|Questions we need to ask ourself when writing a review article|
|Writing a review article is not easy, and may be time-consuming. Writing review articles in the research area of your interest has many benefits for yourself and members in the scientific community. In this small essay, I will provide a few of my thoughts in composing a review article.
1. Why do we need to write review articles?
As the number of biomedical publications has exploded in the past decades, researchers in the fields heavily relay on review articles to keep their knowledge up-to-date. This phenomenon is particularly common when clinicians seek guidelines in diagnosis and treatment for a certain disease. Thus, writing review articles helps members in the biomedical community in developing knowledge.
Moreover, every new study should start with a systematic review . New graduate students and postdoctoral researchers ought to perform a literature review for the research project they are going to initiate. The process of writing a review article will give researchers a sense about the significance of the project for knowledge gaps in the area. More importantly, researchers will acknowledge the achievements in the field in order to avoid wasting time and resources. Last, review articles are a type of publication that can be written in your resume. Lines of review publications in your vitae indicate to funding agencies and others that you are very familiar with the research field, which will increase your chances to achieve your aims.
2. What is the topic of the review article?
A review article has one topic. The topic should be a well-defined question that interest members in the research area or at least interests yourself. This topic should be a single question. Although a number of review articles have a wide topic, more commonly a review article harbors a focused narrative that discusses a well-selected topic.
Before you start writing your review article, you ought to discuss with senior colleagues for topic selection. Reading a few previous reviews also help select the topic. It is also worth mentioning that even your topic has been already covered by other reviews, it is still valuable to write your own for an updated synthesis of newer knowledge.
3. How can we find relevant papers?
You have a collection of databases for searching relevant papers, including PubMed, Google Scholar, Embase, and others . You shall use several combinations of keywords for searching. For instance, if you want to search articles related gastric cancer peritoneal metastasis, you may want this Boolean operation [(gastric cancer or stomach cancer or gastric carcinoma or stomach carcinoma) and (peritoneal metastasis or peritoneal spread)]. It is a good idea to involve a university librarian in searching for articles.
While you are searching and reading related articles, you will recognize a few prestigious names in the research area. Having an eye on the publications (especially previous review articles) of these authors may make it easier to find relevant papers.
Use a reference management software like EndNote or Mendeley to keep track of your selected papers. Make sure that you can obtain the full text of a publication. If you cannot access the full text of a paper, ensure you read the abstract. Make notes by your own word while reading papers to avoid plagiarism.
Another suggestion is that you can search one more time when you finish the first draft. Writing review articles is time-consuming, so when you accomplish the first draft chances are you can find new papers on the topic. Many researchers set up a cut-off date to include the most recent publications, but old papers that significantly contribute to the understanding of the research field should also be included.
Keep objective in selecting papers. Avoid to only select papers that support your opinions. An integrative selection of papers with different results is useful to analyze knowledge gaps among these publications.
4. How can we organize the structure of the review?
While you are reading selected papers, you shall make notes regarding selected papers. Use your own words to summarize a paper, as well as contributions and pitfalls of a paper. When you exclude a paper, write down the reasons. As any topic can be divided into several subtopics, the topic of this review article can also comprise a number of subtopics. Write down an outline of these subtopics, and make notes on which publication falls into which category. At this stage, a scratch of the outline might help to organize knowledge in selected papers.
I personally prefer to use a series of questions to guide the writing process (like this essay you are reading). In a given topic, we can always ask a series of questions. For instance, why is this topic important? What is the history of the topic? What are significant achievements in the topic? What are missing pieces in the topic? You can ask specific questions related to your topic.
5. How can we review the draft?
Writing and editing are different processes. You may feel the sense of accomplishment when the first draft is completed, but only a half (maybe less) of the workload has been done. Reviewing the draft is also time-consuming. Ensure the consistency in the essay, like the active or passive voice and the present or past tense. Use a synonym for repeated words. It is possible that you want to re-organize the structure of the review. It is imperative to read key references another time.
During editing the draft, summarize your own opinions on what have been achieved and what have not. It is also suggested to use graphs and tables to organize knowledge.
1. Lund, H., et al., Towards evidence based research. BMJ, 2016. 355: p. i5440.
2. Falagas, M.E., et al., Comparison of PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, and Google Scholar: strengths and weaknesses. FASEB J, 2008. 22(2): p. 338-42.