Guidelines for Writing Review Article
What is Review Article?
- A critical, constructive analysis of the literature in a specific field through summary, classification, analysis, comparison.
- A scientific writing relying on previously published literature or data. New data from the author’s experiments aren`t presented (with exceptions: some reviews contain new data).
- A stand-alone publication. Literature reviews as integral part of master theses, doctoral theses or grant proposals will not be considered here. However, tips presented in this guideline are transferable to these text types.
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Function of A Review Article
- To organize literature
- To evaluate literature
- To identify patterns and trends in the literature
- To synthesize literature
- To identify research gaps and recommend new research areas.
Here are some quick steps for writing successful scientific review Article.
- Define a Topic & Audience
How to choose which topic to review?
There are so many issues in contemporary science that you could spend a long time of attending conferences and reading the literature just pondering what to review. On the other hand, if you take several years to choose, several other people may have had the same idea in the meantime. On the other hand, only a well-considered topic is likely to lead to a brilliant literature review. The topic must at least be:
- interesting to you (ideally, you should have come across a series of recent papers related to your line of work that call for a critical summary),
- an important aspect of the field (so that many readers will be interested in the review and there will be enough material to write it), and
- a well-defined issue (otherwise you could potentially include thousands of publications, which would make the review unhelpful).
Ideas for potential reviews may come from papers providing lists of key research questions to be answered, but also from serendipitous moments during desultory reading and discussions. In addition to choosing your topic, you should also select a target audience. In some cases, the topic (e.g., web services in computational biology) will automatically define an audience (e.g., computational biologists), but that same topic may also be of interest to neighboring fields (e.g., Information science, biology, etc ).
- Search & Research the Literature
After having chosen your topic and audience, start by checking the literature and downloading relevant papers. Five pieces of advice here:
- keep track of the search items you use (so that your search can be replicated),
- keep a list of papers whose pdfs you cannot access immediately (so as to retrieve them later with alternative strategies),
- use a paper management system (e.g., Mendeley, Papers, Sente),
- define early in the process some criteria for exclusion of irrelevant papers (these criteria can then be described in the review to help in defining its scope), and
- do not just look for research papers in the area you wish to review, but also seek previous reviews.
- Take Notes While Reading:
- If you read the papers first, and only afterwards start writing the review, you will need a very good memory to remember who wrote what, and what your impressions and associations were while reading each single paper.
- Our advice is, while reading, to start writing down interesting pieces of information, insights about how to organize the review, and thoughts on what to write. This way, by the time you have read the literature you selected, you will already have a rough content of the review.
- Of course, this draft will still need much rewriting, restructuring, and rethinking to obtain a text with a coherent argument, but you will have avoided the danger posed by staring at a blank document.
- Be careful when taking notes to use quotation marks if you are provisionally copying verbatim from the literature. It is said then to reformulate such quotes with your own words in the final draft. It is important to be careful in noting the references already at this stage, so as to avoid misattributions.
- Choose Type of Review You Wish to Review
- After having taken notes while reading the literature, you will have a rough idea of the amount of material available for the review.
- This is probably a good time to decide whether to go for a mini- or a full review. Some journals are now favoring the publication of rather short reviews focusing on the last few years, with a limit on the number of words and citations.
- A mini-review is not necessarily a minor review: it may well attract more attention from busy readers, although it will inevitably simplify some issues and leave out some relevant material due to space limitations.
- A full review will have the advantage of more freedom to cover in detail the complexities of a particular scientific development, but may then be left in the pile of the very important papers “to be read” by readers with little time to spare for major monographs.
- Be critical & Consistent:
Reviewing the literature is not stamp collecting. A good review doesn`t just summarize the literature, but discusses it critically, identifies methodological problems, and points out research gaps. After having read a review of the literature, a reader should have a rough idea of:
- the major achievements in the reviewed field,
- the main areas of debate, and
- the outstanding research questions.
- Find A logical Structure
- Like the well-baked cake, a good review has a number of telling features: it is worth the reader’s time, timely, systematic, well written, focused, and critical.
- It also needs a good structure. With reviews, the usual subdivision of research papers into introduction, methods, results, and discussion does not work or is rarely used.
- How can you organize the flow of the main body of the review so that the reader will be drawn into and guided through it?
- It is generally helpful to draw a conceptual scheme of the review, e.g., with mind-mapping techniques. Such diagrams can help recognize a logical way to order and link the various sections of a review.
- This is the case not just at the writing stage, but also for readers if the diagram is included in the review as a figure. A careful selection of diagram and figures relevant to the reviewed topic can be very helpful to structure the text too.
- Make use of Feedback
- Feedback, is vital to writing a good review, and should be sought from a variety of colleagues, so as to obtain a diversity of views on the draft.
- This may lead in some cases to conflicting views on the merits of the paper, and on how to improve it, but such a situation is better than the absence of feedback.
- A diversity of feedback perspectives on a literature review can help identify where the consensus view stands in the landscape of the current scientific understanding of an issue
Note: Include Your Own Relevant Research but be Objective.
- Be Updated & Keep Eye on old papers:
- Given the progressive acceleration in the publication of scientific papers, today’s reviews of the literature need awareness not just of the overall direction and achievements of a field of inquiry, but also of the latest studies, so as not to become out-of-date before they have been published.
- Actually, a literature review should not identify as a major research gap an issue that has just been addressed in a series of papers in press (the same applies, of course, to older, overlooked studies (“sleeping beauties”).
- Inevitably, new papers on the reviewed topic (including independently written literature reviews) will appear from all quarters after the review has been published, so that there may soon be the need for an updated review. But this is the nature of science. We wish everybody good luck with writing a review of the literature.
Many thanks to M. Adhikari, P. Neupane, A. Liladhar & so on for insights and discussions, and to N. Pandey for helpful comments on a previous workout.
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