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I have started writing a research proposal on a topic of my interest. I am confused about the difference between the introduction and literature review sections. What I have observed so far by going through some proposals that the introduction part also contains some review of the subject. This means that there is some similarity between the two sections. Then what are the main differences between the two topics ?

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If you follow the golden advice that the introduction is the last part of a research article (or thesis, or any writing) to write, then it will make much more sense. Even though the introduction is the first thing that the reader reads, it should be the last thing that the writer writes. I'll explain why shortly.

The purpose of the literature review is to situate your work in the context of other academic research. Its purpose is NOT primarily to summarize all related research (contrary to what some might say); its purpose is to show how your work complements and extends the literature. The literature review section should only summarize work that shows three main things:

  • What scholars have done so far to resolve the research question that you are treating, or very closely related research questions;
  • Clearly show that past research has not sufficiently resolved your specific research question.
  • Frame the specific shortcomings or opportunities in the literature that your work aims to resolve or at least extend.

When I write a background literature review, I try to focus only on these points and leave out anything that does not clearly serve these points. Otherwise, it becomes long and rambling and distracts from the value of the current work, rather than helping it.

With that understood, the purpose of the introduction is to show your reader that your work successfully treats an important problem, thus the full article is worth reading. A general formula that I use for my introductions is something like this:

  • Show how the topic is important in the practitioner world beyond academia.
  • Summarize scholars' attempts so far to address the problem. This is essentially a summary of the literature review section (which is why the literature review should be written before the introduction, or else you don't know what to summarize).
  • Briefly but clearly present my research objective or research question.
  • Summarize the methodology and procedures that I used to carry out the research objective.
  • Summarize the major contributions of the study (contributions to scholars and to practice).
  • Brief outline of the structure of the rest of the article.

I hope it is now clear that an article that follows a similar approach will have a brief summary of the literature review section in the introduction and then an expanded literature review in a subsequent section, often soon after the introduction. Since an introduction is essentially an extended abstract of the entire article, part of it should include a summary of the literature review section.

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  • Very helpful and insightful answer! Thank you! May 20, 2023 at 18:27

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