Body Paragraphs: Introduce, Cite, Explain

In the Literature Review, each body paragraph should cover a single trend or gap in the research, using two or more sources to show the reader how that trend or gap emerges. Here, we will review a specific way of composing a paragraph that is often found in academic writing. This is not the only model you can use in writing, but it is a good starting point to help you develop your discussion of trends and gaps for the Literature Review.

In general, body paragraphs should have one specific point. Do not group several trends or gaps in the research in a single paragraph. For example, you would not want to divide your essay into a trends paragraph and a gaps paragraph. This idea may appear to be a paradox, but the narrower your paragraph’s point, the easier it is to write more. Aim for about half a page per paragraph. This makes it easier for your reader to follow your reasoning. There are three main components to a body paragraph: you’ll introduce the main idea (trend or gap), cite evidence from the sources to support it, and explain how the evidence you’ve presented fits together.

Your claim about the trend or gap in the research should be the focus of your topic sentence for your paragraph. You do not want to start with evidence, which means that you should never begin a paragraph with a quotation from a source. Instead, your first sentence should clearly identify the single trend or gap in the research that you want to discuss in that paragraph. Your reader will look at this claim in the first sentence and say, “Okay, now show me the evidence. Convince me.”

To support your claim, you need to cite specific evidence from two or more sources to demonstrate the trend and/or gap’s existence. You will want to vary the ways in which you incorporate that evidence, using a good mix of summary, paraphrase, and brief quotation.  Avoid long quotations from your sources in the Literature Review. This is a relatively short essay, and the vast majority of the words in it should be your own. The goal of this part of the paragraph is to show the reader how these sources converge to create or reveal this trend or gap.

In academic writing, we never allow evidence to speak for itself; we always explain its purpose. This is the explanation of your evidence. In practical terms, this means that you should never end a paragraph with a quotation. Instead, the last sentence of your paragraph should explain the evidence you have presented to the reader. This explanation should echo the claim made in the beginning of the paragraph. It will take practice to write a good explanation because you have to convince the reader that the evidence you’ve cited supports your claim. It is more than just restating the claim. You have to make the connections for us, like retracing your steps. How did that evidence lead you to identify that trend or gap?

applying research skills

A good metaphor to help you better understand the introduce, cite, explain (ICE) paragraph model is to think about a sport where a swing is used. For example, golf would be a great sport to use for this metaphor.

In golf, players must align themselves to the ball and get ready to strike it. In other words, they must prepare themselves to swing. This can be compared to the topic sentence because it is the set up for your body paragraph; it organizes what is to follow. In the same way, golfers must set themselves up to move the ball to the green.

Next, a golfer will need to actually swing the club, reaching back to gain momentum and speed before striking the ball. This would represent the evidence cited within the body paragraph to demonstrate that the trend and/or gap exists. Without striking the ball, a golfer is stuck.  A bad strike can also send the ball careening off-course, directly into a sand trap or water hazard.  In much the same way, citing inappropriate or insufficient evidence can derail your paragraph.

Finally, after striking the ball, it is imperative that golfers follow through to enable the ball to speed to the spot where they have directed it. This represents the explanation. Without an explanation, your claim and evidence will not go where you directed them; they will not make sense to the audience. For this reason, it is imperative that you provide your audience a good follow through by explaining how the evidence supports the claim.

research toolbox

In this research toolbox, please identify where the author introduces, cites, and explains in this sample paragraph from a literature review:

Current studies by Smith (2016), Cassidy and Doyle (2015), and Rogers, Mack, and Johnson (2017) indicate that consumers do not properly use nutrition labels because they do not understand them. Smith (2016) conducted a survey with 220 participants and found that 65% of those involved did not understand the layout and information included on nutrition labels. Cassidy and Doyle (2015) added to this conversation by stating that 54% of the 80 participants in their observation did not properly consult and understand the labels based on purchases and follow up interviews. Lastly, Rogers et al. (2017) found that 62% of the 140 participants in their survey selected incorrect answers to questions regarding nutrition labels and their information. All of these sources indicate the majority of consumers do not understand how to read and interpret nutrition labels properly; therefore, consumers are not using these labels as intended. This misuse demonstrates the need for either increased education on the layout and information presented on food labels or a redesign of food labels to make them more accessible to the average consumer.