The language of literature reviews
Expression in a literature review should be informative and evaluative. Apart from incorporating reporting verbs, you will need to use evaluative and cautious language.
A key language feature of a literature review is the use of reporting verbs. These types of verbs describe and report on the literature under review. They report on:
- aims: investigates, examines, looks at
- results: shows, suggests, reveals
- opinions: states, believes, argues
The choice of reporting verb(s) indicates your perspectives and attitudes towards the research under review. That is the reporting verbs chosen show whether you are neutral, negative or positive about the research.
The sentence pattern of placing reporting verbs is: [reporting verb] + either/both [object] / [complement].
Evaluative and cautious language
You can show your perspective on the literature under review by using evaluative language. Evaluative language can indicate whether you’re positive or negative towards the claims in the literature, whether you agree or disagree with the claims presented.
Cautious language is careful not to express absolute certainty where there may be the possibility of uncertainty.
Evaluative language can be:
- positive: e.g. expressions like “effective,” “necessary,” “significant” or “crucial”
- negative: e.g. “questionable,” unclear,” “inconclusive” or insignificant.
Positive evaluation: Wright’s (2022) argument about the link between parental numeracy and that of their children is conclusively borne out in the interviews.
Negative evaluation: Whether the statistical results support Torney and Wittings’ (2021) hypothesis is debatable.
Another way to express certainty or hesitancy is to use boosters and hedges.
- boosters are words or phrases that express confidence or certainty
- hedges convey a qualified uncertainty in the claims made in the literature.
Click on the tabs below to view examples of evaluative language, boosters and hedges.
|To adapt …||To arise …||To conduct …|
|To characterise …||To clarify …||To concentrate on …|
|To be concerned with …||To demonstrate …||To determine …|
|To discriminate …||To establish …||To exhibit …|
|To focus on …||To generate …||To hold …|
|To identify …||To imply …||To interact …|
|To interpret …||To manifest …||To overcome …|
|To propose …||To prove …||To recognise …|
|To relate to …||To undergo …||To yield …|
Source: Bailey, Stephen. (2015). The Essentials of Academic Writing for International Students. Taylor & Francis Group; UK. p. 123.
Let’s consider an example of reporting verbs. The two reporting verbs in this sentence describe and report on the literature under review. The tone is both academic and neutral.
The author concludes that no reasonable alternative is currently available to replace constitutional democracy, even though he does not completely reject the possibility of creating a better political system in the future.
Bailey, Stephen. (2015). The Essentials of Academic Writing for International Students. Taylor & Francis Group; UK. p. 123.
Boosters and hedges
|Boosters are a form of positive evaluative language.||Hedges also express a cautious approach to the literature under review.|
Examples of boosters:
Examples of hedges:
Example booster sentence openers
Example hedge sentence openers
Check your understanding View
Bailey, Stephen. (2015). The Essentials of Academic Writing for International Students. Taylor & Francis Group.
Bloomberg, L.D . & Volpe, M. (2012). Completing your qualitative dissertation: A road map from beginning to end (2nd ed.). Sage Publications.
Efron, S.E. & Ruth, R. (2018). Writing the Literature Review: A Practical Guide. Guilford Publications.
Kamler, B. & Thomson, P. (2006). Helping Doctoral Students Write. Pedagogies for Supervision. Routledge.
Rudestam, K. E., & Newton, R. R. (1992). Surviving your dissertation: A comprehensive guide to content and process. Sage Publications.