introducing a literatures paper

The Introduction to a literatures paper has a specific job to do – the reader needs to be convinced that the review is needed, that is, the paper has a purpose and it is important for them to read it. The reader also wants to know that the review has been systematic and thorough. Not all of this is accomplished through the Introduction, but some of this important ‘reader-convincing’ work is.

These are two texts that I use in writing courses to open up a conversation about the ways in which literatures papers can be introduced. In reading these examples and asking what the writer is doing   – and of course reading additional papers that are specific to  your field – you will see that the basic moves in a literatures paper introduction are to:

  1.  establish a problem about which we need to know more. This is the warrant.
  2. argue that there is scattered research which needs to be brought together on the issue,
  3. argue that bringing the literatures together will accomplish something important, an perhaps to/for whom This is the significance of the work.
  4.  offer some broad questions or themes that will be dealt with in the paper.
  5. address the implications of the literatures work – the So What and Now What.

Of course not all papers use all of these moves. For instance, what is common to both examples below is the broad locational work that is done to create the warrant for a review of extant published work (most but not all of of 1-3), and (4) the provision of details of the questions that the paper asks and answers.

A caveat: It is important to read for what is common among papers, but it is also very helpful to think about how you might put your own stamp on a literatures paper by not only conforming to the moves, but also writing in your own style and voice. So do think, while looking at these examples, how you might have written these Introductions yourself.

Example One

Victoria Wibeck (2014): Enhancing learning, communication and public engagement about climate change – some lessons from recent literature, Environmental Education Research, 20(3) 387-411


This paper sets out to develop key messages for the theory and practice of environmental education from a review of recent research literature on climate change communication (CCC) and education. It focuses on how learners of climate science understand messages on climate change, the communicative contexts for education on climate change, the barriers that can be found to public engagement with climate change issues, and how these barriers can be addressed. 92 peer-reviewed studies were examined. The analysis focuses on the goals and strategies of CCC, and how barriers can be addressed given the research findings on: (a) the content of CCC, (b) visualizations, (c) framing, (d) audience segmentation. The paper concludes that CCC and education need to address barriers to public engagement on several levels simultaneously. It recommends that scholars of environmental education focus critical attention on how practice addresses senses and spheres of agency; sociocultural factors; and the complexities of developing scientific literacy given the interpretative frames and prior understandings that are brought to bear by the public in non-formal education settings.

The introduction to the paper proceeds in this way:

Today, it is widely recogized that climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity (Schneider 2011). Since climate change is expected to have severe consequences for many citizens around the globe, considerable money and effort have been invested in educating the public of the causes and effects of climate change and of how laypeople should behave to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate.1 For over a decade, social scientists have studied the public understanding of climate change, analysing, for example, whether laypeople understand or misunderstand climate science (e.g. Etkin and Ho 2007; Seacrest, Kuzelka, and Leonard 2000; Sterman and Sweeney 2002, 2007), laypeople’s attitudes to various action strategies (e.g. Ohe and Ikeda 2005) and barriers to public engagement in climate change (e.g. Lorenzoni, Nicholson-Cole, and Whitmarsh 2007). Knowledge gained from such studies has been used to inform research into science communication and environmental education as well as climate information/communication campaigns organized by, for example, state agencies, NGOs and the European Union. LOCATE the Context and Warrant.

The authors state the issue – climate change – and its significance. The problem of a need for public education is established. Some of the kinds of research that exist are outlined as well as the use to which these have been put – informing research and public campaigns.

This paper is intended to provide environmental educators with insight into the fields of climate change communication (CCC) and public understanding of climate change. These fields are of relevance to environmental education theory and practice since they provide insight into how learners of climate science understand climate related issues, how climate change is framed in media discourse, what barriers that can be found to public engagement in climate change, and how these barriers could be addressed. Hence, the history and future of CCC could influence the design of environmental education, primarily in non-formal settings where laypeople become learners outside the formal school context. The focus on non-formal education is motivated by the fact that the studies reviewed as a basis for this paper primarily focus on the views of adults not enrolled in formal environmental education. The writers propose another use for the kinds of research they have pointed to –that of informing environmental education in non-formal settings with lay people. This is the warrant for the literature review and paper.


This paper reviews CCC research and discusses recurrent themes in the literature as well as possible futures for CCC and education. In particular, the paper addresses the following questions:

• What is the communicative context for CCC?

• What are the goals of CCC to lay audiences, as identified in scholarly papers?

• What are the barriers to public engagement in climate change and how could they be addressed?

• What key messages from the CCC literature could be relevant for the field of non-formal education on climate change?



The authors state that this paper is a literature review and detail the questions that will be addressed in the paper. Readers might assume that these are also the questions that were the basis of the literatures work. At this stage it is not yet evident whether these questions also form the structure the paper ( in general, yes). The purpose of the paper – to point to possible futures for their field is also noted.

Details of the corpus are given in the abstract as well as the argument made. This is not repeated in the introduction.

Example Two

Christine Greenhow & Benjamin Gleason (2012) Twitteracy: Tweeting as a New Literacy Practice, The Educational Forum, 76:4, 464-478.


This article defines Twitter; outlines the features, affordances, and common uses; and conceptualizes “tweeting” as a literacy practice, comprising both traditional and new literacies, and impacting both informal and formal learning settings. Also provided is an overview of traditional and new literacies, and insights from a scan of the research literature to date on tweeting as a literacy practice. The authors outline areas for inquiry and the challenges to conducting such research.

In March 2012, The New York Times headlined a feature story with the implied question: “If Twitter is a work necessity …” (Preston 2012). The article argued that digital literacy is becoming a required skill as employers increasingly want employees with social media savvy. If knowing how to build a community on Twitter®, present yourself on Facebook, engage with public issues via YouTube®, network on Foursquare®, and share your creations on Instagram are among the literacies that some employers expect

people to have to secure a job or advance their careers, educators and educational researchers ought to play a role in helping people critically evaluate and cultivate best practices. Better theorization and study of the forms and functions of social media communication, and their relationship to the existing literacy curriculum, are needed to define and model promising digital literacy practices for our students.

LOCATE the Context and Warrant.

The introduction to the paper establishes the context for the literatures paper using a media headline. The authors use the media report to establish the significance of the topic they address – the importance of social media as a digital literacy. The writers state that educational researchers need to take the topic seriously – this is the warrant for their paper. They then specifically state what needs to be done by educational researchers – a sharper delineation – the authors explain what the warrant means as a  scholarly agenda – we need to know more, we need to know what exists already. This could have been the point where the authors stated explicitly that this was a literatures paper.

This article advances a step in this direction by focusing on one popular form of social media: Twitter. We consider tweeting practices through the lens of new literacy theories to inquire the following: (1) How do young people use Twitter in formal or

informal learning settings, and with what results? (2) Can tweeting be considered a new literacy practice? (3) How do literacy practices on Twitter align with traditional literacy practices typically emphasized in standards-based curriculum?



The authors spell out their specific focus – Twitter use by young people. They say exactly what they will cover in the paper –expressed as questions that they will ask. (It is still not really clear at this point that this is a literatures paper and that these questions are to be answered through a review of the extant research.) The authors also briefly state their theoretical perspective, that of new literacy theories.

We conceptualize “tweeting” as a literacy practice, comprising both traditional and new literacies. First, we outline the distinguishing features, demographics, and common uses of this socio-technical space. Next, we provide an overview of traditional and new

literacies, and present insights from a scan of the research literature to date on Twitter as a new literacy practice. Third, we outline untapped but fertile areas for inquiry, and the challenges to conducting the types of research we advocate. Ultimately, we seek to advance understanding of how new literacies are enacted in educational settings for adolescent and adult learning.



The authors expand on their theoretical orientation and segue into an outline the order of topics in the paper. They restate the purpose of the paper – to elaborate new areas of inquiry. This is one of the purposes of a literature paper.

More might have been said in the introduction about what these areas for new research are – the reader does not yet have much idea of the substance of what is to come.

See also the archive of lost literature papers.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, introduction, literature review, literature themes, literatures paper, warrant and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to introducing a literatures paper

  1. Marilyn says:

    Dear Pat, “thank you” so much for clarifying the expectations of what comprises a literature paper. I met with my advisor this past Friday to discuss this matter and your work help to contextualize the conversation of the depth and breadth of a literature paper.


  2. Mark says:

    Thanks Pat,
    Your timing or the universe’s timing is incredible.
    I am writing a business honours literature review at this very point in time and funnily enough have been so easily distracted from the task by you posting. In this case it is probably the only time the distraction have been beneficial.


  3. Emma Asprey says:

    Is this advice also applicable to writing the introduction to the literatures chapter of a PhD thesis?
    Many thanks


    • pat thomson says:

      Not really. In the thesis a literatures chapter has to locate the study, establish what literatures are important to the topic how and why, and show how they have informed the study design.


  4. Mupeta Evelyn says:

    i need help to write a thematic litetereture review on use of practical activities. themes are what nature of practical activities,how are practical activities conducted, what are the challenges faced ny teachers implementing practical actovities.


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