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Bio 1B Research Skills Guide: Scientific Literature: Literature Reviews

Literature reviews

Literature Reviews

Literature reviews (also called review articles) are articles that summarize and synthesize primary research on a topic.

  • They are authored by researchers and published in scholarly journals or as book chapters
  • They summarize multiple primary research articles
  • They are secondary literature

Literature reviews are a good starting point when researching a topic because they provide:

  • an overview of a particular area of study
  • extensive reference lists, which may be used to locate further relevant articles
  • ideas for narrowing a too-broad topic
  • descriptions of research areas that need further investigation



Identifying literature reviews

There are several ways to identify literature reviews:

  • Some databases (such as BIOSIS and PubMed) allow you to limit your search to literature reviews. Usually the database will label review articles somewhere in the full article record (see below). There are also journals that focus on review articles, such as Annual Reviews, Biological Reviews, or ELS: citable reviews in the life sciences.
  • The abstract or introduction to a literature review may state the authors' intention to survey or analyze the literature on a particular topic.
  • Literature reviews do not present original data (data that has not already been published elsewhere) or generally describe specific research methods in detail.

Note: Many primary research articles include short section that reviews pertinent scientific literature as background for the paper. This isn't the same thing as a literature review article (or review article), which is entirely devoted to a summary of primary articles.

In BIOSIS, literature reviews are identified under the Document Information field of the full article record:

Learn more about finding literature reviews in BIOSIS

For more help

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Elliott Smith
Bioscience, Natural Resources &
Public Health Library