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Preview, review and paragraphing

Signalling direction and providing evidence

When readers feel information is ‘dumped’ onto them, it could be that the writer was not thinking too much about their own need to present all the information they have, and not thinking enough about the experience of others who might read their text. The outlining exercise was a critical step in planning and designing your discussion. Doing a concept map is a quick and useful way to consider the body of knowledge created by other researchers as a territory of big ideas, and it’s a tool to help decide which ideas and source to include in a discussion, what points might be made, and which sources would be most useful to support the reviewer’s claims. Developing an outline for the discussion of literature moves the planning from the big ideas themselves towards how they might best be presented to a reader. It shows the linear flow of information, and how paragraphs will be organised.

Once that kind of planning has been done, it’s quite easy to then fill in the details and create a coherent text. If your outline articulates a sequence of claims, these can become topic sentences of paragraphs. Paragraphs in academic writing generally start with a claim, which is then explained or elaborated in some way, and supported with evidence (references to literature) or example.


On the blog I’ve added a post that illustrates how a paragraph was improved, by simply changing the way it begins. The key idea there is the importance of pre-viewing and re-viewing. This strategy makes written language easier to process, as it tells the reader in a summarising way what is coming before presenting a lot of new information, and then reminds them after the presentation what they just read.

Now you have some kind of plan or skeleton for your literature review, you may feel ready to start drafting the introduction and ‘fleshing out’ a text. An introduction is just a big preview of what is to come in the rest of the text. It should tell the reader what is coming, and match up with the conclusion. You can’t quite complete your introduction and conclusion until you’ve written the body of the text (because you might change it a bit from the initial plan), but you can at least draft an introduction to get the writing started.

The introduction below is one drafted for a literature review on the role of fungi in plant communication. It’s brief, being just a draft, but notice that it doesn’t refer to any literature. References will be brought in later, during the actual discussion of points, in the various paragraphs of the text.

Tree talk: the role of fungi in the growth of forests & food


It is increasingly theorised that trees talk to each other, and while that may seem absurd, recent research has discovered some fascinating phenomena, that need to be described in ways we can all understand. Metaphors of ‘talk’ and ‘community’ are proving popular, so this examination of current research on plant communication will consider how useful or otherwise this kind of talk may be.

Trees are being said to communicate, live in communities, and survive by symbiotic relationships with other species. This discussion will focus on the question of which species enable plants to evolve, grow and connect. My aim here is to introduce some of the amazing research going on around fungi, and also to critically consider some key terms being used in this literature. The scientific observations being made need to be communicated, but we also need to be careful how they are represented. It may or may not be helpful to talk about what trees and fungi do as ‘communication’.

As will be made clear, there is certainly some bio-chemical signalling going on between trees, through fungal networks, but fungi are still rather poorly understood. Our conceptualisation of what they do has been shifting in recent years, and the language we use to describe and explain the phenomenon matters. The study of fungi (mycology) is not a new discipline, but current research findings are more extraordinary than ever, and difficult to communicate to the general public. So it is the communication of current facts about fungi that I want to explore in this introduction to the growing literature on fungi.

While considering how we talk about the role fungi play in the growth of plants, the discussion will also point out that the importance of fungi is not limited to their role in natural ecologies. They also have real potential to help us solve some of the most serious problems we ourselves face as a species.

Conversation starter

  • Do you get a clear sense of where this text is going?
  • Have you noticed how much previewing and reviewing is going on in this course?

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This article is from the free online course:

Research Writing: How to Do a Literature Review

University of Wollongong

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