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Prepared by University of Waterloo

Section C: Parts of a Literature Review

This section closely examines and discusses the parts of a literature review in addition to readers' expectations.

What will I learn?

By the end of this section, you will be able to

  • understand the purpose and features of each part of a literature review,
  • identify and analyze the necessary information to include within each section, and
  • use the Review Matrix to help you write a literature review.

What is the Purpose of an Introduction?

The introduction moves from general to more specific background information, giving readers contextual knowledge on your topic. The introduction states the scope of your literature review, includes your thesis, gives your objective, tells readers how the review is organized, and situates your work in the existing scholarly conversation.

What should be Included in an Introduction?

Use the following questions as a guide to write your introduction:


Guiding Questions

  • What context or background information do readers need to know in order to understand the conversation between scholars and your analysis of it?
  • In what ways is the research area important, interesting, problematic, or relevant?
  • What do we not know about how the topic has been approached or applied?
  • From what scholarly perspective has this topic been viewed? How can it be viewed differently?

Tips and Strategies

  • Avoid providing too many details for background information.
  • State the problem as specifically and clearly as possible.
  • Highlight significance or importance of the topic.


Guiding Questions

  • What is the purpose of your literature review?
  • Can you turn your research question into a statement?
Tips and Strategies
  • Avoid rhetorical questions.
  • Make sure your objective is consistent with your scope.


Guiding Questions

  • How did you find your articles for review?
  • What were your inclusion criteria?
  • Were the studies you consulted limited by publication year, methodology, geographic area of publication or focus, theoretical framework, author perspective, or subtopic?
  • Can you justify deliberately excluding works that address your topic in some way?
  • Most topics have the potential to be quite large. How will you limit important components that comprise your topic (Figure C.1) and how much detail will you devote to each of these aspects (Figure C.2)?
Although five sources are related to your topic, only three fit within your scope parameter.

Figure C.1: Choose your scope

Choose sources that are related to your topic, but that also fall within your selection criteria. This may mean excluding sources that are only somewhat related to your topic in favour of sources that better fit within your search parameters.
© University of Waterloo

A series of maps, each image progressively zooming in from the whole world to just Ontario.

Figure C.2: Choose your level of detail

Some elements of your topic will require more investigation than others. Determine how much detail and depth each component of your literature review will require. For instance, is a wide perspective sufficient to give an overview of the scholarly discussion on your topic, or do you need to focus on complex details of small sections of your topic? Not all sections of your literature review will require the same level of detail, so choose your approach accordingly.
© University of Waterloo and NASA


Guiding Questions

  • What is your principal finding?
  • What is the value of your finding?
  • What is the answer to your research question?
  • Have you explained your thesis statement beyond simply stating a fact?
  • Has your thesis statement addressed 'how' and 'why' questions?

Tips and Strategies

  • State your thesis clearly.
  • Your thesis needs to answer your research question, not simply reiterate your research question as a statement.
  • Have a working thesis before starting to write your literature review, but know that you will most likely refine it while writing because your ideas will become clearer as you explain your analysis.
  • Use words like 'because,' 'through,' 'by,' or 'due to' and answer 'how' and 'why' questions to extend your thesis statement.


Guiding Questions

  • How is your literature review structured?
  • What sections are in your literature review?

Tips and Strategies

  • Outline the order of sections in your literature review.
  • Use signal words to explain the relationship between those sections.

What are the Purposes of Body Paragraphs?

Body paragraphs work together to logically discuss your synthesis and analysis of sources. The body paragraphs support your thesis and present your overall conclusions about your research.

What should be included in Body Paragraphs?

Clear Organization

Guiding Questions

  • Does your organization method match the purpose of your literature review?
  • Can your material be arranged chronologically, thematically, or along lines of debate?
  • Does the placement of each paragraph contribute to your literature review's logic and clarity?
  • Do your paragraphs work together to create a cohesive argument?

Tips and strategies

  • Decide on an organization method and stick with it.
  • Use clear topic sentences.
  • Sequence body paragraphs in a logical way.
  • Use reverse outlining techniques to ensure your body paragraphs not only fit together, but also collectively integrate your research and findings.


Guiding Questions

  • Do your headings match the content of your body paragraphs?
  • Are your headings succinct?
  • Do you have enough content to warrant a heading?
  • Does the order of your headings contribute to the overall logic of your literature review?

Tips and Strategies

  • Make sure you have more than one heading if you plan on using headings at all.
  • Write your headings as a phrase instead of as an independent clause .
  • Avoid wordiness while crafting your heading.
  • Refer to your style guide for formatting requirements, such as bolding, capitalizing, and italicizing.

Effective Body Paragraphing

Guiding Questions

  • Does your paragraph have a topic sentence?
  • Do you include supporting evidence?
  • Do you analyze and discuss your evidence?
  • Do your paragraphs concentrate on only one point each?
  • Does any information belong in other paragraphs?

Tips and Strategies

  • Avoid repetition and redundancy within your paragraphs. Aim to extend and explain rather than to restate.
  • Your topic sentence should make a claim that contributes to your thesis statement.
  • Vary the stylistic construction of your topic sentences. For example, if your previous paragraph began with "Researchers have found...," then your next paragraph should not begin with that same phrase.
  • Use precise words in your topic sentence.*
*Using precise words in your topic sentence
  • NO: There are several studies that address this problem.
  • YES: Several studies address the problem of storing solar power.
  • NO: He later restructured these studies to incorporate Fry's theorem.
  • YES: Young incorporated Fry's theorem into his later studies, from 1999 to 2005.

Evidence from Sources

Guiding Questions

  • Does your paragraph contain sufficient evidence to support your claim?
  • Do you explain how your evidence supports your claim?
  • Is the amount of evidence you incorporate appropriate to the amount of analysis you provide?
  • Have you used evidence and analysis from your Matrix?
  • Does your evidence fit with the content of your paragraph while also building your argument?
Tips and Strategies
  • Avoid listing facts without explaining them.
  • Balance your analysis with your evidence.
  • Avoid relying too heavily on a limited number of sources.
  • Rather than treating a source individually, treat it in relation to other sources.
  • Place your evidence so that it displays a logical progression.

Paraphrase, Quotation, and Summary

Guiding Questions

  • Have you selected the appropriate method to integrate evidence (i.e., paraphrase, quotation, summary)?
  • Have you properly cited your paraphrase, quotation, or summary?
  • Have you used proper punctuation to integrate your quotations?
  • Does your quotation, paraphrase, or summary grammatically fit within your sentence?
  • Have you accurately represented ideas that you are paraphrasing or summarizing?
  • Have you treated your quotations, paraphrases, or summaries with academic integrity?
  • Have you introduced your paraphrase, summary, or quotation to the reader using signal words?

Tips and Strategies

  • Input citation information as you write to not lose track of sources.
  • Use verb tenses to contextualize your evidence and analysis (past vs. present vs. present perfect).
  • Consult your style guide for quotation and citation formatting.
  • Revisit the purpose of your literature review while deciding when to paraphrase, summarize, or quote.
  • Read sentences that contain quoted material out loud. If the sentence is awkward, adjust the punctuation and grammar to better integrate the material.

Example Body Paragraph

Click through the numbers below to see how the various components of a paragraph function and work together.

While there is little doubt that extracurricular opportunities at U of W are a positive and critical component of students' overall development, providing students with time management skills is equally important. One only needs to look at past alumni to see the validity of this claim. As famous alum, Harry Wright states: "I sometimes overdid it with extracurricular activities when I was at U of W, missing out on valuable academic opportunities. Fortunately, I buckled down in my senior year and managed a "C" average, and things have worked out fine since" (Paige 227). In this example, Harry Wright is arguing that the detrimental effects of excessive extracurricular involvement can be rectified in the senior year of university. Even though Harry Wright is certainly correct when he implies that it is never too late for students to try to raise their GPA, it is probably better for students to attempt to balance academic and other activities early in their university career. Also, Wright assumes that all students can achieve what they want with a "C" average, but many students need higher GPAs in order to apply for professional school, graduate school, and entry-level jobs. Although extracurricular activities are often a positive and critical component of student life at U of W, administrators should consider providing a time management education and awareness course for all incoming students. After all, not every U of W graduate will be as lucky as Harry Wright. If UW students are going to succeed in business and higher education, they need to first understand the importance of time management.

Adapted from The Writing Center, University of Washington

What is the purpose of a conclusion?

The conclusion summarizes your literature review including the key themes, overall findings, relevance of the topic to current knowledge, and future directions for research.

What should be included in a conclusion?

Summary of your Findings

Guiding Questions

  • What are the key discoveries and outcomes of your literature review?
  • What are some of the main points of similarity and difference?
  • What are the main points of debate?
  • What are the main patterns that have emerged?
  • Has the approach to the topic changed over time?

Tips and Strategies

  • Revisit your Matrix to see your sources collectively.
  • Review your topic sentences to see your main arguments.
  • Highlight key findings of academic interest that may not already be known.
  • Be concise and avoid restating what has already been summarized in the body of your literature review.

Concluding Statement about your Overall Findings

Guiding Questions

  • What is your analysis of your findings?
  • What do your findings combine to tell you and why is this significant?

Tips and Strategies

  • Ask yourself "so what?"
  • Make sure your thesis and your overall conclusions align.

Relevance to current knowledge on the topic

Guiding Questions

  • How do your findings contribute to the current discussion in the field?
  • How are you building on the current discussion?
  • How do your findings fit in with what has already been published?
Tips and Strategies
  • Revisit your Matrix to see the main findings and limitations of each study.
  • Revisit the gaps you discovered in the body of knowledge on your topic and consider if your findings address them.

Directions for future research

Guiding Questions

  • What research still needs to be done on or surrounding your topic?
  • Can the gaps you discovered in the current body of literature be addressed through new approaches, questions, methodologies, or ideologies?
  • What kind of research will benefit the body of knowledge on your topic the most? Why?
  • Are any researchers or scholars trying new approaches, methodologies, or topics that can be used to address gaps in the body of knowledge in novel ways? If so, how?

Tips and Strategies

  • Revisit your Matrix to assess ways of filling gaps in the current body of knowledge.
  • Make sure your recommendations are specific enough to be useful.
  • Avoid generalizing and making assumptions.
  • Explain the rationale behind your recommendations.
  • Explain theoretical implications or practical applications of your findings.

Limitations of your research

Guiding Questions

  • Have any constraints influenced your research or conclusions?
  • Are your findings only valid in some contexts or to some researchers?
  • Are there instances when your findings might not be applicable?
  • Do the instances when your findings cannot be applied represent a gap in the current body of knowledge? If so, should research be conducted to address this gap?
Tips and Strategies
  • Be realistic and transparent regarding your findings and contributions to the current scholarly discussion on your topic.
  • Considering how your findings can best be used may help you determine their limitations.

Different style guides use different reference list formats. For example, MLA requires a Works Cited page, whereas the Chicago Manual of Style requires a Bibliography. Be sure to carefully follow your citation style guide for reference list formatting.

Health Sciences Annotated Literature Review

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History Annotated Literature Review

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Key Takeaways

  • Write according to reader expectations.
  • Be sure your evidence and analyses work together to support your main point.
  • Use clear organization to ensure your points build on each other.


Swales, J., & Feak, C. (2013). Academic writing for graduate students. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press

Reto Stöckli, NASA Earth Observatory. (2004). December, Blue Marble Next Generation W/ Topography and Bathymetry [Photograph], Retrieved October 12, 2016, from:

University of Waterloo. (2016). Choose your scope [Illustration], Created October 17, 2016.

University of Waterloo. (2016). Choose your level of detail [Illustration], Created October 17, 2016.

University of Waterloo. (2016). Health Sciences Annotated Literature Review PDF.

University of Waterloo. (2016). History Annotated Literature Review PDF.

Next Section Overview

In Section D: Critical Writing Skills, you will learn the critical writing skills you need to use while writing your literature review.

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