4.  Writing the body paragraphs

The body paragraphs of a literature review should include summaries, syntheses, analyses and evaluation of sources.


(i)      Summarizing and synthesizing sources

Summarizing and synthesizing is a key component in writing a literature review. A summary presents key ideas and information from sources. Summarizing previous literature helps you understand the key ideas and content in the topic as they were discussed and interpreted by different scholars. When summarizing, you need to paraphrase the ideas from the sources to avoid plagiarism.

Synthesizing brings information from each source together and combines them into a coherent whole. A synthesis can consolidate summaries of several sources and point out their relationships. It enables you to provide background, explore causes and effects, contrast explanations, or consolidate support for your thesis. Here are the typical steps involved in writing a synthesis:


·         Step 1: Read and understand your source materials fully.

·         Step 2: Look for connections between the materials.

·         Step 3: Write body paragraphs to present the key findings identified from your sources and highlight their co-relations.


Below is an example of a summary and synthesis with a writing teacher’s annotations.


Sample writing

Teacher’s annotations

Although digital photography brings convenience to people’s everyday life, different scholars have also voiced concerns about over-reliance on photo-taking devices. Internationally recognized fine art photographer Axel Gilbert proposes that the compulsive habit of taking photos with smartphones impairs one’s ability to truly appreciate a real-life experience [1]. Sukenik [2] supports Gilbert’s view in her book on impacts of electronic photography, noting that modern people tend to treat digital photo-taking as an “external memory storage device” and as such, have become less capable of fully experiencing an event. SImilarly, an experiment by Linda Henkel, a psychology professor at Fairfield University, on exhibition visitors’ experience discovered that people who were not allowed to take photos during their tour indeed managed to remember details of the exhibits more precisely than those who took pictures [3]. The same study also observed that subjects in the “no photos allowed” group had stronger feelings attached to their memory of the event [3]. This indicates that over-relying on digital photography may cause difficulties for people to experience an event wholeheartedly at the time of its occurrence.

An appropriate topic sentence to outline the main area to be discussed in the paragraph.


Good use of reporting verbs (e.g. “supports”) to highlight the relationship between sources.


Appropriate use of linking words (e.g. similarly; also) will help the reader follow a line of thinking.



A clear concluding sentence summarizing the key findings and author’s interpretation of previous literature discussed.


In this example paragraph, rather than merely describing the content of the sources, the author tries to put different sources in conversation with one another by comparing them. The author uses transitions to present the relationship between the three sources clearly.



(ii) Analyzing the sources

After summarizing and synthesizing the sources, the next step is to analyze the sources. It is important to consider the purpose and the nature of the sources as well as how you plan to use them in your literature review. Here are some questions you could ask yourself as you analyze the sources and think about the role you want them to play in your literature review:

·         what are the key terms and concepts?

·         what are the relationships between the sources?

·         how are you going to use the source in your literature review?

o   as an example?

o   for a definition?

o   to elaborate on a certain point?

o   to support a certain point?

o   for compare/ contrast purposes?

o   to explain a certain point?

o   to connect with the main ideas?

o   to justify a point made?

O to demonstrate cause/effect

Below is an example:

One example of a transfer sending culture at the 2-year college level is the support and resources that institutions provide toward transfer advising and counseling (Ornelas & Solorzano, 2004.

Many scholars have drawn attention to the important role of counselors as transfer agents (Allen, Smith, & Muehleck, 2014; Bahr, 2008; Orozco, Alvarez, & Gutkin, 2010), although research shows students have found issues with accessibility, individuation, and accuracy of information when seeking academic guidance (Allen et al., 2014) or they have not found counselors not to be validating (Dowd et al., 2013).

A transfer receptive culture at the 4-year college is defined as an institutional commitment that assists students pre- and post-transfer with navigating the community college, guidance with coursework, the university application process, enrollment at the 4-year, and addressing the university campus racial climate for transfer students (Jain et al., 2016).

For students transferring vertically, experiences prior to transfer and students’ prior academic institution have been found to be predictive of student performance and/or adjustment post-transfer (D’Amico, Dika, Elling, Algozzine, & Ginn, 2014; Laanan, 2007; Laanan, Starobin, & Eggleston, 2010) as has the environment at the receiving institution (Bahr, Toth, Thirolf, & Massé, 2013, Laanan, 2007; Laanan et al., 2010).

When a 4-year campus does not have a strong transfer receptive culture and does not attempt to partner effectively with community colleges, this can result in ineffective outreach, access, and retention for transfer students (Jain et al., 2016).

(Taylor & Jain, 2017, p. 279)

Taylor, J. & Jain, D. (2017).  The Multiple Dimensions of Transfer: Examining the Transfer Function in American Higher Education.  Community College Review, 45(4), 273-293.

Using the source as an example



 Using sources to compare and contrast views presented




Using the source for a definition





Using multiple sources as support



Using the source to show cause or effect





(iii) Evaluating the sources

After examining and interpreting individual sources, the final step is to evaluate the sources—in other words, it is time for you to make a judgement based on the evidence given and your analysis. In order to make a fair judgement, you may need to consider the accuracy, authoritativeness, objectivity, currency, relevance and coverage of the sources you have studied. Below are some of the questions you might want to ask yourself when evaluating the sources:


     Is the idea valid or reliable?

     Is the idea a biased or fair one?

     Is the idea a fact or personal opinion?

     Is the idea an up-to-date or outdated understanding of the topic?

     Is the idea generated by a sound methodology (e.g. samples, procedures, materials)?

     Is the author qualified to put forward the idea? Does the idea fall under his/her field of expertise?

     To what extent does the idea matter in your field of research? What is its relevance to your research focus?


Below is an example:

From all the different bodies of literature reviewed in this report, the one dealing with the phenomenon of accounting fraud is probably the most developed one. The literature on financial statement fraud covers a wide variety of disciplinary fields, including (corporate) law, economics, business and organization studies, accounting, financial economics, sociology, and criminology. It is also characterized by a variety of research traditions. First, descriptive studies provide illustrative examples and use anecdotal evidence – often obtained from journalistic work or reports issued by investigative commission and regulatory agencies – to identify recurring themes and find commonalities between different scandals. Second, sociologists, corporate law scholars, and criminologists have produced a large number of interpretative studies. Mostly qualitative in nature, these studies discuss and analyze market structures and corporate governance systems and the extent to which these can be criminogenic, in the sense that they structurally facilitate or promote financial statement fraud. Third, statistical studies, which are mostly found in the accounting and financial economics literature, analyze large data sets to search for aggregate evidence of fraudulent financial statements, estimate the costs and consequences of such practices, and look for fraud-risk indicators, also known as red flags – meaning, the common characteristics of firms involved in financial statement fraud. Although the variety of disciplinary fields and the diversity in research traditions makes for a heterogeneous body of literature dealing with financial statement fraud, it is possible to discern some general themes that permeate much of the literature.


(Reurink, 2018, p.1302)


Reurink, A. (2018). Financial fraud: A literature review. Journal of Economic Surveys, 32(5), 1292-1325.

Evaluation of the validity and reliability of the subject matter




Evaluation of the methodology



Evaluation of the methodology




Evaluation of the methodology




Evaluation of the coverage


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