whether your thesis should include either or both.
What follows are my views, based on reading various theses and dissertations.
A Background chapter is best used to present contextual or prerequisite information that is important or essential to understand the main body of your thesis. Perhaps there were some historical developments that set the stage for your research questions or thesis. Perhaps there was some debate over key terms or scope of your subfield. Perhaps you are bringing together several disciplines, and you need to explain which aspects of each discipline you are including and not including.
A Literature Review chapter builds a conceptual structure that ties together all the key ideas from all the relevant literature. By “conceptual structure” I mean an organized way of linking individual ideas together so that their relative importance and interrelations are clear and obvious to the reader. What are the main ideas? What ideas support these main ideas? What are the contradictory ideas? On what basis to people decide what ideas or positions to support or oppose?
Viewed this way, what becomes clear is that a Literature Review chapter is less about “literature” and instead is mostly about “review”.
For what it’s worth, in my dissertation I will not have either chapter. Instead, I’ve decided to have a chapter called “Foundations” to cover both of these needs.
I see this as relevant question which many junior researches ponder.
Literature review is usually longer and it can be a whole work/article or a part of a thesis. Background section is usually short and the first part of research article.
For literature review you should thoroughly go through all available studies, assess the important findings in them, discuss them and find some relevance for them. Poor reviews usually list the available studies and their findings. You can hypothesize with some findings especially if controversy exists. For example do the methodological differences explain the possible controversy in the findings. You should not make lengthy or intense speculations since you must stick strictly to the literature available. In the end of literature review you can give some open questions and warrant further research if your review have given examples of controversies or examples of lack of information in the literature.
The background section of a journal article should briefly describe what is reported in the literature so far. Usually you should be able to present some kind absence or need of certain information or a controversy which you will address in your research.
You could also describe shortly why this lack of information or controversy should be solved. You should not hypothesize in any way or make assumptions in the background section. All that should come in the discussion section. Finally, you should only scratch the surface of the literature and not try establish reasons for different or controversial findings seen in the previous studies.
answered Jul 29 ’15 at 16:10
Agreed. Your background section can tell us why you are taking up the specific topic you chose — it will be the bridge between the literature review and the beginning of your actual study. aparente001 Jul 29 ’15 at 22:15
I am working in a technical field where very often “solutions” to certain important / interesting “problems” are investigated. Roughly, the background explains what the reader needs to understand the problem, and the related work explains (and critiques) what others have done to (partially) solve or discuss this problem or related problems.