I have been offering a telephone consultation for 3 years and exchange ideas with students on a regular basis, sometimes up to 12 students call me a month and ask me their questions. I think that’s very good and I’m happy to help. Since I can only help a limited number of students per month, I pour the most common questions into blog articles. In this article I would like to address a very frequently asked question: “What actually goes into the basics and what goes into the literature analysis?”

The basics create a basis for the reader and is like a lexicon

The basics are the foundation of the work and explain the most important terms without reference to the research question. As a first step, you have to consider which terms you want to include. I always recommend using the terms from the title and research question. For example: Effects of digitization on SMEs with a focus on knowledge-intensive service providers – should contain the words digitization, SMEs and knowledge work. You can now include terms that are often used in your work, such as Scrum. You should also define all research methods used (explanation, advantages and disadvantages).

Important: The aim is that you give the reader a basis so that he can understand your work. You do not have to carry out a literature analysis but explain the terms and research methods to the reader in a completely general way, just like in a lexicon.

You can imagine the structure like a Wikipedia page or a lexicon like the Gabler Lexicon. For example, you want to explain work. The Gabler Lexicon already has the term here very well lit from every nook and cranny. Quote the article, mix in 2-3 sources and you have already explained the term meaningfully. The same is also true for research methods. I recommend 1-2 pages per term for terms and 2-3 pages for research methods.

Show in the pages what the term means in various contexts and end each sub-chapter with: In this work the term is understood as XY or, in the case of research methods: There are numerous ways to carry out a literature analysis. In this work the methodology of Webster and Watson is preferred. I recommend setting up the thesis like this (Chapter 1 is the introduction):

Chapter 2: Research methodological fundamentals with sub-chapters
2.1 Basics of empirical research
2.2 Literature analysis
2.3. Expert interviews
2.4. Qualitative survey

Chapter 3: Conceptual Basics
2.1 SMEs
2.2. digitalization
2.3 Knowledge work

Important: Of course, you also have to do a little literature search on Google and databases. But this is far less detailed than the main analysis. You just have to define the term meaningfully without reference to the research question.

The literature analysis examines a wide variety of contents and has a precise procedure

A search in academic databases using search strings describes, summarizes, evaluates, clarifies and integrates similar results and approaches ( Fettke 2006). Although this does not primarily generate new knowledge, it can help to structure the existing knowledge and to build on it. The procedure includes the literature search, literature evaluation and analysis and interpretation in the context of the research question.

A literature analysis follows a precise procedure such as

So you show exactly how you searched for literature and only evaluate meaningful content in the context of the research question. I have already written a large article about it, which I attach as a reading tip.

Reading tip: Literature analysis


You notice that the basics, as the name suggests, provide a foundation and have nothing directly to do with the research question, but rather lay a foundation that someone is able to understand your work. The literature analysis, on the other hand, follows a precise scheme and provides findings adapted to the research question.

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I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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