Writing a review article
What is a review article?
A review article, also called a literature review, is a survey of previously published research on a topic. It should give an overview of current thinking on the theme and, unlike an original research article, won’t present new experimental results.
By analyzing a large body of data from existing studies, some systematic reviews can come to new conclusions. Review articles can also provide recommendations for potential research areas to explore next.
Not all journals accept review articles, however there are also journals which are solely dedicated to publishing them.
Why write a review article?
If you’ve been working on a topic for a while, writing a review article gives you the opportunity to share what you’ve learnt. This will then be incredibly useful for other researchers, introducing them to the key existing literature and summarizing the current state of the field.
Alternatively, the process of writing a review article can be a great way to help yourself get into a topic you’re not so familiar with.
How do you write a review article?
So how to approach writing a review article? What do you need to consider? Here’s 8 tips of some key things to consider:
1. Check the journal’s aims and scope
Make sure you have read the aims and scope for the journal you are submitting to and follow them closely. Different journals accept different types of articles and not all will accept review articles, so it’s important to check this before you start writing.
There are some journals which publish only review articles (here’s an example). But not all journals with ‘review’ in the title will be reviews journals, so make sure you read the aims and scope of the journal before getting started.
2. Define your scope
Define the scope of your review article and the research question you’ll be answering, making sure your article contributes something new to the field and reports on new ideas that haven’t already been investigated.
As award-winning author Angus Crake told us, you’ll also need to “define the scope of your review so that it is manageable, not too large or small; it may be necessary to focus on recent advances if the field is well established.”
3. Finding sources to evaluate
When finding sources to evaluate, Angus Crake says that it’s critical that you “use multiple search engines/databases so you don’t miss any important ones.” For finding studies for a systematic review in medical sciences, read advice from NCBI.
4. Writing your title, abstract and keywords
Spend time writing an effective title, abstract and keywords. This will help maximize the visibility of your article online, ensuring the right readers find your research. Your title and abstract should be clear, concise, accurate, and informative.
For more guidance on getting these right, read our researcher’s guide to search engine optimization.
5. Introduce the topic
Start with an overview of the topic and give some context, explaining why a review of the topic is necessary. Gather research to inform your introduction and make it broad enough to reach out to a large audience of non-specialists. This will help maximize its wider relevance and impact.
Don’t make your introduction too long. Divide the review into sections of a suitable length to allow key points to be identified more easily.
6. Include critical discussion
Make sure you present a critical discussion, not just a descriptive summary of the topic. If there is contradictory research in your area of focus, make sure to include an element of debate and present both sides of the argument. You can also use your review to resolve conflict between contradictory studies.
“Once you have the core review section written, take a step back and look for common trends that emerge. Highlight key advances that have been made and areas where more focused research may lead to high impact. These are crucial to show where the field is heading, and any common pitfalls people have struggled with.” – Angus Crake, researcher
7. Sum it up
This can include making suggestions for future research on the topic as part of your conclusion.
“You should aim to write a review that leaves a clear impression of what is ‘well understood’, and what still remains a ‘mystery’ to be solved.” – Diptak Bhattacharya, researcher
8. Use a critical friend
One last check! Always perform a final spell and grammar check of your article before submission.
You may want to ask a critical friend or colleague to give their feedback before you submit. If English is not your first language, think about using a language-polishing service. Find out more about the Taylor & Francis Editing Services.
For more advice on writing a review article, read author-to-author tips in the blog posts below…