This posting aims to help graduate students write a good literature review for their qualifying exam, proposal, or thesis.
In the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah, the qualifier examination is not a proposal, so there is no expectation that your Qual paper should propose new research. Your literature review should, however, critically assess existing research in the subject area by pointing out specific limitations of (and, if applicable, errors in) existing published work. The qualifier paper is meant to show that you can string together a coherent scholarly discussion. The qualifier paper can have a fairly broad literature review as long as it still limits attention to mechanical engineering topics. The proposal document, on the other hand, should include a literature review that is more tightly related to your proposed research, as your aim is to convince the committee that your proposed work is (1) important to the field of Mechanical Engineering and (2) has not been done. The thesis document should include an updated literature review that suggests no one else has accomplished the same thing during the time you were working on it (or prior to your efforts, but inadvertently overlooked in your original literature review). The final thesis literature review should also thoroughly compare/contrast your own accomplishments with alternative approaches in contemporary literature.