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Biological Sciences Writing: Literature Reviews

what is

What is a Literature Review?
A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area, time period or research.  It can be a simple summary of sources but usually combines a summary and a synthesis of material.

Parts of a Literature Review: Abstract, Introduction, Body, Conclusion, Bibliography

Steps for Writing a Literature Review:

1. Define a topic or research focus to start:
     must be interesting to you / an important aspect of the field / a well-defined issue

2. Choose the type of review to write:

  • Mini-review: shorter in length, cover a specific time frame, or narrow subject area
  • Full review: longer, deeper coverage includes details.
  • Descriptive: focuses on methodology, findings, interpretation
  • Integrative: attempt to find common ideas and concepts.

3. Search for relevant work & re-search the Literature: 

  • keep track of databases and search items
  • keep a list of papers and pdfs,
  • use a management system: Refworks, EndNote, Mendeley
  • define criteria for exclusion
  • use reviews

4. Assess the quality of sources & take NOTES while reading.

5. Keep the review focused, but broad interest. (could discuss other disciplines affected)

6. Be Critical and consistent:  The reader should have an idea of
                        - The major achievements in the reviewed field.
                        - The areas of debate.
                        - The outstanding research questions.

7. Find a logical structure.  Use a MIND-MAP to draw a conceptual scheme of the review

8. Make use of feedback. Can be peer-reviewed or someone reading a draft.

9. Include your own relevant research but be objective.

10. Be Up-to-date, do not forget older studies.

11. Summarize the evidence

12. Interpret the findings = keep your own voice

AVOID these traps:

  • Trying to read everything: try to read the most relevant work instead.
  • Reading not writing: writing is a way of thinking, - write many drafts.
  • Reminder: Review papers can have abstracts and illustrations.
  • Failing to keep bibliographic information: remember that you will be writing a page entitled “References” at some point.
  • Organizing your review chronologically: Organize your paper by ideas.

Original by Marco Pautasso. PLOS. July 2013, vol. 9, issue 7.

Questions:  Your Librarian, Susan Koskinen,

Best Databases for Lit Reviews

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