Top Dos and Don’ts for Writing Scientific Literature Reviews

Literature reviews provide quality information to those who are interested in the most recent research on a particular topic. However, literature reviews can be tricky to write with the correct specifications. It is essential to build experience writing literature reviews. However, even writers with years of practice tend to miss some key points. Read on for dos and don’ts for writing an effective review, as well as for optimizing your research to write efficiently.

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Develop Your Thesis to Answer a Question

Even if you have already determined a topic area, you’ll need to write to answer a question or address a problem. In short, you need to define the scope of your literature review. Are there specific aspects of your topic you wish to explore more deeply? Are there aspects that are missing reviews others could benefit from in the future?

Use Credible Sources in your Literature Reviews

Your official research will need to come from trusted sources, such as PubMed, Google Scholar, and library databases. For official research, a highly credible author publishing in a respected journal is preferred. You also need to ensure the author’s research fits into the scope of and supports your review.

Use Your Own Research, If Applicable

If you’ve done research on the topic, use it as you would any other source. While performing research, keep in mind that choosing equipment that keeps your data ready for analysis, like machines offering detailed protein stability analysis, makes evaluating your results much easier.

Don’t Use Creative Writing Techniques

Scientific writing means writing for professionals familiar with the topic, but not with your unique focus. Use statistics where relevant but be precise. Avoid ambiguous or overly passive language. Similarly, avoid being excessively wordy, or overly descriptive.

Be a Critical Thinker

You should aim your writing at analyzing the research, not just describing it. Point out any limitations of the research and identify other conflicting research to determine validity. Most importantly, point out any biases or opinions you disagree with.

Use an Approved Structure

Your literature review should include:

  • Abstract, to summarize the topic, findings, and conclusion
  • Introduction (10% of the review) to introduce your topic and frame your thesis
  • Main Body (80-85%) in which you present your findings
    • Break the main body up into research topics, grouped by common elements
    • Use subheadings to organize your points
    • Focus on one key point per paragraph
  • Conclusion (5-10%), to restate your thesis and make clear any conclusions you’ve drawn.
  • References, using the proper citation. You should cite every source you use.

Revise Your Work

If you have access to an editor, it can be easy to overlook performing quality checks on your own writing. However, keep in mind that your editor does not know what you are trying to say as well as you do. Editing your own literature review before passing on to a secondary editor helps you ensure you are getting your point across.

Then, check your voice for professionality and scientific writing, and ensure you haven’t used passive voice. Check sentence length, grammar and spelling, and read aloud if you’re unsure. Finally, double-check your references.

Writing an effective literature review comes with many considerations, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Use the above guide to get a good start, and ask an experienced writer to help you edit. If you take care during the writing process, you’ll provide a literature review that helps others to fill a key gap in your area of research.


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