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Paragraphing in your literature review

You can see in Developing a good paragraph, the various ways you can expand on the theme of a paragraph.

In a long piece of text such as a literature review, you will at times find that, to fully expand on the theme or topic of your paragraph, you need to stretch the topic across two typographical paragraphs.

Below is an example of two paragraphs which are linked by one controlling idea, the increased excretion of oestrogen during pregnancy, contained in the first paragraph. The aspect of the topic discussed is the difference between humans (first paragraph) and other species (second paragraph). Thus, two or more paragraphs linked in this way can be referred to as a conceptual paragraph, in contrast to a physical paragraph.

Oestrone, oestradiol and oestriol are the three naturally occurring oestrogens. In the non-pregnant human female, the total daily oestrogen excretion value is usually in the microgram range with the approximate ratio oestriol:(oestrone + oestradiol) = 1:1 (1,2). During pregnancy, however, the total amount of oestrogen excreted increases one thousand fold due mainly to a large increase in oestriol excretion. By the final term of pregnancy, oestriol excretion rate is approximately ten times that of oestrone and oestradiol combined (3), and oestriol accounts for more than 90% of the oestrogenic content of the urine (4). This means that during pregnancy, oestriol is quantitatively the most important oestrogen circulating in the foetal and maternal systems.

The significant increase in oestrogen production during pregnancy is not unique to humans but has been noted in other species including the cow, horse, pig, sheep and rhesus monkey (5). However, in these species it is an increase in oestrone and/or oestradiol excretion that accounts for the elevated oestrogen levels. Humans appear to be unique in the secretion of large quantities of oestriol during pregnancy (5). The significance of this difference between man and other species has still to be explained.

From a PhD thesis, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Monash University, 1987

As a rough average, you find two to two and a half paragraphs per page in a literature review; but if the information is densely packed, as in the example above, you might need to lighten the reader's load, and make the paragraphs smaller. If paragraphs are long and fairly abstract, it is harder for the reader. Note the number of nouns and noun phrases in the second paragraph:

The significant increase in oestrogen production during pregnancy is not unique to humans but has been noted in other species including the cow, horse, pig, sheep and rhesus monkey (5). However, in these species it is an increase in oestrone and/or oestradiol excretion that accounts for the elevated oestrogen levels. Humans appear to be unique in the secretion of large quantities of oestriol during pregnancy (5). The significance of this difference between man and other species has still to be explained.

Make your paragraph too short, on the other hand, and the reader gets the impression that you have not thought in depth and detail about the topic in your paragraph.

Also see The language of thesis writing

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