How to write the background of your study

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How to write the background of your study

While the findings of your study form the foreground of your research, it is equally important to establish the background of your study. A well-written background will provide your study with a context and prompt the readers to read the rest of your paper.

However, most authors struggle with writing the background of the study. Another common problem authors encounter is distinguishing between the background and the literature review, which are critical aspects of any research paper. The two terms are often used interchangeably; however, they have clearly defined roles. So in this article, I will cover the basics of writing the background and explain how it is different from the literature review.

The background of the study

The background of the study establishes the context of the research. This section explains why this particular research topic is important and essential to understanding the main aspects of the study. Usually, the background forms the first section of a research article/thesis and justifies the need for conducting the study and summarizes what the study aims to achieve.

How to structure the background

In this section, the author usually outlines the historical developments in the literature that led to the current topic of research concisely. If the study is interdisciplinary, it should describe how different disciplines are connected and what aspects of each discipline will be studied.

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Additionally, authors should briefly highlight the main developments of their research topic and identify the main gaps that need to be addressed. In other words, this section should give an overview of your study. The section should be organized as:

  • What is known about the broad topic?
  • What are the gaps or missing links that need to be addressed? 
  • What is the significance of addressing those gaps?
  • What are the rationale and hypothesis of your study?

The background section, therefore, should provide general information about the topic of your research and emphasize the main aims of the study. Please ensure that you only discuss the main and relevant aspects of the studies that have led to your aims. Do not elaborate on them as this should be done in the literature review section. The background section should discuss your findings in a chronological manner to accentuate the progress in the field and the missing points that need to be addressed. The background should be written as a summary of your interpretation of previous research and what your study proposes to accomplish.

How to make the background engaging

As the background includes a lot of information, it can become a long drag, causing the readers to lose interest. To ensure that your background is engaging, you should try to build a story around the central theme of your research.

Ensure that the story adheres to the core idea and does not digress into a broad literature review. Each idea should lead to the next so that readers are able to grasp the story and themselves identify the gaps that your study is going to address.

How to avoid common mistakes in writing the background

While writing an effective background, you ought to steer clear of some mistakes. The most common mistakes in writing the background include the following:

  • Don’t write a background that is too long or too short. Focus on including all the important details but write concisely.  
  • Don’t be ambiguous. Writing in a way that does not convey the message to the readers defeats the purpose of the background, so express yourself keeping in mind that the reader does not know your research intimately.  
  • Don’t discuss unrelated themes. Try and center your discussion around the pivotal aspects of your research topic i.e. highlight the gaps in the literature, state the novelty of the study, and the need to conduct the study.
  • Don’t be disorganized. Not discussing the themes in a chronological manner can confuse the reader about the progress in the field, so try and organize your writing carefully.

How is the background different from the literature review   

Many authors find it difficult to discern the difference between the literature review and the study background. The literature review section should follow the background section, as the second section of your manuscript/thesis. This section basically supports the background section by providing evidence for the proposed hypothesis. This section should be more comprehensive and thoroughly describe all the studies that you have mentioned in the background section. It should also elaborate on all studies that form evidence for the present study and discuss the current trends.

To write this section, you will need to do a thorough literature search on different studies that relate to the broad topic of your research. This will introduce the readers to the area of your research. Following this, you should present a more focused survey of the specific studies that are associated with the precise objective of your study. It would be ideal to organize them thematically and discuss them chronologically so that readers are aware of the evolution and progress in the field. In other words, separate themes should be discussed chronologically to highlight how research in those fields has progressed over time. This will highlight what has been done and what are the future directions that need to be worked upon.

To learn in depth how to write a persuasive study background take this course: How to write an engaging background of the study for your research paper

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    An important thing to consider is that the literature review should be organized to highlight what research has been done and point out what has been missed. There might be other studies that have tried to fill the gaps in the literature and have been unsuccessful or there might be better ways to address the gaps. Covering these points in the literature review gives the readers a perspective on the significance and the novelty of the study. This can be accomplished by comparing and contrasting previous similar studies to abreast the reader with all the knowledge about the field.  

    Study backgroundLiterature review

    Should be the first section of the study

    Should be the section that follows the background of the study

    Should provide the context of the study

    Should provide a comprehensive overview of broad and specific literature in the field

    Should provide a historical perspective and highlight the significance of the study

    Should critically highlight the progress of research and gaps that need to be addressed

    Should not elaborate on background literature and only summarize it

    Should provide a detailed review of the existing literature on the topic 


    For research papers, it is usual for the background and literature review to be combined and presented together without separate headings. For dissertations, the background and literature review may be presented as separate sections. Ultimately, it is best to check your target journal’s instructions before writing the background of your study.


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    Molecular biologist and published author with expertise in mammalian cell culture, immunofluorescence, biochemical and immunoassay
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