Literature Review Essentials: Construct Paragraphs -->

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Literature Review Essentials: Construct Paragraphs

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One of the topics our Writing Instructors and Dissertation Editors frequently discuss with students in paper reviews and form and style reviews is the MEAL plan. MEAL stands for the following: Main idea, Evidence, Analysis, and Lead out. The MEAL Plan is a way to remember the basic components and structure of an academic body paragraph, and we often suggest using this paragraphing strategy when writing documents such as course papers and discussion posts.

While this strategy is quite useful for writing these common coursework assignments, did you know that it’s also useful for writing literature review body paragraphs?

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When you write your thematically organized literature review body paragraphs, one way to do this is by using the MEAL plan. Paragraphs that follow the MEAL plan have four main parts: (1) the topic sentence which states the main idea of the paragraph in the author’s own words, (2) relevant evidence which is paraphrased or quoted and also cited, (3) analysis of that evidence, threaded throughout the paragraph as needed, and (4) a conclusion sentence which offers synthesis and wraps up the paragraph, written in the author’s own words.

Here is an adaptable outline of what this might look like for a literature review body paragraph:

  • Main idea: A topic sentence which tells the reader the theme that arose in the literature.
  • Evidence: Paraphrased and cited information from a source in the literature which tells the reader important information related to the theme. 
  • Analysis: The writer’s interpretation and analysis of the paraphrased information which can be used to explain the evidence and link ideas.
  • Repeat evidence and analysis as needed: In a literature review, there will almost always be several pieces of evidence paraphrased from different sources with analysis threaded throughout as needed.
  • Lead out: A conclusion sentence which synthesizes what all of this literature has to say about this theme and concludes the paragraph.

One thing to emphasize with this outline is that the evidence and analysis can be repeated as many times as necessary in order to convey relevant information from the literature and analyze that information. This means that each paragraph will likely have a different amount of evidence and analysis, depending on how many sources had information to contribute to the overall theme. Some paragraphs may be short with just 2 pieces of evidence, and some may be longer with 4 or 5 pieces of evidence contributing to the theme. So, while this method offers an overall structure, it’s also flexible and adaptable.

Putting this into practice, here’s what this might look like for a paragraph in a literature review about the benefits of apartment living:

[Main idea]: Apartments are better than single family homes for young couples because of the community that is available. [Evidence from source 1]: As Basye (2015) explained, young couples living on their own benefit from relationships with multi-generational neighbors and friends. [Evidence from source 2]: In addition, as Bono and Matluba (2016) argued, young couples often do not yet have secure social networks, so living in an apartment as compared to a home offers the opportunity to meet people nearby and create social networks close to home. [Analysis]: Thus, apartment living can be beneficial for relationship building. [Evidence from source 3]: Furthermore, having neighbors offers a safety network because when individuals form communities and social bonds, they are more likely to look out for one another (Hendron, 2017).  [Lead out]: Overall, the literature showed that apartments are beneficial for young couples because of the relationships they can form, the networks they can create, and increased safety.

When organizing a literature review thematically, using this MEAL plan approach can help to ensure that the theme addressed in the paragraph is clear, the evidence is organized, and analysis and concluding thoughts are included. As you write your literature review body paragraphs then, use this MEAL plan approach to (1) make it clear what themes arose in the literature, (2) paraphrase relevant source information for the reader, (3) analyze and synthesize the information that you paraphrase, and (4) conclude and wrap up your ideas.

If you’d like to learn more about the MEAL plan, you can also watch our webinar on Writing Effective Academic Paragraphs. If you’d like to learn more about literature reviews, you can watch our webinar on Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography Basics.

We hope you’ll try this method of applying the MEAL plan strategy to your next literature review, and let us know how it goes in the comments!

Jes Philbrook
 is a Writing Instructor and the Coordinator of Doctoral Writing Assessment in the Walden University Writing Center. Jes has been helping graduate students write literature reviews for the last seven years, since she started working with nursing students who frequently were assigned literature review assignments. In her free time, Jes likes to take walks around lakes, plan trips and adventures, and cook delicious and wholesome food.

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