My question is set in the context of engineering and science. I wish to understand the contrast between the introductory structure for a report investigating developing/unproven research with the introductory structure of a report reviewing previously developed knowledge.

For example how the introduction would be structured for a report titled 'A New Method to Measure the Affect of Variable X on Response Y' in contrast with a report titled 'A Review of the Function and Application of the Transistor'.

My old university structures the introductory section to a generic scientific research report as follows:

  • Coverage of background, history and state of current events. Description of what is known already.
  • Description of the current state of events from where this report is to be launched.
  • Clear indication of the scope of the report, what will and will not be included, such that it is possible to estimate its completeness at any given time.
  • Presentation of a 'roadmap' indicating how the report will approach the topic.
  • Written in the future tense.

Source: HAUC Guide to Report Writing.

There is understandably a clear theme of addressing a problem or gap in current knowledge. This focus is also present here in an informal guide to writing a research report from the Cambridge University Engineering Department.

However this structure seems awkward when applied to a report intended to collect and review knowledge already in existence, where the author is not trying to formulate knowledge but simply organise and clarify existing knowledge.

I would be grateful for suggestions of how the introductory structure would change for this more review based report style. Are there formal names for these two different types of report? Is there an accepted 'proper' structure for the introductory parts of a report reviewing existing knowledge.

1 Answer 1


A document that collects and reviews knowledge already in existence is usually called a literature review.

It might be done according to a structured protocol, in which case, it is also called a systematic review.

And a systematic review that statistically analyses the data from existing primary research is also called a meta-analysis.

There are some excellent guides on how to write literature reviews, and Doing a Systematic Review: A Student's Guide - Angela Boland et al is easy to read; it is primarily aimed at Masters students, but I think it's a good beginners' guide for most people who have to write a review, and don't yet have the experience.

Your introduction will typically identify what you are reviewing, what the context is, and possibly why this review is timely. It might identify how you selected your sources, and what the inclusion and exclusion criteria were (if this is so short that it does not merit a methodology section), and how many documents are included.

Many fields have journals dedicated to reviews: it would be worth reading a few reviews in your field, to get a feel for the structure. Your target journal's "guide for authors" may offer specific guidance: if it does, follow it!

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