Purpose of Writing a Literature Review

Writing a Literature Review Paper


The purpose of a review paper is to succinctly review recent progress in a particular topic.  Overall, the paper summarizes the current state of knowledge of the topic. It creates an understanding of the topic for the reader by discussing the findings presented in recent research papers.

A review paper is not a “term paper” or book report. It is not merely a report on some references you found. Instead, a review paper synthesizes the results from several primary literature papers to produce a coherent argument about a topic or focused description of a field.

Examples of scientific reviews can be found in:

 Scientific American    Science in the “Perspectives” and “Reviews” sections    Nature in the “News and Views” section    Compilations of reviews such as:

Current Opinion in Cell Biology  Current Opinion in Genetics & Development   Annual Review of Plant Physiology and Plant Molecular Biology  Annual Review of Physiology  Trends in Ecology & Evolution

 Almost every scientific journal has special review articles.

You should read articles from one or more of these sources to get examples of how your paper should be organized.

Scientists commonly use reviews to communicate with each other and the general public. There are a wide variety of review styles from ones aimed at a general audience (e.g., Scientific American) to those directed at biologists within a particular subdiscipline (e.g., Annual Review of Physiology).

A key aspect of a review paper is that it provides evidence for a particular point of view in a  field. Thus, a large focus of your paper should be a description of the data that support or refute that point of view. In addition, you should inform the reader of the experimental techniques that were used to generate the data.

The emphasis of a review paper is interpreting the primary literature on the subject.  You need to read several original research articles on the same topic and make your own conclusions about the meanings of those papers.


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